Although not the first to invent what became known as in-line muzzleloading, Tony Knight’s vision was to produce muzzloading rifles that would function reliably, shoot accurately, offer improved performance and were easier to clean. He developed his interests in guns/hunting by going after the flashy cock pheasants and scampering squirrels on the family farm as well as hunting some of the growing numbers of deer populating the hills of northern Missouri. Although pheasants are fewer now than they were, squirrels are holding their own and deer have prospered to the point that deer deprivation permits are provided to nearby farmers.
All of us are differently gifted, and Tony had that rare combination of simultaneously being an inventive visionary, meticulous worker and entrepreneur. Most of us must be content with possessing one or two of these abilities, and it is unusual indeed to have all three. He was always interested in building things, and this progressed to the point where he worked for 20 years as a railroad machinist. In the 1980s the nation’s railroads were in a stage of consolidation, cost reduction and downsizing. His position was considered “redundant,” and he found himself out of a job.
(A video about Tony that shows many of his gun designs is attached at the end of this post.)
His natural inclinations towards guns, hunting and firearms led him to open a gunsmithing and archery shop on a piece of family-owned property 16 miles west of Kirksville, Missouri. With all due respect to Tony and his family, the word “Nowheresville” comes to mind. His trade area was so sparsely populated that despite his skills, there was not enough walk-in trade to sustain a viable business. However, this personal contact with customers was valuable, and he listened to what they had to say.
Muzzleloading guns were being made or imported by Thompson/Center Arms, Dixie Gun Works, Traditions, Connecticut Valley Arms (CVA), Navy Arms, Lyman and others. Simultaneously, increasing numbers of states were offering special muzzleloading seasons and more hunters were taking on the challenges of hunting with front-loading guns. Their guns were traditionally designed, or inspired, versions of the Pennsylvania flintlocks, Civil War arms or Hawken-style plains rifles. The more dedicated hunters became members of the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association and learned how to shoot their guns by attending local, regional and national matches. Most primitive-season rifle hunters were not NMLRA members, but only wanted a reliable gun that they could take out for a week or two during the season that would consistently kill their deer, elk or bear.
These new muzzloading hunters were having trouble with their replica rifles, particularly when they took them to Colorado after mule deer and elk. True enough, properly chosen calibers were powerful enough to take the game at close range; but all-to-frequently the animals were further than they thought they could reasonably shoot. They had reservations about their equipment because of the amount of bullet drop and wind deflection of these large, slow bullets and/or the poor terminal performance of these round balls and huge slugs. They wanted flatter-shooting guns using modern expanding bullets that would give more penetration and faster kills. In short, Tony’s customers told him they wanted muzzleloading guns that looked and acted more like the bolt-action centerfire rifles that they used during the regular season.
Like most gun enthusiasts of the period, Tony followed the firearm-cartridge advances made by Roy Wetherby, the rise of increasing numbers of magnum cartridges and the advances in bullet technology made by Nosler, Barnes and others. He ultimately asked, “Can I make the equivalent of magnum cartridge gun in a muzzleloading platform?”
He did. His first striker-fired gun, the MK-85, was simply designed, relatively easy to make, shot well and received good reports from his customers. Guns using this striker-fired design are still sold as the Big Horn rifle and TK-2000 shotgun, although the Hawkeye pistol is no longer made. The striker mechanism remains the simplest, easiest to operate and most trouble-free of all in-line designs. Production increased with demand. Soon orders rose to the point where he could not make all of the guns, and he borrowed money and built a modern factory near Centerville, Iowa, about 50-miles north of his original location.
He often invited gunwriters to go on hunts using his guns. This print exposure combined with his efforts to get his guns accepted in more states as legal muzzleloading firearms greatly expanded his business. Although the striker-fired guns were successful, he still wanted to make a bolt-action rifle. These efforts culminated with the DISC bolt-action, which was introduced in 1997. Not only was this a novel bolt-action design, it used a plastic holder for a 209 shotgun primer which was easier to handle than either percussion caps or bare 209s. You dropped the DISC into the bolt race, it self-indexed into position as the bolt closed and the gun was ready to fire. This bolt-action, and a later version that did not need a disassembly tool, quickly became identified as the signature Knight rifle. The gun was made available in .45, .50 and .52-calibers in synthetic, wooden and custom stocks.
Successful sales of these rifles allowed Tony to design other muzzleloading rifles such as a T-bolt design, the falling-block Revolution and Knight Rolling Block. The T-Bolt did not last long, as black-powder fouling jammed the bolt after only a few shots. The Revolution and Rolling Blocks also had brief production lives. Although sound designs, their steel receivers and complex parts made them expensive to produce and they did not make much of an impression in the market. As more of the muzzleloading market was moving towards ever-more-simple drop-barrel designs, Tony introduced the KP-1. The KP-1 was offered in all the Knight muzzleloading calibers as well as with interchangeable barrels for seven rifle calibers ranging from .17 caliber to 300 Winchester Magnum. There was also a less expensive muzzleloading-only drop-barreled gun called the Vision that had a different design.
Tony sold his company, but was still associated with it as a spokesman. Unfortunately, the new owners made a series of ill-advised expenditures and in 2009 started looking for a buyer. PI, Inc., a manufacturer of plastic products located in Athens, Tennessee, purchased the company, moved manufacturing operations to Tennessee, and is again producing striker-fired and bolt-action Knight rifles such as the TK-2000 shotgun and Long Range Hunter bolt-action. Their newest model for 2013 was a Kevlar-stocked Knight Ultra-Lite bolt-action rifle that weighs 6 1/2-pounds.
For more about Tony Knight and the details of my hunts in North America and Africa with his guns see Chapter 5, Hunting with Tony Knight in my Book “X-Treme Muzzleloading: Fur, fowl and dangerous game with muzzleloading rifles, smoothbores and pistols” as well as Books 1-5 of my Muzzleloading Short Shots E-book series. Books 1-3, “Muzzleloaders for Hunting,” “Buying Used Muzzleloaders” and “Shooting and Maintaining Your Muzzleloader.” All print and E-books are available on Amazon.com and soon will be on all major E-book outlets. Book 4. “Hunting with Muzzleloading Shotguns and Smoothbore Muskets,” has considerable materials on the TK-2000 12-gauge shotgun and in being readied for publication. All of this plus a video “Tony Knight, 1945 – 2013, An Appreciation” may be seen at http://youtu.be/4KoXNn8szwI and an annotated Pinterest Board on Tony Knight is also available.
Wm. Hovey Smith
The Backyard Sportsman