Nothing has caused such an uproar in the muzzleloader industry as the introduction of the Savage smokeless powder burning muzzleloader. New ideas generally bring new fears and the Savage brought many. Fears of guns blowing up, fears of DNR closing muzzleloader seasons, fears of hunters now taking 500 yard shots were but a few. After ignoring the entire Savage issue for as long as I could, I decided to give a call to Savage and get a test gun so I could report first hand my experience. They sent me a pair; one with the Accu trigger and one without. I have shot just over 500 shots out of the pair of laminated wood stock stainless steel barrels and here are my thoughts.
The Powders: On most burn rate charts there are between 100 and 120 powders listed. These powders are numbered fastest to slowest from number one up. Depending on the burn rate chart you use, the Savage functions between the numbers 40 to 52. We focused our testing on Vihtavuori N110 and N120, IMR SR4759 and Accurate Arms XMP5744. These represent burn rate chart ratings of 40, 52, 46 and 47 respectively. Using between 40 and 48 grains of any of these powders combined with the Winchester 209 resulted in instant ignition every shot.
In any load development situation, certain powders will shine better than others in a particular firearm. The Savage owner's job is to find the powder that works best with his particular gun with the bullets that he intends to use. I have not shot enough with any one powder to make a single powder recommendation. Any of the four powders listed above, N110, N120, 4759 and 5744 gave a full range of velocities with a wide range of bullets weights and ZERO MISFIRES.
The Bullets: Much has been written regarding .451 sabots and bullets being the only caliber suitable for use in the Savage. We have no idea who started this theory or what their motives were for starting it but I can tell you that our testing could not substantiate that claim. Our testing included Dead Center bullets in .357, .40, .44 and .45 calibers. We went from 195 gr..357 up to 340 gr. .45 caliber with all capable of shooting sub MOA groups when loaded with an appropriate charge of the appropriate powder.
Higher velocities and a quicker twist inside the barrel (1:24" versus 1:28") allowed us to develop a 260 gr. .40 Dead Center specifically for use in the Savage. Of my two 10ML-II, one shoots the very best using the 260 gr. Dead Center .40 while the other one shoots the very best with the 195 Duplex .357 Dead Center.
The Sabots: Much has been written regarding MMP high pressure .451 short black sabots as being the only sabot acceptable for use with smokeless powder. In our testing, we achieved the same results with all diameters of MMP sabot. We also achieved the same results with any of the MMP .451 diameter sabot. The shooter should be aware that "Sabot Failure" is achieved when the base is blown out of the sabot creating a donut effect. The shearing of sabot petals is not an indication of sabot failure, as some sabots including our .40x.50 and .357x.45 are specifically blended to shear the petals upon exit from the barrel.
The Sub Base: The new Magnum Sub Base from MMP is designed to fit under the sabot. Our experience using the MSB has resulted in improved accuracy and lower standard deviations. Use of the MSB will reduce the muzzle velocity by about 20 fps but in our testing the standard deviation is also reduced by as much as 50% with some loads. We do not load our Savage without the MSB.
The Vent liner: Depending who does the writing, vent liner replacement is recommended anywhere from 80 to 250 shots. I do not have any first hand experience with the concept of Vent Liner erosion as neither of my guns has required a change. The 500 shots through the pair of 10ML-II is about 50% - 50% with each gun and neither has required a vent liner change.
Cleaning: My shooting routine with the Savage is to do nothing between shots. I do not brush it, I do not swab it. I simply weigh the powder charge, dump it down the barrel, push the MSB onto the powder charge and load the sabot / bullet. Accuracy holds using this routine for about 90 shots. At that time, I remove the breach plug and brush the barrel with Brake Clean and a brass shotgun brush. Five minutes later, the gun is back together and accuracy is where it was before.
This, to me, is the most amazing aspect of the entire smokeless powder concept. Nothing to do but shoot the gun. Shot after shot. No clean, no fuss, no muss. The breach plug pops out with a twist of your wrist. No worry about fouling or crud rings. Very cool.
Rifle: Henry Ball, the inventor of the smokeless
muzzleloader that Savage builds under license, did a wonderful job of designing
the gun. Savage, on the other hand, falls a little short on building the gun.
The recoil lug of the receiver does not touch the stock. Some stocks miss touching the recoil lug by as much as .050". This means that the gun does not recoil utilizing the recoil lug but rather on the two action screws. You know your gun also suffers from this problem if your Savage shoots left and right. My Accu Trigger Savage would move almost 2" horizontally as it was supplied from the factory with any load and any bullet. Bedding the receiver was an instant cure although many Savage owners lack the tools and skill to perform the bedding job and competent gunsmiths will charge upwards of $100 to do the job correctly.
For a pillar bedded gun to be a pillar bedded gun, the pillar must protrude both above and below the stock. When the action screws are tightened, the receiver is pulled onto the top of the pillars and not into the wood. In theory, the pillar bedded guns will never move in the stock and will not change point of impact as the wood stock expands and contracts.
The Savage pillars are below the surface on both the top and bottom of the stock. They are not pillars; they are simply metal pipes inside the stock that the screws pass through. They sound great in advertising copy but have no functional use the way Savage installs them. The simplest way to correct this problem is to drill out the Savage pipes and replace them with a proper length pillar to achieve the pillar bedded advantage. This will probably cost an additional $100 from your favorite gunsmith where Savage could just as easily install the correct length of pillar at the time they do the stock work.
The method Savage currently uses to make the 10ML-II utilizes the rear guard screw to also act as the bolt stop screw. To clean the gun, you must remove the bolt. To do that, you must remove the rear guard screw. Once you do that, your action is no longer held securely in the stock. Why not install a third screw to hold the receiver in place so removal of the bolt stop screw will not effect the positioning of the gun in the stock? I'm sure that when the receiver is being machined, a third 1/4"x28 thread hole and screw would not cost Savage more than $1 but get the same gunsmith to install it with a pillar and you have just spent another $100.
I guess I just do not understand why Savage, who has the exclusive manufacturing rights to the most trouble free, most potentially accurate muzzleloader ever designed, would stop a couple of bucks short of building the best muzzleloader the world has ever known.
In closing: The Savage 10ML-II is potentially the most powerful, most accurate, most trouble-free muzzleloader commercially available. Out of the box it is easily a 2 MOA muzzleloader. Once tweaked, the Savage is clearly in a league of it's own. Smokeless powder in muzzleloaders is a radical concept that will never appeal to everyone but I will tell you that there will always be room for a Savage in my muzzleloader collection. The Savage 10ML-II makes every other commercial muzzleloader just a muzzleloader.
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