January 2009

Affordable 50-Cal Muzzleloaders: Knight Vs. Thompson/Center

It isn’t hard to pick a winner here based on our testing. In terms of overall build quality, accuracy, user-friendliness and reliability, the T/C Omega is at the top of its price class by no small margin.

Muzzleloading has enjoyed unprecedented growth over the last 20 years—unprecedented not just compared to its own prior popularity, but also compared to shooting sports in general. As of today, we have an estimated 3.5 to 4.5 million muzzleloading enthusiasts in the United States. Along the way, we have had offering of both good and bad equipment—some additions that have made the sport safer, more enjoyable, practical, and effective, and more than a few attempts that have not. The current story has its roots back in 1985, when railroad man William Anthony 'Tony' Knight named his first muzzleloading rifle the 'MK-85' after his daughter Michelle, and sought to modernize the sport. It took more than a few years, not taking firm root until the mid-1990s, but the pull-cock or 'Enfield type' action Mr. Knight employed proved reliable, and the Knight legacy began. Gary 'Doc' White, M.D., took a close look at the older Sir James Whitworth rifle and made his own Enfield-style rifles revered by many to this day such as his 'Super 91.' It is a good thing to see what you are shooting at, a very good thing indeed, and his modern treatments of ancient inline designs were more easily scoped, making the rifles both safer for everyone and more humane to use for those with less than perfect vision, meaning just about everyone. Thompson/Center, entering the firearms business with the production of Warren Center’s Contender, finally decided that its sidelocks were no longer competitive with the Knight and White products, and released its copy of the Knight/White style of rifle as the T/C Black Diamond. From the mid-1990s until 2002, things stayed very much the same. In 2000-2002, though, there were big changes. Master riflesmith Henry Ball’s patents found life in the superb Savage 10ML and 10ML-II rifles, a Thompson office-bet fling at producing muzzleloading barrels for the T/C Encore found surprising success, serving as impetus for the break-action craze, and in 2002 Thompson-Center surprised the muzzleloading world with its Omega, one of the most successful (and copied) muzzleloaders of the day.

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