Muzzleloading rifles for European big game

IMG_1283If you want to hunt big game in Europe there are several rules you have to follow in choosing your rifle and load. First of all, the rifle must handle well. The stock must match your body perfectly so you don’t have to spend too much time fighting for that sight picture if you have to fire that shot quickly. Pay attention to the sights: the diopter sights of target shooting will not be enough for hunting. They are extremely precise, but they do not let enough light into your eyes and they are nearly useless in low-light conditions. Use open sights or ghost ring for easy aiming. Use a bead front sight polished bright. The light metal color will give you a good contrast sight picture even at sunset, and with good moonlight it will also help you place a good shot .

The rifle

The rifle must be capable of handling heavy loads, often over 100 grains of powder with a heavy conical bullet. So before buying a good looking, but cheap gun, check the manufacturer’s recommendations on the maximum loads. There are many rifles that look decent at first sight, but there are strong limitations on the powder charges. In most of the countries, there are two energy levels mentioned: cca. 1000 J of kinetic energy at 100 m for medium sized game like roe deer, and 2000-2200 for big game like red deer. You never really know which game you are going to encounter during a hunt, so I suggest you go for the bigger energy, choose a rifle that is capable of 2000 J at 100 m. To meet this, you need enough velocity and a good bullet weight. So whatever maker you prefer, read its maximum load recommendation prior to purchase, knowing the caliber is only one part of the question.

It does not really matter which barrel length you choose, unless you feel comfortable with shooting and carrying the gun. But be careful: maybe you will carry that gun on your shoulder for a day… so what I recommend is a medium barrel length, half stock, big bore gun. The center of weight of this type is close to your supporting hand on the forestock, so the gun will handle well while shooting. The shorter barrel, shorter stock, and big hole in the metal will mean less weight to carry.

If it comes to hunting, I do not care if the gun has set triggers or not. Of course it is a help, but any normal trigger can be adjusted for hunting purposes. You do not need a very light trigger. Be safe, and set a trigger pull between 1,5 – 2 kg.

The caliber

For big game, you need good bullet weight for deep penetration, and big diameter for a wound giving strong bleeding on both sides of the game. To meet the energy regulations, follow these rules:

.45 cal:


Hawken style rifles

Choose a rifle that has a fast twist bore that is capable of shooting long bullets. To stabilize a 400-600 grain long bullet you need a twist rate less than 1 turn in 30”. The long bullets work perfectly in the game: the penetration is excellent, the deformity is strong. The rifles in this class are the Mortimer Whitworth or the Tryon Match and Tryon Creedmoor. All are good hunting rifles if you equip them with an iron sight instead of the diopter. If you want a flatter trajectory, go for the 1:48” twist rate .45 cal Pedersoli rifles, like the Tryon Target or the Missouri River Hawken. Use them with Pedersoli’s .45 Minié bullet for good terminal ballistic effects.

.50 cal:

In this caliber I also recommend you choose a bore that is suitable for conical bullets. The Missouri River Hawken makes an excellent choice. With its 1:24” twist rate, it is capable of shooting the 450 grain Pedersoli .50 cal long bullet to great distances with pinpoint accuracy. The slower twist fifties can also match the criteria. The 1:48” bores will shoot the popular conical like the Maxi or Real with pleasing effect, while these rifles will be acceptable with a round ball also for medium sized game.

.54-58 cal:


European rifles: Jäger, Mortimer

For European big game hunting the .54 or .58. is most definitely not the best caliber. These rifles have a slower twist rate – 1:66” – but they are able to stabilize the Maxi, REAL, or Minié bullets, while they can also reach the big game energy limit with a patched round ball. Pedersoli is the only manufacturer on the market offering traditional European hunting rifles in this segment. The elegant English Mortimer rifles won tons of medals in 100 m shooting events at international matches, and they can deliver enough killing power for any European big game. The Germanic Jäger is also an iconic hunting rifle. One of the best choices on the market today.

We have to write a few words about the double rifles as well. It is often necessary to put a second quick shot into the same place during a hunt. This is especially true if you plan to go for a driven boar hunt or dangerous game hunt – for example, bear hunting in the Carpathian mountains – where speed is critical. In this case, your choice must be a good double rifle like the Kodiak Express in .50, .54 or .58 caliber. But be careful, the barrels are set to cross somewhere between 30-50 m distance, so shooting the second shot to 70-100 m van be tricky.

.69-71 cal:


Double rifles

The Gibbs Hunter and Safari Express both deliver devastating power. Of course they are capable of hunting any European big game, but their real field of operation is in exotic territories like Africa. If you plan to hunt the “big five”, do not choose anything else.

Remember, it is not enough to check only the caliber of the gun before making the decision. Ask the manufacturer about the maximum allowed load. Here is our short reference chart about the rifles used in our tests.

Rifle, caliber, twist rate

Bullet, weight

Powder charge

V2,5_1 avg



Miller Fa Baader .58 1-48”

RB, 19,1 g


526 m/s

2643 J

Miller Fa Baader .58 1-48”

Lyman Minié,32,94 g

5,44 g

396 m/s

2584 J

DP Missuri River Hawken .50 1-23”

RB, 11,9 g

3,24 g

465 m/s

1288 J

DP Missuri River Hawken .50 1-23”

Lyman Maxi, 23,9 g

5,83 g

467 m/s

2607 J

DP Mortimer Whitworth .451 1-21”

Lyman 451114, 29,1 g

5,18 g

424 m/s

2620 J

DP Missuri River Hawken .45 1-48”

RB, 8,37 g

6,48 g

649 m/s

1765 J

Max. allowed load

DP Missuri River Hawken .45 1-48”

Pedersoli Minié, 22,35 g

5,8 g

483 m/s

2609 J

Ardesa Ranger .45 1-66”

RB, 8,37 g

3,56 g

550 m/s

1267 J

Max. allowed load

DP Tryon .54 1-65”

Lyman Plains, 29,5 g

5,83 g

429 m/s

2716 J

DP Double Classic Shotgun 12

RB, 30,54 g

5,77 g

376 m/s

2116 J

Max. allowed load

DP Denali (modern line) .50 1-23”

Lyman Plains, 25,93 g

9,72 g

531 m/s

3654 J

Max. allowed load

The limits of the muzzleloader

hunting startsKThere is no significant difference in killing power between the muzzleloaders and modern rifles within 100 m distance. I made some comparisons of a 8×57 JRS round and a .54 Maxi bullet impact in ballistic gelatin at 50 m distance. The two cavities in the material simulating the flash were nearly identical, good proof for all who think that the terminal effect of our bullets is inferior compared to this reliable hunting cartridge. The limit of our guns is in the effective distance. The trajectory is not as flat as with the modern cartridges. While you can hunt with an 8×57 cartridge up to 200 ms without sight adjustment, this distance is less than 100 m for the black powder rifle. This does not mean that the rifle is not accurate at higher distances. This is only the limitation of the curved trajectory, this is the range where you will be able to use your rifle without raising or lowering your rear sight.


Balázs Németh