William W (Bill) Gabbard
After reading everything I could find (this was years before the internet) and talking with a few older fellows that had been shooting muzzleloading rifles for years, I carefully poured some FFG black powder from my powder horn into the powder measure and then poured it down the barrel. I took the piece of pillow ticking out of my mouth placed it over the muzzle. I then centered the bullet and using the starter ball pushed it into the bore. With a handmade patch knife, I cut off the excess patch material and using the ramrod pushed the bullet home. After placing a cap on the nipple of the ancient rifle I was ready to touch off my first round from a muzzleloading rifle.
My mentor into the game, standing by smiling, said, “These are pretty simple compared to the Flintlock and Matchlock rifles that preceded the Cap and Ball version.” I thought of him today as I looked at the Traditions NitroFire™ Vapr™ Muzzleloader in Mossy Oak Break-Up Country and the Federal Premium® FIRESTICK™ and wondered what he would think.
No more measuring or pouring, no worries about keeping your powder dry, no fumbling with the little metal can of caps. It has been nearly 45 years since that first shot and the number of improvements made since then are mind-numbing to say the least:
(1) 209 primers instead of caps,
(2) several methods of holding the primer to make them easier to manage as well as keep moisture out,
(3) new and improved powder that doesn’t burn as dirty and isn’t as corrosive as the old black powder,
(4) pelletized powder in various weights so you don’t have to use the powder measure, and
(5) bullets either enclosed in plastic sabots or with plastic skirts attached to seal the bullet to the bore eliminating the need for patches and patch knives.
Traditions Firearms, working with Federal Premium, has developed the newest system out there. My 50-caliber test rifle came in Mossy Oak Break-Up Country with a Cerakote finished 26-inch tapered and fluted barrel topped with a Traditions 3-9x40 scope. Loading is as simple as pushing the bullet down the bore, dropping the Federal FireStick into the breech, priming, closing the action, cocking, and firing.
The FireStick system uses Hodgdon’s clean burning Triple 8 powder enclosed in a polymer capsule that accepts standard 209 shotshell primers. Federal recommends their 209 Muzzleloading Primers, but again, any standard 209 primer can be used. The FireStick is available in three different charge weights - 80, 100 and 120 grains – that are easily identified by their distinctive colors. Federal assures us that each FireStick is loaded with the same precision as Federal Premium center-fire ammo.
After cleaning of the rifle and reading the manual and I headed to the range. I was equipped with 250 grain Smackdown® Carnivore™ bullets featuring Ridgeback Sabot™ along with Federal Premium® 350 grain B.O.R. LOCKmz® bullets. I had a good quantity of Federal FireSticks in all three charge weights and was anxious to try this system out. The loading process is as simple as it sounds. Both the Smackdown Carnivores and the Federal BORELOCK bullets slid quite easily down the barrel. Placing the powder charge is the same process as dropping a shotshell in an old single barrel shotgun. Insert the primer, close the action and you are ready to cock the hammer and fire. Follow up shots are extremely fast.
Using the 250-grain Carnivore bullets and the 80-grain FireStick, I was able to achieve a 3-shot group of just under an inch at 100 yds. I shot groups with the 350-grain Federal bullets and had 2 shots touching at 100 yds but always had a flyer that went outside the one-inch mark when using both the 100-gr and 120-gr charges. The Smackdown Carnivore bullets are available in weights of 170, 200, and 305 grains in addition to the 250-grain bullets that I had to work with. The Federal bullets are available in 270-grain versions also. The Traditions website lists muzzle velocities ranging from 1899 feet per second to 2217 feet per second depending on the bullet weight and FireStick used.
Cleanup is absolutely the easiest that I have ever encountered in over 45 years of muzzleloading experience! No breech plug to remove and clean. This along with the clean burning Triple 8 powder made cleanup an absolute breeze. After three of Traditions Breakout 209 pre-saturated cleaning patches, I was pulling a clean patch! One of the biggest advantages to the FireStick system is unloading the rifle without firing it. If you want to unload the rifle, you can simply remove the FireStick, or to completely unload just push the bullet out from the breech.
The old reloader inside me feels that somewhere in the mix between 170 and 305 grains using one of the three powder charges available is the sweet spot for this rifle. The other possibility would be 90 and 110 grain charges of Hodgdon’s Triple 8 powder to fill in the gap. If The Traditions NitroFire® rifle stays here long term I will definitely try various bullet weights in search of one hole three-shot groups!
The NitroFire™ Vapr® in Mossy Oak Break-Up Country is a sweet handling, nice shooting, and of course good-looking rifle that has me looking forward to October and Kentucky’s Muzzleloader season!