Pronghorn hunting with a muzzleloader can often result in frustration and "close calls." As I hid behind a large sage bush, my plan appeared to be working for a change. Far out in the arid Wyoming pastureland a small group of pronghorns slowly worked their way in my direction. In fact, the herd mostly dawdled in the blazing sun, but in my somewhat desperate opinion they were getting closer. They nibbled sage tips and stood around in no particular hurry to go anywhere. Eventually an old doe started walking toward a cluster of cottonwoods that stood a mile away in the shimmering heat waves. The trees surrounded a small watering hole that was their only source of moisture for miles. I hoped they would come for water and had been waiting more than 3 hours for something to happen.
As the animals slowly worked their way closer, I glassed the herd buck—his horns were heavy and at least 14 inches long. The fighting prongs were very prominent and perfectly matched. My rifle was ready, perched on a shooting tripod. I switched back and forth from my binocs to a laser rangefinder as they approached. When the herd was 250 yards out, I put the laser down and slowly settled into the rifle. The leading doe was disappearing below the ground-line as the herd went to the water. I grinned to myself as the big buck stopped between two cottonwoods. The distance was 206 yards, and I placed the second bar of the Swarovski TDS reticle on his shoulder. I allowed for 6 inches of wind-drift, slowly squeezed the trigger and the big 350-grain bullet bowled him into an unseen ravine.
I reloaded the Knight DISC rifle and sat for a few minutes, wondering how he could have disappeared so quickly. The herd scrambled out of the waterhole and ran 75 yards. They looked back to seek the source of danger. The buck didn't join them so I knew my shot was good. As I stood up the herd appeared to float across the prairies as they ran toward a far off range of hills. I marveled at how smoothly the pronghorns moved as I walked toward the trees.
A pronghorn at 206 yards was a fairly long shot for a muzzleloader, but I was completely confident I could make a clean kill. The Knight DISC rifle was shooting three shots into 1- to 1¼-inch groups at 100 yards. I'd shot enough to learn how the bullet drops related to the bars on the TDS reticle at various distances, so trajectory out to 300 yards was not a concern. In fact, my best group at 300 yards went slightly less than 3 inches! At the range, I shoot in wind as much as possible so deciding on the appropriate hold-off was also fairly simple, and because laser rangefinders have become a standard hunting tool I no longer have concerns about judging distance when I set up for a longer shot.
I've used a lot of DISC rifles through the years, going all the way back to the earliest prototypes developed by my good friend Tony Knight. He recently told me that his intention in designing the DISC rifle was to offer an accurate, reliable in-line muzzleloader that looked and handled like a centerfire rifle. Tony's idea was a good one and soon other manufacturers were offering bolt-action in-lines. The DISC is by far the most successful bolt-action muzzleloader in history, and Knight's new Long Range Hunter is simply a refinement of Tony's wonderful design.
The primary difference between the Long Range Hunter and the standard DISC rifle is the design of the stock. The Long Range Hunter features an eye-catching laminated stock that's very comfortable to shoot from any position. The stock's forearm has a fairly wide beavertail shape and ventilation slots that provide a distinctive appearance. The barrels are available in .50 or .52 caliber. The .50 caliber model has proven the more popular, despite the tremendous knock-down potential of the .52 caliber. Knight flutes the Long Range Hunter barrels for a distinctive embellishment that works well in my opinion.
I've shot the rifle in both .50 and .52 caliber and would be very hard pressed to select a favorite. Bottom line, they're both amazingly accurate. By far the best shooting bullet in these rifles has been the pointed Barnes TMZ. These bullets perform so well for me that I've not tried many others. My best performance with TMZs has consistently beaten the "4-inch group at 200 yards" standard advertised by Knight. As a matter of fact, some of my bullet groups at 300 yards have bettered that mark. This is easily one of the most accurate in-lines I've ever shot.
My best groups have consistently been with Hodgdon's Triple Seven powder in the Long Range Hunter. I use both loose powder and pellets with about equal performance. Fact is, I prefer the pellets because they're faster to load. I find that loose powder, particularly in lighter loads, is amazingly accurate. My standard procedure is to shoot two pellets, then three, then refine with a variety of charges of loose powder. The secret to accuracy with any muzzleloader is to develop a uniform loading technique and to swab between shots. Swabbing can range from spit patches to factory pre-soaked patches. I squeeze out my patches so they're barely moist and run a dry patch after the damp one prior to each loading.
The Long Range Hunter is shipped with open sights, but this rifle begs to have a fine scope mounted on it. Unfortunately, there are jurisdictions where scopes are not allowed—hopefully that will change in the future. I believe that during the actual moments I'm taking the life of a big game animal, I should do so with the most efficient method possible. Shot placement is everything, and I can place my shot into the lethal zone with more confidence when I use a riflescope—simple as that. Our eyes don't work as well with open sights, especially as we age, so scopes are a welcomed asset.
I have hunted with a variety of scopes on the Long Range Hunter, including a Burris 3-9X, Kahles 3-9X, Leupold 3.5-10X, Swarovski 3-12X and Nikon's 3-9X Monarch with its BDC reticle. In most cases I turned the scope to the highest power and left it there. I have made numerous "kill" shots on my steel deer practice targets out at 300 yards and even farther. The secret is to practice, to get out and pull the trigger so you obtain the necessary skill and confidence needed to make the longer shots the Long Range Hunter can handle. Of course, even though this muzzleloader is touted as a long-range shooter, you should always try to get as close as possible before squeezing the trigger.
The Long Range Hunter is a superb in-line muzzleloader. Tony Knight chooses to hunt with one, and that's good enough for me.