Questions: Muzzleloader ballistics charts. Goose hunting guns for small-frame women.

Do you know where I can find ballistics charts for muzzleloaders?

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Q: Do you know where I can find ballistics charts for muzzleloaders? They're easy to find for centerfire cartridges and even reloads but virtually impossible to find for muzzleloading rifles.

A: The reason they're almost impossible to find is that they're largely irrelevant. Muzzleloaders are short-range firearms, so most people just sight-in at 100 yards and go hunting, since they don't plan to shoot much beyond 100 yards anyway. Muzzleloaders are, after all, supposedly "primitive" rifles. If you've got some scoped, plastic-and-stainless muzzleloader you're trying to turn into a centerfire by shooting saboted bullets, try it at 150 yards to see where it shoots. You'd have to do that anyway, even if ballistics charts existed, because charts are only theoretical. Responsible hunters test their rifles (whether muzzloader or centerfire) at any distance they plan to shoot. If you want to shoot beyond 150 yards, a better solution would be to use something called a .30/06, which was invented almost a century ago for just that purpose. You won't be able to use one during a muzzleloader season, but some people believe muzzleloading rifles should represent some sort of handicap and not be able to run side-by-side with scoped centerfires.

Q: I'm looking to buy a pump shotgun for my niece to hunt geese with. I'm concerned that a 12-gauge will have too much recoil for her small frame, so I am thinking about a 20-gauge. What do you recommend as far as gauge, model, style, and ammo?

A: Why do you want a pump? I wouldn't recommend one for a small-frame woman or girl. Most small women (and even some larger ones) don't have the arm strength to work a pump effectively, especially when swaddled in goose-hunting clothes.

My recommendation would be a gas-operated autoloader, which cuts down recoil noticeably by stretching it out over a few more milliseconds. Get the shortest-barrel model you can find, then cut the butt down to fit her. The average factory shotgun has a length of pull (distance from the middle of the recoil pad to the trigger) of 14 inches, designed to fit the average 5-foot 10-inch American male. The rule of thumb is to cut off 1/8 inch for each inch of height under 5-foot-10, so if your niece is 5-foot-2, she needs a 13-inch length of pull. Have the gunsmith who does the work fit on a Pachmayr Decelerator, the softest recoil pad on the market. (Is she still growing? If so, I'd buy an extra buttstock for when she grows up.)

The shotgun should be chambered for the 3-inch 12-gauge, not the 20, because you can buy 12-gauge shells that recoil just as lightly as 20s (especially in an autoloader) and kill geese much more effectively. If you're trying to save money, even steel-shot 3-inch ammo doesn't kick all that hard, because the steel payload is lighter than other kinds of nontoxic shot. With steel, BBs are the best goose shot at normal ranges.

If you can spend a little more money, buy some Bismuth or Federal Tungsten Steel with No. 2 shot, or Remington Hevi-Shot in No. 4. Even 2 3/4-inch shells will work with any of these. Have her practice with the lightest lead-shot loads that will function in the gun, and she'll never notice the extra recoil when she's actually hunting.