I’m sweet on tradition. New things don’t impress me because they’re new. They must be useful, or somehow prove themselves superior to traditional forebears. Long ago, a farmer told me about his first pneumatic tires. “They were so much better than steel cleats….”
The arrival of smokeless gunpowder, fiberglass-backed bow limbs and nitrogen filled rifle-scopes effectively changed industry standards and caused seismic shifts in customer demand.
Still, nostalgia remains, and markets in “retro” products thrive. Decades after internal combustion engines replaced steam power on farms, I grabbed the throttle of a boiler whose flywheel belt powered a threshing machine fed sheaves by a sweating field crew with pitchforks. Fun!
The same fond embrace of the outdated serves the hunting and shooting industry. Certainly, big game seasons for “primitive weapons” have fueled interest in them. But the lust for original firearms and accouterments – even packaging – from times past has little to do with hunting efficiency. Why did my friend just pay $900 for an iron-sighted, pre-Depression .25-35, when as a hunting rifle it must be used in the same seasons as scoped .30 magnums?
Traditions Firearms doesn’t sell old rifles. But it taps into the enduring appeal of reminders of old times. The Connecticut firm offers a wider range of products than I thought before snaring one for review.
Besides sidelock black-powder rifles and pistols, it has single-action cap-and-ball and cartridge revolvers, hinged-breech muzzle-loading and cartridge rifles, even firing replicas of 18th– and 19th-century cannons! Care to build your own front-loader? Traditions sells kits, plus black-powder projectiles, from round balls (.32, .36, .44, .45 and .50) to cast lead bullets and XTP and poly-tipped “Smackdown” jacketed softpoints. While many shooters favor iron sights on early firearms, or must use them during black-powder seasons, optical sights are increasingly common. Traditions lists scopes for modern and reproduction firearms, also bases and rings. The optics list includes red dot sights. No muzzle-loader firm has a more complete line of cleaning supplies than Traditions. From range rods to flintlock frizzens, you’ll find everything for hunting with and shooting and maintaining your favorite smokepole.
I hadn’t the time or shop space to review the full suite of Traditions items, so I picked the brand’s most advanced black-powder rifle. While the Vortek series includes other hinged-breech models (Pursuit and Buckstalker), the StrikerFire incorporates all the features you might want in a hunting rifle – though you won’t get a walnut stock with a brass patch-box, or even a hammer!
The receiver profile is sleek. Instead of a hammer spur, the 6.8-pound StrikerFire has a cocking switch. Thumb it forward against spring tension, and it catches. A red “fire” indicator shows in the trough under your thumb. To de-cock, press the button in the thumb recess and push the switch again, then ease it back. This device is not a Traditions original. Blaser and other respected European makers of cartridge arms have found it popular, because you can safely carry a round in the chamber. There’s no way a rifle so equipped can fire accidentally with the switch to the rear. On muzzle-loaders the switch is equally fool-proof, and faster to use than a hammer.
Like other Vortek rifles, the StrikerFire also has a crossbolt safety that engages the trigger. Unlike the others, this button is above and slightly ahead of the trigger, not behind it – a better spot, as it’s where your finger naturally rests before coming onto the trigger. The StrikerFire’s latch, in front of the guard, is also easy to reach. Press it; the rifle opens readily. A broad under-lug bite ensures vault-tight closure.
You can use either loose powder or pelleted propellants with any Vortek. All models feature the Traditions “Accelerator Breech Plug.” Its knurled ring and steep, deep threads help you spin it out quickly by hand (just three rotations), exposing the chamber for through-the-bore cleaning. “Northwest Magnum” editions substitute a musket nipple to comply with regulations stipulating exposed ignition.
Albeit the 28-inch fluted barrels of all StrikerFires are drilled and tapped for iron sights, they’re installed only on the Northwest Magnums – which are not available with scopes. Traditions’ “Speed Load System,” a short muzzle recess, helps you start 50-caliber saboted projectiles with your fingers.
All three versions of the StrikerFire rifle feature synthetic stocks. A new feature is the removable butt-pad, released by buttons either side of the stock. The breech and fluted barrel of the black rifle, and its stablemate with “Realtree Xtra” stock, are CeraKoted in “satin stainless.” Then there’s the StrikerFire I received, with metal and polymer sheathed in Realtree Xtra, and a Traditions 3-9×40 scope mounted over a Weaver-style base.
As accurate shooting hinges on a clean, consistent trigger break, I was delighted to see the trigger on this rifle registered a crisp 2 ¾ pounds on my Timney gauge. Lock time is short too.
To ensure I got the tightest groups possible, Tradition supplied a handful of “Smackdown” poly-tipped 250-grain JHP bullets and three-petal sabot sleeves, plus EZ Clean foaming bore solvent and a few solvent-soaked and lube-impregnated patches.
While I could have eased loading with a patch or two, I seated the first bullets dry to see how fast fouling made loading truly difficult, and how many shots could be fired afield without cleaning. My first bullet fitted snugly but slid without protest to join the pair of Pyrodex pellets I’d dropped down the bore. Fitting a Winchester 209 primer, I shut the breech, settled on the bags, aimed through the Traditions scope and pressed the trigger. A blue cloud billowed. Despite the rifle’s feathery heft, recoil was mild, courtesy intelligent stock design: a long, open grip, a generous butt, a forestock shaped for easy control.
Without cleaning, I fired three more shots at the 50-yard target. Loading got harder each time; a lubed patch would have helped. But those three JHPs cut a .8 group – just 1.6 minutes of angle! Given three pellets instead of two, this rifle will match many centerfires, not only in accuracy but in power at normal deer-hunting ranges. Its 1:28 rifling twist, ideal for sabot bullets, is a bit sharp for patched round balls. I’ve yet to try them.
Then again, a synthetic-stocked, striker-fired rifle with CeraKote finish doesn’t beg the earliest of projectiles. There’s a time for steam engines with steel cleats, a time for vintage tractors on rubber.