Making The Move To In-Line Muzzleloading

The new rifles look quite different from traditional muzzleloaders, but have much in common with their ancestors. Still, these firearms offer plenty of advantages as well.

The old axiom associated with Honest Abe Lincoln seemed stuck on a repeating loop in my mind.

"You can fool some of the people all of the time."

Granted, that is only the mid-section of the phrase that some folks attribute to the 16th president. It also mentioned fooling all the people some of the time, but not all the people all the time. Yet, it was only that mid portion that was bedeviling me.

As I made my way out to the shooting range, I was in turmoil for fear that I had found myself firmly ensconced in that group of folks that can be fooled all the time. Having experimented in hunting with a blackpowder pistol on several occasions, I had found the effort a protracted and grimy endeavor. Loading the Navy Colt replica revolver was so labor intensive it had to be done the evening before the outing.

Finally making it into the woods, it took a couple of trips and multiple hours on stand before a coyote came ambling over a ridge and into range of my handgun. Aiming carefully, when I touched off the cap, the animal and everything surrounding it disappeared in a billow of smoke. When the cloud dissipated, an unharmed, but obviously unnerved wild canine was topping the rise headed for parts unknown.

On top of the disappointing shooting performance, I then faced the prospect of the after-hunt phase. The cleanup following firing the pistol required an even more drawn-out evening to complete.

After a couple of such outings, I was sure I was finished with muzzleloading. Yet, I now found myself headed to a shooting range to try out a muzzleloading rifle, while musing over my apparent ability to be fooled on a continuous basis.

The invitation to shoot had been offered by Dave Meredith, a muzzleloading veteran and representative with Blackpowder Products Incorporated, the parent organization for Connecticut Valley Arms. After regaling him with the headaches I had encountered with muzzleloading, he was adamant that I needed to give it another look. Rest assured it was friendship and not enthusiasm that drew me to the range this day.

Upon arrival, I expected to see some Kentucky long rifle replica or maybe a Hawken-style firearm. Needless to say, I was caught quite off guard when Meredith produced what appeared to be an ultra-modern camo-finished, high-powered rifle, complete with telescopic sights! In fact, the rifle was the CVA Kodiak Pro 209 Magnum in-line muzzleloader that had received the shooting industry's Golden Bulls Eye Award for 2005.

A quick inspection revealed the .45-caliber rifle comes with drill mounts to handle the scope, a fluted 29-inch barrel to reduce weight, DuraBright fiber optic sights, built-in sling swivel studs, an ambidextrous stock and a CrushZone recoil pad. The rifle also had Pivot Block Action that makes it virtually weather proof, and most important from my standpoint, it featured a stainless steel breach plug that makes cleaning a breeze. It was definitely a muzzleloading rifle, but by no means a "primitive weapon!"

As for learning how to use the rifle, Dave Meredith was the ideal instructor. He has been with CVA for the past 14 years, promoting and demonstrating the use of muzzleloading firearms. But that association was not his introduction to blackpowder sports. He has been shooting them since he was 8 years old, firing everything from handguns up to a 12-pound cannon!

After inspecting this modern muzzleloader, the obvious question that sprang to mind was why would practitioners of a sport so deeply imbued in tradition want to use such a high-tech firearm? The answer is that most traditional shooters have not made the jump to modern rifles. On the other hand, these firearms are proving very popular with new shooters coming into muzzleloading. The motivation for these novices to try in-line blackpowder rifles is fairly simple to understand.

"They're easier," Meredith pointed out, "easier to shoot, to load and clean. Whereas the old style was a lot more detailed as far as cleaning."

That simplicity of use is just one part of why more folks are trying these guns for hunting, though it is an important one.

"The cleaning has always been the big drawback," Meredith continued. "With these guns, you pull the breech plug out and clean it just like you would any centerfire rifle. So, it's real simple."

Thus, Meredith added, anybody who has an interest now can try this type shooting without being intimidated.

"The guns feel more comfortable," he noted, "feel more like a modern gun. The others were more straight stocks. They were arm guns rather than shoulder guns; they had the big cutout in the butt stock. It took a little more expertise to do it with the older style guns."

His points proved to be right on the money. My few past experiences with firing a replica muzzleloading rifle had been confined to shooting ranges. The effort felt awkward at best and reinforced the feeling that I was far from ready to confront such a firearm out in the woods and aiming at live game.

Shouldering the Kodiak Pro 209 was a different story all together. It did, indeed, have that "modern" feel, and sighting out to 100 yards with the attached Bushnell scope was a breeze.

But just because in-line muzzleloaders have become all the rage for primitive weapons hunts, don't get too set on the idea that these firearms are a new fad.

"Everybody thinks the in-line is something new -- a new concept," Meredith noted. "It's not. They had them during the Revolutionary War. They just didn't look this way.

"They didn't go over too well," he continued. "Right after the Revolution, the percussion cap came into being and that was such a great innovation over the flintlock, nobody continued on with the in-line theory."

From Meredith's perspective, that was not a particularly good move.

"I guarantee you, if Daniel Boone had one of these, he'd have hung that other gun up!" he mused.

As history actually played out, it was the late 1980s on through the 1990s that saw general acceptance of and then dominance of the market by in-line muzzleloaders. So much so that today companies such as CVA have abandoned sales of the replica rifles that formerly were the core of their business.

O

nce on the range, it was easy for even a novice like myself to make the transition to this modern marvel of the muzzleloading sport. Loading 100 grains of powder was as easy as dropping a pair of pellets down the barrel, then ramming in a .45-caliber bullet. Setting the scope to shoot 1 1/2 inches high at 25 yards put the rifle dead on the bull's eye for a 100-yard shot. Even better, to keep the rifle shooting accurately only required running a damp patch through the barrel after each shot, along with doing the same with a lightly greased patch after every fourth shot.

Such ease of use and accuracy at 100 yards were inconceivable before the introduction of modern in-line rifles. But it is not just the rifles that have improved.

"Accuracy really comes mainly from the bullet and powder," Dave Meredith offered. "The bullets have improved. Where a guy was using the old round ball and the patch, most of the guns didn't have any rifling whatsoever."

Another factor that enhanced the environment for acceptance of in-line rifles in the South has been the explosive growth of deer herds throughout the region in recent decades. While wildlife agencies have tried to accommodate the wishes of muzzleloading hunters in the form of separate seasons for their sport, there was also a need to increase the harvest of deer virtually everywhere. Thus, as primitive weapons seasons have become the norm, wildlife managers have welcomed the advent of the modern in-line firearms.

"It gets more people in the woods and helps control the herds better," Meredith agreed.

Also, the greater range and accuracy of the weapons makes those new hunters entering the action more productive at culling the herd. It's a win-win proposition in that hunters enjoy better success rates and the wildlife managers have another option for reining in bludgeoning deer numbers.

In the face of the apparent advantages to be gained from swapping over to a modern in-line rifle, even a fan like Dave Meredith does know there is a price to pay.

"The old ones gave you more of a sense of doing something like your ancestors did," he reasoned. "There weren't as many people doing it then. It was a little more intense."

The popularity of "mountain man rendezvous" events and traditional long rifle shooting competitions make it clear that the older side-lock weapons will always have their fans. But at least now those of us who are much less skilled in the blackpowder sports also have a way to join the fun. Who knows, I may even fulfill my goal of actually using a muzzleloader to add meat to the larder this year!

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