Back in July (2017), we shared the five .50 caliber rifles that we are using as our modern in-line test rifles through the second half of this year. Those rifles are the Cooper Model 22 ML shown directly above ... the Traditions VORTEK StrikerFire LDR ... the CVA Accura V2 LR ... the Thompson Center Strike ... and the Traditions Pursuit Ultralight G4. Now that hunting seasons are looming on a very close horizon, it's time to begin thinking about which rifles I'll be using through fall and early winter to put some meat in the freezer. For a more in-depth look at those rifles ... the scopes on them ... and the loads they shoot very well, go to -
Ordinarily, I begin my fall big game hunts here in Montana going after a black bear, beginning mid September, but I cannot hunt bear this fall. In this state, you can get just one bear tag per year ... which is good for both the spring and fall seasons ... and I filled mine with our Cooper Model 22 ML this past May. So, this year my fall muzzleloader big game hunts begin in late October - and this year I will begin that hunting with the rifle shown directly above - the .50 caliber Traditions Pursuit Ultralight G4.
That first week of the Montana general firearms deer and elk season, I'll be in familiar country - the Missouri Breaks. I have filled my buck tag there every year since 2009, plus numerous antlerless tags. The buck license is good for either whitetail or mule deer. There are some awesome mulies in this country, and that's exactly what I will be concentrating on that first week. In the mornings, I'll spend a lot of time covering a lot of high ground on foot - glassing lower ridges and valleys ... hoping to spot a tall and wide mule deer buck headed back up to snooze through the day. Then, I'll try to get directly above the deer and intercept it's travel route. If all goes well, shots of 100 to 150 yards are very common.
My load for this rifle will be a 100-grain charge of FFFg Triple Seven behind the Harvester Muzzleloading saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold. With the rifle sighted 2-inches high at 100 yards, at 150 yards holding about 2 inches above center chest cavity will put the big poly-tipped spire point squarely through the boiler works. At the muzzle of the 26-inch barrel, the load is good for 1,919 f.p.s. - and 2,127 f.p.e. At 150 yards, velocity is still close to 1,550 f.p.s., meaning a big ol' mulie buck would be clobbered by very close to 1,600 foot-pounds of wallop!
Late each afternoon or early evening, the mule deer of this country begin to filter out into large expanses of sage, broken by long and narrow patches of prairie grass. Getting within range can mean having to do some fancy crawling through a lot of sage ... and around a lot of cactus! Being able to reach out to 200 yards, or a bit farther, can be critical to filling a tag.
So, come evenings, I'll be relying on our CVA .50 Accura V2 LR, topped with one of the Hi-Lux Optics 2-10x42mm Pentalux TAC-V scopes. I've owned a few $1,500+ European scopes in my life ... and none were any brighter or more sharp and clear as this scope. The TAC-V is also one of the brightest scopes I have ever used ... sucking the last bit of useable light from the evening sky. It's found a permanent home on this thumb-hole stocked rifle.
My load for those long shots is 120-grains of Blackhorn 209 behind the saboted 250-grain Cutting Edge Bullets saboted .430" diameter machined MAXIMUS all-copper hollow-pointed spitzer. The load gets out of the rifle's 30-inch Bergara barrel at 2,141 f.p.s. - with right at 2,545 f.p.e. This long and slender bullet has a very high .311 b.c. - and out at 200 yards it retains velocity and energy well. At that range, it is still flying at around 1,650 f.p.s. - and would hit a mulie buck with more than 1,500 f.p.e.
If I don't tag out that first week or so of season in late October, I plan on heading back in November, during the rut, and switching over to river-bottom whitetails. Last year (2016), I managed to take the buck shown above at 223 yards with my Cooper Model 22 ML - shooting 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and the 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold. (The same load I used to dump that near 400-pound bear shown in the very top photo of this post.) This rifle and load is a tack driving combo, and I certainly would have no problem packing it again during the Missouri Breaks whitetail rut again this fall.
I have been awaiting the use of a new .45 Cooper Model 22 ML ... with a very fast 1-in-20 rate of rifling twist - which I intended to shoot "sabotless". And if the rifle and load I have planned for it shoot as well as I think it will ... that would be the combo I'd be packing when hunting the huge open hay fields of the ranch I hunt each fall. Watch (hopefully) for more on this rifle and "sabotless" concept later this year.
Directly above ... Meet Our Newest Test Rifle! This is the "fixed frame" .50 caliber Pro Hunter FX from Thompson/Center Arms. The rifle reached us in late August, and as of this writing, it has had less than three dozen shots fired out of it ... shooting our favored test load - 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and the Harvester Muzzleloading 300-grain saboted Scorpion PT Gold. (We've topped this rifle with one of the 3-9x40mm M40 Tactical Hunter scopes offered by Hi-Lux Optics.)
If we do get the chance to go back after rutting whitetail bucks, this 26-inch barreled .50 caliber will also likely go with us ... just to break it in. I also have two antlerless tags to fill there, and even if we do get onto a buck earlier in the season ... perhaps we'll still get the chance to "make meat" with this rifle. We'll be putting a few hundred more rounds through the rifle before then. So far, this rig has proven capable of keeping shots right at an inch at 100 yards. (Our last feature article on NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING for the month of September will be a report on our shooting with this rifle.)
My traditional muzzleloader challenge this fall is to try filling one of those antlerless tags with a patched round ball from our Pedersoli flintlock Mortimer 12-gauge smoothbore. Before the end of October, I'll get back out and do some shooting with the classy smoothbore. Last year, I did get to cross off my bucket list "taking a deer with a load of buckshot from a muzzleloading shotgun". For that morning doe hunt, I had used my Pedersoli side-by-side Magnum 10 Gauge. For more on that hunt go to -
So ... are you ready for the coming seasons? Some are already underway, but if your hunts ... like mine this year ... are still a month or more away ... time is running out to get in some shooting. Make sure the rifle ... scope ... and your favorite load are still on the money - at all the ranges you might be faced with having to shoot. If you are faced with making a change or two, like to a different bullet ... or maybe switching from one powder to another - don't put it off. Different bullets, from different makers, even of the same weight ... often shoot to an entirely different point of impact. The same can be true when making the switch from Triple Seven to Blackhorn 209 ... or vice versa.
Share with others here what rifle and load you are shooting ... and how it has performed for you during the past few seasons. Or, if you're shooting an entirely new rifle and load, share some details - and maybe someone shooting the same combo can share some advice.
Have a great season. Let's all get back together later this winter and share some muzzleloader hunting adventures. - Toby Bridges
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If suddenly, all muzzleloader production was to stop ... and you were allowed to have one more rifle made for you ... EXACTLY THE WAY YOU WANTED IT BUILT ... what features, what performance abilities, would the rifle have or offer?
There was once a very popular saying, something to the effect of ... "BEWARE OF THE MAN WHO SHOOTS JUST ONE GUN!" The gist of that saying was that if he (or she) does indeed shoot just one gun, and it's the only gun he or she owns, that shooter likely knows everything about getting the best possible accuracy out of and performance from that gun. It is a good bet that many of you likely own four or five muzzleloaders. Here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING, I keep 40, or so, on hand at any given time - and shoot most somewhat regularly. So, we really don't have to decide which "one rifle" would be the rifle we would hunt with and make meat with for the rest of our lives.
If I did have to make that kind of decision, the rifle would be a lot like ANY one of the above four modern in-line ignition rifles ... with a slight amount of modification to any one of the four models shown. Following is a look at what my "one and only" muzzle-loaded big game rifle would be ... and what it could do.
CVA Accura V2 LR
Whether you like a thumbhole stock design or not, such stocks do tend to tame down recoil quite a bit. The rife shown here is easily the most comfortble to shoot modern in-line rifle we have here at Namlhunt.com. We've occasionally stuffed this rifle with 120-grain charges of Blackhorn 209 or FFFg Triple Seven for a number of our test shoots, and the rifle has shot comfortable with bullets of up to 400 grains.
The rifle is built with an optimal 30-inch barrel, which can squeeze out all the f.p.s. and f.p.e. any powder and bullet combo has to offer - and it has shot with exceptional accuracy with a wide range of saboted and non-saboted bullets which are currently offered for the .50 caliber rifles. The only real changes I would make with this rifle, if it were to be the only rifle I hunted with for the rest of my life would be with what shoots best out of this rifle.
Currently, the .50 caliber Accura V2 LR is built with a 1-in-28 rifling twist, which pretty much limits it to shooting bullets no longer than around 1.1-inch in length. With a modern saboted bullet, that would be a bullet of around 300 to 350 grains. "My Version" of an Accura V3 XLR would feature a 1-in-24 twist, and would be capable of shooting a longer saboted bullet of 375 to 400 grains, with a significantly higher ballistic coefficient, for greater retention of velocity and energy out beyond 200 yards.
Cooper Model 22 ML
Hands down, very likely the most accurate muzzleloading big game rifle I shoot these days is the .50 caliber Cooper Model 22 ML shown above with a nice buck I took last fall at 223-yards - shooting 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and the Harvester Muzzleloading saboted 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold bullet. I have easily shot more sub 1-inch groups with this rifle and load combo than any other of the Namlhunt.com test rifles. The same rifle and load was also used this past spring to take a beautiful 400-pound class brown color-phase black bear - with a single shot at 70 yards.
To turn this rifle into the ideal "One Rifle Only" battery, I would make just two changes. First, I would add at least two inches of barrel length to the present 26-inch Wilson match grade barrel - and switch from the 1-in-28 twist to a faster 1-in-24 twist ... allowing longer and higher b.c. bullets to be shot with accuracy at the longer ranges. And if this was the ONLY muzzleloader I had to hunt with for the rest of my life, that hand-laid composite stock show above would be the stock I would want on the rifle.
Thompson/Center Arms Strike
This .50 caliber break-open No. 209 primer ignition in-line muzzle-loaded big game rifle is another very comfortable rifle to shoot. Quite honestly, my only real hang up about this rifle is its short and stubby 24-inch barrel. The rest of this rifle is very futuristic, but that short barrel harkens back to the early in-line rifle models of the late 1980's ... when we did not have black powder substitutes capable of the energy produced by FFFg Triple Seven or Blackhorn 209. These two powder require a bit more barrel length in order to tap their performance potential.
If the T/C Strike were to be my ONLY muzzleloading big game rifle, I would definitely want it to have at least a 28-inch barrel. Likewise, if this rifle was to represent the final chapter in modern muzzleloading rifle evolution, I would also want it to have that snappier 1-in-24 twist. Right now, the 1-in-28 twist bore of this rifle is only good for shooting saboted bullets with enough length to push bullet b.c. to around .275 to .290. A 1-in-24 twist could allow bullets of such length that bullets of .350 to .360 b.c. would stabilize and shoot with accuracy - and retain significantly higher velocities and energy levels out in the 250+ yard realm.
Traditions VORTEK StrikerFire LDR
The 30-inch barreled Traditions .50 VORTEK StikerFire LDR shown here definitely has the barrel length needed to tap the performance of today's modern muzzleloader propellants and saboted bullets. If modern muzzleloader evolution were to end with this rifle - two changes would be needed. First, the rifle's 1-in-28 twist, like the other models we've looked at here, most definitely needs to step up to a 1-in-24 twist in order to accurately handle longer ... heavier ... and higher b.c. bullets.
However, in order for this rifle to handle a heavier bullet, something definitely needs to be done about the buttstock of this rifle. The company has designed the StrikerFire LDR model with an extremely hollowed out buttstock, to provide a storage compartment - for what I really don't know. The space is so small, there's not room for much in there ... but the stock construction and design, with a comb that's about 3/8" too low, results in some pretty nasty recoil. To shoot and hunt with this rifle for the rest of my life would require it to have a more conventional stock ... without that storage compartment - and about 1/2-pound more weight.
What Features Would You Want On Your ONLY ML?
What do you like or dislike about your current "favorite" or "only" muzzleloading big game rifle? If you could have YOUR IDEAL MUZZLELOADING HUNTING RIFLE built specifically for you ... what features, what qualities, what level of performance would, in you mind, make it ideal? - Toby Bridges
Use The Following Comment Section To Share Your Thoughts - Or E-mail Us At -
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Before passing away back in March 2013, one of Tony Knight's last big "Hoorahs" for the sport of muzzleloading was working with the development of Knight Rifles' "somewhat new" .52 caliber bore. Those who have studied the big and heavy half-stock "Hawken" and other similar styled rifles fully realize that .52 caliber muzzleloaders were available back in the 1840's, and that a rifle with a .520" land-to-land bore was nothing new at all. Even so, one with a fast rate of twist for shooting a saboted bullet was indeed.
(Note: Introduced during the early to mid 2000's, Knight Rifles' .52 caliber models are still being produced, but the bore size has failed to make much of a dent in the sales of .50 caliber rifle models.)
Along with the "new" in-line ignition rifle bore size, he also worked hand in hand with the folks at Barnes Bullets to develop the hefty all-copper 375-grain .475" diameter Knight "Red Hot" bullet shown above ... and with Muzzleload Magnum Products to produce that reddish-purple .52x.475 sabot shown above left. It was THIS BULLET which allowed the Knight .52 caliber rifle models to earn the moniker "The Powerhouse of Muzzleloading" !
The one thing that Knight Rifles had to do in order for their .52 caliber rifles to shoot this lengthy 1.210" long all-copper spitzer hollow-point with any degree of accuracy was to break away from the standard 1-in-28 rifling twist ... and build the .52 models with a slightly faster 1-in-26 rifling twist. The twist that had served the .50 caliber in-line rifles well through the 1990's simply was not fast enough to properly stabilize the longer Barnes produced 375-grain .475" diameter "Red Hot" bullet ... but the 1-in-26 twist did just fine.
That other light blue sabot shown above right is the .50x.475 sabot offered by Harvester Muzzleloading. Yep, this sabot allows .50 caliber rifle owners to load and shoot .475" diameter bullets. And some of you reading this have been shooting lighter and shorter 275- to 350-grain .475" bullets out of your 1-in-28 twist Knight ... CVA ... Traditions ... Thompson/Center ... and other in-line rifle models. However, if you've tried to shoot the lengthy 375-grain bullet shown here ... I'm sure accuracy truly sucked. That bullet and the 1-in-28 twist simply are not compatible.
Before the end of this month, we will get in a couple of mornings shooting the .50 caliber rifle shown here ... with 110- and 120-grain charges of Blackhorn 209 and FFFg Triple Seven ... shooting the 1.210" long Knight 375-grain "Red Hot" bullet and the Harvester Muzzleloading .50x.475 sabot. This is our .50 caliber Pedersoli 1-in-24 twist Rolling Block Muzzleloader ... and we've already witnessed how this rifle can shoot, with accuracy, a couple of other long saboted bullets... something that no 1-in-28 twist .50 caliber bore could accomplish. Watch for a report on this shooting about August 20th.
If any of you reading this have played around with shooting saboted .475" diameter bullets out of a .50 caliber bore, please share your findings in the comment section of this post. - Toby Bridges
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Happy 4th Of July!
Muzzleloader Featured Above - Thompson/Center .50 Strike With Hi-Lux Optics 1-6x Buck Country Scope