REVIEW: Vortek Muzzleloader

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Having been around the block, so to speak, when it comes to guns, I don’t always jump at the sight of a new addition to the overcrowded marketplace. I might even say that I’m a bit gun shy. But that does not, in any way, infer that I’m not constantly looking for a new gun that I believe will, in some realistic way, improve the lot for us hunters and shooters in either performance, structural integrity, price point or, even better, all three. One of those guns might just possibly be the Vortek StrikerFire. It is a new muzzleloader that may just change the design and performance of muzzleloaders well into the future. At least, that is why Traditions has put the better part of five years into the development of this gun.

I had my first opportunity to have a look at the finished product at the 2013 SHOT Show in Las Vegas. I must admit I was immediately taken with its looks, feel and handling. It shouldered so impressively that I just had to have a second look. That is when I discovered its singular new design feature, which I will discuss shortly, that really sets this gun apart. In fact, I was sufficiently impressed that I asked Traditions to be the first writer north of the border to test this gun. That was the easy part – getting the gun proved to be another issue onto itself. No doubt in this instance, as is often the case with a new product such as the StrikerFire, gremlins in production seem to create short falls to the initial demand for the product. But it finally made its way to my doorstep in late October. Often a very questionable time for me to test a gun, particularly with hunting season in full swing, but test it I did, as I was not going to let this opportunity slip though my fingers.

 

Vortek StrikerFire .50-calibre muzzleloader

I’m going to jump right into the elemental features of this gun that are either singularly noteworthy or, in combination, have raised the industry bar and in doing so offer hunters a new level of performance. The most prominent of these is its StrikerFire System. This is a totally new concept, which eliminates the external hammer of other muzzleloaders with the use of an internal StrikerFire System. In order to cock the gun, all the hunter has to do is slide the striker button (it looks like a large tang safety) forward until it locks and you are ready to shoot. De-cocking is just as simple and there are two ways to get it done: you can either use the recessed de-cocking button or it will automatically de-cock when the gun is opened. This innovation allows for a faster locktime than an external hammer, better trigger performance and it permits you to mount your scope closer to the bore, offering quicker eye alignment. It also assists in overall weight reduction of the gun, which at 6.25 pounds for a 28-inch barreled gun is light indeed.

As always, trigger performance is factored into every gun that I test. In this case, the StrikerFire is equipped with a two-stage trigger that is set at three pounds and is totally creep free. In my view, this is an ideal trigger pull weight for just about any rifle. The StrikerFire also offers a dropout trigger assembly, as do all the Vortek Series guns. It’s a new, one-piece unit that is totally removable. Take out one screw and the whole assembly comes out as a unit, making for very easy clean up as well as providing easy access to the frame. Another great idea! And while we are on the subject of triggers, I need to mention this gun’s safety features. It utilizes two – a trigger block safety and an internal strikerblock safety. To quote Traditions: “Safety First.” I think that says it all.

The barrel is next on my list. In this case, Traditions has chosen to use a fluted ultra light chromoly barrel with a premium CeraKote finish that is said to be 50 times more corrosion resistant than stainless steel. This is a very durable finish that is a real plus when shooting highly corrosive black powder or when hunting in nasty weather.

A feature that also caught my eye is its one-piece 209 Accelerator breech plug. It is simple to remove by hand with three full turns, offering ready access for cleaning or removing a load. It also allows the use of both loose powder and pellets and its flat face offers consistent ignition, while its heavy-duty O-ring eliminates blow back.

There are only two other mechanical related features that I will mention: the first is its LT-1 alloy frame that keeps the gun’s overall weight down while still providing structural strength and, last, the muzzle incorporates a speed load system for easy bullet starts.

Now to the stock, and I must admit that it really impressed me. Not only did it fit me perfectly, but also with its soft-touch rubberized stock/forend and comfort-grip overmoulding, it felt great in my hands – to the point where I know that no matter what the weather might throw at me, this gun would never feel like I was holding a piece of hard, slippery plastic in my hands. One last stock feature warrants mention: its Stow-N-Go removable butt pad. The press of a button removes the butt pad for storage of items such as your license/tags in the interior of the stock.

While only one model comes equipped with a scope, all the StrikerFire series are drilled and tapped for mounting a scope. The model Traditions sent me included a mounted and bore sighted Muzzleloader Hunter Series 3-9x40mm scope with a range-finding reticle. This series of scopes incorporate multi-coated lenses, a nitrogen-filled, one-piece tube, a full three inches of eye relief with a rubber eyepiece and raised finger elevation and windage adjustments. They are also waterproof, shockproof and fogproof. No doubt a sound foundation for a reliable scope, but the reticle in this scope makes it just that much more user friendly. The range-finding reticle has four aim points that start at 50 yards and extend out to 200 yards. All are easy to use, based on a 250-grain bullet and 100 grains of powder.

Range test

While I only had half a day to test this rifle before I was scheduled to head off on an elk hunt, I was able to clearly gain very good insight into the performance of this muzzleloader. I believe the best place to begin is with some general observations. There is no question that it was as I remembered it from the SHOT Show – light, easy to handle, with good overall balance and fit. All tolerances were tight. In fact, the bore was too tight for a number of bullets that I wanted to test, but more on that later. The StrikerFire System was flawless in performance and an innovative feature. It was very easy to cock or de-cock and the trigger was about the best I have encountered on a muzzleloader. When I checked its pull weight, it actually broke very consistently and smoothly at two pounds, a full pound less than the advertised factory set weight – a pull weight that is about as light as I would want the trigger pull to be on a hunting rifle. About the only structural or design feature that I found a bit awkward was its ramrod. The jag on the end of it had to be unscrewed and reversed to be used to seat a bullet and then had to be reversed again for use in cleaning or when replacing it in the thimbles. On a cold, snowy day in November, when attempting with ice cold hands to put a follow up shot together, this could get a bit tricky, especially if you dropped the jag in the snow. And because of its short length and the pressure required to seat bullets in a tight bore, I would highly recommend the use of a handle on this rod, such as the one contained in the Deluxe Bullet Starter Kit. A must-have kit anyway for starting bullets, especially during range work with the tight bullet starts that I encountered. I would also highly recommend that the rifle be thoroughly cleaned, per the Traditions instructional manual, prior to shooting it. I even went one step further and used alcohol to remove any remaining oils or greases prior to shooing it. I did, however, apply breech plug grease to the Accelerator breech plug, which incidentally is one of the most user-friendly breech plugs I have run across.

Because of time constraints, I wanted to keep my bullet and powder selections to three primary sources. However, because of this gun’s tight bore, I was unable to test any of the Barnes bullets that had worked so well in the past. Some I could start but had considerable difficulty getting down the barrel, others I could not even start. However, I was able to test, with ease, both the Hornady Mono Flex ML 250-grain bullets and the Traditions Smackdown 250-grain bullets, which were designed by Hornady for Traditions guns using IMR White Hots pellets, Jim Shockey Gold and Jim Shockey Yukon Gold Super Sticks. The results are below.

Of note, during the test I found that I needed to clean the barrel every three shots for optimum accuracy and ease of loading. When I discussed this with Traditions, they indicated that they were achieving excellent results with Blackhorn 209 powder, as it not only provided top notch accuracy in their guns, but it also did not necessitate the same level of cleaning requirements I was experiencing. Down the road I will have to give it a go. It also became apparent during this test that both Hornady Mono Flex and Traditions Smackdown bullets clearly preferred IMR White Hots pellets over either of the Jim Shockey powder choices. While they did not quite achieve the same velocities as the Shockey powder, the accuracy was far superior. I would have little hesitation in using either bullet/load on a hunt, however, if asked, I would most likely opt for the Hornady Mono Flex ML based on its better velocity and the convenience of its Lock-N-Load design. Despite this recommendation, I would additionally want to take the time to up the IMR White Hots load to 150 grains for both bullets, to have another look at velocity and accuracy. No doubt I would include Traditions’ suggestion of Blackhorn 209 powder in that test and possibly a few additional bullets designed for tight bores.

This is a well built and innovative muzzleloader that shoots very well and carries both a lifetime limited warranty and a reasonable price tag. With that being said, I’m also very confident that with more time I could have found additional loads and bullets that may have even outshined what is already a tough-to-beat performance.

 

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