by Paul Rackley - Friday, December 16, 2011
The arguments over flintlock or percussion cap, traditional or inline have existed for years, with few people changing their minds, even as laws have changed to allow modern muzzleloaders to be used in more places.
Traditionalists believe flintlock or percussion cap muzzleloading rifles and blackpowder is the only fair way (they even argue among themselves about which is better), while inline enthusiasts claim their rifles are just muzzleloaders that shoot cleaner and more accurately. Neither side seems willing to change.
One reason many hunters use more modern muzzleloaders is because they’re compatible with blackpowder substitutes such as Pyrodex and Triple Seven, which burn cleaner and come in both powder and preformed pellets. Blackpowder is dirty and very corrosive, requiring traditional shooters to take extreme care to prevent rust from forming on their muzzleloaders.
Thompson/Center may have changed all that with the Fire Storm, a traditional-style muzzleloader that can shoot blackpowder substitutes, combining old-style shooting with easy cleaning.
When I heard about the Fire Storm, I was immediately intrigued. Thompson/Center had created a traditional muzzleloader, in both caplock and flintlock varieties, that could ignite Pyrodex (both pellets and loose), as well as blackpowder—effectively giving traditionalists a choice in propellants.
The secret to the Fire Storm’s ability is the Pyrodex Pyramid, which directs the ignition fire around the entire base of the pellet and draws the fire through the center and igniting a “fire storm” in the breech. This allows a Fire Storm flintlock (tested), or a No. 11 caplock, to create enough spark to ignite blackpowder substitutes with higher flashpoints than blackpowder.
The Pyrodex Pyramid is part of the breech plug, which is removable to allow for easier cleaning. Basic breakdown is conducted by removing the wedge pin from the stock, lifting the barrel just enough to clear the recoil lug and pulling the barrel out of the breech plug hole. Then, the provided plug wrench can be used to remove the breech plug. Reassembly is just as easy in reverse.
This modern flintlock muzzleloading rifle is a great choice for hunters wanting, or required, to use a flintlock for deer. Because it is designed for hunters, it’s more weather resistant than many other muzzleloaders. Offered with a stainless or blued barrel, the Fire Storm comes with a black composite stock and an oversized trigger guard for gloved fingers. The Fire Storm has no place to mount optics, but comes with adjustable fiber-optic sights for taking low-light shots. It also uses standard flints, making it easy to nap or replace flints when they’re chipped or worn.
Shooting the Fire Storm was slow fun. Slow because it takes time to reload a muzzleloader, and fun because this was the first flintlock I’ve been able to really play with for an extended period of time.
Since a scope couldn’t be mounted, I decided accuracy was less important than reliable ignition; however, the rifle had to be accurate enough to bring down a deer out to 100 yards. To start, I dropped two 50-grain pellets of Pyrodex down the barrel with a 250-grain sabot and filled the frizzen with FFFFg blackpowder to see if the gun would fire. It did, with just a slight hesitation. I attributed this to overfilling the frizzen, which created a large flash that took longer to burn down to the touchhole. Only about a third to half of the frizzen should be filled for optimal firing. I remedied this problem with a Cabela’s Baby Flask, which allowed more control when priming the frizzen.
To be honest, it took some time to get used to the flash in the frizzen going off in front of my face. However, going through the steps of rifle shooting kept my face down and gave me more confidence, but occasionally I caught myself lifting my head and having a flyer down range. Of course, a huge problem in accuracy was caused by the Fire Storm’s extremely heavy trigger that weighed in at 16 pounds.
I contacted the manufacturer about the trigger and was told that this was not the correct poundage and that I should ship the rifle back for repair. Upon receiving the rifle a second time, the trigger was much lighter at 6 pounds, but it still wasn’t as smooth as I would prefer as it stacked toward the end of the squeeze.
With the improved trigger, accuracy greatly increased whether using Pyrodex pellets, black powder or Triple Seven powder. During accuracy testing, I ran a solvent patch then a dry patch down the barrel between shots, and completely cleaned the rifle after each five-shot group. My first five-shot group using 100 grains of Pryodex with Barnes PBT 250-grain sabots measured 3.9 inches. For the second group, I used the same amount of powder, but switched to 245-grain PowerBelts, which nailed out a 4.5-inch group. The third five-shot group was shot with 100 grains of Triple Seven powder using 250-grain sabots, which ended up with a 4-inch group.
In addition to accuracy testing, I decided to shoot the Fire Storm in simulated real-world scenarios to see how it would handle for deer both freehand and from a rest. In all manners of shooting positions, the Fire Storm consistently hit in the kill zone of a deer-sized target at 100 yards. I also had no problems loading or firing multiple times without cleaning between shots, except for occasionally wiping the frizzen to remove the oily residue left by the FFFFg blackpowder used for priming.
The Fire Storm will not end the debate between traditionalists and modern muzzlerloading shooters, but it will provide a good deer-hunting muzzleloading option for hunters who don’t want the hassle that comes with using blackpowder.
Manufacturer: Thompson/Center; (866) 730-1614; TCArms.com
Model: Fire Storm
Action Type: Flintlock muzzleloader
Barrel: 26” with QLA Muzzle System (blued or stainless)
Rifling: 1:48” RH twist
Sights: Adjustable, fiber-optic
Trigger: 6 lbs.
Stock: Black composite
Overall Length: 41 3/4”
Weight: 7 lbs.
Accessories: Breech plug and nipple wrench, cleaning jag, touchhole pick, allen wrench and manual.
Suggested Retail Price: $567 (stainless $634)
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