The New England Firearms Sidekick Muzzleloading Rifle

By Randy Wakeman

Stainless Sidekick
Illustration courtesy of H&R 1871 LLC.

The new for 2004 NEF "Sidekick" retains the familiar break-open action design going back to the "Topper" shotguns and opens new distribution opportunities for NEF. NEF / H&R is owned by Marlin Firearms; they are "Made in the USA," in Gardner, Massachusetts.

The tested NEF Sidekick is the stainless steel barrel, nickel plated receiver model, with black synthetic stock. It weighs 7 pounds, 6 ounces on a Lyman electric scale. The trigger is surprisingly crisp, and breaks at an excellent three pounds on the nose. Usable barrel length is about 24-3/4" on this "26 inch" barreled gun. The muzzle has an unusual scalloped form of "quick loading assist" false muzzle. It is only an eighth of an inch or so long.

The buttstock is hollow, but is better than many "flexomatic" synthetic stocks, and the vented recoil pad makes it comfortable to shoot. The ramrod is a telescoping monstrosity that gains notoriety as the worst ramrod I've ever seen on a muzzleloader.

The NEF / Huntsman orange "Zytel" primer carrier is easy to use. With these you can get 35 shots or so out of them. Excess primer gases eject through a cutout on the right side of the barrel, away from a right hand shooter's face. Left hand shooters may not enjoy this as much, but any gas blows to the side, not towards you. The escape route for the gas appears to be no accident, as it keeps blowback away from the inside of the action.

The supplied Williams Fire Sights are excellent and mounted the way I like them with the softer green towards the eyes. When mounting a scope, you'll naturally want the Sidekick one-piece base, made of aluminum, and the hammer extension. You'll likely need "high" Weaver-style rings, contingent on brand of ring and specific scope.

The Sidekick breechplug is a real monster compared to many breechplugs. The recess towards the breech fills quickly with primer gunk, and needs to be wiped away every 15 shots or so at the range, but this would be a non-issue in a hunting scenario. To remove the breechplug, a small tool is provided that has a massive flat screwdriver on one end, and is operated by sticking a screwdriver through a slot in the other end.

The NEF Sidekick proved to be surprisingly accurate. The supplied manual is better than most "economy gun" manuals, even stating the nominal bore of .501 inches and a nominal groove diameter of .510 inches.

There has appeared a very crowded market of break action muzzleloaders trying to tag along with the T/C Encore's success. The NEF Sidekick offers a fine trigger and remarkable accuracy in a bargain-priced package that handles very well. It is noticeably lighter and better balanced than most of the barrage of break-open imports.

The NEF Sidekick builds on the reputation of the NEF / H&R "Handi-Rifle" line by offering the most accuracy for the dollar you are likely to find in a solidly built front loader. All this, at street prices ranging from an amazingly low $160 dollars or so for the blued / wood model up to the $235 dollar stainless rifle as tested. You'll likely want a replacement ramrod right away from or other sources, but other than that the basic gun comes ready to hunt.

Note: A complete review of the NEF Sidekick rifle can be found on the Product Review Page.

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Copyright 2004 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.