There are basically two very different points of
view concerning muzzleloading rifles for hunting. First, there
is the traditional school of thought regarding the rifle and
equipment. In this traditional group, most hunters use a
side-hammer rifle of either flintlock or more likely percussion
ignition, with either black powder or a black powder substitute.
These hunters, for good reason, reject any modern equipment such
as scope sights and inline ignition.
The other group of hunters, we'll call them the
modern hunters for lack of a better term, welcome any new
innovations in muzzleloading rifles. They view the muzzleloading
hunting season as time to get in more hunting by using a
different weapon than their breechloading centerfire rifles or
If you adhere to the first, or more traditional,
philosophy, this gun review is not for you. This article deals
with the most modern and innovative muzzleloader to date. This
new muzzleloader will, for the first shot anyway, give away
nothing in performance to a modern big game centerfire rifle.
This new rifle is the Savage Model 10MLSS-II.
This new muzzleloader from Savage, while
perfectly capable of fine accuracy with black powder or Pyrodex,
was designed for use with modern smokeless powder, very similar
to what is used in cartridge firearms. While black powder or
Pyrodex performs very well, as it has for many years, it cannot
equal the performance of modern smokeless powder. The main
objection that I hear from hunters using black powder or a
substitute is that of the daily cleaning chore following the
shooting of the weapon. To the traditional hunter, this is just
part of the charm of using a more primitive weapon. To the
modern deer hunter who just wants to hunt, it is a pain in the
Inline technology in muzzleloaders has been
around for a few years in its modern incarnation, and has been a
welcome innovation by the modern hunter. Inline rifles greatly
simplify the mounting of a scope sight, and make the cleaning of
the rifle a bit easier. The new Savage uses this inline
configuration in their 10 ML muzzleloaders.
Savage makes their 10ML in both blued steel and
stainless, the latter being the rifle reviewed here. Both the
blued and stainless rifles are identical except for the type of
steel used in their construction, with all other specifications
being the same. The Savage has a checkered, pillar-bedded
synthetic stock similar to those used on their excellent
centerfire rifles, and comes equipped with sling swivel studs
installed. The medium-heavy barrel is free-floated for its
entire length, and is fitted with open adjustable sights. Savage
lists the barrel length as twenty-four inches, but the internal
length, from muzzle to breech plug measures twenty-two and
The action is very similar to the familiar
centerfire Savage action, with the changes necessary to function
as a muzzleloader. The breech face of the bolt is machined to
easily accept a number 209 shotshell primer, providing plenty of
fire to ignite the powder charge. On the right side of the
receiver, just forward of the bolt handle, is a cocking
indicator with a red dot on its surface, which can be easily
seen and felt to check the firing condition of the rifle. The
safety is, as on all Savage centerfire rifles, right behind the
bolt in the top center of the rifle, just as it should be. The
receiver is drilled and tapped to accept any scope bases that
are made for Savage rifles.
Upon inspection of the 10MLSS-II, as the
stainless version is called, the quality of fit and finish is
very well done. The gun has a muzzle-heavy balance, which is a
real help for offhand shooting, which often occurs when hunting.
The rifle weighs seven and three-quarters pounds without scope.
The trigger pull, while crisp, was a bit heavy for my taste at
about five pounds, but can be easily lightened by a qualified
gunsmith. This is about average for a factory rifle, and is
understandable in today's litigious society. This weight of pull
is probably acceptable to most hunters, but I am accustomed to
using a set-trigger on my muzzleloaders. When you only have one
shot, you really want it to be on the mark.
What really got me interested in a muzzleloader
that used smokeless powder, was the fact that the old
hot-water-and-soap cleaning method needed with other
muzzleloaders could be forgotten. This fact is probably the main
selling point to most purchasers of this rifle, and a good
selling point it is. In this aspect of the gun alone, Savage has
the market to itself. No other major muzzleloader manufacturer
recommends the use of smokeless powder in their rifles, in fact,
they strictly warn against the use of anything but black powder
or an approved substitute. Being able to come in from a long
day's hunt and set the rifle in the rack, without the messy
cleaning, is a welcome bonus to most hunters.
While the clean-shooting characteristics of the
gun got my attention, what really surprised me is the
performance of the weapon, as compared to every other
muzzleloader on the market. Savage's literature that accompanies
the rifle lists some pretty impressive loads using three
different smokeless powders. The data includes loads using Vitavouri
N110, IMR 4227, and Accurate Arms XMP-5744, all of
which are relatively fast-burning for a rifle powder. The loads
listed by Savage will beat black powder loads, with the same
bullet weights, by several hundred feet-per-second.
I decided to try some different powders for this
article, since Savage had already done the work with the powders
listed. All powders were within the same range of burning speed
to the powders listed above. I assembled all the necessary
components and equipment needed for an exhaustive workout of the
new rifle. I was a bit apprehensive at first pouring smokeless
powder into a muzzleloader, having been warned most of my life
never to do so. I do want to interject at this point never to
use smokeless powder in any muzzleloader other than the Savage,
until such time that others make their rifles to handle the
pressures. Also, you must be very meticulous in measuring the
powder, and I strongly suggest weighing each powder charge. This
muzzleloader is not for the careless amateur, but for the
serious shooter. While a slight overcharge with black powder is
no big deal, overcharging with smokeless can cause serious harm
to the gun and shooter.
The 10ML uses bullets of either .451 or .452
inch diameter in fifty caliber magnum sabots. Be sure to use the
magnum sabots, as the cheap soft ones give unsatisfactory
results with the velocities of which this rifle is capable.
All range testing was done on a sunny day with
temperatures between 55 and 70 degrees, with slight to gusting
winds, which made the task of weighing powder charges difficult
with the wind playing with the balance beam scales. Velocities
were monitored with the aid of the excellent PACT
chronograph. The PACT makes all the mathematical calculations of
standard deviation and extreme spreads so that the shooter can
concentrate on the shooting. All shooting for groups was at 100
yards, with the aid of a Tasco 4 to 16 power target
The accuracy of this rifle was very good with
every bullet tried, but the best were the Hornady 250
grain XTP, the Hornady 300 grain XTP, and the excellent Cast
Performance 335 grain LBT-style cast bullet. Of the sabots
tested, the Hornady proved to work the best in this
rifle. These three bullets shot into five-shot groups of between
one and one-and-one-quarter inches at 100 yards. The aggregate
group for thirteen different loads was less than three inches.
The loads that proved to be amazing to me used
the three listed bullets above with Hodgdon's Lil' Gun
powder. This powder, which has already become one of my favorite
pistol powders (see Jeff's article at Hodgdon Lil' Gun Powder),
turned in good velocities with each bullet tested, and the
spreads and deviations were some of the best I've ever seen. I
was able to reach speeds approaching that of a .375 H&H
Magnum with equal bullet weights. For example, the loads
with the Hornady 250 and 300 grain bullets using Lil
Gun averaged 2552 and 2432 fps, respectively.
The Cast Performance 335 grain averaged 2370 fps
with Lil Gun. This relates to around 4300 foot-pounds
of energy at the muzzle. As a comparison, this muzzleloader
has more retained energy at 300 yards with these loads than the
mighty .454 Casull has at the muzzle out of a handgun!
This kind of performance from a fifty caliber muzzleloader is
amazing. Most other inlines won't do half of that. I also need
to interject here that neither Hodgdon nor Savage
recommends this powder in this gun. The loads were safe and very
consistent in this rifle. I believe that Lil Gun is the
best powder to use in this rifle, and beats the performance of
the other powders significantly, but I will not list the charge
weights here. You will have to determine what is best in your
particular gun, but I am sticking with Lil Gun in this Savage.
The significant fact about this load, with
either of the bullets, aside from the awesome power, is the
trajectory. With a 200 yard zero, you can hold dead-on out to
250 yards without the bullet varying from line-of-sight more
than three and one-half inches. This gun is, in capable hands, a
250 yard or better muzzleloader. It will place the bullet on the
mark, with power to spare for most any game. With the Cast
Performance bullet, this gun has ample power for any animal
on this continent.
If you are inclined toward an inline
muzzleloader, the Savage is the logical choice. It beats the
competition in power, trajectory, and ease-of-maintenance. On
second thought, the Savage has no competition, as it is the only
game in town for a smokeless muzzleloader. Our local gun dealer,
McLain's Firearms in Carlisle, Tennessee, can't keep them
in stock. They go out the door as fast as he can get them in. I
never really cared at all for an inline muzzleloader, as my old
side-hammer Hawken has served me well, but this new
Savage is a whole new concept in power and performance, just by
virtue of using a propellant that has been around for more than
Check out this Savage 10 MLSS-II online
Suggested retail is $451 in blued steel and $507 in
stainless as of this writing.
For the traditional hunter, any inline
muzzleloader seems out of place in the woods, but for the modern
muzzleloading hunter.......... this Savage just made all other
This is your baby.
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