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Traditions Pursuit Pro Rifle

By Randy D. Smith

Traditions Pursuit Pro
Illustration courtesy of Traditions Performance Firearms.

As you read various reviews of different muzzleloaders on this web site you will probably get a pretty good idea of what reviewers look for when they evaluate a rifle. In some ways evaluating a new model is easier than writing about conventional cartridge rifles because there is only so much a muzzle-loading rifle can do or be, compared to the wide variety of smokeless single shots, bolt actions, semi-autos and lever actions on the market. In other ways, evaluating a muzzleloader fairly, without prejudices interfering with judgment, can be difficult. So, I'll present my prejudices up front and you can be the judge of what I write beyond that.

First of all, I don't particularly care for feet-per-second velocity claims because it is all relative to the powder charge and projectile that is being used. Also, velocity is secondary to accuracy and with black powder is not a major determinate of lethality when total load effectiveness is evaluated. So, what the heck! If I have to use no more than 85 grains of propellant to get a gun and projectile to shoot accurately that's just fine, because any .50 caliber rifle shooting a patched round ball or projectile of from 240 to 600 grains at that powder charge level can take any deer on this planet.

Ninety per cent of muzzle-loading rifles are used strictly for special deer hunting seasons. If you want to shoot a deer at 200 yards, get yourself a cartridge rifle. If you want to have fun in the challenging arena of muzzleloader hunting, the range limitation isn't important anyway. Besides, if you've hunted whitetails at all, you know that most of them are taken at 70 to 100 yards, and that's perfect for a muzzleloader's capabilities.

Secondly, I question the accuracy figures presented in many articles. Most muzzleloading rifles do not group nearly as well as is commonly stated in articles. I believe that if you work hard enough and use enough different projectiles and various powder charge levels that you should be able to get just about any rifle to group within five or six inches at 100 yards with open sights. If you can't, more than likely it is because of something you are doing and not the rifle. I am a firm believer that everyone should run at least a hundred rounds through any new muzzleloader before taking it hunting. Not only should you shoot that much to learn to shoot the rifle accurately but also to learn the little quirks and habits of individual rifles. And all of them have them, just as do cartridge rifles. Novice shooters need to learn how to manage all the reloading and support equipment that is necessary, anyway.

I'm talking shooting from the bench only enough to make sure your rifle is shooting accurately. From then on it should be from the off hand, prone and sitting positions.

But if you are one of those who wants to believe the claims in the magazines, please be my guest. Wad up the instruction manual and/or light a cigar with it, shove three pellets down the barrel, and load one of the overpriced brands of projectiles that each company promotes with its rifles without seeing what your rifle is capable of in your hands at the shooting range with a variety of loads. You probably won't be hunting with a muzzleloader very long anyway, because you won't be successful and you'll blame the rifle or muzzle loading in general. It takes work to become good with a muzzleloader.

With that said, what do I look for when I evaluate a muzzle-loading rifle?

  • I want a rifle that is well thought out without being overly complicated. Too many bells and whistles put me off.
  • I want a rifle that is well balanced and easy handling. That implies that it is ergonomically correct which means that the stock fits right to bring the eye into alignment with the sights or scope and the stock design is not something that belongs on a weed whacker rather than a firearm.
  • I want a decent trigger pull and don't want to feel like I'm trying to strangle a cat with my trigger finger just to get the thing to go off. I call those "Lawyer's triggers" and I hate them.
  • I like decent open sights and brother, there are a lot of darned poor sights on the in-line market today, the bulk of them fiber optic.
  • I want a rifle that loads easily and I will often choose an easy loading projectile over a hard loading one, even if the harder loading projectile may shoot a slightly tighter group in that rifle. The more you hunt with a muzzleloader the more importance you will place on how easily a projectile loads in a certain rifle.
  • I want a rifle that will consistently ignite the powder charge. In the old days that was a major consideration, but newer 209 ignition systems have greatly reduced that worry.
  • I want a rifle that is fairly easy to clean without having a bunch of nooks and crannies demanding unusual effort and constant monitoring for the rust mongers. I don't care a thing for camouflage stocks but in certain conditions a stainless steel rifle is a definite advantage. And, a good composite stock is a treasure in the field. A good laminated stock is almost as good but it will take more care. A fine walnut stock is beautiful and it will take a lot more care. A hardwood stock is highly underrated and if you take care of it you will be happy with it. But, a good composite stock is a treasure in the field. I already said that, didn't I?

I read all the nonsense about muzzleloader "blow back" and I am unimpressed to say the least. Some rifles are dirtier than others, but if they shoot accurately and handle well and are dependable field guns, blow back is a non-issue. I never even noticed blow back until I read about it a few years ago, and that was after over 20 years in muzzleloading. It is a black powder rifle for heaven's sake! Must be something some writer dreamed up to feel special, I guess.

Lastly, I want a rifle that is priced reasonably. Excuse me, but paying $900 for a muzzleloader for deer hunting is ridiculous. There are any number of $250 to $400 rifles out there that will do just as well. On the other hand, when you buy a new muzzleloading rifle for $79, you shouldn't complain too much if everything doesn't fit or work quite right. I mean, after all, you do get what you pay for.

When the first 209 primer ignition systems were introduced the natural design for them was the bolt action in-line. After a few seasons some companies came out with drop action designs to combine the 209 primer ignition system with an inline design that wasn't so bulky, particularly given the trend to high velocity loads and longer barrels. These drop actions proved to be very popular.

I have not been impressed with any of the drop actions or break actions up to this point. It appears to me that to keep the rifles competitively priced the drop actions have generally been pot metal, plastic and aluminum jobs that are made to sell but may not hold up over several seasons of hard use. The alternative to them was the break action, which essentially took an existing single shot cartridge design and modified it for muzzle-loading. Some of these rifles were very good except that I did not like the balance or the stock design. Other break actions were so cheaply made that I didn't want to waste my time on them. The actions are wobbly, the balance is poor, and the craftsmanship is shoddy. So I kept using bolt action 209 in-lines. But, I always felt that with some critical design work and more thought given to the hunter rather than the cash register, the break action in-line had real potential. This brings me to the rifle I'm reviewing for this article.

Several weeks back I was sent a Traditions Pursuit Pro to try out for the fall hunting season. I asked the company if I could review it because I liked the looks of the design and I have a twenty year history of using and enjoying the performance of Traditions products.

Although I probably could have gotten the best camouflage stock model they had, I specifically requested a black stock model with blue metal. I am planning an American pronghorn and mule deer hunt this fall and I wanted a black rifle to reduce glare over sun lit grassland.

Because both are hunted on the open plains with mechanical sights only during the muzzleloader season, I also wanted a model with specific features for accurate long-range shots. Mule deer and American pronghorn muzzleloader hunting ranges are challenging, often with strong winds to contend with. A great deal of stalking is often necessary and it is not unusual to crawl for several hundred yards to get into position for a shot. I prefer a rifle that is balanced heavily enough to hold on target and reduce recoil from heavy loads. I want a longer barrel for maximum performance, and yet not so heavy that it is a burden to carry.

The Traditions Pursuit Pro is a break-open muzzleloader that is available in .50 caliber. 12 gauge shotgun and .45 caliber barrel options will soon be available. It has a synthetic stock, 28" fluted barrel, 1:28" twist rate, recessed muzzle projectile alignment system, steel Williams fiber optic sights, and weighs 8.25 pounds. The entire package is 44" long from butt pad to muzzle. It uses a 209 primer ignition system.

The breech is exposed for primer insertion by tripping a latch in front of the trigger guard, which tips the barrel down. The rifle is cocked by a nicely styled ambidextrous hammer that is also equipped with a reversible hammer extension for scope use. The ramrod is black aluminum with a clever reversible jag extension for either loading or cleaning.

The basic design is also available as the Pursuit and the Pursuit LT. The Pursuit LT is a lighter rifle and the Pursuit has a shorter barrel. My black Pursuit Pro rifle package has a suggested retail price of $279. Prices work up as camouflage stock and brushed nickel barrel finish options are added. The Pursuit is not a reworked design of a converted cartridge rifle. It is a from-the-ground-up break action pattern with a lot of innovative features.

The Pursuit Pro is the best design of the drop action or break action 209 inline that I have seen to date, especially for the price. It meets or exceeds all of the expectations that I mentioned earlier. The Monte Carlo style synthetic stock design is excellent. The eye comes into natural alignment with the sights and the elbow comes naturally to a proper 90 degree angle from the rib cage. The length of pull is a nice 14" and the pistol grip wrist design is natural and comfortable.

The Pursuit Pro is wonderfully balanced for a rifle with a 28" barrel. Most people handling it would be surprised that it is an eight pound rifle. It carries like a fine, side hammer, Ohio style primitive percussion rifle. It comes to the shoulder naturally and swings through in excellent fashion. Even though I planned to use it on the plains, I realized that it would make an exceptional woods rifle.

The breech release in front of the trigger guard is located in an easily accessed location and will not pinch the fingers. The hammer is such that it can be easily cocked with a gloved thumb, and there is plenty of room for a gloved trigger finger. A transfer bar safety and a cross-block safety in the back of the trigger guard provides for two stage security. The projectile alignment system allows for excellent bullet management.

The Williams steel fiber optic sights are the best I have used. On some sights the dots are too large and glow too harshly, actually interfering with, rather than enhancing, precise long range sighting. Many of those sights are also too wide in the V for optimum accuracy. The Pursuit Pro sights are precisely cut and the dots are not obtrusive. I shot some of the best fiber optic groups I've ever managed because of the superior Williams design. I had ordered some WGRS receiver sights for the Pursuit Pro before I received the rifle and almost sent them back because the standard open sights were so good. Still, I went ahead and mounted the WGRS sights (CVA-Round) and my groups improved even more.

I have managed some very impressive 120 yard groups with two 50 grain pellets of Triple 7 and the 240-grain Buffalo TCP sabot. My main practice round has been the .44 caliber 240-grain Hornady SWC hollow point in MMP Green sabots. I buy them in bulk and can save a lot of money for practice shooting. I also have a package of some new Traditions 250-grain T-Shock Sabots but am saving them for the hunting season. This rifle will make an excellent long-range hunter, the very reason I wanted it.

I can reload the Pursuit Pro in less than twenty seconds using Triple 7 pellets and either the TCP or Hornady sabots. The 209 primer is easily placed into and removed from the breech without special tools. The breech snaps shut smartly without "wobble" or misalignment in the mechanism. There is virtually no contamination from the spent primer to the breech system, making it much cleaner than any of the drop actions currently on the market from Knight, T/C, Winchester or CVA. And not one bit of the dreaded "blow black," I might add.

The trigger was a bit heavy when I first began shooting the Pursuit Pro, but has lightened with use to pleasant levels with a minimum of creep. It is not as good a trigger as on the Evolution, however. I might add here that I probably need to write a review of the Evolution because it is an excellent rifle as well with some nice features.

So, there you have it: a rifle that is well thought out without being overly complicated. A rifle that has outstanding balance and is easy handling with a good trigger and excellent open sights. An accurate rifle that shoots with a minimum of contamination, is easy to clean and offers perfect shot to shot dependability. And best of all, these features are present in a reasonably priced package.

If you are considering a first rifle, an updated model, or simply want one of the best in-lines currently on the market, you need to take a serious look at the Traditions Pursuit Pro. Better yet, get your hands on one so you can feel for yourself just how well balanced this rifle is. There are high dollar in-lines that are in for some serious competition once the word gets around about this rifle.

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Copyright 2004 by Randy D. Smith. All rights reserved.