Muzzleloading's 2003 Blowback Awards
As another record setting muzzleloading year draws to a close, it seems appropriate to single out the companies that have offered products that are the most influential, the most surprising in performance, or have distinguished themselves in other ways. Like a favorite color, meal, or movie, these citations are a matter of opinion-as all reviews are, by nature. Here are not just my opinions, but also reflections based on feedback from throughout the country. While subjective, it may point up items that are worthy of your future consideration.
MOST INFLUENTIAL RIFLE OF THE YEAR
The Thompson Omega .50 caliber wins this one, as it has satisfied more new owners than any other single muzzleloader. Since its introduction in 2002, it has been tweaked a bit in barrel quality, breechplug design, and trigger uniformity. Due to it ease of maintenance, and externally sealed action, it is the type of hassle free gun that more buyers have voted their preference for than any other style of inline. In no way is it the "only" good gun, or even my personal favorite. However, nearly two years after its introduction, Thompson still cannot make them fast enough, and every major inline company is scrambling to offer their own alternative.
SCOPE OF THE YEAR
The surprise scope of the year is from a company that most never even heard of just a few years ago: Sightron. By virtue of its reasonably light weight, compact size, excellent glass, moderate price, remarkably good adjustments, and terrific warranty: the Sightron SII 3 x 9 x 42 is a scope that is as good as can be had in its price range. Honorable mention goes to the Bushnell Elite 3200 3 x 9 x 40. Rainguard, quick focus, titanium tube, all combined with an economical price makes the Elite 3200 worth anybody's look. The Sightron still beats it optically, by weight, and by repeatable adjustments, but by a margin that many have not been able to discern. Let your own eyes be the judge of that.
MOST IMPROVED MUZZLELOADING COMPANY
By stepping up to the plate with improved barrel proofs, better quality control, vastly improved manuals and customer service, Austin & Halleck has taken their soft shooting, curly mapled 420 inlines to a new level. The Austin & Halleck rifles always shot straight, now they are produced by North American Arms, a company that walks and talks straight as well.
PROPELLANT OF THE YEAR
Higher velocities, less fouling, no sulfur-Hodgdon's "Triple Seven" has been the powder hit of 2003, with their pellet forms of T 7 gaining favor as well. No ascorbic acid / sugar based powder has ever had the acceptance that Triple Seven has quickly gained, nor the increased performance.
BULLET OF THE YEAR
Precision Rifle Custom Muzzleloading Bullet's "Dead Center" saboted muzzleloading bullets are an easy choice. When Knight won the NMLRA world championship two years in a row with the P.R. .40 / 50 "QT" sabot, folks began to take notice. The Dead Center line comes in more weights than any other muzzleloading bullet, in more calibers, is the most accurate by weight bullet available, and has the highest ballistic coefficient of any muzzleloading projectile made by weight. It offers deeper penetration than its predecessor, the QT, and even higher ballistic coefficients. For a long time, the notion was that thicker petaled sabots were not accurate. Due to the joint efforts of Cecil Epp and Del Ramsey of MMP, here we have the "exception that proves the rule."
ACCESSORY OF THE YEAR
The lowly ramrod, often neglected by manufacturers and shooters, is now better than ever due to the XS Sight Systems' "Power Rod." Already a factory accessory offered by Knight and Austin & Halleck, it is an economical accessory that most all in-lines can benefit from.
MUZZLELOADER TO WATCH IN 2004
Though lamentably not as heavily marketed as some other muzzleloaders, the Savage 10ML-II "smokeless muzzleloader" has already been proven as the strongest, best built muzzleloader on the market. Finally, with an improved tang safety, a better ramrod, and the addition of the spectacular Accu-Trigger models shipping very late this year, it is all coming together for the 10ML. Improved sabots have already been made for this gun, and more and more powder and load combinations have been developed to suit the individual's preference as to extremely low recoil, or remarkable longer range performance. It embodies what muzzleloaders have always said they want: economical propellants, non-corrosive propellants, a truly sealed action, tight barrel tolerances, true certified GBQ barrels, an action that cannot stick a primer or cap, factory pillar-bedded stocks, a crisp user-adjustable trigger, and factory test-firing and accuracy testing. The latest Accu-Triggered 10ML-II has all this, and is fundamentally such a well-crafted piece that it is just hard to resist-regardless of your propellant choice.
Muzzleloading hunting and shooting continues as one of the fastest-growing hunting and shooting sports in the nation. Right now, the prospective buyer has more and better choices than ever before. With a large number of new products scheduled for release in 2004, it is too early to tell what will be a hit, and what might only be a pitch. One thing is clear: it will be fun to watch!
Copyright 2003 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.