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Written By
Updated Nov 1, 2022 4:07 PM

The rising sun sent shards of orange, violet, and red pastel light across the eastern sky on a morning muzzleloader deer hunt in the Sandhills of Nebraska. A big buck, his nose to the ground, was oblivious to our pursuit. We hurried to a rise where we last saw him, and as we crested the hill, tall white antlers came into view at 156 yards. The buck caught up to the hot doe he was trailing, whom another suitor was already courting. While the deer were busy posturing and trying to determine dominance, I leveled my scope on the big boy, cocked the hammer, and gently squeezed the trigger. He ran about 30 yards and crashed. The other buck rounded up his lady and headed for safer country while I went to grasp the tines of a buck I just harvested with the newest technology to hit the market.

Current muzzleloader options are nothing short of outstanding. Your main decision comes down to whether you want convenience or performance beyond traditional inline muzzleloaders. Some models are known for their reliability, while others break new ground in terms of design and performance. Here is a list of the best muzzleloaders available today.

Most Consistent Shooting: Traditions NitroFire

Traditions

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Why It Made the Cut
With no breech plug, this muzzleloader provides a fast, accurate, and consistent shooting system that is easy to maintain.

Key Features

  • Barrel Length: 26 inches
  • .50 caliber
  • Traditions Elite XT trigger system
  • Barrel Twist: 1:24 Vapr twist rifling
  • Uses Federal Premium Firestick

Pros

  • Fast reload
  • Bullet shelf in the barrel means proper seating for every shot
  • Consistent shot placement
  • Safe loading/unloading process
  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • Some jurisdictions question the NitroFire’s validity as a muzzleloader
  • Only takes FireStick charges

Product Description

The Traditions NitroFire VAPR only takes FireStick charges.
The Traditions NitroFire VAPR only takes FireStick charges. Brad Fenson

Traditions was the first company to manufacture a muzzleloader that would take advantage of the FireStick technology. They called the new muzzleloader the NitroFire. The firearm was the first of its kind. It’s designed to load a bullet down the barrel, which seats against a raised shelf and allows the capsulated powder to load through the breech directly under the projectile.

The NitroFire muzzleloader is a .50 caliber and has a 26-inch ultralight Chromoly steel fluted and tapered barrel with 1:24-inch VAPR twist rifling, which Traditions says better stabilizes bullets. It includes components like the Dual Safety System and Traditions’ Elite XT trigger system. This trigger system has a rebounding hammer, a captive half-cock, and manual cross-block trigger safety. The Elite XT trigger allows you to open the action with the cross-bolt safety engaged. You can load or unload the muzzleloader and view the chamber. It comes in 10 configurations of finishes and optic options.

The author shot a .311 inch group at 100 yards with the NitroFire and 100 grain FireStick.
The author shot a .311 inch group at 100 yards with the NitroFire and 100-grain FireStick. Brad Fenson

I set up a chronograph 10 feet from the barrel to record the velocity of five shots, with Federal Premium Muzzleloader 209 primers as the ignition source. The Traditions Smackdown Carnivore 250-grain bullet with sabot produced the following results:

  • High Velocity: 1997 fps
  • Low Velocity: 1953 fps
  • Mean Velocity: 1973 fps
  • Extreme Spread: 44 fps

I then performed three-shot groups at 100 yards to measure the accuracy of the NitroFire with a 100-grain Federal FireStick and Traditions Smackdown Carnivore 250-grain bullet, which yielded the following results:

  • Smallest Group: .375 inches
  • Largest Group: 1.625 inches
  • Average Group: 1.167 inches

Best Long Range: CVA Paramount HTR

CVA

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Why It Made the Cut
Long-range shooting continues to gain popularity, including with muzzleloader enthusiasts. CVA embraced the long-range shooting surge with the .45 caliber Paramount HTR. This bolt-action gun can handle extreme propellant charges, producing incredible velocities.

Key Features

  • Available in .40 and .45 caliber
  • Free-floating barrel
  • Barrel Length: 26 inches
  • Threaded barrel (3/4×20)
  • Twist: 1:20-inch (.40 cal) 1:22-inch (.45)
  • Weight: 9.6 pounds

Pros

  • Threaded barrel is a nice touch
  • Accurate
  • Custom-like trigger

Cons

  • Advises Blackhorn 209 powders for best results
  • Ignition uses a large rifle primer instead of a 209 primer
  • Many states do not allow big game hunting with a .40 caliber

Product Description 
The CVA Paramount HTR is the latest addition to the Paramount Series and is offered in .40 and .45 calibers. This series is best described by its precision and long-range capabilities. The HTR .45 caliber shoots a 285-grain bullet at 2560 fps, comparable to several .30 caliber centerfire cartridges. The first time I shot a Paramount was at the range. Instead of measuring bullet groups, I noted the range and accuracy. As an alternative to shooting three bullets at 100 yards and measuring the group size, I shot and hit steel targets at 200 and 300 yards.

The best powder to shoot from a Paramount HTR is Blackhorn 209, and 140 to 150 grains by volume is the sweet spot for accuracy. The ignition uses a large rifle primer, and the Paramount HTR can provide muzzle velocities over 2700 fps when you use the maximum recommended propellant charges.

CVA recommends PowerBelt ELR 225-grain .40 caliber or 285-grain .45 caliber bullets, specially designed for the Paramount rifles.

This rifle sports a nitride-treated, stainless steel Bergara barrel known for accuracy. And the lightweight stock has an adjustable comb for perfect eye-to-optic alignment. The internal aluminum chassis provides a solid foundation for the action and free-floating barrel.

Most Reliable: CVA Optima V2

CVA

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Why It Made the Cut
CVA’s best-selling rifle is the Optima .50 caliber, first introduced in 2003. Hunters and shooters have embraced the Optima since its inception, and the newer V2 versions developed as new technologies were available. The Optima V2 remains popular among muzzleloader hunters today, with several models sold as economical rifles with quality components.

Key Features

  • .50 caliber
  • Barrel length: 26 or 28 inch
  • Ambidextrous thumbhole or standard stock
  • Weight: 6.65 pounds
  • Lifetime warranty

Pros

  • Reasonable price
  • Breech plug doesn’t require removal tool
  • Ambidextrous stock

Cons

  • O-ring to maintain in the breech plug
  • Length of pull (14 inches) is not adjustable

Product Description 
CVA introduced the Optima V2 in 2013 after the popularity of CVA’s Accura V2. Both rifles feature the same trigger-guard actuated breeching lever, internal parts, a balanced trigger, and a Quick Release breech plug. This value-driven rifle shot groups at the range of .70 to 2.50 inches. The group sizes varied from shooter to shooter, but with sound fundamentals it will shoot around 1-inch groups.

CVA has mastered the breech plug by creating one that is easy to remove and clean without using a tool. Even after prolonged shooting, the breech threads out easily, never seizing due to specially designed O-rings that prevent blowback into the threads or primer chamber. The design of the breech ensures consistent ignition, keeping your primer and powder safe from moisture. Safety features built into the breech mean that if it is not entirely threaded into the barrel, the shooter cannot close the break-action of the rifle. The ease with which the breech can be removed and put back in makes it simple to clean and maintain.

Best for Backcountry Hunts: CVA Accura MR

CVA

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Why It Made the Cut
The original CVA Accura and V2 models are complemented with a lightweight design of the MR. This is the perfect front stuffer to take into the backcountry at 6.35 pounds with a short, compact barrel for quick target acquisition.

Key Features

  • Barrel Lengths: 25, 27, 28, 30 inches
  • .45 or .50 caliber
  • Bergara barrel
  • Quick release breech plug
  • Weight: 6.75 pounds

Pros

  • Compact
  • Nitride coating prevents corrosion
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to clean

Cons

  • Recoil management isn’t the best
  • Shorter barrels can cause muzzle jump with magnum loads

Product Description 

After weeks on the range, the author was able to shoot sub-MOA groups at 200 yards.
After weeks on the range, the author was able to shoot sub-MOA groups at 200 yards. Brad Fenson

The Accura MR is a break-open muzzleloader that operates with the hinge release lever built into the trigger guard. It features a 25-inch Bergara barrel with a 1:28 twist rifling. Nitride treatment inside and out ensures the entire length is weather and corrosion-resistant, which makes it one of the best muzzleloaders to carry in variable backcountry conditions. The list of features on this firearm is impressive, from the Bergara barrel, Quick Release Breech Plug, Trigger Guard Actuated Breeching Action, Palm Saver ramrod, and Neutral Centre of Gravity Trigger. The MR comes with a matching Quake Claw Sling, SoftTouch stock with rubber grip panels, and DuraSight DEAD-ON one-piece scope mount.

The author brought the CVS ACCURA V2 on his dream Dall sheep hunt.
The author brought the CVS ACCURA V2 on his dream Dall sheep hunt. Brad Fenson

I dreamed of hunting Dall sheep when I was a young boy. With a new CVA ACCURA V2, I headed for the Mackenzie Mountains in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Weeks on the range had me shooting sub-MOA groups at 200 yards. The rifle was accurate, consistent, and easy to use and maintain. After days of packing, I shot my dream ram at 213 yards with a single, well-placed shot.

Best Value: Traditions Pursuit XT

Traditions

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Why It Made the Cut
Traditions has two long-standing models that remain popular amongst consumers—Pursuit and Buckstalker—both known for value and performance. The Pursuit XT is the newest rendition with upgrades that make this muzzleloader the best bang for your buck.

Key Features

  • Chromoly steel barrel
  • Available in .45 and .50 caliber
  • Barrel Length: 26 inches
  • 1:24 VAPR twist
  • Weight: 5.75 pounds

Pros

  • Reasonable price
  • Dual safety system
  • Quick reload

Cons

  • Ignition and breech plug cleaning are time-consuming

Product Description 
The Pursuit XT has an Elite XT trigger system, rebounding hammer, and manual cross-block trigger safety. With a cocking hammer and trigger safety, it is one of the safest options on the market. It has standard features like a 26-inch Chromoly steel barrel, Dual Safety System, and Accelerator Breech Plug Speed Load System. This rifle is accurate to 200 yards and beyond with blackpowder substitutes like Pyrodex. The Pursuit XT shot 100-yard groups sub MOA to 1.75 inches.

Author shooting pursuit muzzleloader.
The author testing the Pursuit on the range. Brad Fenson

I have shot deer and black bears with the Pursuit XT and was impressed with the performance and reliability of the rifle and components.

Best Hammerless Long Range: Traditions Vortek StrikerFire VAPR .45 Caliber

Traditions

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Why It Made the Cut
Vortek StrikerFire was the first hammerless muzzleloader to hit the market and offers fast, silent lockdown. The smaller diameter bullet has an even faster barrel twist at 1:20 inches for better bullet stability and long-range accuracy. Traditions recently introduced a new model of its StrikerFire in .45 caliber with a VAPR barrel.

Key Features

  • 1:20 VAPR twist
  • Barrel Length: 28 inches
  • Sealed breech
  • Available in .45 and .50 cal

Pros

  • Silent cocking with slide mechanism
  • Better bullet stability means long-range accuracy
  • Clean, crisp trigger break

Cons

  • Breech and ignition maintenance isn’t efficient

Product Description 
The silent cocking button on the Traditions Vortek StrikerFire slides forward until it locks, putting the gun in fire mode. A red dot is uncovered when the slide is locked and lets the shooter know the gun is ready to fire. The firearm is uncocked by pushing the spring release button behind the slide to let the mechanism glide back to the safe position. No external hammer offers faster lock time and a more silent operation.

Traditions’ newest offering, the .45 caliber, offers long-range shooters ballistic and barrel technical advantages. The StrikerFire is still a traditional inline muzzleloader that uses standard black powder equivalent charges and a sabot and bullet. It offers advantages without having to use extreme powder charges. This series features a Chromoly steel barrel, premium CeraKote finish, TAC-2 Trigger System, Hogue Comfort Grip Overmolding, Dual Safety System, and Accelerator Breech Plug, which removes by hand and allows for the use of loose or pelletized powder. Speed Load System, sealed breech, lightweight composite stock, and tight barrel tolerance make this model an excellent choice for any weather conditions.

Best .52 Caliber: Knight Disc Extreme

Knight

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Why It Made the Cut
With many muzzleloader manufacturers going to smaller bullets, Knight still offers a .52 caliber workhorse.

Key Features

  • Plastic disk holds 209 primers for loading
  • Weight: 7.8 pounds
  • 1:26 barrel twist
  • Also available in .50 cal
  • Laminate wood stock
  • Green Mountain barrel

Pros

  • Green Mountain American-made barrel
  • Durable stock

Cons

  • Discs can take extra time to load
  • Disassembly required for proper cleaning

Product Description 

The author testing the Knight Disc Extreme at the range.
Tony Knight shooting the Knight Disc Extreme at the range. Brad Fenson

The Knight Disc Extreme features a machined bolt, Easton Carbon Core ramrod, and a selection of laminate wood stocks. This rifle consistently shot sub-MOA groups at 100 yards. I was fortunate to hunt with Tony Knight, who led the revolution in modern muzzleloader technology. Tony brought several Knight muzzleloaders, and I was given a quick rundown of features, loading tips, and techniques. I hunted with the Disc Extreme and took an excellent pronghorn antelope at 170 yards. 

The author hunting with the Knight Disc Extreme.
The author hunting with the Knight Disc Extreme. Brad Fenson

Honorable Mentions

The number of muzzleloader brands has waned over the past decade, but you can still find new, old stock muzzleloaders, which probably would have earned a spot on this list, had the manufacturers not ceased production.

LHR Sporting Arms Redemption Rifle
LHR Sporting Arms LLC introduced its first rifle, Redemption, in 2013. The Redemption .50-caliber is a break-action muzzleloader with a unique breech system. A retaining collar fastens the Adapt breech system, protecting it from the elements and ensuring consistent ignition for every shot. The collar is quickly and easily removed by hand for cleaning or changing components.

A nitride coating inside and outside of the barrel offers complete corrosion prevention, while a 24-inch Cloverleaf Precision Barrel, made by Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Co., is accurate and durable. 

There is no external hammer, and the rifle is cocked with a Stealth Striker system that slides forward till it locks in the ready-to-shoot position. Depressing the decocking button will put the rifle back in safety mode. The Redemption weighs seven pounds and has a 13.5-inch length of pull. The FT2 Match Trigger breaks clean and light. A wrench, palm saver, and range rod handle are all built into one convenient carry tool. The Redemption was offered in camouflage, walnut, and composite finishes.

Thompson Center Triumph Bone Collector
The T/C Bone Collector was produced on a Triumph muzzleloader and the extra features made it a “special edition.” The stock managed recoil with a LimbSaver pad and Flex Tech Energy Burners. The Bone Collector has a 1-inch shorter length of pull than the standard Triumph, making it easy to shoulder and find the target.

It’s Speed Breech XT is straightforward to remove with two fingers, even after hours on the range. Accessories like the Power Rod with a flip-out T-handle made loading faster and easier. A Weather Shield treatment on the barrel, receiver, and trigger mechanism make cleaning and maintenance a breeze. 

Traditions Performance Firearms “Build-It-Yourself Rifle Kits”

Traditions makes a "buil-your-own-rifle" kit.
Traditions sells kits so you can make your own historical looking muzzleloader. Brad Fenson

Traditions Performance Firearms has “Build-It-Yourself Rifle Kits,” with everything you need to create a custom muzzleloader with a historical appearance. There are six options: percussion models in Kentucky, Deerhunter, Crockett, Hawken Woodsman, and Frontier. The Frontier is the only one that comes with either flint or percussion ignition. All models are “old-style” guns with hardwood stocks, steel barrels, and brass components. Customize your rifle by bluing the barrel and finishing the stock as desired. Complete instructions guide you through the build and allow you to understand the principles of loading and ignition before shooting your muzzleloader. You can put together these kits in a day to full weekend depending on your skill level and how much finishing work you want to do.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Muzzleloader

Ease of Cleaning
Not all muzzleloaders are the same when it comes to cleaning. Some require complete disassembly for cleaning and maintenance. The fewer components, the easier it is to clean a rifle. New models like the Traditions NitroFire are easier to clean than ever and use new powders, like Hodgon Triple 7, that produce less fouling.

Shooting Components
Muzzleloaders that use a .50 caliber projectile have many options for bullets and sabot. Other calibers have limited options. Ones that use blackpowder or a substitute have many options for developing a load. Muzzleloaders with a specific powder requirement can create challenges for finding the exact products.

Cost
Most muzzleloaders range in price from $300 to $2,000 or more. Buy what suits your needs—and budget—and extend your opportunities in the field, whether long-range shooting or hunting deer from a treestand.

Final Thoughts

Muzzleloader hunting is steeped in history and tradition. Getting close for a one-shot kill has always been the challenge. The best muzzleloaders keep stretching the distance, so ask yourself: “do I want to challenge my skills to get close,” and “will my new rifle choice limit its use and seasons?” Technology pushes the envelope for hunters, and it can be challenging to keep up with the capabilities of a modern muzzleloader.

Methodology

The author tested the best muzzleloaders at the range.
The author tested the best muzzleloaders. Brad Fenson

All the muzzleloaders were shot at the range of sight-in optics and tested for consistency and accuracy. The modern muzzleloaders proved there isn’t a bad apple in the bunch. All of the best muzzleloaders can shoot sub-MOA with consistent loading and cleaning; the most significant variant is the shooter’s capability. 

The real test for most muzzleloaders was in the field hunting. All the rifles put meat in the pot; the only one not used on a hunt was the CVA Paramount HTR.