As I sit and write this post, the 2018 SHOT Show is only about two weeks away, held again in Las Vegas (January 23-26). Just a few days before making this post, I published a feature article on hunting with the high ballistic coefficient saboted all-copper .430" diameter MAXIMUS spitzer hollow-point bullet from Cutting Edge Bullets. In that article, I shared how the modern side of the muzzleloading industry has allowed the technology of today's modern muzzeloading powders ... sabots ... and bullets to advance well ahead of the rifle models currently available. That article can be found at -
Sure, the No. 209 primer ignition systems currently found on all newer model in-line ignition rifles make them the most sure-fire muzzleloaders of all time. Likewise, most rifles now feature a fully enclosed ignition system, pretty much eliminating foul weather related misfires. So, what makes the current crop of in-lines so "outdated" ?
Take a good look at the two photos directly above. Of course, the most obvious "difference" between them is that I'm 25+ years older in the photo at right.
Each of these deer were taken at about 150 yards.
The .50 caliber rifle in the upper left photo was the very first Knight rifle built with a stainless steel barrel and receiver. I started shooting and hunting with this rifle in 1988. The Minnesota "10-pointer" in the photo was taken in 1992 with a 110-grain charge of Pyrodex "P" and a saboted 260-grain .451" diameter jacketed hollow-point handgun bullet. The load was good for right at 1,700 f.p.s. at the muzzle (considered as a hot load in those days) ... with around 1,670 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle. From 100 to 150 yards, the 24-inch barreled Knight MK-85 and load dropped right at 6 inches. Punched through the chest cavity, this buck went less than 10 yards.
The .50 caliber Traditions VORTEK Ultra Light LDR in the above right photo is a rifle I began shooting in 2012, and was the first 30-inch barreled in-line rifle I ever shot and hunted with. The Montana "5x5" in this photo was taken with a 110-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 and a Harvester Muzzleloading saboted (Crush Rib Sabot) .451" diameter polymer tipped 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold spire-point bullet. At the muzzle, the load is good for 2,011 f.p.s. - and 2,695 foot-pounds of energy. (Considered a standard load these days.) From 100 to 150 yards, the rifle and load drops just 2 1/2-inches. Punched through the chest cavity, this buck went less than 10 yards.
Although nearly 30 years separates when these two rifles were built, what these two rifles still have in common is that each of those barrels feature the same rifling twist - ONE TURN IN 28 INCHES.
Now, getting back to the Cutting Edge Bullets all-copper .430" diameter saboted MAXIMUS bullet. In several articles ... reports ... posts written and published on this website over the past year, I've claimed that ... I FEEL THIS IS THE BULLET THAT WILL TAKE MODERN MUZZLELOADING INTO THE FUTURE!
Above are three versions of this bullet, without and with the Harvester Muzzleloading green .50x.44 Crush Rib Sabot. Of the bullets shown here, Cutting Edge Bullets only offers the one on the far left side - the 250-grain MAXIMUS. The company knocked out the two other CNC machined bullets for NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING ... so we could share how the industry's 30+ year old 1-in-28 twist has been severely holding back taking in-line rifle performance to the next level. That report can be found at -
The short report on our findings is that the longer 300-grain MAXIMUS, shown above far right, is simply too long for the 1-in-28 twist to properly stabilize. Accuracy with the longer and heavier bullet was horrible. On the other hand, we've shot the shorter 250-grain MAXIMUS out of a half-dozen 1-in-28 twist barrels with exceptional accuracy. The middle bullet is a 275-grain version of the bullet ... which tended to shoot very well out of the longer barreled 1-in-28 rifles ... when loaded with 120-grain charges of Blackhorn 209 - to get the velocity up over 2,000 f.p.s.
So ... What's The Big Deal About Shooting Heavier And Longer Bullets?
The answer is simple ... to shoot higher b.c. bullets. And the higher the b.c. the more velocity the bullet will retain at longer ranges ... especially out past 200 yards. That also means the bullet will have a flatter trajectory and will retain much needed game-taking energy at longer ranges. The 250-grain MAXIMUS is already a notable step in that direction.
The 300-grain .451" diameter Scorpion PT Gold that has served me so well for the past 10 years has a b.c. of .250 to .255. Thanks to the smaller .430" diameter and added length of the experimental 300-grain MAXIMUS, I've estimated the b.c. of that bullet to be .350 to .360. But ... the 1-in-28 twist found in the vast majority of the modern .50 caliber in-line rifles now in use WILL NOT STABILIZE SUCH A LONG BULLET!
But ... a 1-in-24 twist will! Back when modern in-line rifles and saboted bullets were first getting off the ground during the late 1980's and early 1990's ... NONE OF THE IN-LINE RIFLE MAKERS WERE USING THE RIGHT RIFLING TWIST. The earliest Knight MK-85 rifles featured a 1-in-48 rifling twist, then went to 1-in-32 in late 1986 ... and to 1-in-28 by the end of 1987. CVA's first in-line models featured a 1-in-32 twist ... Tradition's first in-line rifles featured the same ... and Thompson/Center's earliest in-line rifles featured a slower yet 1-in-38 twist. During the early 1990's, all moved to the faster 1-in-28 twist.
That rate of twist has served us well for some three decades ... but is now holding back taking modern muzzleloader performance to the next level. For the past couple of years, I have hounded the modern in-line muzzleloading rifle makers to bring us a 1-in-24 twist model. That twist would permit the development of still more smaller diameter and longer saboted spire-point and spitzer bullets - with significantly higher ballistic coefficients.
If one, just one, of the leading modern in-line rifle manufacturers would offer a 28- to 30-inch barreled 1-in-24 twist No. 209 primer ignition model ... and a few more bullet companies jumped in to expand the offering of longer ... heavier ... higher b.c. bullets - others catering to the modern in-line muzzleloading hunter would have to follow suit.
Modern muzzleloading is performance driven, and quite honestly the current crop of .50 No. 209 primer ignition 1-in-28 twist rifles aren't capable of any greater performance than their predecessors of 10 years ago. Other than just to have a "new rifle" there's not much sense in buying a new muzzleloader. Perhaps that's why muzzleloading rifle sales have been in a real slump for the past 10 or 12 years.
A couple of the muzzleloader brands that do sponsor NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING have assured me several times that they are "working on it" ... but I have a feeling that when I get to the SHOT Show in a couple of weeks, I'll find that nothing has changed.
I hope that I'm wrong. - Toby Bridges
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Back in the spring and summer of 1972, I was given the opportunity to compile and write the majority of the book shown at left - the first edition of Black Powder Gun Digest, for Digest Books Inc. I was fresh out of the Marine Corps, and had taken the job as Associate Editor for both GUN WORLD and BOW & ARROW magazines, with Gallant Publishing. Publisher Jack Lewis had landed a contract to produce several books for Digest Books, and I got the opportunity to work on four of those books ... including complete reign over this book.
For the catalog section of the 288-page book, I wrote the short copy for the break-open Huntsman muzzleloader from Harrington & Richardson shown directly above. Writing this book opened the door to many future magazine articles and columns on muzzleloading and muzzleloader hunting - and working in the muzzleloader industry. Within a year of this book hitting dealers' shelves in September 1972, I went to work for Dixie Gun Works, of Union City, TN. The truth is, the H&R Huntsman copy seen above was simply written from info I had gotten from the company. I really never handled one of he muzzleloaders, or shot one until I went to work for Dixie.
One of my jobs with the company was to work with customer service, to work with those having problems with any of the muzzleloaders sold by Dixie - and Dixie pretty much handled every make and model of muzzleloader available in 1973. That provided me an opportunity to take whatever I wanted out to the range and put a few rounds through those frontloaders. And - I shot them all.
What set the Huntsman apart from all the other muzzleloading long arms offered by Dixie Gun Works was that it DID NOT represent a copy, a reproduction, of anything from the past. Harrington & Richardson had basically taken a modified version of their break-open single-shot breechloading shotgun receiver/frame ... and installed a muzzle-loaded barrel. (Note: The frame WAS NOT the same as the breech-loaded shotgun frame, allowing the Huntsman to be sold and shipped as a muzzleloader ONLY.)
Dixie sold a lot of these early modern in-line ignition muzzleloaders. I can remember days when I saw at least a dozen of the Huntsman frontloaders headed for shipping.
The rifle model you see here was the very first of what have come to be known as a "modern in-line ignition" muzzleloader. The Huntsman was first introduced in 1971, pre-dating the Knight MK-85 and the Michigan Arms "Wolverine" by at least 13 or 14 years. (Note: The earliest percussion "in-line" ignition guns date from the early 1800's ... shortly after the percussion cap was invented.)
The H&R break-open muzzleloaders, offered as .45 or .58 caliber rifles and as a 12-gauge shotgun, was first made with the breech plug you see at right. This plug was simply "pushed in" from the rear - and held securely in place by a rubber ... and the face of the receiver/frame. To remove the breech plug, the shooter simply opened the action ... slid the ramrod or range loading rod down through the muzzle and thumped the plug a few times to knock it loose.
The first of the Huntsman rifles I did shoot, in 1973, were built with the knock-out plug ... which I thought was pretty ingenious. Then, in 1974 or 1975, word spread quickly through the muzzleloading industry that a shooter had been killed by a Huntsman breech plug. It seems that he had experienced a misfire, and immediately opened the action to place a new cap on the nipple. According to the story, the rifle fired ... blowing that knock-out plug right into his forehead. So, if you still own and shoot one of the Huntsman muzleloaders with the knock-out plug, and experience a misfire ... wait a minute or more before opening the action - and even then hold the gun at an angle so if it did fire the plug would be blown in a safe direction.
The rifles were off the market for a short period, and when they came back - the revamped model featured a screw-in breech plug - like that shown at left.
The .45 and .58 rifle models were built with a 1-in-56 inches rate of rifling twist ... and were considered patched round ball rifles. However, many of the old .58 caliber Civil War "rifled muskets" were built with rifling that turned as slow as a turn-in-78 inches - and were known for very good accuracy with a big 500-grain conical hollow-based bullet - known as the Minie' bullet. Even so, the vast majority of those who shot and hunted with the .58 caliber Huntsman tended to load and shoot a patched round ball - which did tend to shoot with greater accuracy at typical whitetail hunting distances.
Iowa muzzleloading hunter Ken Miller is shown at right with a dandy buck he took with his older knock out plug .58 Huntsman.
He says this about the rifle ... "Bought a new .58 cal, with o-ring breech plug, for my first muzzleloader. Could get it to shoot a fairly tight group but it wouldn't stay that way very long. Used a speer 260 gr ball with 100 gr of ffg. Misfired constantly until I figured out it had a weak hammer spring. It got sloppy at the hinge pin after one year and wouldn't group at all. As soon as I saw a better quality in-line on the market, I bought one. Always loved the concept of the huntsman though."
I never shot one of the rifles long enough to put that much wear on the hinge pin or the holes through which the pin fit. During my earlier muzzleloading experiences, I had come close to losing deer to the ineffective round ball loads out of .45 patched round ball muzzleloaders ... so, like many who did buy a Huntsman break open, I went with the .58 caliber as well. My chosen load consisted of 90-grains of Hogdon FFFg black powder and a patched cast 278-grain .570" diameter ball. At the muzzle of the 28-inch barrel, the load was good for just 1,347 f.p.s. - which translates into just 1,112 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. At 50 yards, the load was down to around 1,030 f.p.s. and around 650 f.p.e.
I had acquired that Huntsman rifle to use on rainy day hunts, feeling that the enclosed ignition system would be more "sure fire". Most of the time I continued to hunt with several different traditionally styled side-hammer percussion rifles. In all, I probably only carried that ol' Huntsman into the deer woods a dozen or so times ... and never got a shot at a whitetail when I did. If you hunted with this very early modern in-line rifle, and especially if you still do, how abut sharing a short story about your Huntsman and the load you shoot? - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICA MUZZLELOADER HUNTING
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The rifle shown above was hand built by William "Tony" Knight in January and February of 1985 ... and one of two prototypes he had built of the rifle, actually using walnut sawn and cured on the family's northern Missouri farm for producing that sleek and graceful stock. The machining of the receiver and all internal parts of the plunger hammer action were done with a very basic lathe and mill, and the barrel was one of the affordable 1-in-48 rifling twist Numrich Arms barrels. The only other commercial parts used to construct this rifle, MK-85 Prototype No. 2, were the Willaims sight, trigger guard, Timney trigger, and butt pad.
I first talked with Tony on the phone in December 1985, and a month later he sent me one of his very first .50 caliber "Production Rifles" - MK-85 Serial No. 37. The first 187 of those rifles were all built with 1-in-48 twist Numrich barrels, and one of the best shooting bullets out of the Modern Muzzleloading Inc. rifles at that time was the 320-grain Lee R*E*A*L* bullet (Riflng Engraved At Loading). The twist was simply too slow for the also brand new (in 1985) sabot bullet system introduced by Del Ramsey of Muzzleload Magnum Products. And that's a problem Tony and I addressed during our first shooting session, off his back deck, in April 1986.
1992 Production Knight MK-85
Later that year, he went with a 1-in-32 twist ... and a year later he and I agreed that the twist needed to be still a bit faster. I introduced Tony to Branch Meanley, who owned and operated Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Company. That's when the 1-in-28 rifling twist was adopted ... and which still remains the in-line rifle industry standard.
Well, as modern and as advanced as rifles like the Knight MK-85 may have seemed 30 years ago, we now look at those "older" plunger hammer in-lines as "old technology" ... as "vintage" in-line ignition models. The transformation of the "modern muzzleloader" from 1985 to present has been remarkable.
I can remember many traditional muzzleloader hunters claiming that the in-line rifles would be the end for muzzleloader hunting seasons. Fact is, those modern rifles brought many new people into muzzleloading - just as the modern compound bow pushed bowhunter numbers to record levels. The one thing that the early in-line rifles also accomplished was to drive the development of vastly improved loading components. When shooting and hunting with my first couple of Knight MK-85 ... CVA Apollo ... T/C Thunder Hawk ... Traditions Tracker ... and a few other in-line rifles, we had two choices of powder - black powder or Pyrodex. And for saboted bullets, the vast majrity of us were shooting jacked handgun bullets with a Muzzleload Magnum Products sabot.
But, as the rifles slowly evolved, it drove the development of new loading components - like the saboted Harvester Muzzleloading spire-pointed Scorpion PT Gold bullet shown above left. During the 1990's, No. 11 cap ignition rifle models began to disappear - replaced by hotter No. 209 primer ignition models - which in turn resulted in a few new powders ... like Hodgdon's noticeably hotter Triple Seven - in loose grain and compressed pellet charges.
Just ten years ago last month, I was testing a new prototype powder developed specifically for today's ultra modern No. 209 primer ignition in-line rifles. The powder didn't even have an official name at that time ... but the following January, it was dubbed Blackhorn 209. What made (and still makes) this powder unique is that it has a nitrocellulose base - but formulated to produce lower peak pressures than some carbon based "black powder substitutes". The powder burns cleaner ... and produces faster velocities as well.
While the earlier in-line ignition rifle designs pushed the development of improved loading components, this powder has now pushed the improvement of in-line ignition designs. Earlier breech plugs of No. 209 primer ignition rifles had to be slightly re-engineered to insure that enough flame and heat from the primer reaches the powder charge for spontaneous ignition. Now, we have a new bullet that's setting new parameters for saboted bullet accuracy, the Cutting Edge Bullets machined all-copper MAXIMUS bullet, shown above right.
Being all-copper, to achieve the heavier weights (250+ grains), these long ogive bullets must be longer than comparable weight copper jacketed or plated bullets. In fact, the .430" diameter 250-grain MAXIMUS shown on the right side in above right photo measures 1.062" in length. In comparison, the .451" diameter 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold measures 1.042" in length - and has a .250 b.c. The 50-grain lighter, smaller diameter, but longer 250-grain all-copper MAXIMUS was a .311 b.c. If a 300-grain version of this bullet were offered, it would measure right at 1.220" in length.
Unfortunately, the in-line rifle industry's "standard" 1-in-28 inches rifling twist is not fast enough to stabilize a saboted bullet that long ... which could have a .350+ b.c. - and would retain far more velocity and energy out past 200 yards than possible with ANY saboted 300-grain bullet currently available. The good news is, I know "at least" one in-line rifle manufacturer is working on a faster 1-in-24 twist .50 caliber bore. There will definitely be more to this story as today's modern in-line rifle continue to evolve. - Toby Bridges
For More On Shooting A 300-Grain MAXIMUS Click On Following Photo
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
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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