A Look at Savage 10ML-II Preferred Loads

By Randy Wakeman

Over the course of the last several years, folks have asked again and again, "What is the Best Load for the Savage 10ML-II?" Of course, we all want that, and just like any other firearm--there can be no answer for all seasons. Folks like Del Ramsey will answer candidly, for the Savage and other muzzleloaders, "The one that works the best in your rifle." Rifles are individuals, and that must be accepted before we start selecting loads, or working up loads. It is for that reason that I'm reticent to make more then generalizations, as sooner or later someone will carp a bit that "it doesn't do that in my rifle." The answer is, of course, is that I'm not shooting their individual rifle with their scope under their conditions-- so guidelines are offered, not absolutes. Fortunately, there are some very good guidelines at this stage of the game.

Primers should be the W209 standard Winchester shotshell primers, just as used and recommended by Savage Arms. I've used Federal 209A primers, and also CCI 209M primers with equally good results. Shotshell primers do vary by lot, and certainly by brand. In fact, Winchester W209 primers have been made by CCI to "Winchester Specifications," whatever that might mean. CCI and Federal are owned by ATK, so the same basic company is making all three. Still, they do vary dimensionally and in gas output. Stick with W209 primers unless you have a reason to try others, then try CCI or Federals if W209's are doing something you don't like or they are more readily available in your area. With the primers out of the way, let's move on to bullet-sabot-powder combinations.

I. Hornady XTP 250 grain or 300 grain ("non-magnum") and short MMP sabots

The 250 grain .452 diameter Hornady XTP has been the standard Savage test load for several years now. Savage has settled on 42 grains by weight of SR4759 or 42 grains of N110 as the standard factory accuracy load for good reason, that being that it shoots uniformly well out of most Savage 10ML-II yielding in excess of 2200 fps velocities.

Henry Ball and friends have used and suggested the 300 grain, non-magnum .452 XTP with 44 grains of Accurate Arms 5744 for many, many years. I like a 300 grain bullet, the better sectional density equating to deeper penetration. Accurate Arms 5744 is very easy to ignite, offering positive performance in extreme conditions as well. Velocity is in the 2000 fps area with 300 grain bullets, easy on the shoulder and more appropriate for the pistol bullet designs as well. Take your pick; not much can live on the difference.

II. Barnes Original 300 grain Semi-Soft Point .458 or Hornady #4500 300 grain .458 Hollow Point with MMP Orange .458 / .50 sabots

MMP's Orange .458 / 50 sabot is the best sabot on the market, in my opinion, and offers several technical advantages to the discriminating shooter. When the object is sealing, a thinner gasket is generally a better and stronger gasket and the MMP Orange sabot is no exception to this generalization. As a sabot is the launching pad for bullets, the .458 platform offers the largest support surface from which to do so. By using a thinner sabot, the "wall" between the bullet and the barrel is reduced, and along with it the possibility of canting the bullet during loading. Concentricity promotes accuracy; consider this an extension of the generalization that .429 / .50 sabots are not as accurate as their .451 / .452 counterparts.

Technical details aside, the MMP Orange sabot when mated to the Barnes Original or Hornady #4500 tends to shoot extremely well, making it a forgiving combination in all the best ways. The Barnes Original is the flattest shooting 300 grain bullet I've been able to shoot with great accuracy. Beyond that, the generous copper tube pulled over pure lead design of Fred Barnes makes the Barnes Original a very tough, rugged bullet--able to withstand not only high velocities, but the massive impact when it hits bone as well. I'm very glad that Barnes Bullets has kept this design available; it is clearly my favorite 10ML-II bullet.

The Hornady #4500, using the same MMP Orange sabot, is also a fine shooter. While not the higher ballistic coefficient of the Barnes, nor as tough a jacket, there is little dispute about the .45-70 Government's ability to take whitetail and more.

With either bullet, 44 grains of Accurate Arms 5744 nets you a comfortable but formidable 2000 fps, with 57 to 60 grains of N120-2250 to 2300 fps. This is 300 grain bullet performance, with accuracy that obsoletes most inlines and slug guns.

III. Other Loadings Worth Your Consideration

The Barnes 300 grain MZ-Expander (supplied sabot) with 44 grains of 5744 has done a fine job for me. The Barnes XPB 275 bullet (MMP HPH-12 sabot) has done well with both 5744 and 57 grains of N120. Both bullets feature essentially 100% weight retention. The XPB 275 was more than good enough to take to Africa with me.

Ty Herring of Barnes Bullets has had great luck using Alliant Reloder 7 and Barnes TMZ 290 bullets in the Savage 10ML-II, as have others. I like the TMZ290 myslef, particularly with "Blackhorn" 209 mentioned below.

I well understand that some folks want the accuracy of the 10ML-II, the fast lock time of the Savage short action, the crispness of the Accu-Trigger, the dedicated recoil lug / two pillar system and all the other features that make it the most accurate production muzzleloader made. However, whether by choice or local statute, they don't care to shoot smokeless, or what they think is "smokeless." So be it.

There hasn't been a propellant good enough to use in a 10ML-II since its inception that is marketed as a "black powder replica" powder, but there is now, Western Powders' Blackhorn 209. It won't give you N110 or N120 performance, but it will equal the performance of Accurate Arms 5744. Anywhere from 90 to 120 grains by volume makes a fine load with all of the above bullet / sabot combinations and is the propellant of choice when conicals are dictated (smokeless is not allowed with conicals by Savage). 405 grain Powerbelts, for example, do well with Blackhorn 209. Blackhorn 209 needs a hot, efficient ignition system and nothing is more efficient than the 10ML-II breechplug design. It is a very good fit when conditions call for a "blackpowder replica marketed" powder. As a matter of fact, it was a Savage 10ML-II pressure barrel used for most of the load development of Blackhorn 209, so it should be no surprise that the Savage 10ML-II is one of the very few muzzleloaders made that allows you to get the most out of this excellent new propellant.

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Copyright 2008 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.