When we pitted the $359 Remington ML against the $839.95 Knight Magnum Elite, we found interesting technological innovations in Big Green’s new gun.
Love them or hate them, in-line muzzleloading rifles are here to stay. They are now legal to use as hunting arms in every state except Pennsylvania, and any doubts about their appeal to field shooters and blackpowder silo competitors were removed when Remington entered the arena with its own in-line model. When the mega-builder of modern guns enters the blackpowder market, that says muzzleloaders are no longer a fad, but are instead a strong interest of the firearms fraternity. That Remington entered the market with an in-line model also augurs well for that style of traditional firearm.
The in-line design has been around for years, as exemplified by Jean Samuel Pauley’s in-line system of 1812. The Germans also had an in-line flintlock design as early as 1738. So the belief that sidelock muzzleloaders are the more historically accurate traditional firearms is false. Unquestionably, the in-line style is more popular among today’s traditional hunters and shooters, says Tim Pancurak of Thompson/Center Arms. “In-lines represent the majority of our muzzleloader sales,” he said—an amazing statistic considering that T/C’s first true in-line muzzleloader was introduced in 1993. Dudley McGarity, national sales manager of Connecticut Valley Arms (CVA), says in-lines now make up about 80 percent of that company’s sales. “They have really come on strong in the past few years,” he said. “The in-line has enticed a lot of hunters to try muzzleloading. The in-line looks more familiar and is perceived to be easier to use. It is also perceived that they are more reliable and more accurate than the old traditional guns.”
Perhaps those reasons pushed Remington into offering its new Model 700 Muzzle Loader, which because of Big Green’s production and marketing power, will change the rules of the muzzleloading market, heretofore dominated by a handful of firms like Modern Muzzle Loading and CVA. We decided to see how Remington’s new product stacks up against an established in-line gun at the high end of the price-point spectrum. In a head-to-head match up, we pitted the $359 Remington ML against Modern Muzzle Loading’s Knight Magnum Elite rifle, which sells for $839.95. Here’s what we found.
Modern Muzzle Loading’s Knight Magnum Elite
Modern Muzzle Loading’s Knight rifles may well be the best-known in-line muzzleloaders. The company has an extensive line of muzzleloading firearms and is often given credit for popularizing in-line rifles. Our test gun was the top-of-the-line $839.95 Magnum Elite. As with all Knight rifles, it features a double safety system. There is a conventional trigger blocking safety with a knob on the side of the rifle. The second safety is a threaded knob that is on the rear cocking piece. This can be screwed down to positively block the hammer from striking the nipple. The Knight rifle came with adjustable Williams iron sights and are drilled and tapped for scopes. We mounted a Leupold 1.75- to 6-power scope in removable mounts that are sold by Knight and manufactured by Warne. The mounts sell for $105.58. The rifle is equipped with an aluminum ramrod and has swivel studs installed.
The Magnum Elite is the flagship of the Knight line. Our gun featured a 24-inch stainless-steel .50 caliber Green Mountain barrel with a 1-in-28 rifling twist and a synthetic stock. The Timney trigger breaks cleanly at 3 pounds. This rifle is set up with the optional Posi-Fire ignition system that utilizes a magnum rifle primer. The primer is held in a plastic cartridge that is locked in position by a bolt-action system that provides an extra degree of safety as well as positive ignition. The cartridge is actually a Speer plastic case meant to be used with the plastic bullets for indoor practice with .38 caliber handguns. They are easy to reload with a new primer. The old one is popped out with a small punch and the new primer is seated by pushing the case over it while it is on a hard, flat surface such as a tabletop.
This system is available only as an option and must be installed by the customer, since BATF rules forbid the gun being shipped with the system installed. While ignition is positive, which no doubt contributes to the gun’s accuracy, the system is not without fault. It is tricky to remove the reloadable plastic case after firing the rifle, and a tool, such as a knife blade, is required. This adds a complication in the field and slows down the process of reloading, in our opinion.
The stock is synthetic without checkering. It’s held to the action with one screw and features a 1-inch black-rubber recoil pad. The rough texture paint provides a positive gripping surface under any field conditions. The whole package weighs 71/4 pounds, and at 411/2 inches overall length, it is trim and easily handled in the woods. The Posi-Fire system is shipped free upon request by the customer.
The Knight rifle shot nearly everything acceptably. The Barnes 300-grain Expander MZ Sabot developed 1,501 fps and shot 2.3-inch groups. Hornady’s .44 .300-grain XTP Sabot ran at 1,572 fps and also shot 2.3-inch groups. Black Belt Bullets’ 405-grain 50-caliber projectile ran slower out of the Knight Magnum Elite, 1,437 fps, but shot more accurately, 1.8-inch groups on average. The Hornady .50-caliber Great Plains 410-grain bullet, when pushed by 100 grains of Pyrodex Select like the other test bullets, ran at 1,335 fps and shot 1.6-inch groups.
Performance Shooter Recommends: Modern Muzzle Loading’s Knight Magnum Elite rifle was the best performer in overall accuracy. It is extremely well made and is light and trim, so it carries well in the field. However, we thought the stock had too much drop and needs a higher comb for comfortable shooting with a scope. Our primary criticism of Modern Muzzle Loading’s Knight Magnum Elite is its $839.95 price. Still, if you simply must have the best, then this is the rifle for you.
Remington Model 700 Muzzle Loader
Remington’s Model 700 Muzzle Loader rifle is offered in two versions, but both models look, handle, and feel like the modern Model 700 bolt action. The ML version, which carries a suggested retail price of $359, features a synthetic stock and a blued-steel barrel and action. The $452 MLS has a stainless-steel barrel and action and a synthetic stock. Both are offered in .50 caliber, and the MLS is also offered in .54 caliber. Our test gun was the ML in .50 caliber.
The design of the rifle shows evolution of the in-line concept. In a break from the traditional striker/bolt that moves within the receiver, the action on the Remington is a modified short-action 700 with the bolt cocking on opening just like any 700, but there are some differences. The bolt features a modified firing pin protruding from the open face of the shortened bolt and with a cup on the end. When firing, this cup moves forward to strike the cap on the nipple to fire the rifle. The cup also serves to direct any gases escaping from the nipple forward, away from the shooter. The bolt lacks the twin front lugs that turn and lock into the rear of the barrel on a conventional bolt action. These are not necessary because the bolt doesn’t contain any pressure when firing, and they won’t work with the closed breech of a muzzleloader. Instead of these locking forward lugs holding the bolt in place when closed, the Remington has a heavy screw that threads through the rear section of the action and fits into a slot milled into the bolt. This slot is milled parallel with the bolt to allow it to be drawn back to place a cap on the nipple. Then, as the bolt is pushed forward, the slot turns upward in a two step-angle to cam against the screw and turn the bolt handle down. This duplicates the feel of a regular two-lug bolt action and locks the bolt into position. Gone also is the standard bolt release. To remove the bolt, you simply back off on the screw until it clears the slot and releases.
The lock time of this action is a fast 3.0 milliseconds, partly because of the short movement of the striker. This enhances accuracy in a couple of ways. The short lock time reduces the time it takes to fire a round, and the short striker travel, coupled with a lighter-weight striker, will not disturb the rifle as it moves.
The trigger is classic Model 700, adjustable for sear engagement, spring tension, and overtravel. Our test trigger broke at a lawyer-designed 7 pounds plus, but we know it can be adjusted for a better pull. The two-position safety is also conventional Model 700 and is located on the right side of the tang. It blocks the trigger in the rear position. Move it forward to fire.
The barrel is threaded for a removable stainless-steel breech plug. The nipple then threads into the breech plug. By removing the nipple and then the breech plug, you can clean the bore from the rear. This also ensures a complete cleaning job, necessary to any blackpowder gun, but imperative with an in-line. Fouling can build up in the action of any in-line and impede the striker until the gun fails to fire, so it is important to disassemble the rifle and clean it completely. Though the Remington MZ 700 design has its moving parts inside the bolt where they are protected from fouling more than most in-lines, it must be cleaned often.
The 24-inch barrel has a 1-in-28 right-hand twist. The barrel is fitted with open sights, an adjustable rear U-notch and a front bead on a ramp. The action is drilled and tapped to accept standard short-action scope mounts. Our test gun was fitted with a Leupold M8-4X scope set in removable scope mounts. The action is held in the stock by a hex-head front action screw that joins the barrel behind the recoil lug. A similar rear screw threads into the rear tang of the action. The front screw on the trigger guard also threads into the action, but should be tightened only enough to hold the trigger guard and not strain the action.
An aluminum ramrod fits under the barrel. It slides through a slot in the recoil lug and into a rear pocket hidden in the stock. The front of the rod is supported by a barrel band. The stock is injected molded synthetic with a cheek piece and diamond checking on the grip and forearm. There is a plastic grip cap and a thick rubber recoil pad as well as factory-installed swivel studs.
The rifle is 421/2 inches in overall length and weighs in at a hefty 81/2 pounds. This is one of our few complaints about the rifle; it is too heavy and bulky, we think. Remington should slim the MZ down with a Mountain Rifle–type stock and make it lose a pound. Also available is a weather shroud to keep the rain, snow, and dirt out of the action.
The Remington rifle showed a definite preference for sabot bullets in general and the new Barnes Expander-MZ solid-copper bullets in particular. We have fired three-shot 100-yard groups as small as 0.6 inch using this bullet and FFg blackpowder. As noted on the chart, this bullet performed best in this test, shooting 1.3-inch groups. The Hornady XTP 300-grain .44 bullet with a sabot shot very well in the Remington, averaging groups of 2.1 inches. Neither of the full-caliber bullets tested shot quite as well as those with a plastic sabot.
Performance Shooter Recommends: In our opinion, the Remington Model 700 Muzzle Loader ML is an excellent buy. The new design improves on some problems with traditional in-line rifles, particularly with fouling affecting bolt speed. It has a reasonable price of $359, is accurate, and reliable with sabot loads we tested. We would buy the Model 700 Muzzle Loader ML.