Muzzleloading rifles have existed since the sixteenth century, and though breech-loading rifles replaced them as military arms, muzzleloaders have continued to remain a favorite among hunters. What’s more, modern machining advancements, material improvements and the development of more effective projectiles and propellants have made the best muzzleloaders incredibly reliable and accurate.
Whether you’re a traditionalist who favors a classic sidehammer design and round projectiles (or are limited to the use of these firearms by local laws) or you prefer ultra-modern muzzleloaders, which shoot on-par with centerfire rifles to distances that were unimaginable just a few years ago, there’s a gun that’s right for you. Here’s a rundown of the 8 best blackpowder rifles available today.
Best Long Range Muzzleloader
CVA has been building muzzleloaders for almost 50 years, and their new Paramount rifle is a cutting-edge weapon that pushes the limits of muzzleloader capabilities. It just might be the best long range muzzleloader on the market. This .45-caliber muzzleloader is capable of handling “super magnum” propellant charges in excess of 150-grain by-volume equivalents of black powder, according to the company. That means muzzle velocities of 2,200 feet per second with the new PowerBelt ELR muzzleloader hunting bullets. Other highlights include a nitride-treated 416-grade stainless steel Bergara barrel that is free-floated for maximum accuracy. The new VariFlame Breech Plug uses a large rifle primer and the VariFlame is designed for use with Blackhorn muzzleloading propellants. The composite stock features an internal aluminum chassis that is adjustable for both length of pull and comb height, and these rifles come with both a self-deploying compact ramrod and a one-piece range rod. www.cva.com
Thompson/Center has been at the forefront of muzzleloader technology for decades, and their newest rifle—the Strike—features an external threaded breech design that seals blowback from burnt powders inside the barrel to eliminate seized threads and make cleaning easy. Instead of a traditional breech plug, the .50 caliber Strike uses a threadless primer adapter and retaining collar that holds 209 primers in place for fast, reliable ignition. There’s a tang-mounted top lever so you can open and access the breech for easy loading and maintenance, and two primer adapters are included with the rifle, one for loose powder and the other for use with pelleted powder. The innovative Stealth Striker design replaces the traditional hammer: to fire, simply slide the tang-mounted Stealth Striker forward. Decocking the rifle is as simple as pressing a decocking button and returning the hammer to the rearward position. The system is simple, reliable, and works equally well for right and left-handed shooters. Other key features include a match-grade trigger with a wide blade, oversized trigger guard, a 24-inch 1:28-twist barrel, Armornite protective metal coating and a Quick Load Accurizor (QLA) muzzle system for reliable, consistent reloading. Stocks are available in walnut, black composite or Next G2 Camouflage. www.tcarms.com
The Vortek StrikerFire lacks an exposed hammer and is available in three different designs based upon your hunting needs. The LR model comes equipped with a 30-inch barrel so you’ll get a full burn from those magnum powder loads, making it ideal for shooters planning to take big game at 250 yards or more. The Backcountry version features a 25-inch pipe and is designed specifically for hunting in dense, close cover where maneuverability is critically important. Falling between these two versions is the 28-inch barreled standard model that combines long-range capabilities with improved handling characteristics. All three models come with fluted chrome moly barrels in a corrosion-resistant nitride finish on the inside and outside of the barrel, TAC-2 trigger system with the trigger set at 2 pounds, Comfort Grip overmolding and Accelerator breech plug. There’s also a Northwest version of the StrikerFire for hunters in states like Idaho and Oregon that require exposed breeches and iron sights. www.traditionsfirearms.com
New for 2019 is CVA’s Accura LR .45 caliber, an affordable inline break-action muzzleloader with a long list of features. These rifles come equipped with 30-inch, 1:22-twist fluted Bergara barrels with either a nitride or satin stainless finish, which makes fast reloads simpler and more precise with Bergara’s Bullet Guiding Muzzle. The Quick Release Breech Plug (QRBP) can be easily removed even after multiple shots for ease of maintenance, and the ambidextrous composite stock with Crush Zone recoil pad makes this .45 comfortable and easy to shoot. Each of these rifles comes with a DuraSight Dead-On one-piece scope mount so adding an optic is fast and simple. Other key features include a Quake Claw sling, reversible cocking spur, and a solid aluminum PalmSaver ramrod. The Accura LR weighs in at just 6.35-pounds and it’s covered by CVA’s lifetime warranty. www.cva.com
Most Accurate Muzzleloader
Gunwerks revolutionized the centerfire hunting rifle system by building guns that were designed and tested to shoot accurately at extreme distances. Now, the company is changing the muzzleloading rifle market by offering their new Gen 2 Muzzleloader, a blackpowder rifle that shoots MOA out to 500 yards (yes, you read that correctly). The engineers at Gunwerks spent a great deal of time experimenting with rifle twist rates, sabots and bullets to create the ultimate muzzleloading rifle, and they’ve achieved just that. With a matched BDC turret, these custom scope/rifle combinations are easy to use and ultra-precise. The bolt-action design makes loading simple, and the use of a common cartridge case primer (instead of loose primers) makes these rifles extremely easy to reload. You can opt for a 5.5-22 optic or, if state law requires, a true 1x optic, both of which offer BDC reticles that allow for outstanding accuracy. The Gen 2 is probably the most accurate muzzleloader platform you can find. It features a two-piece ramrod that eliminates the need for a barrel band and allows the barrel to be free-floated, and the Gen 2 Magnus synthetic stock features a picatinny rail on the front and adjustable recoil pad. These .50-caliber rifles aren’t cheap—Gunwerks Muzzleloaders are completely configurable to shooter specs and the entry-level model starts at around $5,000 and you can expect to wait a few months for your custom rifle to be complete (though Gunwerks does have some in-stock guns available). This smokepole is in a league by itself. www.gunwerks.com
Built on the venerable Model 700 action, the Ultimate Muzzleloader is a modern bolt-action inline rifle that uses pre-primed cases to fire up to 200 grains of powder. That allows this rifle to be used effectively out to 300 yards, making it one of the best long-range off-the-shelf muzzleloaders available today. If you’re familiar with the Model 700’s controls you’ll feel right at home with the Ultimate Muzzleloader which comes with an adjustable trigger, two-position safety and even a hinged floorplate that holds extra pre-primed cases for fast reloading. Available in .50 caliber, these rifles feature stainless steel metalwork with a satin finish, a 26-inch fluted barrel and a black composite stock with dual front sling studs, a beavertail foreend, and a raised comb for proper eye alignment with a scope. www.remington.com
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Best Muzzleloader for Deer
At the 2018 SHOT Show, Thompson/Center launched the latest additions to the Triumph Bone Collector muzzleloader line including the Triumph Bone Collector Realtree Edge and Realtree Original camo models. Key features include the Speed Breech XT system that can be removed without tools by simply turning the breech system 90 degrees, and a reversible hammer extension that allows for easy cocking by either right or left-handed shooters. The FlexTech recoil reduction system comes with four recoil arches that help reduce kick, and these rifles are also equipped with LimbSaver recoil pads that further reduce impact on the shooter, making these some of the softest-shooting .50-caliber muzzleloaders on the market. A lightweight aircraft-grade aluminum frame is durable and keeps mass to a minimum, and the 28-inch barrel allows for maximum velocities from charges that range up to 150-grains of loose black powder or black powder substitute. Soft-touch inserts in the forearm, grip and comb increase comfort and provide a solid hold on the rifle even in damp conditions, and the flat-top design makes it easy to mount a scope. The break-action design (with the release located on the trigger guard) simplifies the loading and cleaning process. This is one of the best muzzleloaders for deer hunters across the country. www.tcarms.com
Best Muzzleloader for the Money
Thompson/Center’s latest muzzleloader, the .50-caliber Impact!SB, is an affordably-priced gun that features a break-action design and a 26-inch barrel with adjustable fiber optic sights. These rifles are also equipped with Thompson/Center’s Speed Breech system with triple lead threads—that means fewer seized breech plugs and easier cleaning and installation. The gun’s sturdy construction and heavy barrel helps the guns handle loads of up to 150 grains of black powder or black powder substitute. The overall weight of is just under 7 pounds, which helps mitigate recoil without being so heavy that the rifle becomes a burden to carry when hiking in steep country. The Impact!SB is one of the most versatile muzzleloaders currently on the market thanks to its break-action design, which is equally well-suited for right and left-handed shooters, and the included one-inch stock spacer allows for simple length-of-pull adjustments. These rifles are available with a blued or Silver Weather Shield metal finish and composite stocks in black, Realtree, or Mossy Oak camo. www.tcarms.com
Easiest Muzzleloader to Use
Federal Premium and Traditions teamed up to create the Nitrofire and FireStick combo, which makes muzzleloader hunting easer than ever. The FireStick is a capsule that comes pre-loaded with either 100 grains or 120 grains of Hodgdon Triple 8 powder. The system works by loading a .50 cal muzzleloader bullet through the muzzle of the rifle. Then, you break open the gun and load the FireStick capsule through the specially designed breech of the muzzleloader and then press a 209 primer into the capsule’s primer pocket. Close the breech and you’re ready to shoot. The system isn’t inherently more accurate or more powerful than any of the muzzleloaders on this list, but it is way easier to use and it’s much cleaner. You can shoot 10 or so rounds without cleaning and without losing accuracy. Check out the video here. —Alex Robinson