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The Traditions Vortek Ultra-Light and the Shot Well Taken
(Careful, this story is not going where you think!)

By Randy D. Smith

Randy D. Smith with Traditions Vortek and Ultra-Light.
Randy D. Smith with Traditions Vortek, Vortek Ultra-Light and a
coyote taken at 100 yds. with the latter. Photo by Randy D. Smith

When the Traditions Company of Old Saybrook, Connecticut sent me a new .50 caliber Vortek in line muzzleloader this summer I was surprised. I had reviewed a .50 caliber Traditions Vortek inline in 2009. I equipped the original Vortek with a Traditions 3.5-10x44mm scope and took a nice whitetail buck. I was so impressed with that Vortek that I let several of my older inlines sell at auction. I really didn�t plan on reviewing another Traditions muzzleloader for some time, because my Vortek was going to be difficult to improve upon.

The box said that this Vortek was an Ultra-light model. Except for a camouflage pattern change, the overmolded stock was the same. I instantly noticed the difference when I lifted the rifle from its box. Here is an inline muzzleloader that weighs less than my .30-30 Mossberg lever action rifle, at only 6-� pounds. I had to get out my old Vortek to see that a much lighter, tapered CeraKote barrel accounts for much of the weight reduction.

I wasn�t sure what to make of this. My older Vortek, at 7 pounds, is a very stable rifle and easy to hold on target for long range shots. It readily absorbs recoil from 100-grain IMR Hot Shot propellant charges and 300-grain APB bullets. It balances in cross sticks like a dream and groups loads at 100 yards with nearly MOA precision. Not only did I wonder if the Ultra-light would prove to be as accurate, but I also I wondered if the recoil would be excessive. On the other hand, I was really impressed with the way this rifle handled. It whips around in my arms like a finely crafted fencing foil.

I decided that I wasn�t going to mount a scope on the Ultra-Light, but rather use it as a heavy brush and CRP grass stalking rifle. I�d even do some articles on how effective Williams fiber optic open sights are. I went to the range and shot some MOA 50 yards groups using the 100-grain IMR White Hot load matched with Traditions new 300-grain Smackdown projectile. Recoil was pleasant. I felt that I was more than ready for muzzleloader deer season. In fact, I was just a little cocky. I�m pretty good with muzzleloaders after hunting with them for nearly thirty five years.

I charged up my fanny pack and headed for the sand hills the first weekend of muzzleloader-only deer season. I had a light weight padded Cobra sling mounted and the Ultra-light slung across my back like an elegant Kentucky long rifle. I covered several miles that day glassing depressions and stalking cedar clusters. That evening I passed up a shot on an excellent mature freezer doe, because I figured a 12 pointer I�d scouted was probably close behind her. I was full of confidence at the end of the day and knew I was going to have a very nice buck in my photo bank taken with a Traditions Ultra-Light.

My confidence took a serious blow the following Sunday evening. I caught a very nice 10 or 12 point buck rising from his CRP bed about 10 minutes before the end of legal shooting hours. He was at least 100 yards out in the grass, but his antlers looked like elm limbs as the setting sun reflected off them. I decided to try to close the distance to at least eighty yards. The CRP was nearly 6 feet tall and very difficult to move through. I hadn�t gone into it more than twenty yards before I completely lost sight of the buck. When he reappeared, it was at 150 yards and only the top third of him was visible. I had no cross sticks and when I placed the fiber optic sights on him there was precious little deer at which to shoot.

What would you do? I knew that on open ground I could nail that bruiser with open sights, this load and this rifle. I�d done it with lesser guns in the past under nearly identical conditions, using just a tad of elevation and a slight bit of windage to the right. I braced my weak arm elbow against my chest, took my breath and let the Ultra-light perch in the solid rest of my open palm. He stood looking back at me like the Hartford Insurance Icon.

I dropped the hammer, heard the bullet impact and saw the buck jump in classic hump-backed pattern. He went forty yards and dropped over on his side. I had him! Great Shot! My hands trembled as I quickly reloaded my rifle. This was going to be one of the best whitetail bucks I�d ever taken. I thought about giving him some time to bleed out and tie up, but the setting sun and the confusing tall grass landscape concerned me. I might have a real problem locating him if I didn�t move quickly to the spot where he went down. He went down so quickly, he had to be a goner.

I was within a hundred yards when, to my surprise, he stood and begin walking slowly for the east horizon. I lifted the rifle to my shoulder and drew down on him. Already the fading setting sunlight played hell with my eyesight and I could not get the sight picture of a few moments before. He moved away from me as I tried to get some definition on his fading body. I carefully squeezed the trigger, heard the bullet hit and watched him stagger to the north for a tall hill. With no chance of running him down, I quickly reloaded a third time, advanced a few yards and tried a third shot. I carefully squeezed the trigger, but did not hear the bullet hit and watched him disappear into the darkness.

I pulled my flashlight, went to the spot where I thought I last saw him and searched for sign for more than an hour. I found absolutely nothing.

"Hunting tall CRP is difficult. Shots must be precisely placed even at close range. It is often right at the end of legal shooting hours before bucks appear and even good fiber optic sights can fail to provide enough sighting precision for shots as close as forty or fifty yards in heavy grass."

I had written that paragraph less than a week before. I knew every word to be true and I had tried a shot at three times that range with an open sight muzzleloader. I wanted to kick myself. I returned at sunrise with my scope mounted Vortek and vainly searched for sign for over two hours. I found no blood, no tracks and virtually nothing that verified the previous evening�s hunt. I was heartsick. I knew that a lifetime buck was laying somewhere in that 640 acre maze of shoulder high grass and I had killed him, but I would never find him unless I stumbled over his body purely by providence. I went home and ordered a .45-70 and 3-9X40mm scope from Traditions. I mounted it using a set of Redfield rings.

The scope has mil-dot references designed for the .45-70 cartridge rifle and, as I figured, the reference points are nearly identical to a 100 grain charge of black powder substitute and a 300-grain sabot in a muzzleloader. I tested the load and scope at 100 and 150 yards with satisfying results.

The rifle was shooting very well, so I used it for some coyote calling on public land. I took a nice male at a hundred yards in October, as he came from tall grass toward my call. A modern .50 caliber inline muzzleloader is capable of surprising performance and I don�t consider myself to be at a disadvantage hunting whitetails in southern Kansas. I very seldom have to take a shot beyond 100 yards.

However, that really isn�t the point, is it? I can go on hunting, and will, but I can�t overlook what happened with the buck and the effect it has had on me. When Toby Bridges helped lead the movement in many states for muzzleloader scope usage during the special season, I was one of the Kansas people lined up against him. I felt that scopes would only add more fuel to the flame of resentment from the anti-muzzleloader crowd and that claims of muzzleloader performance would be exaggerated even more than they had been. I still believe that those claims are exaggerated. I can�t justify advising anyone to take a 200 yard big game shot with any muzzleloader.

I suppose that losing a trophy buck with an open sight rifle is nothing new and if I had a scope on that rifle I probably would, or at least certainly should, have made that shot. However, the whole thing is relative, because I probably would have attempted a 160 or 170 yard shot had I been shooting with a scope. I guess we are all bound to push the envelope until we fail. That, more than anything else, is the point of this article.

Just because we think that we might be able to make a long range shot doesn�t mean that we should attempt it. My mistake was not attempting a shot at that distance, my mistake was attempting a shot at that distance, under those conditions, with open sights and a slow loading muzzleloader. I had no margin for error. I allowed myself to be overcome with greed for a trophy and a fine deer was lost because of it. More than that, a fine deer suffered and was wasted. I should have waited for better conditions. If I had taken my knowledge of where the deer was at that time of night and worked harder to develop a better plan for another try, I might still have not taken him, but at least I wouldn�t have wasted him.

My shot was not well taken. It was not the fault of the rifle, the load, or the conditions. It was the fault of my own poor judgment. Remember that when you read tales about fantastic shots made by other hunters at 300, 400, or even 600 yards, and how the range envelope is being extended every year. Ask yourself how many poor shots were attempted before the (lucky) successful one? How many good animals were wounded or wasted? I have always thought those things when I heard such tales or read such stories, now more than ever. The final responsibility rests with the guy pulling the trigger and the dignity he owes the game he is pursuing. No matter how good my rifle or I were performing, I should have examined the whole situation and not just whether or not I could make a shot at that distance. I will next time.

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