Traditions Nitrofire Muzzleloader Rifle

The changing face
of ‘charcoal burners’
3

I was alone at the edge of the big woods. The temperature was just above freezing, slowly rotting the layer of snow blanketing the ground as a warm front had brought drizzle to the Midwest. The clash of warm air against cold, wet earth set the perfect stage for fog. As I settled against a tree to watch a remote field, visibility began to lower like a great gray theater curtain.

There was just the slightest hint of wind, the breeze a physical presence carrying the pervading dampness down into your bones.

An hour of indeterminate waiting later I noticed a fat doe slowly feeding down the edge of the field. She appeared like an apparition from the increasing gloom, slowly moving down the rows of corn stubble while pawing the snow in search of greenery underneath. It was a perfect setup.

I was just inside the tree line and she was completely unaware of my presence. After waiting for her to feed within range, I carefully, slo-o-owly cocked the hammer on my traditional Hawken muzzleloader, winching at the loud click of the sear engaging. I then sat up in my shooting position waiting for the final outcome. She continued pawing, oblivious.

A few moments later, I gently brushed the set trigger and the hammer fell. The #10 brass percussion cap popped but there was no expected kick or blossom of smoke and fire. As I began to furtively drop the gun from my cheek to re-cap and try again, there was an unexpected “booooom” as acrid smoked filled the air. I had experienced my first “hang-fire,” likely due to the cloying dampness.

After reloading, I dejectedly walked into the field just to make sure I hadn’t somehow accidentally hit the doe. Following her tracks a bit, it was obvious she had suffered no worse than a fright. Resigned to another day with no venison, I began the long, slow, soggy stalk back to my truck.

During this trek two decades ago, I finally decided a modern in-line muzzleloader was my next purchase.

State of the art

I’ve loved hunting with charcoal-burners since realizing years ago our state, like many, offered a dedicated deer season for muzzleloaders above and beyond the “modern” gun season. For years I hunted with my reproduction Hawken .54 caliber and shot a lot of whitetail, including several hanging on my walls but I’ll be the first to admit it’s not the most efficient method of harvesting game. It’s awfully slow to load, not exceptionally accurate and as I saw firsthand, very sensitive to wet weather.

While I sometimes switch back and forth depending on the mood of the day, after years of hunting it’s readily apparent my modern in-line muzzleloader is far superior in every sense except the nostalgia factor.

Modern in-line guns still stuff powder and bullet from the front end but use a #209 shotgun shell primer (some even use centerfire primers) to ignite the propellant. As most hunters use modern lead/brass bullets housed in plastic sabots along with pre-measured synthetic propellant pellets, I believe modern in-line muzzleloaders have reached the peak of efficiency and accuracy.

This seemed obvious, at least until I saw the Traditions Nitrofire series, a joint development project of Traditions, Federal Ammunition and Hodgdon Powder.

The new gun looks similar in appearance to the other high-performance modern in-line guns from Traditions but there is a serious, industry-changing departure in the loading process — it uses Federal Firestick encapsulated cartridges to put boom in the beast.
Simple and reliable

While in-line muzzleloaders are very reliable, they still aren’t perfect. The breach block sealing the south end of the barrel brings along a few fiddly problems and there is still a chance, though reduced, for water infiltration. Even pre-measured powder pellets leave room for inconsistency due to uneven bullet seating pressure and depth.

Don’t get me wrong — modern in-lines are very efficient and some exhibit incredible accuracy, especially for shooters willing to spend time to wring out their gun to the max. Yet there are shortcomings of the technology and this is where the Nitrofire arguably sets a new standard, taking muzzleloaders to an even higher level of simplicity and accuracy.

In fact, there has actually been a bit of an online backlash from a few cantankerous charcoal shooters because the concept is almost too easy to load and shoot effectively.

The gun remains a muzzleloader because the bullet can only be seated via the muzzle but the sealed propellant charge is simple to load or remove from the breach in the event you want to climb into a tree stand or end a fruitless day. For those of us — actually, every one of us if we’re being truthful — who don’t harvest game every single time out, the ease of unloading without firing a shot is a huge benefit by itself.

The Firestick cartridge looks like an unmarked plastic .410 shotgun shell minus the primer. Before firing you insert a standard #209 shotgun primer into the Firestick cartridge and the now-ready propellant payload loaded into the breach of the Nitrofire. Cock the hammer, drop the trigger and 100 or 120 grains of new Hodgdon “Triple 8” black powder substitute sends your bullet downrange.

First look

Our pre-production test gun came from Traditions with a 3-9x40 Traditions duplex-reticle scope already installed. It also came with a care package of Traditions accessories that, although the subject of another entire story, are so much better than the box-store junk in my own possible bag as to be laughable. If the gun is a “10,” the accessories are an 11!

The Spanish-manufactured Nitrofire is attractive and looks very much like a single-shot centerfire rifle. On my particular iteration (there are several versions) the barrel and receiver sport a soft gold Premium Cerakote finish while the stylish .50 caliber 1:28" chromoly-steel barrel is fluted and tapered. The action is matched up to a lightweight synthetic stock finished in water-dip Go Wild Rockstar camouflage and solid rubber butt pad. Don’t worry, the camo is anything but wild and certainly not something you’d see on stage — except, perhaps for a Ted Nugent show — but will match my Midwest winter woodlands perfectly.

Overall fit and finish are impeccable with the action locking up tighter than Hillary Clinton’s sense of humor. The only flaw noticed was a small “booger” on the right-side wrist of the stock where the water-dip camo had suffered some small indignity during production. It wasn’t really noticeable except to perfectionists and gun writers looking for something to mention.

The Traditions Nitrofire muzzleloader, using Firestick technology, is set to change the face of black powder hunting.

Operation

If you’ve ever fired a single-shot shotgun, you know how to operate the Nitrofire. There is an action-release at the front of the trigger guard, a cross-bolt safety at the rear of the trigger guard and an exposed hammer so it’s evident if the gun is ready to make noise. The production guns come with the Elite XT Trigger System, which ours didn’t. Regardless, our standard trigger was crisp and averaged 3.1 lbs. on the Lyman digital trigger pull gauge.

Loading notes

A steel ring inside the barrel prevents the bullet from traveling too far rearward and offers another benefit — you know exactly when the bullet is properly seated. This is a critical factor in muzzleloader accuracy but with other guns, even when your ramrod is marked, it’s still a slightly ambiguous process to make sure the bullet is seated the same way every time. With the Nitrofire, there is no doubt or variation.

The cartridges themselves are claimed to be totally impervious to moisture. As time was short and the gun had to be shipped to the photographer for its “glamor shots,” I didn’t dunk it in the nearby drainage ditch to find out. However, the claim seems reasonable.

The Big Surprise

The powder cartridges came in a plain, unmarked pre-production package so I’m not sure whether they were 100 or 120 grain. The bullets used were the .45 caliber 250-gr. Traditions Smackdown Carnivore in a plastic sabot. This bullet has a .262 ballistic coefficient and features a hard plastic tip.

Fortunately, the factory scope was already dialed-in and I quickly began using my limited ammo shooting for tight groups rather than chasing impacts around the target. After expecting fair-to-middling initial results, one of the first 3-shot targets yielded a vertical 0.76” by 1.15” group just at the left of the bullseye. Wow! I realize it’s only 50 yards but producing a one-hole group with a brand-new out-of-the-box “front-loader” is pretty eye-opening. Once the gun is back from the photographer, I can’t wait to take it back to 200 yards and see how much havoc I can rain on the local bucks. I’m confident they won’t be happy with the results.

Standard #209 shotgun primers ignite the Hodgdon Triple 8 black powder substitute.

The Nitrofire features an accuracy-saving recessed muzzle crown.

Ease of operation: The team of Traditions, Federal Ammunition and Hodgdon
Powder makes the Nitrofire a new peak of muzzleloader simplicity.

Downside

Yep, for all the accuracy, convenience and fun, there is one fly in the ointment — several states don’t recognize the Nitrofire as an official “muzzleloader” since the powder goes in from the breach. You’d likely be okay (“check local listings”) to use it as a regular “modern” rifle but might get into some legal hot water if using it during muzzleloader-only seasons. Fortunately, as this technology spreads throughout the industry, laws will likely change.

Accurate? You be the judge!

Why you’ll like it

If you’re looking for a simple, weatherproof and impeccably accurate muzzleloader for hunting, the Traditions Nitrofire deserves your first look. This technological partnership will undoubtedly change the direction of the in-line muzzleloader industry and usher in a host of competitors. Once the laws catch up, the Nitrofire will be the standard all other manufacturers will try to achieve.

Ultimately, will I give up my rust-brown Hawken with the hand-rubbed walnut stock and occasionally finicky ignition system? Not likely, as I sometimes feel especially curmudgeonly and want to hunt with my favorite anachronism. However, when I get “serious” about filling the freezer, the Nitrofire will get the call.

MSRP as tested: $699
Federal Firesticks: $25/10*

www.traditionsfirearms.com
www.federalpremium.com
www.hodgdonreloading.com

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