best muzzleloaders for hunting
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By John McAdams

Muzzleloaders have come a long way in the last few years. While you can still buy a flintlock or percussion cap muzzleloader that looks and performs very similar to those used by famous hunters like Daniel Boone and Jim Bridger, there have been some tremendous improvements in muzzleloader technology.

Far from being only limited to 50-75 yards, the best muzzleloaders on the market today can ethically take game at much longer ranges.

The tastes of individual black-powder hunters vary. Some hunters want the latest and greatest technological advances on whatever weapon they are hunting with.

Others are purists and just want to use an old school style muzzleloader. Still others just want a reasonably priced and reliable muzzleloader to take advantage of a special muzzleloader hunting season in his or her state.

Regardless of which camp you may fall into, there is something for everyone on this list that can be qualified as the best hunting muzzleloader. Continue reading to see our choices for the best muzzleloaders; you won’t regret it.

Knight Bighorn

best muzzleloaders

Knight muzzleloaders have a well-deserved reputation for accuracy and reliability. The Knight Bighorn has measured up to expectations and has been successfully used by hunters in the United States for many years.

Available both with a standard or a thumbhole stock, all Knight muzzleloaders are 100 percent made in the United States.

Remington Model 700 Ultimate Muzzleloader

best muzzleloaders

The Remington Model 700 Ultimate Muzzleloader is one of the most advanced muzzleloaders currently in existence. Built on a standard Model 700 action, it’s designed with long-range accuracy in mind.

It uses a new, innovative ignition system, which may be one of the most cutting-edge developments ever for the muzzleloading industry.

Instead of using a standard musket cap or primer, the Ultimate Muzzleloader uses a primed centerfire magnum rifle casing. This results in a hotter and more direct spark, which allows the Remington Model 700 Ultimate Muzzleloader to safely and efficiently use up to 200 grains of powder. For comparison, most other modern muzzleloaders are only rated to use up to 150 grains of powder.

Because of this, the Remington Model 700 Ultimate Muzzleloader is advertised as being capable of accurate performance out to, and potentially exceeding 300 yards.

This is far more than any other comparable muzzleloader. Without a doubt, it’s certainly one of the best muzzleloaders currently on the market.

However, it’s such an advanced design and is capable of such outstanding performance that it’s not legal to use during muzzleloading season in many states. Be sure you check the hunting regulations for your state before you buy one.

Lyman Great Plains Rifle

best muzzleloaders

The Lyman Great Plains rifle is the exact opposite of the Remington Model 700 Ultimate Muzzleloader. Available in either a flintlock or percussion cap configuration, this is the perfect muzzleloader for a hunter who wants to channel his or her inner Davy Crockett.

It’s also ideally suited for use in states like Pennsylvania that have very strict regulations on what muzzleloaders may and may not be used during their primitive weapon season.

Thompson/Center Encore Pro Hunter FX

best muzzleloaders

No list of the best muzzleloaders is complete without an entry from Thompson/Center. The Encore Pro Hunter is the muzzleloader used by Jim Shockey on all his adventures.

Thompson/Center has long been a leader in the muzzleloader industry and the Pro Hunter lives up to the company’s reputation. It’s accurate, user-friendly, ambidextrous, can mount a scope and has a “weather shield” coating to help fight corrosion. If you’re looking for a high-quality muzzleloader, the Thompson/Center Encore Hunter is a great choice.

CVA Optima

best muzzleloaders

Just like the Thompson/Center Encore, no discussion about the best muzzleloaders on the market today is complete without the inclusion of the CVA Optima. There is a good reason why the Optima has been America’s best-selling muzzleloader for the past few years: it’s awesome.

Though CVA got a bad reputation for a couple muzzleloader models that were defective and had to be recalled back in the mid-1990s, their current production muzzleloaders are all of excellent quality.

The Optima is CVA’s mid-level muzzleloader, above the Wolf and below the Accura. Not only is it a very well designed and user-friendly gun, but it is also very reliable, accurate, and reasonably priced.

CVA also makes a special version of the Optima that is legal to use in the Pacific Northwest states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. All in all, the CVA Optima is an outstanding piece of workmanship and is one of the best muzzleloaders currently in production.

What do you think of our choices for the best muzzleloaders? Did we miss any?


You can read more great hunting articles by John McAdams on his hunting blog. Follow him on Twitter @TheBigGameHunt.

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    • You want to muzzle loader a 6.5? I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed, the smallest muzzleloader rifle bores were 280. And I know what you’re thinking, “I can get a smokeless powder muzzleloader” there’s a reason that Savage and Ruger discontinued their smokeless muzzleloaders. Smokeless powder erodes the breech plug, which translates to it eventually bursting right in your face. And black powder and substitutes won’t produce velocity to efficiently stabilize a 6.5
      If you don’t want to use what’s available, don’t bother hunting in the muzzleloader season

  1. I have a few flintlocks, in addition to several percussion rifles. My 9 year old grandson now has a flintlock long rifle. I have no idea why anyone interested in “traditional” hunting rifles would buy a center fire rifle, that is best loaded with modern powder, attached to a modern plastic stock that often includes the latest style of scope. I realize that these modern rifles are muzzleloaders, but it seems to me that the only real differences between these rifles and a bolt action are the lack of a background check and the extra hunting season!

    • That Remington actually requires a background check because it uses an actual Remington 700 action, i.e. you can turn it into a fully bolt action rifle, granted it requires a the fitting, chambering and head spacing of a barrel which is something an average Joe is not going to be able to do himself without the proper tools, but because it CAN be turned into one is the reason it requires one.

      And yeah I agree using an in line during a muzzleloader season is just an overly complex single shot rifle. Which is why I enjoy using cap locks and flintlocks. Some argue the cap lock blurs the line but it still makes it fun.

      • Cap locks were a common retrofit for flintlock rifles. There are many Harper’s Ferry smooth bore .65 muskets still floating around that were converted in the 1830s and 40s to caplock. That makes the technology over 170 years old, so to me there is no blurring; they are just as authentic as flintlocks, just a “newer.”

        • I’ve seen a few flintlock conversions on some muskets. It certainly would have improved ignition in adverse conditions.

        • They got a “hardware update” hahahaha

          My implication with percussion locks blurring the line was that percussion lock rifles were one of the first to make use of scopes in place of of traditional iron sights. (side note, Sir Isaac Newton mounted a scope on a flintlock rifle!) When you start using scopes they start feeling more like modern rifles. That’s more of what I was getting at. I think Traditions Inc. made one percussion rifle that was drilled and tapped so it could take Weaver style scope bases and therefore a modern style scope. Now THAT’S an abomination!

  2. You can honestly call it “black powder” but how can you call it a “muzzle loader” if it’s charged from the breach?

    • When Pyrodex pellets are used, it can’t even be called blackpowder. Not my style, but, whatever floats your boat. You know, the one that didn’t sink in that tragic accident.

      • To expand, the primer fires from the breech in line with the bore, unlike flintlocks and percussion rifles that have the primer flame entering the bore from the side. The powder and ball are all loaded from the muzzle.

  3. Apparently mr Zimmerman is not well versed in the field of muzzleloader knowledge. There are currently several other muzzleloaders that are better than three of the five he touted, but then again I would not be surprised to learn that he is on the payroll of some of those companies.

      • The Ruger 77-50 or the original Rem ML 700, in either case with the Badger Ridge conversion using 209 shotgun primers and Blackhorn powder.

  4. To the author. Pennsylvania doesn’t have a “primative weapon season” They have a flintlock only season, it runs from the day after Christmas till the second weekend in January statewide. It stays open until the last weekend in January in certain areas. They’re the only state that has one. In it you can only use flintlock rifles, pistols and smoothbores. You can carry one rifle or smooth rifle, and one pistol. You also are not required to wear orange which allows the people who want to wear 18th century hunting garb to do so. Think of it as a reenactor friendly hunting season, you can dress up in buck skins, hunting frocks, etc.

    Now Mississippi and Louisiana have “primative weapon” seasons which in addition to muzzleloaders also allow the use on breech loading single shot weapons. Metallic cartridge or otherwise. Other requirements for those seasons are that the gun must have an external hammer and that they must be .35 Cal or larger. I would hardly consider single shot breech loading rifles “primative” especially since that means the T/C encore/contender would be legal with it’s external hammer.

    Point is do your research.

    • Dan, a T.C. Encore is not a breach loader. It’s loaded through the muzzle. The primer is placed by breaking open the action. A Remington Rolling Block is breach loader. Defined by the fact that a metallic cartridge is loaded into the breach. There were some non-metallic cartridge breech loaders, but they never gained widespread popularity. Do your research. Anyway, I’ve owned several muzzleloaders over the years beginning with a traditional Hawken style rifle. Later, an inline. Graduating to a stainless T.C. Encore with camo synthetic furniture. Topped it with a Leupold ML scope. Shoot Hornady 250 polymer tipped bullets backed by three 50 gr pellets. 1 1/2-2″ groups at 100 yards. Hold on hair out to 200 yards. Longest shot. A nice 8 pt at 225 yards. I’m a history buff and appreciate the traditional weapons, but for me it’s about extending the season.

      • Technically a Thompson Center Encore can be either a muzzleloader or a breech loader depending on what barrel you have on it. That’s why they require the background check to purchase them. That “FX” varient is the one exception that is a muzzleloader only. When I refer to the encore in my previous comment it was as a single shot breech loading rifle. My point being that you could use it as a muzzleloader or a breech loader in the same season.

        The point of “do your research” was the fact that Louisiana and Mississippi have a quote “primative weapon season” which with what is permitted hardly seems primative. To me at least. The Author refers to Pennsylvania having a primative weapon season, which is a broad label. Pennsylvania has what they refer to as a Flintlock season, NOT a “primative weapon” season

  5. Ive owned 2 of these guns and neither one shot worth a damn but I did manage to take a nice 8 pt with the Remy. Sold both guns without any remorse other than the money I lost. No more smoke poles for me.

    • Can you elaborate on “didn’t shoot worth a damn” ? I presume you couldn’t get it to shoot a good group.

      • Never could get either one to shoot the same point of impact from shot to shot, day to day within about 4 to 8″. Get one kinda zeroed one day and come back the next and it’s 8″ off. I went thru projectiles, sabots, charge pellets, etc. 8 moa at 100yds is minute of deer but just did not inspire confidence in me. I’m used to putting everything inside an inch at 100yds with my hunting rifles and shooting bug holes with my BR rifles. Muzzle loading was maddening to me.

    • Muzzle loading rifles are finicky and require some work in finding the right load and the right sized patch (if shooting patched ball versus sabotted bullet). The old rifles usually had a twist rate of 1 in 64 (compared to the modern 1 in 25), and they do not shoot sabots worth a damn. Further, they are sensitive to how much powder is used and how thick the patch is,; it can take a while to get it right. You can’t just go out and load 150 grains of powder and expect to hit anything. Instead, most shoot better with a max of 100 grains, with most accurate loads somewhere around 75 grains. This is more than sufficient, no matter what the power jockies believ;, the .57 cal Springfield used in the Civil War was originally loaded with ball, and later with the Minie ball (a cone shaped projectile) with 75 grains of powder, and they were capable of killing a man at 300 yards.
      The same is true for cap and ball pistols. Although they have a larger capacity, most shoot better with a smaller powder load. The .36 will hold 25 grains, but is best shot at around 20, the .44 will hold 35 but is best shot at around 28 to 30 grains.

      I suspect that there wasn’t a pioneer, colonist, or Revolutionary who shot a deer with anything approaching 100 grains of powder; in fact, I doubt the barrels of the age would hold such a charge without exploding. But they still managed to take plenty of deer and bear, etc. Then again, I think they were good enough hunters that they never found it necessary to try to knock down dinner at 300 yards.

      • The Standard load for the American Civil war rifle musket was actually 60 grains of 2F. This varied a little depending on the arsenal that made it, I have seen some ammo boxes that had 65 grains of powder stenciled on them. 75 grains would have been considered a hot load, least in a .58/.577

        I personally actually load my Euroarms 1863 type I Springfield rifle musket with 80 grains of 2F Swiss black powder as my hunting load. That’s under a 460 grain “old style” Minie made by Lyman

  6. All but one of these are abominations which serve no purpose except to circumvent the original spirit of the muzzleloader hunting season. If you’re gonna hunt with a muzzleloader it should be a traditional muzzleloader, not what amounts to a bastardized centerfire.

    I’m surprised that muzzleloader seasons haven’t been abolished totally thanks to these devices. Though oddly, the trend in government seems rather to promote them, so as to gain more revenue from lazy modern hunters via the extra season.

    • Did it ever occur to you that the government allowed them because they wanted people out in the woods?

      Personally, I don’t shoot Muzzleloader season because it is a huge PITA even with these new devices. If most people had to master flintlocks to go hunting, muzzleloader seasons would quickly disappear for lack of interest.

        • I visited the backwoods of Pa (outside of Warren) when I was in 7th grade. My father’s cousin took me out with a spotlight and I could see the deer running through trees that seemed to me couldn’t be more than a hands-width apart. For one, I couldn’t figure out how the deer could do that, and for two, I couldn’t see how you could actually shoot one through all those trees!

    • If you’re not traditionally hunting game with a rock or a spear then you can STFU about traditions… Atl Atl’s are too modern…

    • I guess I have three reactions: 1) from your lips to God’s ears; 2) do we all have to wear a coonskin cap too?; and 3) kinda like as a skier I feel about snowboarders (now at least, upon mature reflection), hey, they’ve bought a lift ticket too, not in the sense of rights, etc., but in the sense of sufficient revenue to keep the hill in business (former opinion: how does a snowboarder introduce himself to a skier? “sorry, dude”).

  7. Several of Lyma’sn rifles are made by Investarms in Italy. Go back a few years and Cabelas offered an Investarms rifle very similar to Lyman’s current trade rifle (the Lyman deletes the patch box). I have one of those Cabelas rifles in .54 and it is fantastic. It is a joy to shoot, has held up well for many years, has a quite good set trigger and has been involved in punching a few fatal holes in a few elk. I know there are some more ‘advanced’ muzzies on this list but, for my money, the Lyman would be the girl to take home.

    • Not sure how Lyman’s became Lyma’sn. Brain speed and finger speed out of calibration apparently.

  8. Seems to me it’s a question of personal taste. If you want to experience it all kind of similar to your ancestors, you buy a flintlock, or a percussion cap black powder gun. No right or wrong to it, just a matter of personal interest.

    Now if it isn’t just that, maybe you want to have additional hunting season opportunities? Well, you can hunt out to 100 yards with practice. Maybe a bit further, if you are good enough.

    But maybe you aren’t entirely into the 150 to 200 or more year old tech appeal?

    So, you buy the latest advances. The newest tech that squeezes greater shoot’n performance out of black powder. No lead ball or mini-ball for you, you buy modern bullets with gas checks and ballistic nose inserts. Use a gun that takes a large rifle primer for the hotter, more powerful flash. Rifled barrels of precision unknown in 1776. With skill and practice, you have a 100 to 300 yard rifle.

    Like I said, no right or wrong to it. Pick what appeals to you and enjoy.

    That’s the point after all, isn’t it?

    • Yes, as your comment and reaction reflects the greater flaw gun lovers often fall into, we need to avoid these circular firing squads. The real enemy is not the other guy with the different gun, it’s the other guy (and sadly suburban gal) who wants to take away both yours and that other guy’s different gun. These are perilous times for all of us. Have you watched Mutter Pelosi on TV lately, since she again became Speaker? That should get you thinking.

  9. Do you nose in-the-air traditionalist snobs know that in-line muzzleloaders go back to 1730? Poland had a gun maker that made flintlocks in-line. No, the fancy Remington is NOT comparable to a bolt action centerfire .30 rifle. You’re not going to make 1,000 yard shots with the 700ML. I use an Optima because I hunt in the foulest weather and I will not risk a hang-fire or have to waste all that work I put into the hunt on a hammer smacking and not discharging the load and spooking the quarry.

    • Did I know that in lines go back to 1730? Yes I did! That fact was in the Complete Hunter series of books on muzzleloader hunting.

      Also in case you are unaware, the 700ML is actually completely different from the one in the authors list. The 700ML was asthetically a Remington 700. It came out in the 90s and was able to use percussion caps or 209 primers (with or with out the disks) depending on what setup you used, there were conversion kits to change what primer you could use. Now the one listed in the article is know as the Ultimate 700 muzzleloader. It is a true Rem 700 short action with a muzzleloading barrel fitted to it. The breech plug takes little cartridge casings that kinda look like and are about the size of a 45 ACP casing. That allows it to use large magnum rifle primers which are supposed to be hotter then magnum 209 primers. The fact they are used in conjunction with that brass casing make the muzzleloader easier to prime since the casing is much larger them a 209 primer which is what most in lines on the market use. And yes, neither are going to reach 1000 yards. Neither advertise being able to. Not to say muzzleloaders are incapable of hitting targets at that distance. There are competitions that shoot that distance, and some of them use percussion lock rifles with Iron Sights!

  10. I have a CVA Optima muzzleloader and I really like it.

    My Optima is incredibly accurate with powder loads between 35 grains and 100 grains shooting PowerBelt bullets.

    And that also means that it is insanely inaccurate with other sabot/bullet combinations.

  11. I also have an Optima, it has a fluted stainless Bergara barrel and I love the will group at 150 yards. I use 150 grain Whitehotz,with Powerbelts .I live in shotgun country,but even when I hunt in a rifle zone I use it.One of my favorite guns that I own.

  12. One item that works nicely on hogs is a Ruger Old Army percussion revolver. More than one shot before reloading, too!

    • I know Maryland allows the use of cap and ball revolvers during their muzzleloader season so long as they are loaded with at least 40 grains of black powder. That load capacity is only achievable by the Ruger Old Army, and the 1847 Walker. Possibly also by the colt dragoon revolvers but I’m not 100 percent sure. Maryland has a code of ethics for weapons used for deer and black bear. Muzzloading pistols be they revolvers or single shot have to be loaded with at least 40 grains of powder, and 45 caliber or larger. Muzzloading rifles must be loaded with at least 60 grains of powder and 40 caliber or larger. Modern handguns must use ammunition that generates 700 Ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle (357 magnum loads from Buffalo Bore just make it over that hump), modern Rifles have to produce 1200 ft/lbs of energy at the muzzle (a 223 with a 55 grain bullet meets that, it just has to be of an expanding design), and modern shotguns must be 28 gauge or larger (no 410s allowed)

      • To add, Pa has a muzzleloading season as well as a flintlock muzzleloading season.

        According to the Pa Game Commission, I can use my cap and ball revolver during muzzleloader season even though it does not load from the muzzle.

  13. I started hunting with a muzzleloader last fall primarily because Pennsylvania’s early muzzleloader season is about the only time you can hunt deer with a firearm with a reasonable certainty the weather won’t suck. The CVA Optima was my choice for entry into muzzleloading and I was not disappointed. With the modern projectiles and powder pellets available now, the learning curve is a lot flatter and shorter than it had to be in the past. Do plan to take some time sighting it in and learning the loading/field cleaning process. I did have a successful season and will be out there with it next October.

    • If you’re like me, most everyone around me here in Pa hunts rifle only to during muzzleloader and flintlock, its all open, early season is nice weather, late season is usually good and cold, sometimes a good layer of snow. Hoping for snow this weekend!

      • Yes I had a whole food plot area to myself during early muzzleloader season on State Game Lands! It was great! Zero competition.

        Good luck this weekend!

      • The neatest thing about deer and snow, their superb camo disappears entirely, ENTIRELY, against a white snow. Not to mention the tracks they leave. And all the weenies will have stayed home and you’ll have the woods to yourself.

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