Inline muzzleloader manufacturers have toiled over research and development to build a better rifle since the first MK-85 hit the market close to four decades ago. And while there has been significant evolution and technological advancements, recent years have seen the muzzleloading industry plateau with little innovation. That all changed in 2020.
Engineers at Federal Premium designed the FireStick, a polymer-encapsulated propellant charge that loads from the breech of an inline muzzleloader. Traditions Performance Firearms worked with Federal Premium to engineer the NitroFire inline muzzleloader to accept the new FireStick.
There are many advantages to the new rifle, and charge, that will undoubtedly generate questions about the combination being an actual "muzzleloading" system. Like all muzzleloaders, the bullet is loaded down the barrel of the NitroFire and sits on a shelf. But that's where the similarities end. Rather than seating a powder charge behind the bullet, the FireStick charge, available in 100- and 120-grain offerings, is loaded into the breech and sits directly below the bullet with the break-action closed. There is no breech plug, as the FireStick replaces the need for containing propellant below the bullet, or for an insertion point for a primer. Instead, the primer is seated in the base of the FireStick prior to being loaded into the breech. Powered by the new clean, efficient and even-burning Hodgdon Triple 8 propellant, the FireStick is a fast, safe and incredibly accurate way to charge a muzzleloader. Each and every FireStick charge is built with the same tight tolerances as Federal’s factory ammo, taking accuracy and shot consistency closer to that of a standard rifle. And as a completely encapsulated powder charge, the FireStick is impervious to moisture, meaning you’ll never have to worry about a wet charge.
Other than being an incredibly accurate, quick-loading and easy-to-use rifle, the most significant benefit of the new Traditions NitroFire/Federal FireStick combination is the safety of the user. The NitroFire offers enhanced features like the Dual Safety System—consisting of across-block trigger safety and an internal hammer-block safety—and the new Elite XT Trigger system, whichincorporates a rebounding hammer and a captive half-cock and allows the action to be opened to load or unload the muzzleloader with the cross-bolt safety still engaged.
Using a pre-charged FireStick also prevents double charging or overcharging the rifle. The lack of a breech plug means the action can be opened, revealing a straight shot to look down the barrel to see if a bullet is seated on the shelf, preventing the user from loading two projectiles at once.
Unlike with standard muzzleloaders, the NitroFire can be easily and safely unloaded without firing a shot. Simply break the action, remove the FireStick and reload it the next day. If you need to clear the barrel, the ramrod can be used to push the bullet from the open breech.
To put the NitroFire rifle FireStick propellant charge to the test for accuracy and velocity, as well as to check the rifle's operation and its speed-loading potential, I shot just over a pound of powder via 77 FireSticks. The resulting groups, velocities and ease of use was impressive.
Using the .50-caliber NitroFire loaded with a 100-grain FireStick testing two different bullets (Traditions Smackdown Carnivore 250-grain and Federal Premium Trophy Copper 270-grain with B.O.R. Lock MZ System), I determined a velocity variance of less than 45 fps. That's nearly unheard of with centerfire rifle ammunition, let alone with a multiple-component muzzleloading system. As for accuracy, on an indoor range, the smallest groups with both bullets measured half an inch or less at 100 yards! Those results rival most centerfire rifles, and the larger groups (still 2 inches or less) were more shooter error than firearm-related. An afternoon on the outdoor range produced similar groups.
The powder was tested for cleanliness with 10 consecutive shots, with no noticeable decrease in accuracy. The barrel cleaned quickly and easily compared to most blackpowder substitutes. A timed speed-loading test was performed, and with a 209 primer already inserted into the FireStick, I was able to shoot, empty the breech, load another bullet, insert a new FireStick and take an accurate shot in only 17 seconds. The benefit of that second-shot speed in a hunting situation is obvious.
Despite its design differences, the NitroFire and FireStick combination is certainly a muzzleloading system. The bullet is still seated down the barrel with a ramrod, and the propellant is a blackpowder substitute. The NitroFire does not change the range, projectile or even ignition used in standard inline muzzleloaders. The benefits of this design, however, are obvious: The NitroFire and FireStick system keeps ignition consistent by protecting the powder, even during storage; the loading process is easy, and the primer can be left in the FireStick or removed without compromising the charge; the NitroFire and FireStick do not restrict the choice of bullets and 209 muzzleloader primers, meaning hunters and shooters can stick with proven favorites. As for its legality during muzzleloader seasons, depending on the definition of muzzleloading being used, some states will need to sort out where the NitroFire fits.
Traditions NitroFire Technical Specifications • Type: muzzleloading rifle • Caliber: .50 • Barrel: 26"; ultralight chrome-moly steel; fluted and tapered; 1:28" twist • Trigger: Elite XT trigger • Sights: none; drilled and tapped for scope bases • Safety: Dual Safety System w/trigger block and internal hammer block • Stock: composite; available in Black, Realtree Edge camo, Mossy Oak Breakup Country camo, and Go Wild Rockstar camo; LOP 14.25" • Metal Finish: Cerakote, stainless steel or burnt bronze • Overall Length: 42" • Weight: 6.6 lbs. • Accessories: none, scope and accessory packages available • MSRP: $549-$1,220; traditionsfirearms.com
Technical Specifications Federal Premium FireStick • Type: sealed polymer muzzleloader charge • Charge: 100 grs. (tested), 120 grs. • Base: accepts 209 shotshell primer • Features: Hodgdon Triple Eight powder; waterproof, manufactured w/tight tolerances and quality controls • Uses: currently only Traditions NitroFire accepts FireStick charge • MSRP: $26.95 per 10-count pack; federalpremium.com