BY Al Raychard
Although there is little doubt that light muzzleloader bullets will kill a bear with proper shot placement, one thing I have noticed in these camp talks and discussions is the general consensus among experienced bear hunters is the heavier the bullet the better.
September is just around the corner and for a good slug of Maine hunters it means bear hunting season is upon us as well. Since its introduction the in-line muzzleloader has become and remains one of the more popular ways of hunting bears. This is especially true during the baiting period where the average shot range is relatively close.
Despite the popularity of hunting with muzzleloaders a common topic of discussion in camps and elsewhere is what is the best type and size muzzleloader bullet for hunting bears. I’ve killed a few bears in my day with everything from .50-caliber roundballs and full-bore lead conicals to .45-caliber full and copper-jacketed saboted rounds. You name it and I’ve used it at one time or another. The bottom line is they will all kill bears.
Although I’ve heard some horror stories my personal experience has been bears are not tough to kill but it pays to keep a few thing in mind. A bear’s heart is not gigantic, is low and forward in the chest and protected by rugged leg bone. Although the lungs provide a larger target, depending on positioning it is protected by bone and a large shoulder blade. The entire body is covered by a thick matte of hair, hide and in September after a summer of heavy feeding layers of fa that can be a couple inches thick.
Even if the shot placement misses bone that hair, hider and fat not only slows down a bullet the fat layer in particular clogs easily resulting in a poor blood trail, if there’s a blood trail at all. Whether hunting over bait, with dogs or hunting over natural foods, whenever or however, this means mustering patience and waiting for the optimum shot opportunity. It is also essential to hit a bear hard, deep and in the right spot.
Every muzzleloader hunter I have ever talked with or had the privilege of being in camp with his or her favorite bullet for the game they are hunting. That preference is generally governed by past experience, knowing how that bullet will perform and what has performed well and what their muzzleloader shoots accurately.
Although there is little doubt light muzzleloader bullets will kill a bear with proper shot placement, one thing I have noticed in these camp talks and discussions is the general consensus among experienced bear hunters is the heavier the bullet the better. It makes little different whether it’s .45 caliber bullet in a sabot fired from a .50 caliber gun or full bore bullet fired from a .50-caliber gun. Heavier is better.
Something in the 290 to 300 grain area. A heavier bullet might have a slower velocity but in bait and short range bear hunting situations typical here in Maine that slower speed is inconsequential. What the heavier bullets does is pack more energy on impact and depending on construction deeper and more devastating penetration and internal damage. That’s what you want on bears.
Of course, a lot has to do with bullet construction. Personally, I like and prefer full bore lead .50-cal bullets. They shoot well out my rifle, have good ballistic coefficient and based on my experience pack a punch, penetrate, expand and hold together well and create a big wound channel. When a bear gets whacked it knows it and with proper shot placement few have gone far.
No doubt the “best muzzleloader bear bullet” discussion will go on and won’t be settled here. It is often what makes bear camp interesting and sometimes entertaining. Just keep in mind black bears are not deer. A light muzzleloader bullet is apt to get the job done but a heavier bullet is generally better, and as always shot placement is key.
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