The Legendary White 98 "Elite Hunter"
Few muzzleloading rifles have generated such a loyal contingent of fans as the White 98, and I finally understand why. The test gun supplied is a .451 caliber laminated stock version, with a 416 series stainless steel barrel--common to all White Rifles.
The White Elite 98 is a unique rifle in many respects. It is the only muzzleloader offered today with a barrel so precise that its bore dimensions are specified to three decimal points. One of the frustrating components of today's muzzleloading market is the wide variance in bore dimensions. It is not uncommon for so-called "fifty caliber" muzzleloaders to vary from a bore dimension of .497" to .503" in the same model from the same manufacturer. Not so with the White Rifle, as their .451 barrel is just that.
The Elite 98's "Bold" trigger is very good right out of the box: almost no creep, zero grit, and a clean 4 lb. repeatable break as measured on an Lyman electronic pull gauge. White's plunger "pull-to-cock" action has a shorter travel than most, which results in a faster lock-time than many other actions, including some bolt actions I've tried.
The Elite Hunter's laminated stock is very attractive, with a well-fitted recoil pad and properly channeled inlet for the thumb safety. The pull to cock action and stock design makes this an ambidextrous gun, more so than any bolt action on the market.
The Elite Hunter has a "secondary safety" that I far prefer to the screw-type. No screw to rattle, no threads to fight with or back in slightly at exactly the wrong time. Left-handed shooters are certain to appreciate this safety, which can easily be used as the primary safety. The more I've shot the White, the more instinctive the secondary safety becomes. I find myself engaging it without conscious thought, and that's a good thing.
It is no secret that most bolt action and plunger action guns can externally sludge up with heavy firing. No problem with the White, a generous thumbscrew allows "fingers only" (no tools required) removal of the action for a quick wipe-down that only takes a few seconds after 50 consecutive rounds. It is this fingers only action removal that makes the White a delight at the range. Rather than demanding a special breech plug removal tool, any 3/8" socket works fine.
White Rifle's warranty is the best in the business. Not only is it a "lifetime warranty" against defects in workmanship or materials, White Rifles offers to refund your money if they are unable to repair the gun to your satisfaction. To the best of my knowledge, no other blackpowder rifle company makes such an offer.
The White is well built, feels good, handles well, comes with a good trigger, and is easy to take down for service at the range. It is also a very attractive rifle.
The rest, in large measure, is in the shooting. And, shoot it does! My best group at 110 yards was .75" with White's 460 grain PowerPunch conicals (pushed by 80 grains of Hodgdon Triple 7 FFFg), and I was able to consistently group into 1.5" or better, even on windy days. That is confidence inspiring accuracy as far as I'm concerned. Recoil is quite manageable with this load.
Average velocity through the chronograph was 1342 fps, and the 460 grain PowerPunch bullet mentioned has a ballistic coefficient of .300. As a bonus, the PowerPunch bullets are easy to load, and all the groups mentioned were achieved with no barrel swabbing. The White needs no barrel swabbing between shots.
The White barrel has a tight (by muzzleloading standards) 1:20 rate of twist. That is what it allows it to adequately stabilize heavy conicals at moderate velocities.
Where some .45 caliber rifles are presented as lightweight game or varmint rounds, the White 98 is a true big game rifle. Whether deer, elk, moose or bear, the 460 grain PowerPunch is quite capable of cleanly dropping most any North American game animal out to 120 yards with no "Kentucky elevation" required.
Some of the White's appeal is not readily apparent. The hammer / one-piece hardened tool steel breech plug combination has been tested to 10,000 rounds of dry firing with no measurable wear. No other manufacturer can make that claim.
The White 98 features two recoil lugs. One is at the end of the barreled action and gives stock to barreled action rigidity that single recoil lug barrels cannot approach. After several heavy shooting sessions, I unscrewed the bolt assembly (which also requires no special tools) expecting it to be caked with fouling. I laughed aloud, as the inside of the hammer / plunger action showed no sign of residue.
The White 98 is best suited to #11 cap ignition. Where many #11 cap guns have an unfortunate propensity to have the cap slip off the nipple, such is not the case with the White 98. The CCI Magnum #11 caps that I used seal tightly to the nipple and give the White 98 a weatherproof action. To test the "automatic weatherproofing" of the White 98, I poured a gallon jug of water directly into the capped action. Bang! The gun was reloaded, and recapped. Another gallon of water poured right into the open action. Bang! It seems that the weatherproof action for which so many muzzleloading companies have striven already exists in the White 98!
On the subject of the CCI magnum caps, I have few tins where the orange percussion material does not fill the bottom of the cap fully, leaving bare spots. A word to the wise: this is a CCI quality control problem, and if you want zero misfires or hangfires (don't we all?) snap them off on an empty chamber and discard them.
There is some blowback, but it is relatively mild. The Thompson / Center Arms leather scope protector is the finest I've found, and has protected the Bushnell Elite 3200 3 x 9 x 40 I have mounted on the White with no problems. Some are happy with black electrical tape, but I find the Thompson scope protector to be a more elegant solution.
Any rifle can be improved, and the White is no exception. I replaced the supplied rattle-prone (yet strong) ramrod that is too short with an XS Sights "Power Rod." I'd like to see a conventional 1:28 twist barrel option available for this fine gun, which would allow shooting the 275 grain Powerbelts that have performed so well for me. This would also give the shooter the option to use prbullet.com's high BC, high velocity saboted rounds.
As it is, I have no problem recommending the White 98 as the best #11 capped inline ever made, and the finest currently available today. They are lifetime rifles.
4/2004 Update: Apparently, White Rifles, LLC, has fallen on hard times. They have demonstrated an inability to pay their bills throughout the industry, including videos "purchased" from this very writer.
The Bo Clerke .451 barreled White 98 model is no longer available, and no .451 caliber White 98 models have been available for over seven months. The reasons for this are beyond the scope of this review, but I've spoken with Bo Clerke directly, and he is busier than ever, shipping over 1000 of his renowned barrels per month from his 10,000 square foot operation. There may or may not be substitute 410 SS barreled versions available sometime this year; but how well they might perform is pure speculation. It would be negligent of me if I did not point up that the gun, as tested, is just not available--and will not be.
2/2005 update: White Rifles has lost their new barrel vendor, Criterion, by not being able to pay for barrels ordered, and is effectively out of the muzzleloading business (again) for 2005.
Copyright 2003, 2005 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.