I still believe the essence of muzzleloading is in using hunting skills to get close enough to game to smell their breath and not in long-range shooting, but to be perfectly truthful, I have taken long shots. I had a big bull caribou in Manitoba last fall that I had been after for hours. He was about to spook, and it was a "now or never" situation. At the shot he dropped and never debated the issue. The range was 264 yards.
Let me make a couple of points before going on. First, I had a very capable rifle in my Knight .52 caliber Disc Extreme. One big aspect of long-range shooting is that you must deliver enough bullet with enough energy. Some of the very light and fragile bullets hunters pick for long-range shooting are the worst possible choices. In this case I had a 370-grain Barnes X-Bullet that left the gun at 2,000 fps. That is a lot of bullet moving at what, for a muzzleloader, can be considered high velocity.
The second point is that I shoot a lot. I shoot guns as part of my job, and on my days off I shoot competitively, so I put in the time to build the necessary skills. If you have any thoughts of long-range hunting with a muzzleloader, you owe it to yourself--and the animals you are hunting--to practice a lot before the hunting season.
How far is too far? The ethical line is still blurry, but it's farther than it was a decade ago because it's inarguable that the distance has been extended with new technology. But we need to put this into perspective. I recently hunted red deer in Argentina where the average shot was more than 350 yards. I took four stags and never missed a shot--but I was shooting a .300 Ultra Mag and a load that, with the eight-inch kill zone of the target, gave me a maximum point blank range of 361 yards. For a muzzleloader with a common 250-grain sabot bullet and 100 grains of blackpowder, the maximum point blank range is 163 yards--well under half the distance achievable with a hot centerfire.
Even today's sexy new pointed muzzleloader bullets and 150-grain charges do not come close to competing with a modern rifle. The Hornady SST 250-grain muzzleloader bullet is one of the hottest new long-range bullets on the market. With three 50-grain Pyrodex pellets it hits about 2,200 fps at the muzzle from most muzzleloaders.
As muzzleloaders go, that's pretty hot stuff--until you consider that the rifle cartridge that compares best to it is the .375 Win., a straight-walled cartridge that uses a blunt nose bullet in a lever-action gun. It's a fine woods cartridge for deer, and with a 220-grain Hornady FP bullet at 2,200 fps, the trajectory is almost exactly the same as the best of the best from a muzzleloader.