Modern Muzzleloaders Now Have Problems Once Restricted to Cartridge Guns

Traditions Strikerfire from video

The drive to produce lighter and lighter hunting rifles has been extended to muzzleloading guns to the extent that barrel diameters have been reduced to the point where pressures on the ends of the barrels can significantly change the impact points of any bullets shot from them. This point was illustrated by my test of Traditions’ Vortek Strikerfire Northwest Hunter. This gun, like other current drop-barreled Traditions rifles, has a very slim barrel to help reduce weight. In comparison, the flintlock Traditions PA Hunter, which is also a .50 caliber rifle, has an octagonal barrel that is about 7/8-inches from flat to flat. The Strikerfire barrel has a .50-caliber hole in it, but is only about .70-caliber at the muzzle.

The difference between these barrels’ sizes is about like comparing a wrecking bar to a gas pipe. My first indication that something was wrong was when I kept adjusting the scope to alter the strike of the bullets and the subsequent shots struck even higher than they were before. This can indicate that the scope is loose, the adjustment mechanism of the scope has been stripped and scope adjustments are not making any difference or that something is wrong with the barrel. I took the scope off the gun and installed the original set of iron sights with the same results – no matter how I adjusted the sights, the strike of the bullets appeared to rise or fall at random. Changing bullets, powders and primers did not solve this problem, although much time was lost going through the component tests.

Chronograph data did not show sufficient velocity changes from shot to shot to explain this difference. If all of the other variables had been changed and these changes had no beneficial effect, then the problem must be with the barrel. Only then did it dawn on me that the problem was that the barrel was bearing on the front of the rest that I was using, and this, indeed, was the problem and ALL of the problem. When I started shooting supporting the gun with my hands and shoulder, the changes in impact points from the bullets correspond with the sigh adjustments, as they should.

After cleaning the gun, remounting the scope and this time using my arms to support the gun, my sighting-in attempts became meaningful. However, going through all of the previous steps had rapidly taken me through my supply of bullets. I had to save some of the original 240 grain saboted Hornady XTP Hunters because I was to go hunting in a few days with the Traditions’ PA Hunter which was sighted in with these bullets. Just to get somewhere close on target I also used the Full Bore 300 grained hollow based bullets and the Traditions Smackdown SST’s 250 grainers which have a polymer tip. Shooting all of these bullets at 50 yards with the re-mounted scope enabled me to ultimately put shots near the 10 ring with the Smackdown SSTs. As I had only three of these bullets left, I reserved these for hunting and fired a confirming shot with a similar Thompson/Center Arms 250 grain polymer-tipped saboted bullet.

My level of accuracy shooting with just the support of my arms is about 1-inch at 50 yards. My final sighting in shot from the gun hit almost exactly where I would have called it at the upper left edge of the 10-ring. After shooting from about 9:00 AM until 3:00 PM, I was ready to call it a day. While at the bench I loaded up the CVA multi-shot universal tool with the remaining three 150-grain Traditions Smackdown SST bullets and three .45-caliber TripleSeven pellets (these in a .50-caliber barrel). Before these are loaded in the gun, I will pre-load a charge of 10 grains of FFFg GOEX black powder to help insure that the musket-cap primer will ignite the load even if the cap is partly wetted by snow or rain and has lost some of its strength. I am manually adding an ignition charge that is similar to what Hodgdon has used for years on the rear of their Pyrodex pellets.

You can see a YouTube video of me working with the gun at:

Other charges were tested in the gun including 85 grains of granular FFg Hodgdon’s Triple Seven, three (150 grain equivalent) TripleSeven pellets and the full bore 300-grain bullet (not recommended because of very heavy recoil), as well as the composite charge with a priming of 10 grains of FFFg in back of two .45-caliber TripleSeven pellets loaded in a .50-caliber barrel. The velocity and energy figures are tabulated below:

Bullets and Loads for Traditions Vortek Strikerfire Northwest Gun

Bullet Powder Velocity Energy

348 gr. PowerBelt Bullet 100 gr. .50-cal. TripleSeven Pellets 1263 ft/sec 1233 ft/lbs
240 gr. XTP Hunter 10 FFg. 100 gr. .45-cal. TripleSeven Pellets 1568 ft/sec 1311 ft/lbs
300 gr. Full Bore 10 FFg. 100 gr. .45-cal. TripleSeven Pellets 1385 ft/sec 1279 ft/lbs
250 gr. Smackdown 85 gr. Granular TripleSeven Powder 1451 ft/sec 1169 ft/lbs
250 gr. Smackdown 10 FFg. 100 gr. .45-cal. TripleSeven Pellets 1557 ft/sec 1346 ft/lbs

When the smoke cleared I had three of the Smackdown polymer-tipped Traditions bullets remaining, and these are the ones that I will use for hunting. These are now loaded in one of CVA’ universal rotary loading tools. So far as I know, Rightnour was the first to invent this type of tool and he marketed it along with other plastic muzzleloading accessories, like a pellet flasks, and even briefly made an excellent modernized .50-caliber flintlock rifle for Pennsylvania’s muzzleloading season. This rifle had a laminated stock, L&R Lock and a molded plastic trigger guard and butt plate.

Despite the challenges that I had with the Strikerfire, I liked the gun. It needed a little lubricant on the cocking slide and some fresh musket caps to make sure it would fire, but I liked the style of the gun, the way it felt and the way it shot, once I figured out what I was doing wrong. The pre-priming with 10 grains of FFg black powder helped increase the likelihood that the TripleSeven pellets would shoot with musket cap ignition, but the pellets did leave a resistant residue about 7-inches up the barrel that made it difficult to load a tight-fitting saboted bullet. I found myself having to wipe the bore with a damp patch followed by a drying patch and a final one that was lightly lubricated with Thompson/Center’s Bore Butter after every shot with these pellets to insure relatively easy reloading.

If you are reloading in the woods, you may have to push the ramrod down as far as you can get it with your hands and then do the final bullet seating by pushing the end of the ramrod against a tree while you hold the gun in both hands. Do not shoot this gun if the bullet is not seated fully down on the powder or you will likely ring this thin barrel. This problem may be avoided altogether by using a load of lose FFg-size granular TripleSeven powder.

Does the Strikerfire’s hammerless feature make the gun significantly better than the similar Vortek rifles that have hammers? You do not have the noisy click-click of pulling back a conventional hammer. (If you have the presence of mind to do so, you can silent cock hammer guns by pulling all the way back on the hammer and then slowly lowering the hammer down on the sear.) The hammerless design also eliminates the possibility of the hammer being inadvertently cocked when pushing the gun into a gun case or by catching on a limb. The mechanism is also a bit more weather resistant because of the solid top of the receiver, although the slide could become blocked by freezing rain or sludge. I could happily hunt with either version of the gun.

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