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With my new hunting lease secured and the muzzleloader season just around the corner...

I thought I might do some research so I would be ready for what I hope will be a great season.

After many hours on forums and reading every page of Woods ‘n Water that had anything to do with muzzleloaders, I decided to get a Thompson Center.

My decision was based on Thompson Center’s impeccable reputation for building quality firearms, and the fact that, with the rifle I wanted, I could add a barrel and convert the rifle to almost any caliber smokeless cartridge I'd ever want to shoot. And, the rifle is beautiful!

With these old, tired eyes, I would be needing a scope to shoot past 50 yards. With this rifle, my range would be out to about 200 yards, so I began more research.

After much reading and a conversation or two with buddies with muzzleloaders, I decided on the Leupold Ultimate Slam in 3-9x40, a scope designed for muzzleloaders with a reticle set up for 50, 100, 150 and 200 yards.

With that out of the way, out came the VISA card to purchase my new “big boy” toy. A few weeks later, my local gun dealer called and said I might want to slide by after work because he had something for me. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I get a call like that, I’m worthless for the rest of the work day, just counting the minutes until I could head to the gun shop.

After picking up my Thompson Center, I went right home and (without washing the boat) straight to the gun room, where I started by mounting the Leupold scope and proceeded to bore-sight it by placing the rifle in a Tipton gun vise, with the barrel pointing toward a target about 20 feet away.

I removed the breech plug from the rifle and looked down the inside of the barrel, centering it on the target, then adjusted the crosshairs on the scope to line up on the target. Most of the time I am really close using this method.

By securing the rifle in the Tipton vise, I'm able to make adjustments without moving the rifle. I've tried several ways and found this to work best for me. The vise also comes in handy for cleaning the rifle after a day of “Fun Shooting.” Off to the range I headed to see how this bad boy would perform.

After setting up targets, a Shooting Chrony F-1 chronograph and my Caldwell Lead Sled, I was ready for the first of many loud bangs, each followed by a puff of smoke. I have used (and had great success with) Blackhorn 209 propellant by Western Powders, so it was first down the barrel, followed by a 250-grain inexpensive sabot bullet to test my bore sighting. After a few rounds to fine-tune the Leupold scope, I was ready to test the combinations of powder and bullets I would be using on my hunts.

I started with 90 grains measured in an adjustable powder measure. This device allows you to measure powder from 10 to 120 grains and has a built-in funnel spout that allows you to transfer the powder down the barrel without spilling. NOTE: When measuring black powder, it is measured in volume. Following the Blackhorn 209 powder was a Thompson Center Shockwave 250-grain Spirepoint #8207.

My first shot at 100 yards was about 1 inch from where the Leupold’s crosshairs were pointed. I made a slight adjustment to the scope, measured out another 90 grains of Blackhorn 209 and sent another round downrange. This bullet hit the bull’s-eye on the target! So far, I had a shooter!

I shot about 10 more loads of this combination before changing the powder measure to 100 grains and firing about 10 rounds using the same bullet. These groups were not quite as good as the ones from the 90-grain combination, but I was far from finished, as I planned to increase the powder amounts by 10 grains, all the way up to 130 grains.

Normally, I shoot alone – just me and the gun – but this trip I took one of my friends. With both of us shooting and loading, it was turning into a real fun. We would swab the barrel after each group of 10 shots, even though you do not have to do this with Blackhorn 209, as it is designed to shoot cleaner than other muzzleloading powder. Each time we swabbed the barrel, a light soot would come out on the cleaning patch, but no big chunks like black powder.

We would also remove the breach plug on the Thompson Center Encore each time we swabbed the barrel. This process was extremely easy using only our fingers. We cleaned it thoroughly, greased it, replaced it and never needed any tools for removal or replacement – a very nice feature of this rifle.

After shooting 10 each (using 90 to 130 grains of powder), we had one group that was pretty darn good. We went back to that one and started adjusting our powder amounts up and down by 2 grains until we found a combination that was as good as it gets with any muzzleloader I’ve shot.

Of the 80 different loads we fired, our most accurate combination was:

• Blackhorn 209 powder – 95 grains measured by volume,

• Winchester 209 shotgun primers,

• Thompson Center Shockwave 250-grain sabot bullets.

Our best 3-shot group at 100 yards with the above combination was just under 1 inch. This load averaged 1,980 feet per second (fps), with a deviation of only 28 fps – as displayed on my Shooting Chrony F-1 set up on a tripod approximately 20 feet from the rifle.

This means that of the 10 shots tested, the bullet left the barrel no more than 28 fps from the fastest to the slowest – amazing with any kind of muzzleloader or powder. A deviation this small has to be directly attributed to the consistency of the Blackhorn 209 powder.

The name of the game when trying to precision shoot is consistency, and this combination of rifle, bullet and powder provides you with what you need to hit the dot in the eye.

I'm certain this rifle will put some meat on the table this year.

With its many features – like Composite FlexTech Stock with Energy Burners, a breech plug that is easily removable using only your fingers, MOA accuracy and the fact it’s so darn good-looking, how can you not want one?

The Leupold Ultimate Slam scope was exactly what I have become used to with their products, including crystal-clear optics, precise and distinct hold points for 50 through 300 yards, a range estimation feature that instantly tells you if the trophy is closer or farther than 200 yards, and it’s completely waterproof with a lifetime warranty.

After we had shot all of these different loads from the Caldwell Lead Sled, we wanted to test the rifle from a standing, hunting-type shot.

With the rifle loaded with 95 grains of powder, I shouldered the rifle, placed the crosshairs on the target and slowly squeezed the trigger. The scope provided a crystal-clear view, the rifle felt comfortable on my shoulder, and when the hammer dropped, I was right on target with my bullet.

We did this several more times, and with each shot we were able to place the bullet on target. I give this a 10 out of 10 as a winning combination.

Below are some sites that may be of interest to anyone reading this article:

Blackhorn 209 Powder (http://www.blackhorn209.com/),

Leupold UltimateSlam Scopes (http://www.leupold.com/hunting-and-shooting/products/scopes/shotgunmuzzleloader-scopes/ultimateslam/) and

Thompson Center Encore Rifle (http://www.tcarms.com/firearms/encore.php).

Shoot Straight, Shoot Safe.

“If everyone treated all firearms as if they were loaded, there would be no more accidental shootings.”

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Jim Hammond has had some sort of gun in his hand since he was 5 years old. He started with a Daisy BB gun as a small boy, and with careful instruction from his very safety-minded father, has become a skilled and knowledgeable shooter now willing to share his knowledge and experience as he has FUN SHOOTING. “Safety first and everything else will follow.”