Muzzleloading rifles hold a special place in the hearts and minds of many hunters and shooters. Hearkening back to frontier days, they are both delightfully primitive and still extremely useful.
They require more skill and effort to use than modern cartridge guns, and can be had in every form from authentic replicas to modern inline muzzleloaders that are made with all modern materials.
Regardless of if you are after traditional looks, or simply want to enjoy muzzleloading season with a state of the art frontloader, you can find a muzzleloader that fits your needs.
Three common types are available; inline muzzleloaders, where the cap is placed center with the powder charge, more traditional sidelock muzzleloaders with the lock and cap off to the side of the stock, and flintlocks, which use a flint to spark the powder charge.
We’ll look at all three types, but flintlocks are not as commonly used as the other two ignition systems, but do have their place in modern muzzleloader hunting.
CVA Wolf Inline Muzzleloader
Quite possibly the cheapest way to get into the muzzleloader game, the CVA Wolf is a synthetic stocked, fifty caliber inline muzzleloader with a one piece scope mount.
While hardly the stuff of tradition, in areas that permit inline muzzleloaders, you can take advantage of muzzleloader season with this reasonably priced, yet modern feeling rifle.
Perfect for training new shooters, or transitioning from modern firearms to something a bit less advanced, you can enjoy all the benefits and pleasure of handcrafting each shot, without the expense of a fancier gun that offers little extra benefit besides appearance.
The weatherproof synthetic stock is suitable for all weather use, while the ability to mount optics allows the shooter to extract maximum accuracy from this rifle.
This is the sort of rifle I’d have for a basic truck gun, or something to teach new shooters on. The common fifty caliber bore means you can take advantage of a huge array of projectiles, ranging from traditional lead bullets, to fancy polymer tipped copper rounds, or even sabots.
For about $200, there is no reason not to consider this rifle.
Thompson Center Triumph
Perhaps one of the best inline muzzleloaders you can get, this Bone Collector model with Realtree camouflage is a marvelous feature rich fifty caliber rifle.
Featuring a unique recoil absorbing stock that softens the blow of this big bore magnum boomer, a fluted stock to reduce weight and improve accuracy, a specially designed breech that minimizes fouling, and much, much more.
This rifle represents a technological pinnacle in muzzleloading technology that brings a front stuffer into the 21st Century. Built with the discerning and skilled hunter in mind, the Triumph is suitable for any North American big game, and is worth considering even for those who do not usually favor muzzleloaders.
What I like about this rifle is how much expert care and thought has been given to it’s design. From the muzzle to the buttlplate, no effort has been spared to develop a rifle that accommodates almost every desire of the modern muzzleloader hunter.
This reasonably priced, state of the art rifle should be on the top of every gun owner’s list for their next purchase, and comes close to making some traditional cartridge rifles nearly obsolete.
If you can handle the challenge of crafting your own loads and hunting with a single shot rifle, here is your gun.
Pedersoli Kodiak Express
One of the biggest problems encountered while hunting with a muzzleloader is that they are almost always a single shot. All well and good if you hit your target, but sometimes stuff happens.
You miss, or the gun fails to fire because of a bad percussion cap or clogged nipple. And hey, if nothing else, it’s always nice to have a second shot handy.
For all those reasons, and because double barrel rifles are wicked cool, Pedersoli offers the Kodiak Express in .50 , .54 or .58 caliber. This fine side by side offers all the power and advantage of a traditional large bore sidelock, but with a second barrel.
Fitted with a fine checkered walnut stock by the expert Italian craftsmen at Pedersoli, this is a fine rifle you’ll be proud to not only own and hunt with, but pass on to future generations, making it a true heirloom quality rifle.
While far more expensive than most muzzleloaders, and not fitted with advanced iron sights or optics, this is a perfectly suitable rifle for hunting any North American game you may see fit to hunt.
The choice of the discerning and dare I say, even elegant hunter, the Kodiak Express is sure to turn heads in the field or at the range.
Traditions Hawken Kit
The Hawken Rifle is a classic piece of Americana, hearkening back to the glory days of early westward expansion. Light, powerful and accurate, it was an ideal rifle for persons traveling the Great Plains, or heading to the Rockies for a season of fur trapping.
Traditions brings back this romantic past with their finely made Hawken kit. I have owned Hawkens rifles and I keep coming back to them, even though I’m not much of a muzzleloader shooter simply because of their balance and design.
If you are handy with tools and want to enjoy the pride of assembling and finishing your own rifle, then this will get you an ideal hunting muzzleloader.
Reasonably priced, well built and available in common popular calibers, this rifle will give you hours of pleasure as you assemble and finish it to your exact specifications, and then again when you take it out into the woods and experience the pride of taking a deer or elk with your hand assembled rifle.
As side lock percussion rifles go, this is a pretty solid all around gun, but if you don’t want to build a kit or are unsure of your woodworking skills (most of the assembling involves fitting parts to the unfinished stock) then you will want to get an already assembled rifle, or find a friend who can shape the stock for you.
All in all, if you don’t need an out of the box solution, it is really hard to go wrong with a muzzleloader kit like this one.
Pedersoli Kentucky Flintlock
One really cannot write an article about the best muzzleloader rifles for hunting without at least including one well made flintlock. The Kentucky rifle is the classic American rifle, famed in fact and legend for it’s accuracy and power during the Revolutionary War, and in early westward expansion.
This was the original rifleman’s rifle, the gun of choice of the well equipped marksman or hunter, something that could defend the home or feed a family.
While flintlock ignition is not the most desirable form of ignition, it is still a perfectly functional system if you know what you are doing and accept the limitations that come with it. Pedersoli makes magnificent rifles, and their flintlock is no exception.
If you want to relive the romance of early American hunting, or simply enjoy using the traditional tools of your ancestors, then you will enjoy this well crafted fifty caliber rifle.
Just like all the other rifles we’ve looked at, this one is powerful enough to take any game you might choose, and because it uses the common fifty caliber bore, a great many advanced ballistic tip bullets are available for it that Daniel Boone could have only dreamed of.
No matter how you slice it, if you are in the market for a flintlock, here it is.
Picking The Best Muzzleloader For Hunting
One popular reason to hunt with a muzzleloader is the special seasons available for them in many states. However, it is important to select the correct muzzleloader if you will hunt a special season, as regulation varies from state to state.
Some will ban inline muzzleloaders, while others will accept any front stuffer. So once you’ve made sure your rifle is legal for the season you want to hunt with, you can start narrowing it down.
Inline muzzleloaders are popular because not only is the ignition system somewhat protected from the weather, and provide a faster lock and ignition time.
Some are also designed to use more commonly available shotgun shell primers which add to their utility. Additionally, inline barrels can be had for AR-15 receivers, and some single shot actions like the NEF Handi Rifle, all of which contribute to the popularity of this ignition system.
Further, there are special black powder substitute pellets which take the guesswork out of loading a powder charge, and provide more consistent burn and pressure curves which are optimized for inline systems, which really allow you to maximize the potential of these types of guns.
The classic sidelock muzzleloader, be it a percussion or flintlock are both more traditional and sometimes required for hunting in special seasons.
These are tried and trued technologies albeit a bit antiquated. However if you want or need a more traditional muzzleloader, there are plenty of choices.
While I’m not aware of any flintlocks that don’t duplicate historical rifles, or are made with modern stock materials, or fitted with modern sights, there are plenty of percussion rifles with synthetic stocks, fiber optic sights and even scope mounts.
These are ideal for hunting in rough weather, although again, some kinds of sights and the use of optics may be regulated when hunting in special seasons, so carefully consult your local game laws.
Most common hunting muzzleloaders are in fifty caliber. This is a reasonable, all around bore size and it’s popularity has lead to a plethora of bullet choices.
While patched lead ball, and traditional lead Minie balls are always good choices, one can get all manner of polymer tipped copper and jacketed bullets, or even sabots that shoot a smaller caliber bullet to even greater velocity.
Choosing the right bullet is a matter of both personal choice, and finding out what your gun likes. Modern in line muzzleloaders often pair well with modern ballistic tipped bullets propelled by modern blackpowder substitutes.
This brings the next choice to make; propellant. You will already have your choice of ignition made for you with the specification for caps, primer or priming powder by the manufacturer, but in most cases there are a lot of choices in propellant to be made.
Certainly the old standby of real blackpowder is always a good choice, but other than the tradition of it, there is little practical reason to use the stuff.
It is messy, it fouls your gun, it requires extensive cleaning, is expensive and is legally classified as an explosive in the United States, making it difficult to purchase and store in quantity.
Many shooters favor a substitute like Pyrodex or one of the various pelletized propellants on the market.
Pelletized powder is more or less what it is described as, but should not be used in all rifles; consult your manufacturer and the powder maker to ensure you are pairing pellets with the right sort of gun.
Pellets really shine with fast igniting inline muzzleloaders, and their ignition characteristics can make them unsuitable for some other types of muzzleloaders.
Muzzleloader hunting can be a highly rewarding experience that rewards skill, patience and careful thought. It is a great way to connect with our historical and cultural roots, while also adding an element of additional sportsmanship to a hunt.
The unique nature of muzzleloaders allows a hunter to take anything from large game, to smaller animals by varying the powder charge and bullet size, making it a highly flexible and versatile weapon.
Muzzleloaders are only very loosely legally regulated due to their Federal classification as non-firearms, although state and local laws may vary.
This allows for easy access to them, and even mail-order purchasing in many places, making them one of the most accessible hunting weapons on the market.
Ultimately, regardless of if you choose a fancy inline muzzleloader or a simple flintlock, you will find that muzzleloader hunting is one of the most rewarding ways to harvest a game animal.