The Traditions Evolution Premier Muzzleloading Rifle

By Randy Wakeman

Traditions Evolution Premier
Illustration courtesy of Traditions Firearms.

The tested gun was an Evolution Premier, .50 caliber, stainless steel / Laminate, with a 26" barrel. Tested weight was 7 lbs., 12 ounces. The laminated stock is very nicely finished, and the gun overall is extremely attractive. Trigger breaks at an average 5-3/4 lbs., heavy with little grit. The new "cock on opening" (cock on lever lift if you prefer) bolt is a significant improvement on the cock on close bolt that has exhibited major problems in times past. The iron sights (Williams) are far better than most, and are optically correct in my view; green against the face, not the blinding red on some other brands.

Blowback is still quite heavy with 209 primers; the Winchester 209, Remington 209P STS, and Federal 209A's were all tested. The primers do not stick in place, though, and are easy to flip out. The blowback does not seem to be as spectacular as with the Traditions E-bolt, however it is still unacceptably strong for scope use.

No "external" weather shroud is supplied to combat this. Traditions claims a "build in weather shroud" which is apparently a recessed bolt-moving the hollow portion of the bolt closer to the primer when cocked and closed. It has the effect of focusing the blowback into a dense stream of fire, flying vertically straight up at any scope you dare mount. The use of loose powder and a #11 cap seems a better approach with this gun.

The Traditions bolt, while a quick-release design, is not easy to service. The bolt channel is still narrow, and gums up quickly. It exhibits stick-slip in as few as 6 or 7 shots. While easy to remove, quick reinsertion is not always possible. The bolt enjoys de-cocking itself as you try to insert it, and then you must remove it for manual cocking with pliers to reattempt reinsertion.

The breech plug is not nearly as easy to service as one-piece designs, and not as friendly as other two-piece examples. You need both ends of the Traditions tool to get it out, first removing the 209 primer holder, then attacking the breech plug.

The Evolution is very well balanced and handles well. The fluting on the barrel is deeper than I expected, and is functional to a degree as well as cosmetically appealing. Not only does it apparently help the balance, it allows somewhat faster barrel cooling as well.

The ported muzzle is claimed by Traditions to reduce recoil by up to 30%. Well, this gun kicks like a mule, even with moderate loads. What Traditions calls a recoil pad is a hard rubber butt plate. I asked Traditions to offer any evidence as to the efficiency of the porting, or if it worked at all. None was forthcoming, and they indicated they had not shot one yet. So, as to the porting, I can't see where it does anything except make noise and give you a bunch of little holes (12) to clean. It seems to be nothing more than a marketing gimmick.

The gun kicks more than the White, Knight, Savage, T/C, Austin & Halleck, etc. It should kick more, as it is lighter. The A&H 420, for example, is the softest shooting gun tested of the group, but it is also a 9-pound gun with a generous recoil pad. To reduce recoil, the proven way is to add weight. Add 15% of gun weight, recoil drops 15%--no rocket science there. A quality recoil pad, like a Kick-Eez, would both add weight in the right place and attenuate recoil. At the least, some sort of decent recoil pad seems in order.

The Traditions was hunting-level accurate, with 2" groups at 50 yards with the supplied sights. I feel that could be improved with a lighter, crisper trigger, and less recoil anticipation. All in all, some may find this gun suitable for light duty hunting use.

Everything suffers by comparison, and the Evolution is no exception. This particular model sells for a surprisingly high $419 street price. For that type of investment, an Austin & Halleck 420 curly maple model is only a "Happy Meal" or two away.

Naturally, value-shoppers would expect me to compare the more inexpensive bolt action offerings that Traditions has in its product line to the direct bolt action, open breech competition. The BPI marketed Winchester X-150 .50 caliber, starting at $240, is superior to any Traditions version of this gun by virtue of its far better bolt design, easier maintenance, more generous recoil pad, and comparatively pleasant recoil.

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Copyright 2003 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.