FOOTNOTE January / 2000: This
question was valid when it was included in 1998. Since that time, the ban on
in-line muzzleloaders has been changed. I have decided to leave the question
and answer in as a matter of interest only. The "two caliber / no sabot" part
of the question and answer are however still valid.
FOOTNOTE January / 2001: For 2001 it seems Oregon has adopted the same round ball / 2 caliber maximum length conical bullet law.
I hunt with three traditional style flintlocks. I love them dearly. Fortunately I love the animal I hunt much more and therefore would not for a second consider using a projectile that does not result in the quickest, most humane death possible out of these guns.
It seems that the same movement towards traditional equipment that archery and bowhunting are going through is starting to effect muzzleloading. The "primitive weapons season" that most states granted to blackpowder hunters in now being questioned by state lawmakers thanks to people like Tony Knight and his constant advertising of 200+ yard efficiency. I think these recent changes to the Colorado hunting regulations are the first of many to come. I would rather sacrifice my in-line and keep my primitive weapons season than have things go the other way.
Any way, I'll get off my soapbox and try to answer your question. In Colorado you must use a side lock gun and a conical bullet or a round ball. There are two separate issues here and each one has a very simple solution.
Side Lock guns
We have all been oversold on the virtues and value of the in-line muzzleloader. In reality, the only advantages are the improved ignition and the ease of cleaning. In fact if your breach plug is non-removable like the T/C "Thunderhawk" and "Firehawk", then there is only one advantage. The only remaining advantage is ignition.
Side lock ignition can rival any in-line ignition by adding a musket cap nipple. I don't believe that the spark from the musket cap is that much hotter but the volume of flame is much greater. I have added a musket cap nipple to a pair of very lazy side locks with excellent results. These guns were so lazy that they were slow in igniting FFF. Both now ignite Pyrodex RS better than they used to ignite FFF! They are both as accurate as any of my in-lines and their only drawback was the slow ignition.
Bullets are now your only remaining problem. I will assume that you are still using the 1:48" twist barrel. My choice would be the Ultimate 1 Semi Spitzer Solid or the Ultimate 1 Keith Nose Solid. These bullets are shorter than any of the hollow point bullets and therefore are easier to stabilize. The larger body size of an Elk is sufficient for proper expansion and the solid nose will assure deep penetration. The UL1 SS Solid was successfully used last season on a 2000 pound Alaska Moose. In the case of Elk, I would sacrifice some accuracy in favor of additional bullet weight. I would start with a bag of 300, 350, 400 grains and another bag of the MAXIMUM WEIGHT ALLOWED under the law (click "Colorado Conicals" on main page). Let's head to the range and begin determining what is the optimum weight for your particular gun.
We are attempting to determine maximum bullet weight for our rifle. We want to shoot with our regular charge of powder. Make sure that you have 4'x4' target without any bullet holes before you start. Do all your shooting from the bench as we are trying to determine how well the rifle can shoot; not how well you can shoot. Put up a target that can be easily seen with your iron sights and shoot at the maximum distance that you plan to shoot while hunting. If you plan to shoot 100 yards; then put the 4'x4' target up at 100 yards. Begin with the 300 grain bullets. Swab the barrel with a cotton patch and spit between shots. Remember we are trying to simulate real hunting circumstances and therefore you will most likely have a clean barrel when you get that shot. Repeat with all four bullet weights making sure to take your time. At any time if you know that you made a bad shot, don't count it but instead shoot a fourth one. Remember this is not a competition but an experiment.
By the time that you are finished shooting all four bullet weights, it will be quite obvious which bullet is the heaviest one that your rifle will accurately shoot. I normally demand 1"-2" groups from my hunting rifles but in this situation of added restrictions, I would shoot the heaviest bullet that will still group in 3"-4" circles at the maximum distance that I plan to shoot. An Elk lung is a mighty big target. We don't get any extra points for hitting the perfect center; we only need to hit them both.
As a footnote to this question, the demand for Colorado bullets has been tremendous. To service these hunters, we have introduced the "Colorado Conicals". These bullets represent the MAXIMUM weight allowable under the 2x bore diameter bullet length law. Click Colorado Conicals for more information.
Thanks to Bob G. from Ohio for that question and I hope that I have answered it to your satisfaction.
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