The Austin & Halleck 420 Rifle
Immediately when you look at an A & H, you notice that it looks like a "real rifle," as far from a plastic toy as can be imagined. At first blush, the curly maple stock tells you that this is not the common specimen of "highly polished plastic made by Old World craftsmen."
The supplied Austin & Halleck 420 comes complete with two stocks; the fancy curly maple stock with the barreled action installed, and an auxiliary synthetic stock for those who wish to keep their fleur-de-lis checkering pristine while hunting the bush. In my case, the fancy maple looks far too good too be removed.
After a recent bout with muzzleloader triggers that have been just plain lousy, the Austin & Halleck trigger was a delight. There is a little initial take-up, no grit, and an excellent, repeatable, 3 lb. 14 oz. break.
The rest is in the shooting. Like the trigger, love the wood, some 209 blowback is there but less than I have seen on any open action 209 primed muzzleloader.
Either by luck or by design, the Warne front base partially extends over the breech area and the 209 primer area. While still an open action, the significantly less-than-normal 209 blowback is deflected further by the steel Warne base. We mounted a Redfield 2 x 7 scope; and purposely sighted in the rifle with no scope protector. There was some residue on the bottom of the scope, but surprisingly little more than the so-called "sealed" Knight full plastic jacket Disc Extreme.
The rifle is extremely comfortable to shoot, even with relatively heavy 405 grain Powerbelts. Apparently the rigidity offered by the half-octagonal section actually works. We were shooting about an inch groups with 100 grains Hodgdon Triple Seven pellets and either the 295 grain or 405 grain Powerbelt bullets. Day in, day out over 5 shooting sessions, 1" 100 yard groups every time. How delightfully boring!
The nickel finish A & H 420 has an action even smoother and easier to cock than the blued 420, and my test sample had a slightly better trigger, which broke at 3 lbs. 10 oz. The A & H standard ramrod is not quite as good as the XS Sights Power Rod, which is a factory A & H option, but better than the Knight and Thompson rods.
Usable barrel length is exaggerated by many muzzleloading manufacturers. For example, the Thompson Encore 26" barrel is actually 25" muzzle to breech. The CVA Optima Pro 29" barrel is only 27.5" muzzle to breech. Both these guns have false muzzles, subtracting the 1" QLA section from the Thompson gives you a 24" usable barrel. The A & H 420 nickel's 26" barrel is longer than claimed, at about 26.5" from muzzle to breech. Most many not realize it, but an A & H 26" barrel is actually longer than a Thompson Omega's 28" barrel. Go figure!
There were design changes of which I was ignorant. I initially felt that the Provo, Utah made (current manufacture) gun was a bit better balanced, but wrote it off to wood density, etc. But there is more to it than that; the Provo gun's barrel is 1/4" shorter than the Missouri assembled gun. The checkering is sharper, and the recoil pad is better fitted. Add to this the smoother action and lighter trigger of the current "Provo" model, and the Provo gun is clearly superior.
It has been a long time since I have been as impressed with a muzzleloader as I am with the Austin & Halleck 420. With its superb trigger, rigid barrel to stock assembly, amazingly good repeatable accuracy, very soft shooting, and knockout gorgeous curly maple stock with crisp beautiful checkering, the A & H 420 is a gun of which the owner can be proud. It has a quick-release bolt that works like a dream, and the hammer actually self-extracts your 209 primers! Very handy. If you have no need for 209s, the A & H shoots #11 caps or musket caps with the change of a nipple. More information on Austin & Halleck inline and traditional rifles is available at http://www.austinhalleck.com.
The 420 shoots as good as it looks, and that speaks volumes. I think it is one wonderful muzzleloader, and the word is quickly spreading. The Austin & Hallecks just keep getting better.
Copyright 2003 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.