The Savage 10MLBSS-II Accu-Trigger Rifle

By Chuck Hawks

Savage 10ML-II
Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms

Savage Arms has made a big splash (and generated some controversy) in the muzzleloading world with their Henry Ball designed 10ML-II line of .50 caliber rifles. They are the first rifles from a major manufacturer designed for use with smokeless as well as black powder and standard black powder substitutes such as Triple Seven and Pyrodex.

The 10ML-II is a modern, bolt operated, inline muzzleloader. At a glance it looks much like the short action Savage centerfire bolt action rifles, at least until you notice the ramrod stowed neatly and securely under the barrel. There are several 10ML-II variations. These are supplied with black or camo synthetic stocks, or a laminated wood stock. The barreled action comes in blued steel or stainless steel. Most models include iron sights, but a couple come with a plain barrel and a 3-9x40mm scope, mounted and bore sighted.

All 10ML-II rifles are 44" in overall length. They are supplied with 24" barrels rifled one turn in 24". They come with checkered stocks, dual pillar bedding, a 3-position sliding tang safety (my favorite kind), and Savage's outstanding AccuTrigger.

The root of the bolt handle serves as a locking lug to keep the bolt closed, and the upper surface of the bolt knob is checkered. There is a cocking indicator just forward of the bolt handle and a gas escape port on each side of the front receiver ring. The receiver is drilled and tapped for scope bases; the 10ML-II accepts the same bases as Savage's popular short action 10, 11, 12, and 16 series (round rear receiver ring) centerfire rifles. Weaver, Leupold and others offer an assortment of one and two-piece bases.

A great deal of praise has been written about the Savage AccuTrigger, and deservedly so. This is the finest trigger available on any factory produced hunting rifle. It is user adjustable for pull weights between 1.5 and 6 pounds (depending somewhat on the specific model of rifle). The AccuTrigger in the test rifle broke cleanly at a consistent 2.25 pounds as measured by my RCBS Deluxe trigger pull gauge. I could do nothing to improve it, so I left it alone.

There is a Glock-like safety blade in the middle of the AccuTrigger, but internally the mechanism is entirely different from, and far superior to, the Glock trigger system. The Glock trigger mechanism has to complete the cocking of the striker, while the Savage AccuTrigger merely releases the striker, as with any ordinary bolt action rifle.

The AccuTrigger is probably the single most important development in the long history of the Savage Company. And it could not have come at a better time, as the courts and the lawyers have driven the other major manufacturers to increasingly heavy trigger pulls.

The Model 10MLBSS-II is the version I requested and duly received from Savage. This particular model is the top of the 10ML-II line, with a 2004 MSRP of $645. It was tightly packaged in a cardboard box lined with Styrofoam and decorated with Savage's traditional Indian head logo. Kudos to Savage for sticking with their traditional trademark.

The kind folks at Savage included one of their Accessory Packages along with the rifle, which meant that there was quite a number of accessories packaged in the box with the rifle in addition to the usual items. All together I received an Owner's Manual, Quick Tips card, Warrantee cards, bullet starter and palm saver, fiberglass field ramrod, breech plug wrench, wrench handle, two Allen wrenches, AccuTrigger adjustment tool, two spare vent liners, sample tube of Kleen Bore TW25B lubricant, five sample 250 grain .452" Hornady XTP bullets with black sabots, safety lock with key, a paper bullseye target, a pair of disposable earplugs, and a bunch of miscellaneous literature and warning tags. There was also a paper stating that the rifle had been sighted-in at 25 yards and a section of target showing a three shot group fired at 100 yards.

The 10MLBSS-II is an exceptionally handsome muzzleloading rifle. It features a walnut-stained laminated stock and matte stainless steel barreled action, always a good combination in my book.

The stock is "modern classic" in style with a straight comb. Length of pull is 13.5". It is nicely cut checkered in a point pattern and features a satin finish, moderate pistol grip, fluted comb, rubber butt pad, and detachable sling swivel studs. There are 29 very thin laminations of wood through the receiver of this rifle, making the stock very strong as well as quite attractive. Two cross-bolt reinforcements help to support the action in the stock; the black plugs covering these are visible on the left side of the rifle. This well designed stock minimizes the effect of recoil.

The inletting was overly generous everywhere, and particularly around the rear tang and trigger guard. The trigger guard itself is steel, not aluminum and not a stamping.

The stock positions the head perfectly to use the supplied Williams Fire Sights. When I snap the rifle to my shoulder, the sights are correctly aligned. The "U" notch rear sight is adjustable for windage and elevation. Fiber optics are used to create a green dot on each side of the rear notch. The red fiber optic ramp front sight creates a distinctive, quickly acquired "three dot" sight picture that assists proper alignment of the sights, much like that seen on a number of service pistols these days. I do not usually pay much attention to iron sights, since I don't use them anyway, but the Fire Sights strike me as the best I have encountered on a factory produced hunting rifle.

Never the less, given the inadequacies of my middle aged eyes, I elected to mount a Sightron SII 4x32 Compact fixed power scope on the Savage muzzleloader. This is a high quality scope that nicely complements the rifle; they look as if they were made for each other. I used a two-piece Weaver base and a pair of Millet extension rings to allow for proper positioning of the scope.

The Savage 10MLBSS-II probably will not appeal to hide-bound traditional smokepole shooters, who insist on sidehammer percussion or flintlock rifles with brass accoutrements and crude sights, but it looks good to an experienced centerfire rifle shooter like me.

The rifle came packaged with a bunch of information, including details about Savage's limited one-year warrantee. I read the owner's manual and the associated safety and operating information and found it to be satisfactory, at least for my purposes. I do wish that a complete specification sheet had been included in the owner's manual.

The 10ML-II is a "magnum" muzzleloader, capable of safely digesting 150 grain charges of black powder, Triple Seven, or Pyrodex. Some smokeless powder loads deliver muzzle velocities (MV) over 2,300 fps and muzzle energies (ME) exceeding 3000 ft. lbs. With appropriate loads this rifle is capable of taking all North American big game, including bison.

As Savage advertises and other reviewers have verified (including Randy Wakeman in his articles about the 10ML-II, which can be found on the Muzzleloader Information Page), the 10ML-II can shoot as good as it looks. 1.5" groups at 100 yards are not uncommon with select loads. The rifle that Savage sent me for review came with a signed test target, 3 shots at 100 yards that measured 1.375". The load used included 42 grains of Vihtavuori N110 smokeless powder and a 250 grain .452" bullet with a MMP "black" sabot designed for use with smokeless powder.

In the information that comes with every 10ML-II rifle, Savage specifically recommends Winchester or CCI #209 shot shell primers, 250 or 300 grain Hornady XTP .452" bullets, and MMP #50X451 sabots for use with smokeless powders. The most commonly recommended powders include IMR 4227, Accurate XMP-5744, and Vihtavuori N110. Smokeless powders should be used only with .45 caliber bullets in sabots.

Hornady XTP bullets are, of course, basically pistol bullets and they are designed for centerfire handgun velocities. The sectional density (SD) of the 250 grain .452" bullet is .175, which is not impressive. In the field I would limit the use of this bullet to deer and similar size thin-skinned game.

The SD of the 300 grain .452" bullet is a more reasonable .210, similar to a 265 grain .444 Marlin or 300 grain .45-70 bullet. This is the bullet that I would choose for all-around hunting purposes in a 10ML-II rifle used with smokeless powder.

Recommended smokeless powder charges run between 41 and 48 grains, depending on the individual powder and bullet chosen. Muzzle velocities with 250 grain XTP saboted bullets range from 2147-2368 fps and muzzle energies from 2550-3100 ft. lbs. With 300 grain XTP saboted bullets MV's are listed from 2080-2244 fps and ME's from 2880-3360 ft. lbs. Wow, a "Big .50" indeed!

Smokeless powder charges should be individually weighed or thrown from Lee Precision powder dippers. The 3.4cc Lee dipper, for instance, throws about 44.2 grains of IMR 4227, 44.9 grains of AA 5744, and 40.8 grains of VN110 powder when used properly. Typical volumetric black powder measures should not be used for smokeless powder. And none of the smokeless powder loads should be used in any other brand of muzzleloading rifle.

Information supplied with the 10ML-II counsels that bullets must be seated with uniform pressure for best accuracy. Most smokeless powder loads are claimed to deliver best accuracy when the projectile is seated with 30 to 50 pounds of pressure. Always let the barrel cool down between shots for best accuracy.

In Oregon, where I live, muzzleloading rifles using scopes, fiber optic sights, and sights that use artificial light or energy are prohibited during the special muzzleloader-only deer season, and all rifles must use open ignition systems. Jacketed bullets, sabots, and bullets with plastic or synthetic bases are also illegal; so are pelletized powders and the use of centerfire primers for ignition. Those rules, promulgated and supported by the "traditional" muzzleloading crowd, intentionally eliminate the Savage and other inline muzzleloaders. Inline muzzleloaders may be used only during the general (centerfire rifle) deer season. Fortunately, many jurisdictions do not have such a powerful "buckskin" lobby or such inane restrictions on muzzleloaders.

I own a bushel of centerfire big game hunting rifles that I can use during the general deer season, so my primary use for Savage's .50 caliber muzzleloader is informal target shooting and plinking rather than hunting. Hence I am interested in lower velocity plinking loads as well as deer hunting loads.

It would doubtless have been easier to limit testing to hunting loads using JHP saboted bullets powered by smokeless powder in the Savage 10ML-II. The loading data is easily available, but this has already been done many times (with uniformly excellent results being reported, I might add).

To get a better idea of what else this revolutionary muzzleloader could do, I decided to test .490" (177 grain) round balls with lubricated cloth patches, round balls with Hornady "Plastic Wads," the lightweight 240 grain Hornady PA conical over a fiber wad, and a heavier conical such as Hornady's Great Plains 385 grain LHP over a fiber wad, all with Triple Seven powder. Triple Seven is a sulfur-free black powder; it is more energetic than standard black powder or Pyrodex and will produce higher velocities for the same volume of powder. And finally I would shoot some .452" Hornady XTP bullets with black sabots and smokeless powder in the 10ML-II.

This rather extensive shooting program was accomplished over several range sessions. I took Savage's advice and used Winchester 209 shot shell primers for ignition throughout. After every shot with Triple Seven powder I ran a patch dampened with Three Rivers Unlimited black powder solvent down the bore to remove the worst of the powder residue. The rifle was completely cleaned after each range session and before going on to the next type or weight of bullet. I used the supplied fiberglass ramrod during the black powder (Triple Seven) test sessions, and a Knight T-handle range rod to seat the saboted XTP bullets over smokeless powder. The black powder portion of the shooting was done from a bench rest over sandbags.

A couple of friends more knowledgeable than I regarding muzzleloading rifles suggested starting with 40 grains of FFFg (black, Pyrodex, or Triple Seven) powder behind a .490" diameter Hornady patched ball (BC .070), so that is what I elected to do. Note that this is 40 grains from a volumetric black powder measure, not 40 grains as weighed on a powder scale.

Unfortunately, the initial shooting results at the range were disappointing. I fired a couple of 3-shot groups at 25 yards that ran about 6 1/2" and were all over the paper. The entire center was chewed out of recovered patches, even with the light powder charge. Recoil was practically non-existent, but so was accuracy.

I discontinued testing with patched round balls, deciding that the 1 turn in 24" twist of the Savage's barrel was probably not conducive to such loads. In addition, the pressure was not great enough to flatten the spent 209 primers and they had to be pried out of the 10ML-II's bolt face. This did not seem to be the load of choice in the 10ML-II.

I then tried the same Hornady round balls in Hornady's "Plastic Patches," which are really sabots for ball ammunition. Again I started with 40 grains of FFFg Triple Seven powder.

The first thing that I discovered with this load is that if the ball was seated in the Plastic Patch the combination could not be rammed down the barrel. I resorted to first ramming the Plastic Patch down against the powder, then dropping the ball down the barrel and ramming it into the plastic patch as best I could. I am certain that this method is not recommended, but I wanted to shoot at least a few of these loads, having invested in the Plastic Patches. As they say, don't try this at home.

The procedure worked, producing groups that averaged 1 11/16" at 25 yards. Recoil was light and accuracy was acceptable at 25 yards, but I didn't much like the double ramming operation. I found that if the rifle was dry fired on the spent 209 primer (just raise the bolt handle and close it again to recock the firing pin), the primer would then fall free of the bolt face when the rifle was inverted. This eliminated the stuck primer problem.

A couple of days later I was again back at the rifle range. Next up for testing was the pre-lubricated .509" diameter Great Plains 385 grain LHP conical bullet over a lubricated fiber wad in front of 70 grains of Triple Seven FFFg powder (MV 1360 fps). Immediately the 25 yard group size shrank to a very satisfying 1/2" to 5/8". And the spent primers usually just dropped free from the bolt face when the bolt was opened and the rifle inverted.

I proceeded to adjust the scope to center that load on the target at 25 yards, then moved back to 100 yards where groups ran a very satisfactory 2 1/2" to 3". Barrel leading was not a problem with this load. Incidentally, the 4 power Sightron scope proved to be an excellent choice for the Savage muzzleloader.

Hodgdon Triple Seven data shows that 70 grains of FFFg drives the 385 grain Great Plains bullet (SD .217, BC .148) at a MV of 1360 fps. The muzzle energy is 1580 ft. lbs. At 100 yards the bullet is still rolling along at 1081 fps and the remaining energy 999 ft. lbs. Zero that load at 100 yards and the midrange trajectory is +2.3" at 50 yards and the maximum point blank range (MPBR) +/- 3" is 127 yards. This should be a good deer and black bear load for the black powder shooter.

I calculated the recoil energy of the 385 grain conical bullet + 70 grains of powder in the 9.75 pound 10MLBSS-II at approximately 21 ft. lbs. However, the subjective recoil effect is far less, as often seems to be the case with moderate black powder loads. In the Savage 10MLBSS-II this is a pleasant load to shoot.

It is, however, a real chore to ram the 385 grain bullet down the bore of the Savage 10ML-II. After the first shot or two fouling simply prevented my seating the bullet tight against the powder charge (as recommended in the owner's manual), at least with the field ramrod supplied with the rifle. I could get the bullet within about one bullet length of where I estimated it should be seated (against the powder charge), but that was as deep as I could force the bullet to go, period.

There is a definite edge inside the rifle's barrel in the chamber area where the rifling stops. I believe that powder fouling is this area was the cause of the bullet seating difficulty with the big conical bullet.

For deer hunting this would not make much difference; it's the first shot that counts. But for casual use at the range, I decided that the heavy conical was more trouble than it was worth.

Moving along, on the next visit to the range I experimented with the pre-lubed Hornady 240 grain PA lead conical bullet on top of a lubricated fiber wad and 40 grains of FFFg Triple Seven powder. I had misgivings about the accuracy potential of this bullet, as it was designed for use in rifles with a slow 1 turn in 66" twist barrel.

In the event these misgivings were misplaced, as the PA conical proved to be a perfectly acceptable light target and plinking load. It shot into 1 3/4" at 25 yards and would be my choice for a black powder "fun" bullet in the 10ML-II. I suspect that if I'd had the time to experiment with various powder charges on a trial and error basis I might have attained even better accuracy with the PA conical.

Compared to the Great Plains conical, the PA conical was much easier to start and ram, and could be seated firmly against the powder. I calculated the approximate recoil energy of this load at 14.2 ft. lbs. Subjectively it is a pleasant load to shoot.

Propelled by heavier powder charges this bullet would also be perfectly adequate for deer hunting out to 100 yards. Hornady data indicates that the PA conical propelled by 100 grains of FFg black powder or Pyrodex RS attains a MV of 1650 fps, and is still traveling at 1055 fps at 100 yards, where it retains 706 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy.

Last on the shooting agenda were 240 grain (.452 caliber) Hornady XTP-MAG bullets in black sabots, powered by smokeless powder. I chose this bullet because it is both tougher and ballistically superior to the 250 grain HP-XTP bullet.

In front of 42 grains of Vihtavuori N110 powder the 250 grain XTP bullet has already produced a 1.375" group at 100 yards from the test rifle. Unfortunately, VN110 is not easy to find where I live so, after an exchange of e-mails with muzzleloading expert Toby Bridges and based on his recommendation, I decided to try Alliant 2400 powder.

Alliant 2400 is suitable for both reduced power plinking loads and potent hunting loads. Recommended hunting loads for the 250 grain Hornady XTP or SST bullets and a MMP black sabot run 30 to 34 grains of #2400 powder, and more if a MMP sub-base is used under the sabot. Toby suggested a reduced power load of 28 grains of #2400 behind bullets as light as 225 grains.

All smokeless powder loads tested in the 10ML-II were fired from a bench rest using my newly acquired Caldwell Lead Sled rifle rest, which arrived just in time for this phase of the shooting. This excellent rest is adjustable, very solid, and with one 25 pound bag of shot for ballast, absorbs most of the rifle's recoil. The Lead Sled definitely reduces shooter fatigue during long shooting sessions.

I ordered a Lee Precision powder dipper set to measure smokeless powder charges for the 10ML-II rifle, figuring that was the easiest way to get started. At the range I discovered that a small funnel makes it easier to pour the powder from the dipper into the barrel.

Since no Lee dipper happens to throw a charge close to 28 grains of #2400 powder, I decided to begin with 25.6 grains (the 1.9cc dipper) behind a 240 grain Hornady XTP-MAG bullet and a Hornady black sabot. This, I thought, might be my ideal light range and plinking load. I estimated the MV of this load at around 1735 fps and the recoil energy at only 9.4 ft. lbs., similar to a .243 Win. centerfire rifle.

This proved to be everything I had hoped for in a plinking and practice load. 25 yard groups ran 1/2" to 5/8" for three shots. Loading was relatively easy, bullets seated firmly against the powder charge, and recoil was pleasant. Recovered sabots had opened nicely and showed little stress--they almost looked as if they could have been used again.

Fouling was minimal. You could shoot this load all day without cleaning the bore; in fact, that proved to be true with all of the smokeless powder loads tested.

Boost the powder charge to 29.7 grains of #2400 (the 2.2cc dipper) behind the 240 grain saboted XTP-MAG bullet and the MV goes up to about 2000 fps with ME of 2132 ft. lbs. The recoil energy is then about 12.5 ft. lbs.

In the 10MLBSS-II test rifle this load averaged 15/16" for 3-shot groups at 25 yards. Recovered sabots were intact and had opened completely. This is a perfectly acceptable load for big game hunting, but because the next load I tested grouped better and shot flatter, I discontinued testing with this particular load and moved on.

For a full power hunting load I decided to use the 240 grain Hornady XTP-MAG bullet with a Hornady black sabot and the 2.5cc Lee powder dipper, which throws 33.7 grains of #2400. This was the final load tested in the 10ML-II. Based on Toby Bridges' experiments with #2400 powder the MV of this load should be about 2200 fps, and I calculated the recoil energy of this load at approximately 16.3 ft. lbs.

Accuracy with this load proved to be excellent. 25 yard groups averaged only 5/8" from my Lead Sled rest. 100 yard groups consistently ran 2.5-3", with an occasional 3-shot group as small as 1.5". Recovered sabots showed the effects of higher pressure, but were intact and performed as advertised.

Drive the 240 grain XTP bullet at a MV of 2200 fps and at 100 yards it is clocking 1735 fps and carrying 1603 ft. lbs. of kinetic energy. The 200 yard figures are 1351 fps and 973 ft. lbs., still fully adequate for CXP2 class game.

The trajectory of that load from a scoped rifle looks like this: +1.8" at 50 yards, +2.9" at 100 yards, +1.0" at 150 yards, and -4.5" at 200 yards. The MPBR (+/- 3") is 191 yards. This would undoubtedly be the most effective all-around deer and general CXP2 class game load tested in the 10ML-II. I don't see how you could ask for more from any muzzleloading rifle.

It's no secret that cleaning is the least fun aspect of black powder shooting, and the 10ML-II could use some help in this area. Fortunately, the 10ML-II's bolt action is truly sealed, so you don't have to contend with blow-by powder residue and the underside of the scope stays clean.

Before cleaning can commence, the forward trigger guard screw must be partially removed (loosened a couple of turns), using a supplied Allen wrench, so that the bolt may be removed. It's really no big deal, but I found this chore irritating in what is generally a brilliantly designed rifle. I can think of no excuse for not incorporating some sort of quick bolt release, as is standard on almost every centerfire rifle made in the last hundred or so years--including the 110 action made by Savage and upon which the 10ML-II is based.

Next the breech plug must be unscrewed, using a special tool supplied with the rifle. Then the vent liner must be removed from the breech plug with yet another (supplied) Allen wrench. The vent liner, in particular, is quite small, so if you are washing these parts in the sink be careful it does not disappear down the drain.

After those disassembly steps the rifle may be cleaned by whatever method you prefer. I used hot water with a little 409 cleaner added, but there are other methods that are entirely satisfactory.

I first soaked the breech plug and vent liner in hot water to dissolve as much of the black powder fouling as possible. After drying with a paper towel, I then soaked both in a bottle of Hoppe's No. 9 smokeless powder solvent to remove as much 209 shot shell primer residue as possible. Both of these parts have internal areas that are fairly difficult to clean thoroughly. I did the best I could with toothpicks and Q-tips.

The breech plug and vent liner are carbon steel, not stainless, and should be thoroughly dried after cleaning. The threads of both should be lightly lubricated to prevent sticking before being reassembled. Savage recommends Kleenbore TW25B.

Smokeless powder residue, of course, is much easier to clean than black powder residue. It does not contain salts and does not attract moisture that causes rust. A Savage 10ML-II used with smokeless powder can be cleaned with any smokeless powder solvent, such as Hoppe's No. 9. I merely swabbed the barrel with a Bore Snake (just as I do with a centerfire rifle), and soaked the breech plug and vent liner in a bottle of Hoppe's, then lubricated and reassembled. This really cuts down on the mess and hassle of cleaning a muzzleloader. God bless you, Savage!

In summation, I was very pleased with the looks, ergonomics, and performance of the Savage 10MLBSS-II. During the testing sessions it received a lot of favorable comments from curious shooters at the rifle range, particularly in regard to the AccuTrigger. Savage's revolutionary .50 caliber muzzleloader has definitely earned a permanent place in my gun collection.

Note: Additional reviews of various Savage 10ML-II rifle models can be found on the Product Reviews page.

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Copyright 2004, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.