Birth of the Bad Bull

by Roger Joyce

I could not get the mule deer miss out of my mind!

I kept visualizing that nice mule deer standing broadside, looking at the hunter and then the bullet impacting in the ground at the mule's back feet. This should have been a nice trophy to take home. Instead, all the hunter was left with was the image of the buck bounding over the ridge, a video of the miss, and some friendly heckling from the other hunters.

Why had he missed?
Was it the hunter?
Was his muzzleloader not sighted in?
Was it windy?
Was 200 yards too long of a shot with a muzzleloader?

All these questions kept racing through my mind. When we arrived at camp, the first thing the outfitter had us do was to shoot our rifles to be sure they were sighted in properly. It was very windy, but the muzzleloader hunter had fired his rifle and he thought it was still sighted in correctly.

His rifle was one of the newer designed in-line muzzleloaders shooting sabot bullets. This combination should take a deer at 200 yards. It didn't seem particularly windy that day, and the hunter had shooting sticks for a steady rest.

So why did he miss?
Buck fever?

Maybe, but the hunter seemed to be very calm when shooting at the bench. It wasn't a near miss; he had missed very badly. So, I could not come up with an answer.

The next day in my blind, the mule deer miss was still plaguing me. I had been lucky enough to draw a rifle rag for my Kansas whitetail hunt. The rifle I was using was a 7mm ultra mag which I built several years earlier. I had taken several long-range shots with this rifle and was very confident with the accuracy of this rifle.

Perhaps that was what was missing!

Perhaps the hunter needed an exceptional muzzleloader that would outperform his muzzleloader. In fact, the hunter needed a new muzzleloader that would outperform anything on the market.

If you are daydreaming while waiting for a big buck, how far would you want to shoot?

Two hundred yards?

...No, we would want it to reach 300 yards.

What weight bullet? Lets say 200 grain minimum to insure we have enough energy to make a clean kill at 300 yards. Now the big question. How much velocity do we need to keep the bullet trajectory flat enough to be effective at 300 yards? Three thousand feet per second should do the job.

So, in my mind the parameters of the muzzleloader were established. Our dream front loader would shoot a 200 grain bullet at 3000 fps and have enough energy at 300 yards to cleanly take a deer.

One thing was missing.

A muzzleloader that will shoot 300 yards must be accurate at 300 yards. So, for accuracy, let's say we need to be able to shoot a 6" group at 300 yards. That should take any deer.

The rest of the morning was spent glassing for whitetail and pondering the feasibility of building such a muzzleloader. I had owned the in-line rifles and now owned one of the new smokeless powder rifles. I realized they were not capable of this level of performance. This would have to be a revolutionary new muzzleloader.

By the time the guide picked me up for lunch, the muzzleloader had been designed, at least in my mind. So after watching the mule deer tape one more time that evening, it was time for the announcement. "Boys, I can build a muzzleloader that will shoot a 200 grain bullet at 3000 fps and will group under 6" at 300 yards." After a few quiet moments for this to soak in, the debate was on. Eventually, the challenge was issued for me to build the rifle and bring it back next year for a hunt.

The next morning, I was in a new stand location on the Kansas landscape. As I continued to ponder my new idea, a nice buck started heading my way. I watched him from 800 yards out as he made steady progress toward my stand. At 500 yards, the buck spotted 2 does and changed direction. Every step now would make a longer shot. This could be the only opportunity to take the nice buck.

The 7mm ultra mag bellowed and the buck dropped in his tracks. After retrieving the deer, I realized long-range hunting is currently the realm of breech-loading firearms only.

Then and there I decided it was time for a muzzleloader to join the club.

After taking the nice Kansas 10 pointer at 510 yards, according to the Leica Rangefinder, it was time to go to Kentucky and build the muzzleloader. I knew the caliber I wanted. It had to be a 45 caliber. With a 45, I could push the bullet fast and flat.

The next decision would be what powder to use. Smokeless had to be the powder of choice, while still retaining the capability of using the black powder substitutes if necessary.

Warning: Do not attempt to load and shoot smokeless powder in any other muzzleloader. Our muzzleloaders are designed, engineered, and built to withstand the higher pressures of modern smokeless propellants. The use of smokeless powder in any other muzzleloader may cause serious injury to the shooter, bystanders, and damage to the firearm.

About this stage of the design process, we decided we wanted to build not only the most powerful, but also the safest muzzleloader on the market. With that in mind, we decided to use a very strong bolt action design with both locking lugs intact.

We mention this because some of the newer muzzleloaders on the market today are built on a bolt action design, but have the locking lugs removed, which greatly reduces the strength of the action.

Now we needed a barrel. I had used several Shilen Barrels for custom rifles and had always found their barrels to be very strong and accurate. After placing a call to Bill at Shilen Barrels, we selected rate of twist, barrel length, and barrel contour and ordered the barrel.

Now, we get serious.

How do we light up enough smokeless powder to push a 200 grain bullet at 3000 fps? First, we need a slower burning powder. I owned one of the new smokeless muzzleloaders, so it was time for some testing.

We first loaded the unit with the fast burning powder as recommended by the manufacturer. The 209 primer used with their system would ignite and burn their fast burning powder. Next, we went to a slower burning powder (IMR 4350).

When we fired the rifle, it would not ignite the slower burning powder. From this, we realized two things. First, we needed a hotter primer for our muzzleloader. Second, we need a larger flash hole to get the fire to the powder

I had used the Federal 215 Magnum primer to light up very large loads of powder in very large magnum cases, so this would be the primer we would use for our muzzleloader ignition system.

This presented the biggest challenge. How do we physically use the large rifle primer to ignite the powder charge? We finally decided to go with the K.I.S.S. principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid). Why not build a breech plug that will accept and hold the rifle primer.

However, we did not want the primer to be loose fitting. We wanted it to be a press fit into the primer pocket. With our patented method of using the rifle primer press fit into the breech plug, we could increase the size of the flash hole, and we would eliminate one of the great problems with muzzleloaders, that of back blast.

With the primer press fit into the breech plug and the bolt, locking lugs intact, locked up behind it, we have the safest system available for any muzzleloader ever.

How to install and remove the large rifle primer was the next hurdle. For the installation, we decided to build a small hand priming tool. The shooter inserts the tool into the action, slides it forward, locks it in place, and squeezes to install the primer. This would be much faster than installing a #11 cap or a 209 primer into an in-line rifle.

The removal of the spent primer seemed to be a no-brainer. We decided to build a decapping pin for the end of the ramrod. This would allow us to simply drop the ramrod down the bore and remove the spend primer.

So, there it was, the perfect muzzleloader.

Now, it was time to head to the machine shop to make all the wonderful ideas a reality. A month later, we had the finished barreled action. We then glass bedded, pillar bedded, and free-floated the barrel in the stock.

On our first visit to the range, we decided to concentrate on velocity. We started with the slower burning powder and worked our way back toward the powders in the medium burning range. When we tried IMR 4350, the chronograph had a reading of 3149 fps.

We had it!

Our muzzleloader was shooting a 200 grain sabot at 3149 fps. After the initial excitement, we came back to earth. A velocity of 3149 fps is great, but it is worthless if you can't hit the side of a barn.

The next several visits to the range were completely devoted to accuracy. After bore sighting and getting it on paper at 100 yards, we decided to shoot groups at 300 yards. We were interested in 300-yard accuracy. The first group was 9" at 300 yards. The second group was 9" as well. It seemed like the next 40 groups were all 9" at 300 yards. This just wasn't the accuracy we wanted.

We collected and inspected a few of the fired plastic jackets. They seemed to be roughed up. We began to wonder if the real problem was in the jackets. We placed a call to Del Ramsey in Arkansas. He was very helpful and sent us some experimental plastic jackets. Back at the range, the first group with these new jackets was 6" at 300 yards.

Now we could consistently shoot 2" groups at 100 yards, 4" groups at 200 yards, and 6" groups at 300 yards. This was certainly good accuracy from a muzzleloader. At this point, we had met our goal. We had a muzzleloader shooting a 200 grain bullet over 3000 fps and grouping 6" at 300 yards.

Being an accuracy nut, I kept wondering if we could decrease the group size.

After many visits to the range, we tried a 300 grain jacketed bullet without a sabot. With these bullets, we are not shooting 1" groups at 100 yards and slightly large that 3" groups at 300 yards. This bullet chronographed at 2900 fps. This was the bullet and load we decided to use. With this bullet sighted in at 3.5" high at 100 yards, we would be 2.5" high at 200 yards and only 7" low at 300 yards. A bonus is this bullet still retains over 1800 ft/lbs of energy at 300 yards.

This rifle is unquestionably the most powerful muzzleloader on the market. It is a Real Muzzleloader, shooting Real Bullets for Real Hunters.

The next time you have a bull or buck broadside at 300 yards, wouldn't it be great to have a front loader that WILL DO THE JOB?

Update to The Story

We have two major updates to the story of the Bad Bull Muzzleloader. The first concerns a new bullet. The second is concerning our new patent pending 2-stage Mag-Prime Breech Plug.

Instead of the 300-grain Hornaday/Bad Bull bullet, we are now using a 275 ballistic extreme Parker/Bad Bull bullet. The Hornaday/Bad Bull was a very good bullet. But the Parker/Bad Bull bullet is faster, flatter, retaining more energy and is extremely accurate. This bullet, set 3" high at 100 yards, is 3" high at 200 yards and only 3" low at 300 yards. Energy of the muzzle is 6000 FPE. At 300 yards, energy level is still above 2500 FPE. Accuracy has been very good.

We have customers reporting 1.5" groups at 300 yards!

We now have a new patent-pending 2-stage breech plug. This is standard on the X Series , FB Series and on the C Series. This is very useful because it allows a hunter to spin out the back section of the breech plug, which contains the primer. If you wish to remove the primer without firing the Bad Bull, you just spin out the back section and screw in the dummy plug. This allows the hunter to remove and reinstall the primer without discharging the Muzzleloader.