For many years the muzzleloader rifle market was driven by innovation. Each new year brought technology and design changes that boosted performance and advanced the sport.
Of course, it was inevitable that this would plateau at some point. For some time now, we have witnessed, with a few exceptions, a race to the bottom as guns were sold in clamshells at lower and lower price points.
I have been writing about muzzleloaders for a very long time, before in-lines, substitute propellants and sabot bullets. I love exploring the technical side of these guns and any meaningful advances in the sport. But, honestly, I had lost interest. What passed for “innovation” were mostly gimmicks, and it’s been a while since I reviewed a muzzleloader rifle.
I try to stay current on hunting trends, and among the big-woods hunters in the Northeast I was seeing the Woodman Arms Patriot muzzleloader mentioned a lot. Trends come and go and are often driven by personalities. If you can get one of the big-name trackers to use your gun, it creates sales in the target market. But then I noticed some hunters I know and respect—guys who use what works, not what’s trendy—were using this gun. So, I thought maybe it was time to take a look.
The needs and wants of the big-woods hunter are much the same for any muzzleloader hunter. A lightweight rifle that is dependable and accurate works most anyplace. This gun has a 24-inch barrel, which is easy to use in the thick woods, inside a blind or in a treestand. That’s a bit stubby for a muzzleloader barrel, but before you scoff, look at the bullet velocities we were getting. I didn’t believe they were possible either until I saw it for myself.
Timmy Bolduc handles PR for Woodman Arms, and he told me that 90 percent of the guns sold are .45 caliber. I remember the first .45 fad and the huge disappointments in the woods. Back then, bullets were the problem and, as Timmy pointed out, they have gotten better. So, I opted for the .45.
Woodman Arms claims it’s the most accurate and most reliable muzzleloader on the market. Big talk, but can they back it up? After shooting a lot of holes in targets with several of their guns, I think they can. At least the accuracy end of the equation.
Reliability for my range test was 100 percent, but the proof is in the woods. It’s a closed breech design, which keeps the water out of the important stuff. So, based on half a century of muzzleloader use, I think they are correct on the reliability as well if the shooter takes care to seal the muzzle and primer.
Like any muzzleloader, the Patriot can be fussy, yet I found that with a little tuning it will reward you with groups you can’t believe. One half MOA is unheard of with a muzzleloader, unless it’s a lucky fluke. Still, I have shot enough ½ MOA groups to know it’s not a fluke. The average of the three best loads I tested came out slightly under 1 MOA. One MOA muzzleloaders mostly exist on the Internet, but this one is the real deal.
Testing three different guns, we were able to attain MOA accuracy with specific loads in each of them. Mark Woodman told me he designed the gun to use Blackhorn 209 propellant. There is no question that it is by far the top choice. I only wish it existed. My buddy Justin Schrader at Hodgdon had a can hidden in his desk that he sent me, but I exhausted the supply quickly.
Then I met Woodman Arms super fan Jeff Hayes on Facebook. He bought one of the first rifles and now has several. He has shot and hunted with the Woodman Patriot likely more than anybody alive. One of his guns has nearly 3,000 rounds through it. It turned out that he lives in New York, just over the border from me. So, we met at Proctor Fish and Game Club and he brought Blackhorn 209 powder, bullets, guns and a ton of experience.
I tried other propellants, including Triple 7 pellets, and those I tried worked fine, with no surprises, but there were no MOA groups, either. With Blackhorn 209 however, this gun shines.
I know, there isn’t any Blackhorn 209 on the market right now. Aaron Olger with Hodgdon told me it is due to all the supply chain issues. According to him, they are only able to get a portion of what they order. There is some in the pipeline, but my advice is to buy the powder anytime you see it for sale. It’s going to remain in short supply for a while.
The Woodman Arms Patriot muzzleloader is a hammerless, break action that pivots on a hinge pin. The 24-inch, 416 stainless steel barrel is coated with Melonite, including inside the bore for corrosion protection.
The breech plug and many other action components are 17-4 stainless steel, which is very corrosion resistant. This is part of what the premium price buys: only the very best materials. The receiver is anodized aluminum to keep weight down. The gun opens by pulling back on the front of the oversize trigger guard. Pulling it completely back also cocks the gun. There is a cocking indicator on the left side that also serves to unlock the gun so you can open it without pulling the trigger. The safety is a cross-bolt behind the trigger.
The stock and fore-end are walnut, and the fore-end is sculpted to make it smaller where the hand fits to carry and larger where the hand grips to shoot. Both have laser cut checkering and the fore-end has the Woodman Arms logo inside the checkering. The trigger on my gun is outstanding, breaking at 2.75 pounds. There is a bit of travel, but it’s not enough to notice. My one nitpick is that the stock is designed so it can be used with a peep sight or a scope, and I find it just a tad too low for scope use. Not much of a problem, but it’s my job to notice these things.
Sling swivel studs are included as is a ramrod, of course. Iron sights or a scope mount are extra. I ordered the Woodman Arms scope mount and fitted a Leupold VX-3HD 2.5-8X36mm scope. This mount uses unique screws with a tiny hex 5/32 head. Once I found the right wrench, they let me easily torque them to the recommended 30 inch-pounds.
I can see why the Patriot has become a favorite of trackers in the big woods. It’s light, short and easy to carry. It shoots very well and, with the closed breech, it can be waterproofed to ensure it goes off every time. But, as I think about it, these are features I would want in a muzzleloader any place I hunt. It’s accurate enough to manage the open country, light enough to climb mountains and small enough to handle well in a deer blind. This is a gun that does it all. It’s at home in the Rocky Mountains hunting elk or in Maine tracking whitetails.
I have lots of choices, but this is the gun I will be using this fall for all my muzzleloader hunts.
• Type: break barrel, in-line muzzleloading rifle
• Caliber: .45 (tested), .50
• Barrel: McGowen Precision Barrels; 416 stainless steel; 24"; contour; button rifled; 6 grooves; 1:24" RH twist; Melonite finish
• Trigger: single-stage; 3.5 lbs. pull weight
• Sights: none; iron sights and scope mounts optional
• Safety: cross-bolt
• Stock: straight comb; walnut (tested) or laminate; length of pull 13.75"
• Metal Finish: black anodized receiver
• Overall Length: 40"
• Weight: 5.5 lbs.
• Accessories: breech plug tools; ramrod; front sight hole plugs; sling swivel studs
• MSRP: $879-$909; woodmanarms.com