Instant Slamification: The Savage 10ML Story

By Randy Wakeman


Savage 10MLBSS-II
Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms

North Carolina has had its fair share of innovators and colorful characters over the years. Among them are such important names in the history of firearms as Richard Jordan Gatling, born in Money's Neck, North Carolina, and David Marshall "Carbine" Williams. Carbine Williams is the fellow who looks a lot like Jimmy Stewart!

In auto racing, Lee, Maurice, Richard, and Kyle Petty should sound familiar. A "lead-footed chicken farmer from Ronda" happened to hunt coons and run moonshine. He was the subject of an elegant Esquire article: "The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!" by author Tom Wolfe. Years ago, a North Carolina machinist and gunsmith by the name of Henry Ball used to race short track with one Ralph Earnhardt, father of the late, great seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale, Sr.; Ralph himself is in the International Motor Sports Hall of Fame. It is out of this rich tapestry of fast and firearms that southern gentleman "Hurricane" Henry Ball strides forth.

September 20, 1990, may not be a memorable day for you, but it was a day that changed muzzleloading. On that day, North Carolina's Henry C. Ball was shooting his sidelock muzzleloader at the range, and its action failed. Henry, a southpaw, caught the metal screw from his sidelock's bolster drum in his right arm. It traveled through his forearm, finally coming to rest some two inches above his right elbow on the backside of his triceps. Mr. Ball underwent surgery later that day.

Henry Ball recalls vividly the injury that was near tragedy, for a fellow shooter was in perfect alignment to receive the piece of failed metal in his eye. Had Mr. Ball not been shooting lefty that might well have been the case.

It was at this time that Henry decided that there had to be a better way, a more effective way, and a safer way to enjoy muzzleloading hunting and shooting. After recovery from his injury, Henry set out to achieve his goal, a muzzleloader that was first of all safe, so that no one using his design could possibly face the type of injury he just suffered. While he was at it, he wanted a muzzleloader that outperformed any production muzzleloader made, and eliminated the type of hassles associated with run of the mill smokepoles. The answer was clear from the beginning: smokeless powder used in concert with true rifle-grade actions and barrels.

Black powder is fundamentally dangerous to handle. As Major General Julian S. Hatcher, Retired, who succeeded Colonel Townsend Whelen as C. O. of the Frankford Small Arms Ammunition Plant in 1923 has recorded:

"Black powder burns with an almost instantaneous flash even when burned in the open and unconfined. Moreover it is easily ignited by even a very slight spark, and hence it is much more dangerous to handle than smokeless."

Dangerous to manufacture, highly impact-sensitive, corrosive, and inefficient--the far safer smokeless powder propellant was the first successful black powder substitute, displacing black powder as a small arms propellant in the late 1800s. As a sidebar, the first cartridge for the Springfield .30 caliber service rifle, Model of 1903 was known as the "Ball Cartridge." Henry Ball claims his youthfulness as "proof" of it only being coincidence.

Using 209 shotshell primers from the inception, in a unique ignition module, Henry successfully adapted his smokeless muzzleloader ideas to the InterArms Mark X action in 1990. This advance was soon followed by a Sako bolt action, an H&R action, a Ruger #1 action, and a rolling block.

Someone told Henry it couldn't be done with the Winchester 1894 action, so he quickly did that, too. If I gave Henry a ball of steel wool, he could probably knit me a Volkswagen!

With a rich tradition of performance and safety as a black powder substitute dating back about one hundred years what could possibly be better than smokeless powder? (The black powder substitute Pyrodex was not developed until the 1970s. Its inventor, Dan Pawlak, died January 27, 1977 when his powder plant blew up.)

How could a reasonable person not want a muzzleloader that clearly offered more safety, more efficiency, didn't destroy its own barrel and action with fouling residue and rust, and offered more humane game-getting effectiveness in the process? I can't answer that, but it is a matter of fact that those profiteering from the rejuvenated in-line muzzleloading market did the natural thing, covering their own behinds, and seeking to protect their own interests.

Many folks were discovering that Henry Ball's innovation didn't just harvest game, it slammed them down where they stood like no other muzzleloader. Hence, Henry's pet term for proper muzzleloading performance, "Slamification."

Knight Rifles passed on this giant leap of muzzleloading design, as did Weatherby (approached in the middle of a plant move), an assistant to Bill Ruger did likewise, and Remington--suffering from the "not invented here" syndrome--did likewise. Nevertheless, the opportunity was offered to these folks.

Henry's design was better than good, it was great. It captured the imagination of muzzleloading expert Toby Bridges shortly after its inception. Manufacture continued on a small, custom basis for years, until Toby Bridges' discussion with President Ron Coburn of Savage Arms at the 1999 SHOT SHOW.

A short-action Savage was sent off to Henry Ball for his module magic, and the original Savage 10-ML was tested in June of the same year. In late July, Toby Bridges and Henry Ball made the trek to Savage Arms for demonstration and further testing. Apparently the twinkle in Ron Coburn's eye said it all, as the deal was done in February 2000. Some 1900 production Savage 10ML's shipped late that year.

Perhaps the Savage 10ML was too good? The SAAMI was lobbied by an odd assortment of non-SAAMI muzzleloading companies, seeking to derail the innovative new muzzleloader on the ridiculous, specious notion of "safety." Since the beginning, the motivation behind the 10ML smokeless muzzleloader was safety, so that deceptive argument failed.

Though the Savage 10ML was designed to conform to the BATF's non-GCA guidelines for muzzleloaders, the BATF apparently had a little trouble deciding what their own regulations meant. The Savage 10ML-II was created to definitively remain a non-GCA arm, just like the cheapest muzzleloaders, and it remains so today.

The established muzzleloader manufacturers, who have yet to agree on any standards among themselves, apparently were quick to agree that the Savage 10ML-II was a real threat. It offered higher velocities, lower cost per shot, lower recoil, and a level of safety most non-Gun Barrel Quality inline muzzleloading rifles could not approach. In addition, the Savage did not foul and corrode like other modern muzzleloaders.

The "other" makers responded with the "magnum muzzleloading" myth of three synthetic pellet charges, and overstated bragging about "7mm Magnum" performance. In so doing, they have shown that the Savage offers no particular range advantage compared with their synthetic three pellet loads, though it makes the Savage even more economical to shoot by comparison.

It is true that the average hunter has no particular range advantage with the Savage. The 10-ML II shoots the same projectiles as any other muzzleloader, and has the built-in limitation of the polypropylene sabots that gasket today's modern inline bullets.

Savage Arms, in this writer's opinion, has been a victim of their own success. Having recently hitting a home run with their terrific Accu-Trigger, catching other rifle-makers asleep at the wheel, Savage is in fortuitous predicament of having an array of some of the most sought after rifles in the country. As a result, the promotion of the 10ML-II has been lackluster compared to the relentless bluster sprayed about by other muzzleloading companies.

With a chamber tested to withstand 129,000 psi, the Savage is easily the strongest muzzleloader ever made. It is a sealed action with no consumables, can never stick a primer, and has a very low cost per shot. In 2004: will become the world's first inline muzzleloader that has a user adjustable trigger that voids no warranty.

Hardly an unproven design, it is already backed by well over 12 years of testing and refinement. Its propellant array offers more choices than any other muzzleloader, with far less recoil than pricey pellets, and its powder really is a powder, safer to manufacture, handle, and use.

Vihtavouri N110 remains the mainstay performance hunting powder of choice. Now, if we can just get our friends at Vihtavouri to make half pound containers available, good for nearly 90 shots, it will be easier for the average consumer to buy and use.

State Departments of Natural Resources around the country, who are concerned about hunter safety and effective, humane game management tools, should welcome the Savage 10-ML II. The States that have given the matter a fair and objective hearing, have already have done so. After all, it is patently obvious that smokeless powder is a safe and effective black powder substitute, and the proof is no farther away than a box of factory loaded shotgun shells.

Right on the top of a box of modern shot shells, the type of powder charge is expressed in "DRAM EQ," "DR. EQ", or "DRAM EQUIV." This is shorthand for "drams equivalent of black powder," and has been marketed that way for 100 years. Safer to ship, store, handle and use, smokeless powder is the black powder substitute universally preferred around the globe. There is just no legitimate reason to deny the muzzleloading hunter this economical, non-corrosive, and far safer alternative.

I was very impressed with the Savage 10ML-II I recently tested, and the 2004 Accu-Trigger model neatly eclipses it. It is the muzzleloader whose time has come, both for the knowledgeable shooter and the knowledgeable game departments around the country.

A salute is due to Henry C. Ball, Bill Ball, Toby Bridges, Ron Coburn, Brian Herrick, Paula Iwanski, and the team at Savage Arms, as well as the Fish & Wildlife departments who have welcomed this truly better idea. It is destined to be the standard by which others will be judged for the next decade.

For "Hurricane Henry" Ball, aren't you glad that you stayed the course, and that "Instant Slamification" is now readily available to the masses? I, for one, certainly am!




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Copyright 2003 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.



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