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rattus58 06-09-2007 02:21 AM

What is the best round ball caliber for Hunting?
The 54 roundball has been anointed by many of the powers of muzzleloading as king of the hill when it comes to general all around calibers. The numbers don’t disagree. At 2000 fps (readily achievable with 120 grains of powder and less with some) the ubiquitous 54 has a point blank range of 140 yards or more. Of course many don’t believe the 54 should be used beyond 125 yards in the interest of conservative muzzleloading. It is also the range where the 54 drifts below 500 foot pounds of energy. Question?

Actually I’d like to know how this idea of a foot pound of energy kills deer… or 500 or a 1000… Anyone who has witnessed a jacklighted deer dropped (USDA venison harvests on Lanai for commercial consumption) with a 22 Mag can tell you that you don’t need anywhere near 500 foot pounds to drop a deer.

Back to the 54.. its got it all… speed, trajectory, energy and size… Anyone here disagree with that? It’s strange that it’s not the most popular caliber given its reputation as a round ball shooter, yet you find that the most popular caliber is the 50. The minimum caliber in many states is the 45 with a few adopting the little .40. What does it take to kill a deer?

An interesting article was found on the web recently, regarding the theory of Kinetic Pulse…

In it one section reads.. "The diameter or mushrooming of the bullet does not effect the energy or the momentum or the kinetic pulse (kp). However the shape of the crater or wound cavity is changed. A simple rule is that the larger the bullet is ;or, becomes through mushrooming, the more shallow the crater or wound. This is because the larger diameter bullet must move more material at once. The amount of material moved does not change--it must be emphasized to understand the impact shape."

What all this means is, is that two bullets shot into the side of a hill, one a fast skinny one and one a fat slow one, that have the same energy, momentum, and Kinetic Pulse will have different depths of penetration, and if filled with foam will produce a foam plug of equal volume. However what becomes more germane to the discussion is not so much the energy, penetration or momentum, it’s fact that a larger bullet has to move more material “at once”. Since in almost every case the round ball, whether 40 caliber or 58, sail right through the chest cavities of deer, sheep and goats, the implication of the wound channels become more important to the kill.

Enter the 58. Do its numbers match those of the 54? Nope. The 58’s get roughly 1450 fps with 120 grains of powder, maybe a little more with hotter powders.. but its not enough to catch the speedy 54. Because of the formula for kinetic energy favors speed, the 54 surges ahead in this category. Momentum too, shifts with the 54 at such velocity as well even though the 58 weighs almost 25% more. The 58 does have one thing going for it… a bigger hole going in… and out. It’s hard to quantify the performance of a big 58, or lager calibers. The .040 larger diameter is hardly worth mentioning, but the results are definitely noticeable.

The 58 doesn’t cut it on paper, but give it some flesh and bone and it and sings like an opera star. The 45, 50, and 54 all kill deer with neat holes all the way through. You see interior damage as well with the 45-54’s with foamy lungs and busted hearts, but when a 58 blows through, its akin to heavier calibers (like the heavy 45’s, 50’s and 58’s).. you sometimes see the interior just awash in blood tissue.

This is a note on the round ball only… but when you get into the big minies… now you and the 58 are into a whole different realm.. now its like launching a freight train towards your game and brings a new meaning to the term pole-axed.

If you shoot game in your point blank range only, the 54 will lengthen your hunt by about 20 yards. If you want to send a deer anchor downrange then a good 58 or larger is your choice of champions… ***61514;

Back to Kinetic Pulse… that article is a great read… the third or fourth time through you finally begin to “get it”… and his Kintetic Pulse theory is essentially the multiplication of Kinetic energy by the factor of momentum, using both determinants of power together.

rattus58 06-09-2007 12:40 PM

Ok then.. Lets try this...
Anything under a 58 should be banned from hunting....Ok that's extreme... :) let me then just ask a question..

What has your experience been with your muzzleloader when you have shot game with it with a round ball and what caliber do you shoot.... :)


Joe Boleo 06-09-2007 04:45 PM

It depends
My muzzleloaders are .45, .50, .54 and .58 and they are used for shooting targets and hunting small game and deer. It depends what you prefer, handles well and gets the job done. I like all these calibers and appreciate the variety. Take care...

Skinny Shooter 06-09-2007 05:55 PM

75cal. Brown Bess.
One shot on a doe behind the shoulder at 29 paces. Knocked her down.
Then she tried to get back up. She was dead and didn't know it.

Also have a .54cal Pennsylvania Longrifle (early Lancaster County style) which has only been blooded on groundhogs so far.
Am not too worried with my choice of calibers. Just gotta place them in the right spot.

rattus58 06-09-2007 06:29 PM

I've got two .54's right now.. both in flintlock that I'm dying to take hunting. I've got a 40 caliber that's not legal here for hunting, but is fun to shoot and have several 58's.. one I just bedded today with the .54.. both are green mountain drop-in at 1-60 I think they are.

Locks will be L&R for the two flinters and my two Thompson 58's as well... not sure if I'm going to invest another $100 in my investarms... but might just to get it over with.... :)

I've hunted with 50, 54, and 58 so far... and I've got to say... they all kill deer and goats, I've only shot pigs with the 58 so far and so far none have been able to take a step. I've not dropped anything with either the 54 (mouflon) or my 50.. but none went too far and none escaped recovery... but the 58 is truly amazing for a gun without "creds"... :)

I've a buddy shot a nice 80 pound pig with half a load of birdshot and 72 cal round ball I think it was... it was a bad hit with the 72, but made for a pretty sick little pig that he finished off with a load of 6's from about 8 yards.

Aloha... :cool:

wrenchman 06-09-2007 06:36 PM

I have killed a doe with a 50 cal hand made round ball.
I hit her in the sholder not the best blace with a round ball she pushed her self with the shoulder on the ground for about 40 yards before dyeing.
when i skinned her out I found the ball in the chest under the skin on the good shoulder side and it was not a ball any more.
I yoused 90 grains goax 2f the lead was seal lead frome money bags frome banks.
Round balls work real nice the best thing i can say is shoot shoot shoot these are not ment to be modern guns 120 grains does not mean that is what you should youse just becouse the manual says you can do it.
There are lots of guys here that can tell more then me but after a point you blowing powder out the barrel and you gain no more frome it.
B.p. guns take a little time to get to no some might like 95 grains some might like 100 you look at the patch and the groups and listen to the gun i have notice with a few that if you are getting a boom you have to much powder you want more of a bang it will sound different.

rattus58 06-09-2007 06:51 PM

I can't here chit you want me to listen fer the boom... :)

I've started using a wad over the powder with my patched balls just like I do with conicals. My results are much better now than they ever were before, so its a system I'm sticking with.

One advantage to this is that with really hot powders, I'm not getting flameover, burnt patches, and heavy loads haven't been shredding my patches on my tighter bores much anymore either, though I can't quite figure that out unless the bores are just now getting "settled in".

Aloha... :cool:

Adam Helmer 06-09-2007 07:49 PM


Excellent Thread!

I have flinters and caplocks in .45, .50, .54 and .58 calibers. About 5 years ago, the PA Game Commission allowed conicals in the Traditional (roundball) deer season. Our minimum caliber allowed is .44 caliber. I like my .45 Hawken, but think the 130 grain roundball is a bit light. The 245 grain conical is better, in my opinion. I hunt with roundball in .50, .54 and .58 calibers.

You make an excellent point about "paper ballistics" versus field performance. A BIG ball is worth much more that the sum of its paper ballistics on live game. My favorite roundball gun is my .54 Hawken flinter and 75 grains of 3F Goex. So far it has taken every deer I asked it to and none went more than 25 or 30 yards after the shot.


rattus58 06-09-2007 09:01 PM

What about the numbers...
Hi Adam... :)

I just got to my office where I have a copy of new Lyman Blackpowder Loading manual and had a real surprise...

When I got into the muzzleloading game some 16 or 17 years ago, I read every book commercially available on the subject, from Toby Bridges, through a score of other lesser knowns to Sam Fadala, who I remember bragging about doing 2000 fps plus his own .54.

On page 73 of the new black powder manual, he lists the 54 with a 230 grain round ball at 1950' fps muzzle velocity. This is under the heading "THE FOLLOWING DATA ARE APPROXIMATIONS ONLY FOR EASY COMPARISONS".

Here again for the 54,
230 grain round ball
1950 fps muzzle
1942 fpe muzzle
1150 fps @ 100 yards
675 fpe @ 100 yards

No mention of the 58 in this comparison just 1950 for the 50 and 54 calibers for comparisons, and 2000 fps for the 32 and 36. Again selling the 54... but imagine my surprise when I actually got to the tables themselves...

First off.. a disclaimer.. I have chronographed hundreds of my loads, and my 58's don't measure up to the Black powder manual at all. According to this manual, with my two 28" 58's I should be getting somewhere around 1600 fps with or just under with my guns, and I barely get up to 1450 fps with my ball, which measure .578 and weigh in at a little over 280. This could be why I get only 1450 fps with a very tight load.. so others may fare better velocity wise than I do.

2) And here is where I am much surprised.. in the manual itself, for the .54 caliber roundball... there isn't a load anywhere that comes near even the 1900 fps figure.

As a matter of fact, in Fadala's new loading manual, using 120 grains of powder as an example.. you get with the 54's and 120 grains of powder an average of;

1723 fps w/ 24" barrel
1774 fps w/28" barrel
1747 fps w/32" barrel

So Ok... I'm confused with Fadala here, t/c in their manual I think suggests 1983 fps with 120 grains of powder.

Comparing the 58's with the 54's in the loading manual with 120 grains of powder.. with the 58's you get an average of;

1602 fps w/32" barrel
1566 fps w/24" barrel

Ok... so in Fadala's new manual.. the 54 is not as speedy as he used to claim, nor does it bear out to what T/C claims as there 120 grain load and is in fact a little contrary to what others have noted before me....

But it sure does make the 58's look all that much better.... :D :D :D... :)

Anyone here chronograph your loads too?

Aloha... :cool:

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