The old front-stuffer was a lifeline to fresh protein for many of the adventuresome settlers who pushed west to carve out their unique niche in life. But those early guns would have been finicky when it came to loading, shooting and cleaning. Consistently anchoring game with them would have been iffy at best.
As a modern muzzleloader enthusiast, I enjoy the challenge of tinkering with my rifle, powder, bullets and ignition to get repeatable performance, whether I’m punching paper or filling the freezer. This is becoming a trend across North America, where hunters and shooters are getting more intimate with their firepower — and making the use of these “primitive” guns more fun and rewarding.
Besides the personal satisfaction, muzzleloader hunters have a host of additional sea- sons and opportunities to extend their time in the field, or to hunt unique locations for trophy-class antlers and horns.
THE GOOD OLD DAYS
Early American and European explorers would have carried state-of-the-art muzzleloading rifles, for their era, on their quest to conquer the new frontier. Their rifles were their constant companions, and used for self-defense, as well as an effective means of gathering high-protein food and valuable hides. The long, heavy barrels used in those days made for a significant load to carry, and all the accessories, tools, powder and lead bullets made planning for a long trip an important exercise.
I often wonder how frontiersmen kept their guns in good working condition. There were no high-tech solvents and even regular soap would have been a luxury in most cases. Keeping the powder dry enough for consistent shooting performance would have been even more challenging — the old powder horns of the day were anything but water tight. The flintlock ignition would require them to carry extra flints that were sharpened and adjusted for proper spark, as well as jaw leather to hold them in place. Making sure the pan was clean and the vent hole unplugged would have been a constant chore. The old flintlocks were likely a frustration at times, but offered the best firepower available for that time in history.
I can only imagine the hype generated by the introduction of the side-lock rifle with percussion ignition. Percussion caps would have been the rage of the day and any avid hunter or shooter would have coveted one of the new rifles. Of course, there were lots of improvements to all of the basic muzzleloaders over the years and anyone who uses one of the old-style front stuffers knows they are lots of fun to shoot and hunt with.
MUZZLELOADERS GO MODERN
In 1985, Tony Knight revolutionized muzzleloaders with the first modern version of an inline rifle. He called it the MK85, and although its name sounds highly technical it represents the initials of Knight’s daughter, Michelle, and the year the gun hit the market. Since then, manufacturers have been in a race to make their front-stuffers more effective and easier to use, and they’ve done an incredible job.
Any modern muzzleloader can be taken apart and cleaned in minutes, often without the use of any tools. And stainless barrels, special coatings and synthetic stocks make maintenance and storage a breeze. Modern-age muzzleloaders are ultra-light and easy to load and shoot. Magnum charges allow inline rifles to shoot farther and more accurately than ever before. Blackpowder substitutes absorb less moisture, produce more energy and come in premeasured pellets for consistency and convenience.
Like frontier hunters, modern-day muzzleloader enthusiasts are interested in putting food on the table. And with today’s blackpowder rifles it has never been easier. Technological advancements have been so drastic that many traditional shooters believe that modern muzzleloaders provide an unfair advantage. The bottom line is that the rifles are still loaded through the muzzle like all muzzleloaders, and provide the shooter with a single shot before reloading is required.
If you haven’t stayed current with the evolution of the muzzleloading rifle, my typical day in the field last autumn might sound like part of the script from the box office hit “Back to the Future” as I dropped three 50-grain TripleSeven pellets into the 30-inch barrel and topped them with a 250-grain Smackdown bullet in a yellow sabot. After placing a 209 primer into the breech of my Traditions Strikerfire LDR, I closed the hinged action.
You did what?
Most modern muzzleloaders come complete with all of the tools and accessories needed to put them to use. And new inline guns are so convenient to load that most shooters don’t feel the need to carry a big possibles bag in the field. Projectile alignment systems in the barrel mean you don’t have to carry a bullet starter.
Easy access to the breech face, without an external nipple, means you can load with your fingers and don’t need a capper. In fact, the guns are so easy to load, all you need to do is simply use a speed loader to deliver powder and bullet down the barrel with the ramrod, and then arm the ignition with a 209 primer and you’re good to go.
After the shot, just drop a fresh powder load down the barrel, seat the sabot and bullet with the ramrod and apply a fresh primer to make it go bang again.
Traditions Performance Firearms has been a leader in research and development in the muzzleloader realm during the past decade, and a host of new firearms from the manufacturer offer hunters and shooters everything from extended range to ease of use and maintenance.
In recent years, Traditions introduced five new Vortek rifle models and one pistol, offering an incredible diver- sity of features to suit any shooter’s wants, needs and budget. The Vortek Ultralight started the popular line, which is also available in a Northwest Magnum model — legal for hunting in states with breech and nipple restrictions. The company increased barrel length in the Ultralight LDR for more downrange velocity and accuracy.
The Vortek StrikerFire was the first hammerless muzzleloader to hit the market and offers fast, silent lockdown. The new Vortek StrikerFire LDR is a culmination of old and new features of the most popular models all rolled up into a state of the art muzzleloader.