What Makes for a Good Muzzleloader?
Muzzleloaders are often quantified into "good" or "bad" categories, without much basis as to why that might be. Fundamentally, a muzzleloading rifle that is worth your time has the attributes of any other rifle that is considered a competent rifle. That means generous design specifications, good metallurgy, and excellent quality control.
In muzzleloading more so than other firearms, it is left to the manufacturers to determine this, as there are no universally held muzzleloading standards. Organizations that set such standards for cartridge firearms, like SAAMI in North America and CIP in Europe, do not exist for muzzleloading manufacturers. A quality muzzleloader is simply a quality rifle.
Scant few reputable companies exist in muzzleloading, and fewer still current production rifles have track records going back for more than a few years. Obsolete model numbers grow with each passing year at an amazing pace. Comparatively few of today's inline muzzleloaders have enjoyed success for very long.
Import companies with little or no assets in the USA, such as Traditions and "CVA" have inflicted their fair share of misery on their owners. Sadly, a company like Remington is abandoning their American roots as well. A look at their pathetic new "Genesis" reveals it to be nothing "Remington" at all. In fact, it is not even imported by Remington; it is stamped "Imported by Traditions Firearms" right on the barrel. It is just another disposable, dubious, flash-in-the-plan offering with a well-known label on the box. It is sad to see. The ads say, "The action is like nothing you've seen." Boy, did they ever get that one right!
Unfortunately, ad brags that have no basis in fact seem to work, at least for a while. Remember the promise of the "new .45s?" Over three years ago, I noted the .45 caliber hyperbole in my article "Muzzleloading Caliber Hype: .45 versus .50," which can be found on the Muzzleloader and Black Powder Page. It is not surprising to see that .45 caliber inlines have all but faded into oblivion. In fact, the mass exodus from the not-so-super .45's has taken one of the few .45's that was really done right, the .45 caliber T/C Contender G2, along with it.
There are, happily, a number of muzzleloaders that are reasonable performers, and can be had for less than the cost of adult air rifles. No one is making a mistake with a Knight Wolverine (roots all the way back to Tony Knight's MK-85), or the T/C Omega, a model that achieved runaway success from its introduction in 2002, and now populates the used marketplace as well for those feeling a bit unflush. There were several initial problems with the H & R "Huntsman" muzzleloaders, but now that NEF / H&R is under the umbrella of Marlin, the non-form 4473 "Sidekick" is a good value, starting at under $140 street price.
Not surprisingly, the most durable muzzleloaders are built upon a platform of quality steel from reputable companies that have long displayed the ability to produce quality rifles. The T/C Encore is such a rifle. The Encore action is a solid platform for a single shot rifle or pistol. It should come as no surprise that the Encore in muzzleloading format is also a solid piece.
The same is true for Savage's 10ML-II. The basis of this rifle is the proven and blistering accurate Savage short bolt action, augmented by Savage's "Magnum" barrel. It is a wondrous muzzleloader, which should surprise no one as Massachusetts manufactured Savage bolt action center-fires gain in popularity year after year. Equipped with Savage's acclaimed AccuTrigger, the 10ML-II is one of the few big-game muzzleloading rifles with a trigger you don't have to be ashamed of, right out of the box.
Though Knight Rifles' recent attempts seem confused, I'll side with Tony Knight's feeling that a bolt action is the best action for a muzzleloader in terms of function, trigger, and accuracy. Currently, the Knight Rifles offering that best represents that is their "Long Range Hunter" model. Green Mountain barrels are a known quantity, and that's what you'll find on the LRH along with a Timney style trigger.
That's a brief look at muzzleloaders out there today that you can be proud to own, shoot, and pass along to a son or daughter. T/C, Savage, Knight Wolverine plunger guns, Knight bolt actions, and the value-priced (if a bit homely) NEF Sidekick should make anyone's short list.
Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.