In Europe, muzzleloaders are more or less the exclusive domain of traditionally minded sports shooters, re-enactment enthusiasts and other history buffs.
But things are different in the USA, where muzzleloaders are still used frequently to hunt. Some states even have separate hunting seasons.
So lots of manufacturers keep muzzleloaders in their programmes that, in terms of their features, have absolutely nothing in common with the antique implements of yesteryear and instead come jam-packed with the latest technical wizardry. From time to time they will even engineer completely new systems.
Thompson Center (T/C), for instance, a company domiciled in Sin City and belonging to the Smith & Wesson, that recently presented its model Strike.
This rifle marries a muzzle loading system with the altogether familiar – at least in Europe – principle of a break-action gun: as usual, the propellant and the bullet are introduced to the barrel via the muzzle. Then, like with a shotgun, the shooter presses a top lever attached to the tang rail and to break the barrel and the action – this up and down movement (whisper quiet for hunt settings) cocks the weapon; the top lever is pleasingly ambidextrous here.
Opening the weapon reveals an element on the back of the barrel that T/C has called the Adapt Breech System; inside we see the piston mounted at its centre: once the weapon is loaded, the piston is pushed into the corresponding bore, and the shooter closes the gun and is all set to go. This kind of weapon uses what is known as in-line ignition. This means that the piston is positioned in a direct line with the bore, which directs the primer flame straight at the centre of the propellant charge.
According to manufacturer information, other features of the T/C Strike include a particularly rust and abrasion-resistant Armorite-nitride finish on the 24-inch T/C barrel with rifling twist of 1:28”. The gun takes black powder or a standard surrogate propellant such as TripleX, and shoots either sabots or the customary elongated lead bullets. The trigger system on the T/C Strike has a delicate pull: our trial at the Industry Day clearly demonstrated how smoothly it breaks without scratching. The weapon is aimed using adjustable sights with fibre optics or a riflescope; the T/C Strike is fitted with a Weaver rail.
The multipurpose tool used to release the adapter piece and the hand guard fitted to the ramrod are other excellent features, for instance when working on the barrel. So what does it feel like to shoot the T/C Strike? We tried out a calibre .50 rifle. The rubber butt plate was an excellent cushion, absorbing most of the recoil despite the sturdy load (here Blackhorn powder); it was fun!