With this year’s sketchy availability of centerfire ammunition, many hunters are turning to the tried-and-true muzzleloader
by Brad Fenson
Conditions were ideal for sneaking and still-hunting the deer area. The rolling terrain allowed us to view new ground and carefully look it over with our optics before moving forward. The wind was blowing hard enough that it completely concealed the noise of our boots crunching in the snow. We had stopped often to glass ahead to check a small clearing. My son Cam was the first to spot a deer and quickly exclaimed that it was a buck. We dropped to our knees to stay out of sight and carefully got into position for a potential shot. I helped Cam get a solid rest, and he found the buck in his scope. I could tell he was excited and knew that he was looking at the biggest buck he ever had a chance to harvest.
The excitement was evident in Cam’s voice as he told me the buck had a drop tine. I looked at the buck through my binocular again and knew that it was unique. I told him to wait for a broadside shot and stay calm. He held steady on his target as the deer fed contentedly. A minute ticked by, but I am sure for Cam, it seemed like an hour. The buck had turned and was disappearing behind a row of trees. I could tell that Cam was starting to think that the buck would get away and suggested he line up on a small opening in the trees.
Cam no sooner shifted to line up on the opening when the buck turned and trotted into Cam’s sight window. The short-barreled, Traditions Yukon muzzleloader barked and belched out a gray cloud of smoke. The wind quickly whisked the smoky haze away, and I could see that Cam connected on the deer. The buck had turned and trotted off into the trees and fell over.
To this day, Cam still loves his Yukon muzzleloader. It will always be cherished as a prized possession for accuracy and memories it helped create. Frontiersmen had the same affection for the Kentucky long rifle that helped settle our country. There were several points in history that allowed muzzleloading to advance.
Adding rifling to the barrel turned the old smoothbore long rifles into what they considered a long-range rifle. The smoothbores were suitable for 50 yards, but the new barrel twist more than doubled the effective range.
In the early 1800s, the first percussion ignition muzzleloader was created, providing a consistent bang when the trigger was pulled. Today, we see trends in the market as new advancements become available to hunters. It was no different in 1823 when Jacob and Samuel Hawken designed a muzzleloader that hunters of the day coveted. The design is still popular today with traditional shooters.
The modern muzzleloader evolutions started in 1985 when Tony Knight brought the Knight MK-85 to market. The inline rifle was not a new design, but with better propellants, projectiles, and ignition, the rifle seemed revolutionary.
In 2020, Federal Premium launched the FireStick, along with Traditions Performance Firearms’ new NitroFire rifle. The FireStick is a fully encapsulated charge of Triple Eight powder that is only used in a Traditions NitroFire muzzleloader. The two new developments work together and help make muzzleloading safer, more consistent, and accurate.
Loading this innovative system is fast and straightforward. First, ensure the rifle hammer is not cocked and the safety is on. Use a ramrod and jag to load a bullet down the muzzle until it seats onto the bullet shelf. Open the action and install a Federal Premium FireStick into the open breech. Insert a 209 Muzzleloader primer into the FireStick. Close the action, and it is ready to fire. Simply cock the hammer and move the safety to the fire position. To extract the charge from the rifle, open the action and remove the FireStick from the open breech with your fingers. Use a ramrod and jag to push the bullet from the open breech, out through the muzzle.
The NitroFire muzzleloader is .50 caliber and has a 26-inch ultralight Chromoly steel fluted and tapered barrel with 1:28-inch twist rifling. Besides featuring the new FireStick system, this rifle is rich in other components like the Dual Safety System and Traditions’ new Elite XT trigger system. The Elite XT system trigger is designed with a rebounding hammer, a captive half-cock, and manual cross-block trigger safety. The Elite XT trigger allows the action to be broken open with the cross-bolt safety engaged, so you can load or unload the muzzleloader and view the chamber. The NitroFire is available in 10 configurations of finishes and optics options.
Traditions has a strong history in the muzzleloading world and has continued to research and develop new components and systems. The Yukon model was a good example that left a lasting impression on a young hunter.
The kit rifles from Traditions are fun to build and allow you to step back in time. Working up a load for a flintlock or sidelock rifle takes you back to the pioneering days. It is a good reminder of how easy modern muzzleloaders are to clean and maintain.
In 2010, Traditions came out with the Vortek Ultralight. The .50-caliber, break-action muzzleloader offered new and time-tested features that helped hunters not only load quickly and efficiently but obtain better accuracy as well.
A tapered, fluted, ported barrel helps reduce the total weight of the Ultralight to just 6 1/4 pounds — a noticeable reduction compared to other in-lines. The quick-release drop-out trigger also helped to reduce weight and allowed easy cleaning and maintenance. Hunters liked the factory-set trigger with a crisp 3 pounds of pull. A CeraKote finish on the barrel and receiver provided corrosion protection and durability. The rifle featured 209 ignition, the Accelerator Breech Plug, 360-degree barrel porting to reduce muzzle jump, Hogue over-molded grips, and a rubberized recoil pad.
The Traditions Pursuit Ultralight came out in 2011. Traditions combined its Ultralight technology into the economic line of Pursuit muzzleloaders to produce the lightest inline rifle on the market at just 5.15 pounds. The Pursuit Ultralight offered several advantages and extreme value. The breech plug design allowed it to be removed in seconds without the aid of a tool, making the rifle easy to clean and maintain. The rifle tested had a remarkably crisp, factory set trigger with a pull of 3.25 lbs. Combined with the 26-inch fluted barrel, the rifle shot groups that would rival quality centrefire rifles. Loading was a breeze, and bullets could be seated with little effort.
In 2012, the Traditions Vortek Ultralight LDR featured a 30-inch Chromoly barrel. The LDR (Long Distance Rifle) improved downrange energy and accuracy. This rifle consistently shot the highest velocities, measured with a chronograph, with several different powders and bullets, offering up to 300 feet per second more than other rifles tested while maintaining accuracy. Even with the longer barrel, the LDR weighed 6.8 pounds and is easy and comfortable to shoot. The recoil is well managed for a lightweight gun and is well balanced to minimize barrel lift.
In 2014, the Traditions Vortek StrikerFire LDR featured the first hammerless cocking system. The lightweight design and alloy frame helped make the Vortek StrikerFire LDR the most innovative and high-tech muzzleloader to hit the market at that time. The 30-inch Chromoly barrel provided down-range accuracy, reliability, and increased velocity that was easy to measure. It offered two safeties — one to block the striker mechanism automatically and the other to manually block the trigger. The gun automatically de-cocks if the break-action is opened. The mechanism can be released by depressing the silver button on the striker.
In 2015, Traditions released the Pursuit G4 Ultralight that defined value and performance. At just 5.75 pounds, it is easy to carry and acquire a target quickly. Minimal effort is required for loading, and close inspection of the barrel showed custom-made quality. The trigger broke cleanly at 2 pounds, 10 ounces. The removable breech plug and Chromoly coating make cleaning and maintenance a breeze. The fourth generation of the Pursuit still appeals to new and seasoned hunters and shooters alike.
We would be remiss if we did not mention the Buckstalker as one of Traditions’ best value-packed muzzleloaders that has remained on the market for years. Weighing in at 6 pounds and equipped with a 24-inch barrel, the Buckstalker is lightweight and offers accuracy beyond 200 yards. This popular front stuffer is equipped with the Accelerator Breech Plug that removes in three turns by hand and allows you to fire both loose or pelletized powder. The Dual Safety System combines an internal hammer block and a trigger block safety, making it one of the safest guns on the market.
The NitroFire will undoubtedly catch the eye of muzzleloader enthusiasts. The big question is, what could they possibly come up with next to take a front stuffer to a new level?