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The State of the Inline Muzzleloader in 2009

By Randy D. Smith

At this writing the news of the Knight Rifle plant closing is only a few weeks old. A ground breaking company bites the dust. There are all sorts of opinions about why Knight went under, including such ludicrous claims that some models didn�t handle Blackhorn 209 powder very well. That writer evidently believes that Blackhorn 209 powder is overwhelming the propellant competition.

Failure of the Knight Revolution to attract buyers because of cleaning difficulty and poor handling qualities is another claim. Personally, I think the DISC system had a lot to do with the company�s loss of market share. The DISC is a plastic collar which holds a 209 primer and the company claimed that it weatherproofed the Knight rifle and improved performance. The simple fact is that bare primer 209 systems didn�t have a problem with ignition. The DISC was solving a problem that didn�t exist. What the DISC did do was isolate Knight�s rifles and add one more expense to shooting a Knight. Why buy a rifle that uses a DISC when a less expensive rifle could be purchased that didn�t need one? The company figured that out near the end, but by that time it was too late.

Before I go any farther, I want to say that I have a Knight Excel (which is exclusively a DISC ignition system). It is a bolt action inline and is nearly identical to the Knight Extreme. It is the best inline muzzleloader I have ever used and I have used nearly every inline ever made. The balance is great, the trigger is wonderful, it is easy to clean, exhibits outstanding accuracy and will fire any propellant I want to shove down the bore with absolute 100% reliability. I bought it last summer on clearance for $150 over Gunbroker. No company can stand much of that. At this writing I see a number of Knight Extreme models listed for $178 as dealers scramble to clear out inventory. What a bargain for what is arguably the best inline Knight ever manufactured!

At this writing there are really only four major players left in inline muzzleloading: Thompson/Center, CVA, Traditions and Savage. The Savage 10ML-II is an excellent inline, but doesn�t have a very large market share. The CVA and Traditions inlines are manufactured overseas to very competitive price points, if questionable safety standards. Thompson/Center is a market leader, but I honestly wonder if sales justify the tremendous cost T/C lays out for advertising.

The vast majority of the inline muzzleloader hunters I know carry CVA or Traditions rifles. A lot of them carry ten year old Knight inlines.

I examined all of the new models at last year�s SHOT Show. The Spanish made CVA APEX and the Traditions Vortek are impressive designs. I wouldn�t hesitate to choose either over an American made Thompson/Center, because of the difference in price.

A Gimmick Industry

When I first began writing about inline muzzleloaders twenty years ago, there were a number of companies producing them. Many were small companies and some of them produced really excellent inline muzzleloaders. Gonic and White come to mind as two of the best early inlines ever made. I recently bought one of my sons a superb White Super-91, because that was the rifle he'd always wanted. As long as he uses black powder, Triple Seven, or Pyrodex P powder, he will have an excellent inline that will produce as many whitetails as any muzzleloader on the market today.

Inline muzzle-loading was tremendously competitive then and companies scrambled to separate their products from the others. Remington and Ruger adapted their bolt action models to inline muzzleloaders to take advantage of the market. Every year a new update was announced, usually by Thompson/Center or Knight, and all of the companies struggled to keep up.

Most of the innovations were attempts to make a black powder rifle function and clean-up more like a modern rifle. Most of these innovations were improvements, but a lot of them were just gimmicks. We, the buying public, were deluged with rifles capable of 150 grain powder charges. Never mind that recoil was teeth rattling, accuracy went out the window, bullet failure became common and barrel contamination was magnified, all the nimrods jumped on the high velocity band wagon.

When Hodgdon introduced pellet propellants it set the industry on its ear and for all practical purposes caused the high velocity craze. Pellets were convenient, but they didn�t ignite well with standard #11 percussion cap ignition systems. The answer became the 209 primer ignition system, which generally called for a major update of all inline rifle designs. The small companies didn�t have the resources to adapt and steadily lost market share.

This trend of annual design change has slowly weeded all but a few companies out of the market. The latest casualty is Knight. Knight just couldn�t seem to come up with something that appealed to buyers. As good as Knight�s bolt action inlines are, the buying trend is clearly away from bolt actions. Otherwise, Remington and Ruger would still be in the muzzleloader business. I field tested a break action Knight KP1 this last winter and thought that it just might get the company back into the ball game. My KP1 was a very good rifle, as good as any of them. Alas, too little, too late. Knight became a victim of the gimmick industry it helped to create.

What Now?

If a hunter wants a new inline muzzleloader that will perform to all the advertised standards (what the companies tell you is important), you still have a choice of some of the best inlines ever manufactured. The Savage 10ML-II, Thompson/Center Bone Collector, CVA APEX and Traditions Vortek are cutting edge inline muzzleloaders. You can charge them up with IMR White Hots pellets, easy load sabots, premium bullets and enjoy outstanding performance. You can even charge the Savage muzzleloader with smokeless powder, the original black powder substitute. You can believe that you have the best muzzleloader ever made. You can go out for the special deer season with a rifle that will shoot farther, hit harder, clean easier and handle better than any previous muzzleloader.

You will probably shoot your deer at less than 100 yards, but you�ll feel good knowing that the rifle could take him at 200, if you can shoot that well, which most hunters can�t.

And Me?

If a Traditions Vortek arrives in time for the September season, I�ll test it and report back to you. It will probably be a good review, because the Vortek is a good inline design. Traditions has developed this rifle based on its past successes and learned from a few failures. So has Thompson/Center and CVA. All of them will be very good inline muzzleloaders.

If the Vortek doesn�t arrive in time, I�m going back to my custom made .58 caliber, black powder, open sight, side-lock, plains rifle replica shooting patched round balls and using #11 percussion caps. I will take my deer at less than 100 yards and it will probably go down on the spot. In fact it may not run as far as if it had been shot by a modern high velocity .45 caliber pistol bullet. I�m very tired of explaining why.

When I fire that old cannon the smoke will roll, the surrounding air will smell like rotten eggs and I�ll have to clean the gun thoroughly when I get home. It may take a whole ten minutes longer than cleaning a modern inline and then again, it may not. Nearly everything is on the outside of a primitive muzzleloader while the modern inlines have put nearly everything on the inside. The old timers really knew what they were doing, given the technology available.

While I�m cleaning my plains rifle, I will admire the classic lines and enjoy the feel of the wood, brass, and iron. I�ll remember the resounding �Ka-boom� it made when I fired it and fondly recall the rolling white smoke in the moist air of a fall morning. I�ll proudly know that I took that deer with a 200 year old rifle design and I really won�t worry much about anything else.

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