The World's SAFEST Muzzleloaders

By Randy Wakeman

I've long lamented the lack of standards present in the muzzleloading world, which has the effect of driving bullet, sabot, and accessory manufacturers a bit daft. There are no universal quality or safety standards, and I've spend too much time in lawyer's offices around the country looking at what defective product has done in this uncontrolled environment. It can be some pretty nasty stuff.

However, the best safety remains between our ears. Any gun can be misused or destroyed if we fail to take upon the responsibility that comes with being a "muzzleloading reloader."

There are muzzleloading rifles out there that have distinguished themselves by being markedly safer to own, operate and hunt with than the rest. I believe they deserve some accolades; I'll mention them right now and tell you the basis for their respective citations. They are not the safest by happenstance. Here we go, in alphabetical order:

Knight Bolt Action Muzzleloaders (Disc Elite and Disc Extreme--recently discontinued)

Knight Disc Elite

Illustration courtesy of Knight Rifles.

Knight rifles recently went out of business, but the Knight bolt action frontloaders are, fundamentally, superb quality rifles that used established quality Green Mountain barrels from American steel. The red plastic jackets that house 209 primers make it easy to tell at a glance if the rifle is "live capped." Removal of the red plastic jacket renders the rifle inert.

The Knight disc rifles have redundant safeties, a thumb safety and the traditional Tony Knight Secondary Safety that when screwed down positively prevents bolt travel. Well-tested at Knight's own facilities by a company of shooters and evolved over the years, Knight bolt action rifles represent a proven high standard in muzzleloading safety. They were, and are, as safe as you allow them to be. The recent Knight inlines were worthy heirs to the throne of the MK-85, the Tony Knight rifle that created a new industry some twenty years ago.

Savage 10ML-II Accu-Trigger

Savage 10MLBSS-II

Illustration courtesy of Savage Arms

A few years ago, while in the process of testing a pack of rifles for a video production, that I had a conversation with Brian Herrick, Savage Arms Vice-President. The subject turned to barrel proofing and Brian nonchalantly mentioned that, "All of our 10ML-IIs are proof-tested."

I was surprised and perhaps a bit stunned. I asked Brian, "What do you mean by ALL of them?" Brian replied, "Sure, all of them are individually proof-tested and function-tested before they leave our plant. That's the way we do things around here. Doesn't everybody?"

The answer is that NO muzzleloading manufacturer takes the effort to 100% proof test their barrels except Savage Arms. In many cases, the very first time your gun sees any pressure at all is when YOU fire it for the first time. This is an industry first and only. The tremendous level of quality control it affords is obvious.

The current 10ML-II Accu-Trigger rifle has so many safety features it surprises most people. We have the remarkable Accu-Trigger that can survive a twenty-foot drop in "safety off" position without firing. The bolt on the 10ML-II cannot be closed if the breechplug is out of battery. The gun has been tested to pressures exceeding 129,000 PSI (300% + of any Savage recommended load).

In preparation for this brief article, I checked with the Savage brass as of June 2005. After six years of extensive testing and production, with thousands of rifles in daily use, regardless of abuse and misuse, no Savage 10ML-II breechplug has ever failed.

Most people overlook the dual gas vent ports on both sides of the 10ML-II receiver that would vent gases away from the shooter if (theoretically) hot gas could bypass the redundant sealing array of shoulders, tight tolerances and the breechplug threads that handily exceed all known design standards. I've logged thousands of shots through several 10ML-II's and have never detected a wisp of hot gas through those vents. No Savage shooter has ever reported this. I can't say they are even necessary as no other muzzleloader made has superfluous gas vents like this.

Erring on the side of caution and safety is self-evident in this firearm. All this and the use of the much safer to handle, non-corrosive, smokeless propellants this gun was designed for puts the Savage 10ML-II in a superior safety class all its own. If there is a better built or safer muzzleloader, I have yet to see it.

Thompson Break Actions (Encore and Contender G2)

T/C Encore

Illustration courtesy of Thompson/Center.

The Thompson Encore and Contender G2 are well crafted rifles. They are built just like "real guns," for that is what they are: Form 4473 modern smokeless-action single shot firearms. When an already well established line of modern single shot rifles and pistols are married to "black powder only" barrels, the result can be (but not always is) a superb line of muzzleloaders. That is the result with Thompson / Center Arms break action frontloaders. Thompson builds their guns from start to finish in Rochester, New Hampshire. They have their own barrel line, make their guns from American steel and do their shooting and load development in house.

The actions are strong and have hammer-block safeties. In the case of the new Contender G2, the hammer can even be in "neutral" position, as the Contender is both a rimfire and centerfire action.

Like my days shooting the race games with shotguns, a break action is a literal snap to disable for all to see. Just open the action and the gun is inert. By comparison, the Thompsons make the "other" break actions on the market look uniformly sad. The Thompsons have dedicated slip-fit hinge pins on their barrels, and the barrels are locked down securely to their respective actions by beefy, dual spring-loaded locking lugs. All this boils down to confidence-inspiring equipment from a quality minded company.


That's my view of the safest muzzleloaders you can buy today, for the reasons cited. I believe that all three are not "expert only" muzzleloaders, but muzzleloaders that should be considered carefully by the newcomer to muzzleloading. If you start with a quality muzzleloader you are far more likely to enjoy muzzleloading, rather than fighting with a cheap pile of pot-metal. Muzzleloading may never have any universal quality standards, but at least here we have manufacturers who have taken the lead in providing quality without enforcement or regulation.

Something often overlooked when considering a new muzzleloader is lasting value and the total cost of ownership. All of the muzzleloaders cited here hold their value better than the "el cheapo" imports. They are not just safe, they are safe investments. I've successfully hunted with all the above and "one shot, one kill" was the common result (though there was a "two-fer" involved along the way). These rifles also lead the field in customer satisfaction. It seems that safety really is no accident.

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Copyright 2005, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.