Can I Use Smokeless Powder in My Thompson/Center Muzzleloader?

By Randy Wakeman

E-mail question:

All right Savage 10ML-II Gurus . . . here is a question. Why can the Savage shoot smokeless powder but my Thompson/Center Encore cannot? Is the design limitation the steel strength of the receiver area or a limitation of the breech plug in my Encore?

Scott - Cloverdale, IN

Hello Scott, I'm glad you asked. A lot of people don't, but are nevertheless curious. I know that you are an experienced shooter and hunter, and if you are asking, well, there are undoubtedly a lot of other folks that would appreciate a detailed response as well. So here is the answer:

The Thompson breechplug is insufficient for Savage loads, and the barrel "may be heat treated," or may not be. Thompson/Center has done no testing with smokeless powders, and they warn VERY loudly against its use.

In the Savage, you don't have a barrel thrusting against only the action alone (as in any break action firearm). You have two one-piece stock pillars and a fat, wide recoil lug in front of the action to unitize the rifle.

The Savage was designed for smokeless from the start, and has withstood 129,000 PSI in torture testing. The Savage is designed and built with in excess of a 300% safety factor.

Savage barrels are 100% proof-tested to SAAMI centerfire standards before shipping. Every single 10ML-II rifle fires a proof load, then gets an inspection, and then is function fired after that.

In the case of Encore black powder barrels, the first time that barrel sees pressure is when you pull the trigger. Not a good time to experiment!

The Savage has two large gas vents in the sides of the barrel. It is part of Savage's redundant safety system. These gas vents which would direct gas away from the shooter's face if anything got through the breechplug. (It never has, to my knowledge.) In an Encore, escaping gas has nowhere to go.

Can you imagine shooting a cleaning rod out of a .30-06 or a shotgun? Well, customers have shot ramrods out of their Savage 10ML-II's. In fact, FIVE of my own customers have. Complete brutal negligence on the part of the shooter! However, no Savage shooter has ever been injured by this horrible misuse. The strength of the 10ML-II has saved the skinny butts of many "ramrod shooters" again and again.

So, to review, You have a barreled action proven to withstand 129,000 PSI though NO Savage allowed load so much as reaches 1/3 of that level. You have a bolt that holds the primer that cannot be closed if the breechplug is out of battery. You have the Savage Accu-Trigger that can survive the "jar-off" test, not from a few inches--but from 20 feet.

It goes on and on. No gun is idiot-proof, but the 10ML-II is as close to it in frontloader land as modern manufacturing techniques, materials, and design allow.

The Encore muzzleloader barrel was never, ever designed for smokeless and has "black powder or Pyrodex ONLY" stamped right on it. Thompson knows what they are doing. There never has been any confusion as to what T/C barrels are made for.

Savage Arms has done their part clearly and well, and for years has redundantly warned: "DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SHOOT SMOKELESS POWDER OUT OF ANY OTHER MUZZLELOADER." Thompson/Center Arms and Savage Arms speak with one voice on the matter. It is as clear as "do not use 20 gauge shells in a 12 gauge shotgun." All muzzleloaders are handloaders in the field, and must accept the full responsibility of reloading when they decide to handle a muzzleloader.

The Savage was developed for smokeless powder from its inception some 16 years ago, and now has entered its 6th year of consecutive production with smokeless in mind. In terms of materials, quality, testing, and design, smokeless is what it was born to burn.

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Copyright 2005, 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.