Savage 10MLBTSS-II Laminated Thumbhole Muzzleloader

By Randy Wakeman

Savage 10MLBTSS-II
Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms

I guess we can all be slow learners; Guns and Shooting Online owner Chuck Hawks has even accused me of that on a couple of occasions. Chuck was, as always, right. Old wives’ tales and various unsubstantiated myths can take quite a while to die; a few souls are still searching valiantly in Loch Ness.

Well over one hundred years ago, the recreational shooting sports industry discovered the obvious: it is not good to rot your gun when you have better (non-corrossive) alternatives; corrosive primers and propellants are to be avoided at all costs. It is good, very good, to be able to see what you are shooting at and for game recovery it is a blessing to see what you just shot. Over a century ago, shotgunners understood that filling the air with blinding, corrosive smoke was the long way around the skeet field. My great-grandfather, farmer and commercial hunter George Chamberlain Wakeman was a man I had the pleasure to know well. I didn’t have to guess what hunting and shooting was like in the 1800s; Great Grandpa was happy to tell me. Like Elmer Keith, heck—he was there.

Great Grandpa knew enough to retire his beloved Damascus-barreled Ithaca side by side from the field, and hunt almost exclusively from then on with his then brand new Remington Model 11, the Remington produced version of John Browning’s A-5 autoloader. The first rifle I ever carried deer hunting was Great-Grandpa’s Marlin .38-55. If you haven’t guessed it by now, Great-Grandpa used smokeless powder as a far better, cleaner, safer, less-corrosive, more efficient blackpowder substitute in that rifle for many decades. We don’t generally understand “smokeless powder” at all. Simply saying “smokeless powder” means nothing specific, anymore that saying “fuel” tells you what to put in your tractor, grill, car, or lawnmower.

The function of a propellant in a shotshell and the function in a muzzleloader is not just similar, it is identical. The vast majority of shotguns fired daily, whether .410, 28 gauge, or 12 gauge use smokeless powder as a blackpowder substitute. We fire our thin-barreled shotguns merrily without a care in the world. The same goes for .22 rimfire cartridges and also cartridges originally loaded with blackpowder, such as the .45-70, .38-55, .45 Long Colt and many others. The most competent, experienced firearms designers, engineers and patent holders of the day (Carl Hildebrandt, Charlie Hodgdon, Henry Ball, Doc White, Ron Coburn) all embrace this.

Most of sabots used in muzzleloading today are developed and manufactured by Del Ramsey of MMP. Del Ramsey, easily the world’s foremost muzzleloading sabot authority, personally enjoys smokeless muzzleloading. The world’s finest bullet manufacturers (such as Barnes Bullets) praise smokeless muzzleloading in muzzleloading firearms designed for their use. The most advanced and skilled professional ballisticians in the world, such as Johan Loubser of Western Powders and Hartmut Broemel (both of whom I have had the pleasure of learning from) applaud and embrace smokeless muzzleloading. Hardly anonymous, these folks are synonymous with excellence and achievement. There is no competent firearms authority that I am aware of that does not both quickly understand and appreciate smokeless muzzleloading.

I’ve taken the time to mention all this because it is important. Prospective Savage 10ML-II owners should be aware of the great care and effort that has gone into this rifle in all phases from concept, engineering, testing, going down to the 100% proof testing and live fire function testing of every single Savage 10ML ever made. Savage Arms has taken the obvious benefit from using smokeless powder as a blackpowder substitute (which smokeless was developed for in the first place) and brought it to a whole new level.

The Savage 10ML series of rifles has just celebrated its EIGHTH consecutive year of production, though patent holder Henry Ball and company have been piling up the clean kills in the hunting fields for over sixteen years. As most who have suffered through the various muzzleloading ad-brags over the years by now know, anyone can assert anything. Being able to prove the veracity of a product by competent testing and credible demonstration is quite another matter.

Savage has done just that with the quiet confidence you would expect from one of our country’s most successful firearms makers. All models of the Savage 10ML series of rifles have been proven to withstand horrific overloads exceeding 100,000 PSI peak pressure. Not only is this the only muzzleloader made that handily exceeds ALL applicable SAAMI / ANSI standards, it dwarfs them.

Most all cartridge guns are not capable of surviving this type of intentional abuse, for the weak component in a center-fire rifle is the brass. By the time 80,000 PSI is reached, case failure is a virtual certainty. Not only the strongest muzzleloader ever made by design and proven by testing, the Savage 10ML is likely the strongest shoulder-fired recreational firearm available today. It incorporates the largest safety factor ever offered to the consumer in a firearm. The Savage 10ML-II is the best built, best-tested muzzleloader made today.

This foregoing should not be takes as a license to shoot non-factory loads in a Savage (or any other brand of muzzleloader). It is merely extremely well-documented evidence that there is no better built, safer, or more maintenance free muzzleloader than the 10ML-II. No other muzzleloader compares to the Savage in terms of quality, design, testing, and strength. There can be no mistake about this.

After these last eight years and many tens of thousands of Savage 10ML’s seeing regular (some daily) use all across the country, the new for 2007 stainless steel laminated thumbhole model has proven to be the fastest-selling, most sought after Savage muzzleloader ever introduced, according to original patent holder Henry Ball. Let’s check it out and see why that is.

Right out the box, the AccuTrigger on the tested 10ML-II thumbhole broke at a repeatable 2 pounds, 14 ounces. Beautifully crisp, with no grit or creep, it is the finest factory trigger I’ve even seen on a muzzleloader. User-adjustable, it is a dandy at the bench. For hunting, particularly with gloves, I’ll set it at about 3-1/2 pounds. The great feature is the ability to quickly adjust it to your own preference; it remains crisp and clean regardless.

Savage Chairman Ron Coburn has long promised us that his 10ML series rifles are capable of 1-1/2 inch 100 yard accuracy. Mr. Coburn might want to rethink that statement, as in my experience they are invariably capable of better than 1-1/2 inch groups at 100 yards. I’ve monitored Savage factory targeting for years and the range I have seen generally falls from .56 inch to 1.3 inch for three shot groups. It may seem astonishing in a market where many muzzleloaders come with no accuracy promise at all and some “guaranteed accuracy” brags are 2-1/2 inches at 100 yards. A Savage 10ML-II with a load it likes easily halves that.

Indeed, the factory test target (only shipped with review guns) for this rifle was 1.2 inches @ at 100 yards using a standard MMP sabot, a 250 grain .452 Hornady XTP and 42 grains of Hodgdon-IMR SR4759 powder. Most Savages I’ve shot just love Barnes Original 300 gr. semi-spitzer bullets and the orange MMP .458 / 50 sabots. This Savage was no exception; using 43 grains of Accurate Arms 5744 gave me nearly .75 in. groups @ 100 yards, as did the Barnes XPB 275 with an MMP HPH-12 sabot. The orange MMP sabot with Hornady .458 diameter #4500 hollow points (same charge) wasn’t far behind, shooting right at 1 inch. More coverage of the Barnes XPB 275 can be found on the Muzzleloader Page. All of these loads gave me more accuracy than I could possibly use for big game hunting.

What sets this Savage 10ML-II apart from previous versions is the thumbhole stock. This rifle is a head turner, looking like 100 mph standing still. The preference for a thumbhole (available for right handed shooters only, it will not be offered in left-handed configuration) is a personal one. Frankly, it is mostly a matter of style and the notion that it helps prevent canting of the rifle. I’ve not experienced that issue, though, so in my case the standard ambidextrous Savage laminated offers me greater utility. Thumbhole stocks are a bad idea on rifles of heavy recoil as they can lead to dislocated thumbs. That, of course, is not an issue with the 10ML-II. The new 10ML-II thumbhole stock is a beautiful rendition. This gun is not going back to Savage, as you might imagine. I’ve already purchased it for my personal use.

When you consider how many muzzleloaders have been built and sold, the accuracy issues I hear about every day are inherent. Break actions win no matches and the rifleman’s rifle has always had a one-piece stock. It is not possible to hang forearms off of rifles without exposing yourself to accuracy complications.

The Savage 10ML-II is built like a real rifle. It is based on the Savage short bolt-action equipped with a heavy barrel. This action has a dedicated recoil lug and is dual pillar bedded. The pillar bedded action and free floated barrel assure that there is nothing to interfere with natural barrel harmonics. The Savage 10ML-II shoots to the accuracy limit of the components you feed it.

The locktime of the Savage (less than 1.6 ms) is the fastest of any muzzleloader on the market, automatically making you a more accurate hunter. Your 10ML-II’s bullet may already be through your deer before the hammer completely falls on some muzzleloaders. The Savage is also a soft-shooter. Powder mass is a component of free recoil. You need not try to burn 120 – 150 grains of powder to get big game performance out of a 10ML-II. 36 to 44 grains of smokeless powder (contingent on specific powder and projectile) delivers all the performance that we need.

Savage does a good job with their laminated stocks and I definitely prefer them to the synthetic stocked versions. Laminated stocks are quieter in the woods, stronger, more rigid, warmer to the touch and therefore more accurate than injection molded synthetic stocks, which I usually refer to simply as “plastic,” since that is what they are. There are very good (also expensive) composite type synthetic stocks out there, of course, as in HS Precision and McMillan.

Some enthusiasts automatically think that "synthetic" means something good. Highly polished plastic made by old world craftsmen is a bitter pill for me to swallow. Invariably I’ll opt for the strength, accuracy and all-weather durability that comes in a laminated stock formed by great pressure and high heat.

I’d still like to see a few changes offered with the 10ML-II. Though not functionality related, I want a breech plug that can be removed with common hand tools, not a proprietary wrench. The patented Savage breechplug is what makes this gun completely sealed internally and externally. An article devoted to the Savage breech plug can be found on the Muzzleloader Page.

Naturally, I want more from Savage. The Savage “Classic” and “American Classic” rifles are stunningly good looking, and I would dearly love to see a 10ML-II “American Classic” with highly polished blue and an eye-catching walnut stock. This gun is already an “American Classic,” so that type of elegant treatment is something this rifle begs for. I’d also love to see a blued / laminated version sans iron sights available as stock product, another eye-catching combination that actually is already available as a special order from Savage Arms.

If you haven’t guessed it by now from this article and over a hundred previous Savage 10ML related articles I’ve penned, there is no muzzleloader made today that compares favorably with the Savage on the basis of trigger, strength, safety, accuracy, low maintenance, low cost per shot and build quality. Being able to see what you are shooting at makes smokeless muzzleloading a far safer, better, more pleasant sport.

The 10ML-II is the “Rifleman’s Muzzleloader” and I believe that if Jack O’Connor was big game hunting today, a Savage 10ML-II would be by his side. After personally introducing the Savage 10ML-II to boar, pronghorn, deer, warthog, mouflon, ram, caribou, and kudu, with fabulous results, I wouldn’t be caught dead without a 10ML-II. Most every big game animal I’m aware of has already been.

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Copyright 2007 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.