Lets handle this in a manner I learned from a wise counselor. In such matters there are typically not absolutes, but ranges. And I like to stick to these three: Good, Better, and Best. Of course if something is "Better or Best", it fulfilled the requirements of "Good" and did better or was the best. Also "Good" could probably be called "Good Enough." To keep it simple, I'll just start out with "Good" on this post.
For me, in regards to firearms, "Good" really means safe and effective. So owners of a Badger Ridge 209 converted Remington 700 ML we need to start by looking at what the Remington Owners Manual says about performance and safety in regards to bullets, primers, sabots, and powder. If you've never read the owners manual, you should! Right now!
Excerpt below is from page two, "Safety is Critical to Performance" (I added the bold and underline for emphasis):
The proper use and performance of your firearm depends on correct assembly and maintenance, so it’s critical that you familiarize yourself with the information in this instruction book. Even if you’re a veteran shooter with a collection of Remington firearms, take the time to read this literature. Not all firearms are the same. That means the first step in safe handling is to learn the features and requirements of your new Remington."
So what is an acceptable load? Well first lets see what the manual says about loading... and here we have to remember that the manufacturer of the rifle never tested it with powders like Blackhorn 209 that were not available while it was in production (the same could be said for many other black powder substitutes that came out after the 700ML was designed and tested).
Also there are so many good options out there for bullets, sabots, etc now that were not available then. Factor in that with our 209 conversion you have changed the priming method and breech plug and you should realize that you do need to run what it says through the filter of progress in regards to percussion caps, and powder. Please take the time to read the excerpt below.
Below is excerpted from Page 6 of the Remington Owner's Manual, please take the time to read through it... my comments will be in blue and itallics
In addition to the Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety, there are several guidelines specific to black powder guns that muzzleloaders must observe at all times to ensure their safety and the safety of others. The following is a brief overview of these guidelines. For full details, thoroughly read this instruction book.
MUZZLELOADING SAFETY RULES
1. NEVER smoke while using your muzzleloader or while near any quantity of black powder or PYRODEX.® (Same is true for any powder)
2. BEFORE LOADING, MAKE SURE THE FIREARM IS NOT ALREADY LOADED. To make sure it is unloaded, insert the ramrod provided with the rifle into the bore to the breech plug and note its position at the muzzle. It should be approximately 1/4 inch below flush with the end of the barrel if the rifle is not loaded. (Badger's Note: that is with the OEM breech plug, with our breech plug your ram rod should sit just above flush with the muzzle on and uncharged rifle).
NOTE: Nothing can be attached to the ramrod while using it in this way. USE ONLY THE RAMROD PROVIDED.
3. ALWAYS CHECK AND CLEAR THE FLASH HOLE THROUGH THE NIPPLE BEFORE SHOOTING. ALWAYS CHECK THE BARREL FOR OBSTRUCTIONS BEFORE LOADING AND SHOOTING. Before checking for an obstruction, put the safety mechanism in the ‘S’ position and open the bolt assembly and remove the percussion cap and residue from the nipple. Water, snow, mud or any other material can obstruct the barrel and cause barrel damage. (with a 209 conversion you must realize the same is true, but instead of caps and nipples we have primers, flash cambers and vent liners)
4. USE BLACK POWDER OR PYRODEX® ONLY TO LOAD YOUR MUZZLELOADING FIREARM. Never use even small amounts of smokeless powder, even if it is black in color. The use of any other propellant may cause injury or death to the shooter or bystanders and damage the firearm. (So by using other black powder substitutes you are operating under the engineering of the powder manufacturer, not the rifle manufacturer. If you read page 12 you will see why Pyrodex is OK... so you'll have to read and understand the same for whatever black powder substitute you may choose... like Blackhorn 209. )
5. NEVER EXCEED THE MAXIMUM RECOMMENDED POWDER CHARGE CONTAINED IN THIS BOOK. To do so could result in injury or death to the shooter or bystanders. (Pages 16 and 17 state 120 grains (by volume) as the max, older versions of this manual had a 150 gr by volume for the MLS or "Magnum" version... I recommend you stick to this safer, more conservative 120gr by volume max... also if you choose Blackhorn209 you see it's manufacturer lists 120 gr by volume max as well).
6. NEVER POUR POWDER DIRECTLY FROM A POWDER FLASK OR CONTAINER. A sudden powder ignition from a lingering spark could cause the entire flask to explode. Use an individual charge from a powder measure when loading your rifle. Read and follow your powder manufacturer’s procedures for powder storage.
7. NEVER USE THE WRONG AMMUNITION COMPONENTS. Only use ammunition components that exactly match the caliber markings on your firearm and are meant to be used together. Use only pure lead or Remington® brand loading components when shooting lubed conical bullets. Do not use any other lead alloys with lubed conical bullets as they may be too hard for proper and safe use in your muzzleloader. (so when you use other bullets you are no under the engineering of Remington, but your own or the bullets manufacturer... only use 451-452 bullets in a 50 cal rifle with black sabots... etc)
8. WHEN LOADING, BE CERTAIN POWDER, PATCHES AND PROJECTILES ARE IN THEIR PROPER
SEQUENCE AND THAT THEY ARE COMPLETELY SEATED AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. Serious personal
injury or death can result if space is left between them. To provide a reference mark for future loadings, mark the ramrod at the muzzle once a projectile has been loaded to the proper depth. NOTE: Be sure to recheck the ramrod mark if you change loading components or alter the ramrod. See Picture 13 on page 15. Never attempt to shoot out a projectile that is not firmly seated against the powder charge or does not seat to the proper depth. Remove these projectiles following the instructions on pages 18 and 19. (witness marks are key to safety!!!)
9. ALWAYS USE COTTON PATCHING. The use of non-cotton patching could build up a static electric charge possibly creating a spark that could ignite the powder.
10. NEVER POUND THE RAMROD. Black powder and PYRODEX are impact sensitive and could ignite from impact. Keep the ramrod directly away from your face or body. (Another reason I like Blackhorn209 is that detonation from impact is much less probable when compared to Black powder or Pyrodex... that is why you have to use full power 209 primers to set it off!)
11. KNOW THE RANGE OF YOUR FIREARM. Muzzleloading projectiles have a range of more than one-half mile.
12. IF THE FIREARM FAILS TO FIRE, BE PREPARED FOR A HANGFIRE. Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction and wait no less than one full minute before opening the bolt. A spark may have reached the powder without any sound. The rifle could fire at any moment during this minute. If the rifle does not fire within a minute, carefully follow the directions on how to handle a misfire on pages 15 and 16. (With 209's this is typically caused by failure to properly maintain the breech plug and vent liner... see our FAQ and owners instructions for our kits for more info here).
13. RENDER YOUR FIREARM INOPERABLE WHENEVER YOU ARE NOT SHOOTING. Never place the percussion cap on the nipple until just before firing and remove it immediately if you do not fire. Never carry or store a loaded firearm in a building or a vehicle. Unload it by firing it into a suitable backstop before returning to your vehicle, entering a building, crossing or climbing up or down any obstacle that may prevent you from keeping full control over the firearm, such as a fallen tree, fence, treestand or slippery area. Failure to follow this rule may cause serious injury or death to the shooter or bystanders.
14. BLACK POWDER LEAVES HEAVY CORROSIVE RESIDUES. A thorough cleaning and lubing are absolute necessities before storage and prior to loading and shooting. Follow the cleaning instructions starting on page 19. Always carry loading and cleaning equipment with you in the field. (Another reason Blackhorn 209 is better, no fouling, and a less corrosive residue that cleans up with standard gun cleaning solvents)
15. NEVER USE THE WEATHER SHROUD FOR REPEATED SHOOTING. It is intended for single shot usage. Always disassemble and clean the bolt assembly after shooting with the weather shroud. See page 22 for bolt assembly cleaning instructions. (Our 209 conversion totally eliminates this component)
16. WARNING: Discharging firearms in poorly ventilated areas, cleaning firearms or handling ammunition components may result in exposure to lead, a substance known to cause birth defects, reproductive harm, cancer and other serious physical injury. Have adequate ventilation at all times. Wash hands thoroughly after exposure.
WARNING: Failure to follow any of these muzzleloading safety rules may cause personal injury or death to the shooter or bystander and damage to property. Do not use a muzzleloader firearm until you fully understand and practice the Ten Commandments of Firearm Safety and the safety guidelines specific to black powder shooting, to your black powder firearm and to your black powder ammunition components. If you are unfamiliar with black powder firearms, seek professional instruction from a qualified organization such as the International Black Powder Hunting Association, National Muzzleloading Rifle Association, National Rifle Association or your State Hunter Safety program. If you have any questions about the safe use of a Remington® black powder firearm, write to us at Remington Arms Company, Inc., Consumer Services, P.O. Box 700, Madison, NC 27025-0700 or call us at 1-800-243-9700.
For a Badger Ridge converted 700ML I think you could throw out #15, and summarize that the basic safety above could be condensed to:
1. NEVER SMOKE while using your muzzleloader or while near any quantity of black powder or Black Powder Substitute.
2. BEFORE LOADING, MAKE SURE THE FIREARM IS NOT ALREADY LOADED.
3. ALWAYS CHECK AND CLEAR THE BREECH PLUG and VENT LINER'S FLASH CHANNEL BEFORE SHOOTING. ALWAYS CHECK THE BARREL FOR OBSTRUCTIONS BEFORE LOADING AND SHOOTING.
4. USE BLACK POWDER OR BLACK POWDER SUBSTITUTES ONLY TO LOAD YOUR MUZZLELOADING FIREARM. Never use even small amounts of smokeless powder
5. NEVER EXCEED THE MAXIMUM RECOMMENDED POWDER CHARGE of 120 grains (by volume)
6. NEVER POUR POWDER DIRECTLY FROM A POWDER FLASK OR CONTAINER.
7. NEVER USE THE WRONG AMMUNITION COMPONENTS.
8. WHEN LOADING, BE CERTAIN POWDER, PATCHES AND PROJECTILES ARE IN THEIR PROPER
SEQUENCE AND THAT THEY ARE COMPLETELY SEATED AGAINST ONE ANOTHER. USE A WITNESS MARK!!!
9. ALWAYS USE COTTON PATCHING or SABOTS MADE FOR YOUR CALIBER BARREL AND BULLET.
10. NEVER POUND THE RAMROD.
11. KNOW THE RANGE OF YOUR FIREARM. Muzzleloading projectiles have a range of more than one-half mile.
12. IF THE FIREARM FAILS TO FIRE, BE PREPARED FOR A HANGFIRE.
13. RENDER YOUR FIREARM INOPERABLE WHENEVER YOU ARE NOT SHOOTING. Never place the primer on the bolt nose until just before firing and remove it immediately if you do not fire.
14. BLACK POWDER AND MOST SUBSTITUTES LEAVE HEAVY CORROSIVE RESIDUES. EVEN BLACKHORN 209's LIGHT RESIDUE WILL PROMOTE CORROSION. Proper and thorough cleaning and lubing are absolute necessities before storage and prior to loading and shooting. Always carry loading and cleaning equipment with you in the field.
15. ONLY SHOOT IN A WELL VENTILATED AREA, PROPER RIFLE RANGE, ETC., AND WASH YOUR HANDS
But at this point I'm sure most have dozed off or skimmed down to the conclusion, and honestly that worries me... you really need to read and understand all of this before you try to load, prime, or fire your rifle... but here's what i think is 'at least good' for bullet, primer, powder selection for a Remington 700ML with a Badger Ridge 209 conversion:
GOOD (aka Good Enough)
- Lead round balls of appropriate sizel, with cotton patching, and proper lubrication (50 cal: 179Gr)
- Lubed conicals, Minet projectiles, power belts, bore-locks, etc (but probably not with Blackhorn 209 as they don't always get the best initial seal)
- Plastic sabots sized for the caliber of the barrel, with lead or jacketed bullets of a size that matches the inner portion of the sabot (200 to 400 gr) (work well with black powder or any black powder substitute)
- 2F (FF) or FFG black powder
- Pyrodex RS, TripleSeven, or other 'stinky chemistry' black powder substitutes
- Blackhorn 209
- Black powder specific 209 with any black powder/substitute (except Blackhorn209)
- Any non corrosive modern 209 shot shell (full power) primer with any black powder/substitute
PRIMERS: Any standard 209 primer can work with our breech plug if properly tuned. Some folks play with primers after working up a load and have reported improved accuracy just by changing brands. Again your mileage may vary. But, hands down I've found standard CCI primers work the best. Mostly because they always feed and have never stuck in a bolt nose on me. I've had others, even CCI magnums stick at low powder charges and require a dry fire to remove. My rifles shoot good enough, so I'm not fiddling with primers. I'm sticking to what I know works. Standard primers will ignite any black powder or substitute.
POWDER: Any modern black powder substitute is better than black powder in my opinion. I found that Blackhorn 209 works the best: I get the best accuracy, faster velocities, no fouling between shots, and its easier to clean up. It does cost more, but sometimes that's how it is: quality costs.
I recommend you stay away from .458 (rifle) bullets as they typically have thicker jackets and do not expand and perform as well at muzzleloader velocities. But if you can find .458 bullets that are made for a muzzleloader then you may have a great bullet.
I absolutely recommend that you forget round balls; they have horrible ballistics and poor performance in larger game, especially at longer ranges.
As for conicals, power belts, bore-loc's, minet's etc... I personally I've seen better results with sabots and good jacketed hunting bullet, but the conicals are an option, just not with Blackhorn209. I just have always done better staying away from them; I've read a lot of bad things about some of these as they don't have copper jackets that control expansion. However your rifle may like them. Blackhorn209 has trouble with these sort of projectiles that require the initial expansion of the powder charge to seal them to the bore... especially in a Remington 700ML. If you are using Blackhorn209 you should stay away from these and use sabots!
SABOTS: My rifles generally shoot the best when I use the largest handgun bullet I can get a sabot for in the rifle's caliber:
- In a 54, you can get purple sabots that let you shoot .50 caliber handgun bullets.
- In a .50 cal you can get black sabots that let you shoot .451-.452 hand gun bullets
- In a .45 cal i'd try for sabots that use .40cal hand gun bullets
Remember what I said about .458's above... you can get them to shoot well, but are they the bullets with thinner jackets that are made to expand? If so then if you can find sabots for them in your .50 you may have good results.
This approach is to insure the thinnest sabot petals. In general I've found the thinner the sabot petals the better the accuracy. I've read in various books that its because the sabot separates from the bullet 'cleaner' and quicker with thinner petals... I've also heard its because the thinner petals allow for better concentric alignment of the bullet to the bore. Honestly, thinner petals just seem to work; I don't claim to know why, nor do I really care because I've seen it prove out at the range.
This is counter to what some would like... ie the smallest diameter bullet, with the highest BC, going at the fastest speed (requires thick sabot petals). From what I've seen accuracy is all about thin sabot petals. And its accuracy that lets you reach out and hit distant targets. High velocity and fast flat shooters help at range, but only if they are accurate to start.
I know my 50 cal rifles shoot black MMP sabots with 45 cal bullets better than they do green MMP sabots with .44 cal bullets... or with harvester crush rib sabots... but not by all that much. I haven't proven this with my .54 yet, but so far it shoots purple MMP sabots with 50 cal FTX bullets very well. So well I don't know if I'm going to do any more development... I'll probably just use it as a loner/back up rifle and hunt it as is.
All that said, I have clients that swear their 50 cal rifles love the 44 cal bullets with green sabots. So your mileage may vary!
I have one 50 cal rifle that likes 250gr XTP's better than 250 or 200gr FTX's... I wish it didn't because I like the idea of slighly flatter shooting (of the pointed FTX). I still load it with XTP's when I'm shooting at deer... because that is what that rifle shoots best. At this point I think I'm rambling and you can see that we may be splitting hairs when it comes to BC's and velocities in muzzleloaders.
Bottom line: Stick with Sabots, handgun bullets, full power 209 primers, and Blackhorn 209 and you'll definitely be doing better and perhaps even best...
How do you get the best out of your rifle?
If you don't own any muzzleloading components yet, I encourage you to pick up some MMP Sabots from us. Then go to your local sporting goods store and get a box of correlating size quality handgun bullets, CCI Primers, and Blackhorn 209 (along with standard black powder accessories like a powder measure, flask, starter, etc). Read the owners manual and the directions on your powder bottle. Then go to the range and work up your loads as they direct.
Hope this helps and sets you on a good safe path. Truth is that you have a lot of choices to make. In general, if you pick better components and work up per the manuals, you will probably quickly find out what works best.
Always follow the ten commandments of shooting and special muzzle-loader safety rules!