Off the Porch: The future of muzzle loading is here

Oct. 02, 2013 @ 10:18 AM

There’s probably no category of firearm that’s improved more than the hunting muzzle loading rifle. Twenty years ago. There were two kinds of muzzle loading rifles. Traditional rifles were simply reproductions of proven designs. They worked, but they weren’t substantially more reliable, accurate or convenient than the 150 year old rifles they copied. The more modern segment of the market consisted of break action and bolt action models. The break action guns were based on the single barrel shotgun design, the earliest being the Harrington and Richardson. It was forward thinking, and much more convenient and accurate than the traditional guns. It consisted of a shotgun action with a removable breech plug that allowed cleaning the barrel from the breech and facilitated seeing all the way down the barrel. Unfortunately, it only came in .45 caliber, so it was a little underpowered.
Later versions incorporated a bolt action design with a removable bolt and breech plug. These guns were more accurate, reliable and convenient than traditional guns and were available in larger .50 and .54 calibers. These guns were a big improvement, but still they required a special wrench to remove the breech plug and most had substandard triggers. With the breech plug and the receiver/barrel made of the same steel, the plug had to be carefully maintained, or it would rust and render the rifle useless. If the owner followed cleaning procedures to the letter, there were no problems but most gun owners never read the instructions, much less follow them. Many of these guns had hopelessly rusted barrels and stuck plugs within a few seasons.
This has changed. Today’s muzzleloader has qualities that make it simple to operate, almost as accurate as a bolt action hunting rifle, and capable of getting the shot off every time regardless of the weather. Ignition systems have improved with percussion caps being replaced by discs, and then by 209 shotgun primers. Barrels are now stainless, or have rust resistant coatings. Breech plugs are easier to remove and most are knurled and can simply be unscrewed like taking the cap off a bottle.
To me, the best of these rifles are the hinge action rifles. The first hinge action muzzleloader I ever used was one of those H&R Topper shotgun based guns with a .45 caliber barrel and a breech plug that allowed cleaning from the breech and use of a percussion cap. That gun was called a Huntsman and it worked really well for the times, but left a lot to be desired in the power and accuracy departments and the percussion cap was unreliable in bad weather, in spite of the fact it was enclosed.
Last year, I got a test version of the Traditions Pursuit. It’s a break action gun with a hand removable breech plug that’s threaded with double helix threads to allow easier removal, a lighter than normal barrel, and a really good trigger for any gun. In all, it’s a great mix of convenience, accuracy, and reliability in a reasonably priced muzzle loader. The best part is the weight and feel. The Pursuit’s barrel is much lighter than most front loaders and the stock is designed to feel like a modern hunting rifle.
Claiming the title as lightest muzzleloader in the world, this gun weighs in at 5.15 pounds making it extremely light weight. It’s drilled and tapped for sights but they don’t come on the gun. This makes sense, since almost everyone who buys this rifle will scope it. There’s a Chromoly barrel with a CeraKote Finish which Traditions claims is 50 times more corrosion-resistant than stainless steel in protecting against black powder and cleaning chemicals. Light weight can be an advantage but it does increase the level of recoil. I’ve never felt intimidated by the recoil of muzzle loaders and this one had a little more kick but wasn’t uncomfortable. The fast snap of a light .270 stings me a lot more than the heavy push of a .50 caliber muzzle loader. My wife, Cherie, and daughter, Valarie, both shot it without complaint. In all fairness, I didn’t load the Pursuit with a 150 grain maximum load and I suspect it might be a kicker so loaded.
The Pursuit breaks down by compressing the forward breech release. The lock up is solid and positive. Once open, you can remove Tradition’s Accelerator Breech Plug, which comes out in just 3 turns by hand. This is the quickest and simplest plug removal of any gun I’ve used and the speed of removal is a real plus, since it allows you to easily check the bore. The seal is sufficient to allow use of either loose or pelletized powders.
My test gun came with a 3-9 power scope that was both clear and parallax free at 100 yards. There’s a hammer spur to allow easy cocking and the trigger is remarkably crisp and light for a gun in this price range. The trigger broke at a crisp and clean at 3.5 pounds, a very good trigger for a hunting rifle in this price range. In addition to the hammer, the Pursuit also has a cross-bolt safety. The 26” fluted barrel measured .800 at the muzzle, leaving enough steel for strength, yet allowing the rifle to come in as an ultralight. The composite stock on my test rifle had a quality recoil pad, sharp checkering, and a finish that was easy to grip. If there is such a thing as a mountain muzzle loader, the Pursuit would certainly fit the mold. Accuracy was quite good with my best three shots coming in under two inches at 100 yards using a 250 grain Power Belt with two 50 grain IMR White Hot muzzle loader pellets. As mentioned, the Pursuit will shoot granular powder as well.
There was one feature that could have been improved, and that was the ramrod. Some manufacturers have a ramrod design that extends by unscrewing the extension, pulling it out partially and screwing in the other threaded part of the extension. This design means the extension is captured in the main part of the rod and can’t be lost. The Pursuit’s rod is two pieces with one end threaded in to make it shorter and the other end threaded to make the extension, making it two separate pieces. It would be easy to drop the short extension, or for it to come unscrewed while carrying the rifle, both of which would make the rifle unusable.
So far, the Pursuit has taken three deer. Cherie has taken two with it and Valarie, one. They really like the feel and light weight. There’s no longer a need to lug a heavy, awkward, hard to clean muzzle loader any longer. There are other nice in-lines on the market and I haven’t shot them, but I certainly can recommend this one. Deer season is coming soon; you still have time. This year might be the year for a new front loader.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at offtheporch52@yahoo.com.