Recently, a good friend who happens to be the vice president with one of the major hunting product distributing companies contacted me to see if I would work up an optimum load for his .50 modern in-line ignition rifle...and get it sighted for an upcoming western mule deer hunt. He knew that I would have the patience to allow the rifle to truly cool fully between loads and shots, and that I would experiment with different loading components to find the absolute best combo for the rifle.
What he sent me was a .50 caliber Traditions VORTEK model, topped with one of the 3-9x40mm Nikon BDC (Bullet Drop Compensating) multi-reticle Omega muzzleloader scopes. The rifle was identical (an almost exact duplicate) to a VORTEK rifle I often use as a test rifle. The only real difference in these two rigs was that mine is topped with one of the Hi-Lux Optics 3-9x40mm TB-ML multi-reticle muzzleloader scopes - which I developed for that company.
Now, you may be saying to yourself that I'm probably a bit too biased to conduct a comparison test between these two competing models. And you just could be right. However, it was an experience I had with one of the Omega muzzleloader scopes back in 2005 which made me convince my good friends at Hi-Lux Optics to allow me to develop the muzzleloader scope they now offer. And my reason for doing so...I was not impressed with the circular long range reticles of the Nikon scope. I found it difficult to get a precise hold on targets at 200...225...250 yards. So, I went with short cross-bar (short cross hair) reticles with the Hi-Lux scope.
And when my friend's rifle and scope showed up via UPS a few days after I agreed to do the load work and sighting, I found myself comparing the identical rifles...and the two multi-reticle muzzleloader hunting scopes. And the more I compared them, sighting out across a grass field next to my garage, the more I knew I would have to do some side-by-side shooting with the two rigs before sending my buddy's VORTEK back to him. (The two rifles and scopes can be seen in the top photo above.)
Working up the load for his rifle was not much of a chore. I simply started with the same load my VORTEK shoots well - 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and the saboted Harvester Muzzleloading polymer tipped 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold spire point bullet. I did notice that when loading the Nikon scoped VORTEK, the black Crush Rib Sabot that comes standard with the the Scorpion PT Gold bullet did load a bit too easily for my taste. From experience, I know that loads of Blackhorn 209 give best ignition when the fit of the sabot and bullet are a little on the tight side, maintaining adequate compression of the powder charge. And it became evident that the combo I was loading in the rifle was too loose when 3 of the first 10 shots out of the rifle were very noticeable hangfires.
I switched to the slightly tighter fitting red Crush Rib Sabot offered by Harvester Muzzleloading...and ignition became spontaneous 100-percent of the time. That first morning, shooting with temperatures right around 50 degrees, I managed to punch several 1 1/4-inch hundred yard groups with the rifle and load.
Early the next morning, in order to shoot at the coolest time of the day, I was back out on the range at daybreak...maybe just a bit earlier. But, by the time I got my shooting gear set up on the bench and targets at 100 and 200 yards, it was light enough to shoot - and to compare how the two scopes performed at the longer range.
I shot first on a 100 yard target, to tweak the sighting of each rifle to print right at 1 1/2 inches above point of aim. Then, I jumped over to the portable target board I had set out at 200 yards. And for shooting at that range I had stapled two pieces of standard typing paper onto a new 2x3 foot rectangle of cardboard, and in the center of each piece of paper, I had stuck one of the 5 1/2-inch diameter Birchwood Casey "Shoot-N-C" self adhesive targets.
One thing I noticed immediately when sighting through the Nikon scope was that the circular 200-yard reticle of the Omega scope was more than twice the diameter of the 5 1/2-inch target at 200 yards. Instead of placing any part of the reticle on the target where you want the bullet to hit, it is a matter of trying to determine the exact center of the reticle and getting the point of aim as close to the center as possible. And that is exactly what I didn't like about the BDC reticle when I first shot with an Omega scope in 2005.
In all, I shot three targets with each rifle and scope. The best 200 yard group shot with the VORTEK topped with the Nikon Omega scope can be seen in the second photo down at the top of this report. The three shots were right at 3-inches center-to-center, and averaged almost 4 inches above the center of the target. This was the first group fired that morning. Subsequent groups were fired using a slightly larger 8-inch "Shoot-N-C" bull. Those two groups went 3 1/4-inches and 3 3/4-inches center-to-center. All shots would have taken a deer.
My best 200-yard group shot with the Hi-Lux TB-ML scoped VORTEK rifle can be seen in the third photo down. These three shots stayed inside of 2-inches. The other two groups went 2.45" and 3.1". All, however were closer to the center of the target. I do believe that a multi-reticle scope that allows the shooter to more precisely hold on the desired point of aim will do a better job of putting long range shots where you want them on that target.
I called my friend that afternoon and told him how the shooting had gone...and informed him that I would be heading out in a couple of days to do more shooting at ranges of 225 and 250 yards. He thought about it a minute, then asked if I had an extra of a TB-ML scope on hand. I offered to pull one off of a test rifle, and replace it later with one from the company.
A few days later, with a TB-ML scope on his rifle, I was able to duplicate the performance I'd shot with my VORTEK and TB-ML scope at 200 yards. Then to see how well the reticles printed the load from this rifle at 225 and 250 yards, I stapled a 9-inch paper plate onto the target board. (I had placed a 1" stick on bull in the center of the plate.) At 225, my two shots printed about 1.5-inches apart, nearly center of the plate. Two more shot at 250 yards printed 3.170-inches apart, averaging just 1.5-inches below point of aim.
As this is being written, my friend is pursuing a muzzleloader record book mule deer with his VORTEK - and TB-ML scope. If given a shot out to 250 yards, I'm confident that the rifle and scope combo, and the load, are fully capable of putting down a big buck.
The scope he's now hunting with has had more than 3,500 rounds fired under it. But, that's nothing compared to the scope that's now mounted on my Knight Rifles .50 caliber Mountaineer. It's the original prototype of the TB-ML, and has now had somewhere in the neighborhood 8,800 rounds fired under it. The morning I last shot my friend's VORTEK before shipping it back to him, to kill time during the 10 minute cool down periods between loads and shots with his rifle, I had taken the old scope and Mountaineer with me for a bit of shooting. Several of the 100-yard groups shot with the rig that day, also shooting the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold and 110-grain charge of Blackhorn 209, stayed well inside of an inch. (That rifle and scope is shown in the bottom photo above.)
Suggested retail for the TB-ML scope, with a matte black finish is $170. Suggested retail for the Nikon Omega, with a black matte finish is $350.