Muzzleloading's 2005 Blowback Awards

By Randy Wakeman


Once again, it is the time to single out muzzleloading offerings that are the most influential, the most surprising in performance, or have distinguished themselves in other ways. It is, of course, subjective. It is certainly a matter of opinion, and your results may vary depending on how and where you drive.

Once again, these comments are not formed strictly from my own experiences (though many certainly are). They are also augmented by feedback from hunters and shooters around the country.

MOST INFLUENTIAL RIFLE OF THE YEAR

This year, the Savage 10ML-II wins handily. The list of innovative features found in one frontloader grows annually. No bolt action front loader has ever been offered where the bolt itself never needs disassembly, no bolt action muzzleloader is more ambidextrous, has a better barrel, better quality control, or is available with a better laminated stock.

No other muzzleloader has a trigger in the same league as the Savage 10ML-II, has less recoil, or costs less to shoot and maintain. It also costs substantially less to buy than last year's winner, the Thompson Encore, costs far less to shoot, and is easier to maintain.

The 100% proof-tested Savage makes many muzzleloaders look like tinker-toys. No other mass-produced muzzleloader today is more accurate, more weatherproof, or is more effective on game. Its influence is seen in the New Ultra Light Arms smokeless capable muzzleloader and other smokeless frontloaders both existing and forthcoming.

It is a cornucopia of "best of breeds," and no other muzzleloader comes close in performance, strength, or overall quality. It has inspired other manufacturers to elevate their standards, powder companies to rethink the corrosion their propellants cause, and has caused savvy game departments (like my home state of Illinois) to reevaluate the means by which they control game populations. The Savage is becoming the rifle of choice of hunters who prefer to track their deer before they pull the trigger, not after.

The Savage is a stunning achievement. At total cost of ownership that is the lowest in the industry--it is a lifetime gun.

SCOPE OF THE YEAR

This award goes to the Burris Signature Select 3-10 x 40mm Ballistic Plex scope, one of the finest all-around scopes that I've ever used, with image quality, design integrity, and features that beat anything in its class, and most scopes regardless of price. Congratulations to Burris. Once you fly first class with this scope, it will really be hard for most folks to go back to coach.

MOST IMPROVED MUZZLELOADING COMPANY

Two years ago, Austin & Halleck won this hands down, and there was no winner last year. Though I hesitate to call them "improved," Knight Rifles has generated so very many positive comments from their sterling customer support work that I feel they need to be mentioned here, and so I have.

ACCURACY FOR THE DOLLAR

This goes to Thompson/Center's Omega Z-5, a transferable lifetime warranty rifle at a price that makes it hard to take a chance on imported smokepoles of dubious quality--and I'm glad for that. Since 2002 the Omega has been a runaway smash hit and it is now more affordable than ever before.

SABOT OF THE YEAR

Perhaps seldom cited, two sabots from MMP are both unique and the best of breed. The reformulated .50/458 Orange sabot allows the use of .45-70 bullets in .50 caliber frontloaders, a great thing given the resurgence in popularity of that cartridge. The MMP .50/40 Blue sabot is the only sabot tough enough to give outstanding all weather, all load performance with Barnes .40 caliber MZ-Expander bullets and .40 caliber Hornady XTPs, including the .40 caliber Hornady SST.

BULLET OF THE YEAR

Tough enough for the most demanding double shoulder or raking shots, and a bullet that has a better ballistic coefficient than any other make of 300 grain bullet you can fire from a muzzleloader, the Barnes Original .45-70 Spitzer Soft Point is not "new" at all, just newly rediscovered. It owes its parentage to Fred Barnes himself, back in 1932. Coupled with the MMP Orange .50/458 sabot, its accuracy has been phenomenal in several rifles.

ACCESSORY OF THE YEAR

The Bushnell Elite 1500 rangefinder, with its amazing ability to range under adverse conditions, its blazing fast display, bright monocular, diopter focus, RainGuard and waterproof design make this a rangefinder that cannot fail to impress. It is a fabulous hunting tool.

Sharing the honors with Bushnell, is a beautifully made rotating jag, the "Spinjag" by Gunn Innovations which is simply the best $14 accessory you can possibly get to enhance your inline muzzleloading experience.

GOLDEN FLEECE AWARD

Every once in a while a product that is such an amazing rip-off rears its ugly head to the point that it gets this award. Hornady's Lock N' Load Speed Sabot was the pet rock of muzzleloading last year, and some folks are apparently still petting.

Precision Rifle wins this year for the most blatantly false ballistic coefficients ever used to dupe bullet customers, and for reinventing the old rebuildable 209 primer that is claimed to dramatically improve accuracy, but does nothing of the sort.

The Vari-Flame is a complete burnout, as it attempts to empty your wallet and keep you busy with goofy, messy, pseudo 209 primer assembly using small bore primers. Small bore primers are old news. They were featured over eight years ago in Knight Rifles "Magnum Elite" as the "Posi-Fire" ignition system, which used a rifle primer pressed into a Speer .38 caliber plastic cartridge. How soon we all forget.

STUFF TO WATCH FOR IN 2006

Look for Austin & Halleck's new all-USA lever action frontloader to score in the marketplace, and Knight's Vision to finally become clear. New bullets are on the horizon from Barnes and likely Hornady, with others rumored. Goex promises improved propellants, and the Simmons "Master Series" scopes will make a strong impression, one way or the other.




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Copyright 2005 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.



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