By Randy Wakeman

"Lock-time" is defined as the "time interval between sear release and the firing-pin striking the primer". This is seldom mentioned in the discussion of today's muzzleloading firearms, but it really should be. Some guns are far, far easier to hit with than others, and the trigger and lockwork arrangement is often the reason. Fighting a trigger is just no fun.

Those familiar with the writings of Ross Seyfried will recognize the statement that, to the shooter, a firearm has only two active parts: the sights and the trigger. Our interest in sighting systems and optics is obvious; our attention to triggers less prominent. Triggers are regularly overlooked. Yet, some guns are clearly finding their targets better than others, but seem no more accurate. The reason, I believe, is both locktime and effective locktime.

This morning, I shot two pesky neighborhood rabbits (thousands remain) that enjoy eating my stuff with a Beeman 5mm R-9 air rifle at 35 and 37 yards respectively. It is easy, at least now, to hit with that Beeman, as the FTS pellets went though the eye sockets of both bunnies. It wasn't always so.

Though the R-9 has what I feel is a good trigger, firing the trigger only starts the process of getting a pellet out the muzzle. Only after learning to hold on target, actually over-hold on target beyond what is instinctive, did spring air rifle shooting become easy, ignoring the powerplant vibration as you do so. It is the same with a flintlock. It is easy to become distracted with initial pan flash, and think that somehow your ball is on its way to its mark. It hasn't moved yet, and the same "over-hold" approach will allow you to shoot far, far better.

To me, shooting a flinter is just like handling an air rifle on steroids, the approach is the same. That is the "effective" locktime I'm referring to. The move to inline muzzleloaders has cut effective locktime down considerably. Actual locktime and good triggers remain largely overlooked, however, as far as muzzleloaders are concerned.

One of the most accurate hunting handguns I've ever owned is my Ruger SuperRedhawk .44 Mag. From the factory, the trigger was something I had to consciously fight. Though no hammer gun has excellent locktime, a Wolff spring kit made all the difference in the world. What was a 3" 100 yard gun now groups inside 1-1/2" thanks to that spring kit. Other handguns I've owned have been worked over by pistolsmith Jack Weigand, with similar results. Same way with my clays guns, a touch of magic by Allen Timney of Ceritos, California, and it is more birds with a lot less work.

Muzzleloading is, in general, still in the Dark Ages when it comes to triggers and locktime. We fight groups and sabots, but sometimes overlook the obvious when it comes to being able to place a bullet. It could not be more obvious that a good trigger is a requisite to good practical accuracy, yet most of us pay scant attention to triggers and locktime. We seem content enough when our muzzleloaders just go bang.

Two of the most horrific examples of ungodly triggers in recent memory are those found on the CVA Optima and the Traditions Pursuit. Like air conditioning and power steering, once you have a quality trigger and fast locktime, it is really hard to go back. Those who can hit anything in the field with those guns as supplied have my admiration, or at least my condolences; you are likely a far better shot than you think you are. When I shoot guns like these, it could not be more obvious to me that the manufacturer either knows nothing about hunting and shooting or, worse, they just don't care.

The old Mauser 98 military action has been criticized for having a slow locktime, actually a service rifle design choice. Back in 1932, Winchester released their "Speedlock" feature on their Model 54. The older 54 had a locktime similar to the Mauser, with a 1/2 inch firing pin travel and weak spring. The Speedlock reduced that to about a 1/4 inch of firing pin travel, and the spring was replaced with a stronger, 23 pound spring. This Speedlock feature was carried over to the Winchester Model 70. A heavier spring can work wonders, as in the case of my Ruger .44 Redhawk. Those who want more currently have it available for a number of rifles, as High-Power Champion David Tubb (and others) have released titanium firing pins with half the weight of factory pins, and Wolff spring kit sets to match.

While slow locktime can be addressed to some degree on the bench, it is far more problematic in offhand and field shooting, as it allows more time for the muzzle to move after the trigger releases the sear. Nothing much good can happen after your trigger is pulled and before your bullet exits. More recently, Dvorak Instruments' "Triggerscan" instrumentation has been used to more closely define and improve triggers. Triggerscan was used in the development of the Savage Accu-Trigger, perhaps the most notable example at this time.

The 1903A3 has a locktime of somewhere around 6.5 milliseconds, contingent on mainspring. The Remington long action has a locktime of 3.0 milliseconds, the Remington short action 2.6 milliseconds. Though Remington has failed at their muzzleloading attempt, and along with Ruger, is now out of the muzzleloading business due to lack of popular demand, these locktimes are mentioned for comparison's sake.

According to Dick Metcalf (who also uses Triggerscan), even with the far lighter hammer weight of most pistols compared to rifles, anything nearing a 5.0 millisecond locktime is exceedingly good. You just won't find any factory hammer type muzzleloaders that can compete with the 6 to 7 millisecond locktime of even the classic 1903A3. The weight of the hammer and the long throw prohibit it.

The short throw of Knight Disc rifles are notably better than average in this area, as is the very short-throw Austin & Halleck 420. The leader, by a huge amount, is the Savage 10ML-II AccuTrigger with a conservatively stated locktime of 1.60 milliseconds.

To put this in terms that are more vivid, let me phrase it this way: a bullet fired out of a Savage 10ML-II is out of the gun, and at least TEN YARDS downrange before any muzzleloading hammergun's hammer so much as touches its primer.

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Copyright 2005 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.