In-Line Black-Powder Rifles: Knight’s DISC is our pick
Of a quartet of modern blasters, we’d buy the DISC and Winchester’s X-150, but Remington’s 700 MLS was too costly, in our view, and the CVA Firebolt had some quirks.
Several months ago we reviewed some flintlock rifles on these pages. Many shooters use the flinters much like time machines, to experience hunting and shooting as it was for this country’s earliest explorers and founders. But not every muzzle-loading fan wants to travel down the old road, so to speak, when there are modern alternatives. In this report we test four state-of-the-art in-line muzzle-loading rifles. Ignition is generally provided by a modern shotshell primer held in place by short-throw bolts, and fired by strikers within the bolts. There are no external hammers here. The in-line name comes from the position of the primer, located directly behind the powder charge and in line with the bore, instead of resting on a side-mounted chamber like on a traditional hammer-fired black-powder rifle.
We obtained four models. They were the Knight DISC Extreme DE706B ($704), Winchester X-150 Magnum ($345), CVA Firebolt 209 UltraMag ($300), and the Remington 700 MLS Magnum ($569). All were .50-caliber rifles with twist rates designed for sabot loading of elongated, sub-caliber bullets. In keeping with the most modern concepts of black-powder technology, we tested our batch of rifles with combinations of 50- and 30-grain Pyrodex pellets, rather than messing with loose powder and any sort of measure. We used the iron sights as provided by the makers, and shot at 100 yards from a bench rest. We observed no ignition delay in any of these shotshell primer–fired rifles. Felt recoil was similar in all guns. We judged recoil to be stout with the full 150-grain charge. It felt similar to that of a .30-06. It was much more comfortable with 130-grain pellet charges, which we thought gave less recoil than the average .308. Recoil with 100-grain charges was comparable to that of a .243.
The flash and sparks from the ignition of the primer were substantial from all the rifles except the Knight. Bystanders, especially those standing to the right of someone shooting one of these rifles, should wear shooting glasses and hearing protection. The sound levels of these smokepoles were comparable to that of centerfire rifles, but the sparks were a different story altogether. The Knight’s DISC system contained the primer, and thus limited the flash and sparks to about a quarter of that experienced with the other rifles. Here are other findings on a rifle-by-rifle basis.
The overall fit and finish of this stainless, American-made rifle were excellent, we thought. The laminated-wood stock had a Monte Carlo cheekpiece, and the stock had roughened wood (which the company calls checkering) on the forend and grip. The inch-thick recoil pad was fitted cleanly to the stock. There were two sling swivels, but no sling was provided.
The 26-inch stainless barrel had a twist rate of one turn in 28 inches. It was drilled and tapped for scope mounts, but no mounts were provided —nor were they with any of the rifles. There was an aluminum ramrod, and it fit snugly under the barrel. The fully adjustable sights were TruGlo fiber-optics, which provided two orange dots at the rear and a single green dot at the front. The sights were bright enough, but we felt the front sight was a little smaller than we would have liked.
The rifle had a short-throw bolt with about half an inch of travel. To remove the bolt from the Knight (as well as from the Remington), the shooter had to remove an Allen screw. The Knight had two manually operated safety devices. There was a safety lever, located behind the bolt handle, that locked the trigger when in the rearward position The second safety was a knurled knob that extended to the rear of the bolt. Turning it through about five clockwise rotations rendered the rifle incapable of firing. In that position, a red band on the shaft of this second safety was hidden. With that knob engaged, the trigger could be operated, but the firing pin was prevented from striking the primer.
The trigger pull was 3.6 pounds, with some creep but a crisp letoff, and some overtravel. The trigger was adjustable for creep and pull weight, but we used it as it came to us. We judged it to be very similar to the Remington trigger.
To prime the Knight, you put a 209 shotshell primer into a plastic disc, which was a cartridge-like insert that was easily loaded into, or removed from, the rifle. We thought this disc was the best design of the rifles tested. The disc not only allowed us to easily load and unload primers, but when it was inserted into the rifle, a small orange tab extended out of the chamber, giving visual indication that a primer was in the gun. Rather than having to use a capping tool or fumble with your fingers, one could easily insert the primed disc with its tab into the rifle, despite any state of fouling of the rifle or clumsiness of cold-numbed fingers. The Knight system always allowed a primer to be inserted into the rifle. The primer, within its disc, rested on top of the nipple when in place, but the other rifles required the cap to be placed into a chamber that got increasingly fouled with each shot. If you wanted to shoot many shots at a sitting while plinking or shooting competitively at the range, the disk-loaded Knight clearly would be the way to go, we felt.
If your locale prohibits the use of 209 shotshell primers, a small insert can be slid into the DISC so that #11 percussion caps can be used. The insert will also work in Knight’s new Full Plastic Jacket DISCs that provide a weatherproof seal (weatherproof seals are also prohibited in some states).
We had no malfunctions of any kind with the Knight. We found it to be pleasing to the eye, well balanced, and accurate with all loads tested.
Most Winchester firearms are made in the U.S., but Winchester Muzzleloading, which built this rifle, is a separate company, and the rifles are made in Spain.
The fit and finish of this rifle was very good, in our estimation, although the gray-fleck-finished stock was the least eye-pleasing of the rifles tested. The stock had a Monte Carlo cheekpiece, a palm swell, beavertail forend, and molded-in checkering at the forend and grip. The thick recoil pad was firmer than the Knight’s, but adequate. There were sling-swivel studs, and this was the only rifle in our test that came with a sling.
The blued (stainless optional), fluted, 26-inch barrel was drilled and tapped for scope mounts. The twist rate was 1:28. This was the only rifle tested that required the stock to be removed in order to see the serial number. The fully adjustable fiber-optic sights were not as bright as the TruGlo sights on the Knight, but were adequate. The two rear dots were red, and the single front dot was green. We liked the slightly larger front sight better than the Knight’s. The aluminum ramrod fit snugly under the barrel. The trigger pull was not adjustable, but was good in most respects. It broke at 3.2 pounds with slight creep and some overtravel.
The bolt travel was only about 0.8 inch. Removing the bolt required pulling it to the rear and rotating it a quarter turn to the right. The safety was a lever behind the bolt handle, allowing the rifle to fire when in the forward position. A slotted cup helped push the 209 shotshell primer into the loaded rifle. A capping/decapping tool was provided, to help install and remove the primer. We also used our fingers, but with some difficulty. We recommend purchasing a second capping/decapping tool (part no. WA0013, $4.50) as a back-up if you decide to buy this rifle.
CVA has the same parent company as Winchester Muzzleloading, which is Blackpowder Products, Inc. The guns are made on different floors of the same Spanish factory, and are built to different specifications.
The fit and blued finish of this Spanish rifle were good, we thought. We liked the “Breakup” camo pattern on the Firebolt’s synthetic stock, but we liked the Remington’s camouflage better. The CVA’s stock had a Monte Carlo cheekpiece and molded checkering. It was the only rifle of the bunch to have a plastic trigger guard. The recoil pad varied significantly in thickness, and it was not perfectly fitted to the stock. It worked well enough for light loads, but didn’t work well at all with the full charge of 150 grains of Pyrodex. We’d probably replace it.
Sling swivels were included on the rifle. The fluted, 26-inch barrel was drilled and tapped for scope mounts, and the barrel had one turn in 32 inches. The adjustable, fiber-optic sights on the rifle were as bright as those on the Knight. The CVA’s rear sight was two green dots, and the front sight was a single red dot of sufficient size. This was a reversal of the Knight’s and Winchester’s sight-color scheme, but they both worked well enough on our targets. The plastic ramrod fit loosely under the barrel. If you decide to buy this rifle, we recommend replacing the plastic ramrod with an aluminum one. The plastic rod bent too much, we thought, when we were seating the bullets.
The Firebolt had a bolt throw of about 0.8 inch. Only the CVA and Remington rifles had checkering on the bolt knobs. The CVA bolt was removable in the same manner as the Winchester’s, by pulling back and twisting. An interesting option was the provision for “three-way” priming, giving the choice of #209 shotshell primers, musket caps, or #11 percussion caps. The appropriate nipples were provided. The same type of capping/decapping tool was provided with this rifle as with the Winchester.
The trigger broke at just over 5 pounds, and we judged it to have slight creep and some overtravel. It was the only trigger of the test rifles with no roughened surface on its face.
The safety was in the form of a lever located underneath the gun, directly behind the trigger guard. In an important switch from the other test rifles, the forward position was “safe” and rearward was “fire.” The owner’s manual stated that it was not meant to be an automatic safety, yet it acted like one when the gun was fired. If the safety was put in the fire position and the gun was dry fired—or a primer was fired without a powder charge—the safety would stay in the fire position. But if a bullet were fired, with its attendant recoil, the safety moved forward to the safe position. A factory representative verified our experience and said it was just the way the gun was designed. That characteristic was not mentioned in the manual, and it cannot be easily changed, if at all. We found it to be annoying.
Note: There is a CVA factory recall for all CVA in-line muzzle-loading rifles manufactured in 1995 and 1996. The year of manufacture can be determined from the last two digits of the serial number (95 or 96). If you have one of these rifles, please contact CVA at (770) 449-4687.
The fit and finish of this American-made rifle were excellent. The camo pattern on the synthetic Monte Carlo stock was very well done. We wouldn’t want to lean it against a tree and then have to find it. The recoil pad was thick enough and fit and worked well, but we thought the Knight rifle had a better recoil pad. In fact, we thought the Knight’s pad was the best of all four rifles. Sling swivels were included on the Remington, but again no sling was provided. The Model 700 MLS Magnum came with a cleaning tube, breech plug/nipple wrench, ramrod handle and extension, Allen wrench, a jag and a depriming tool.
The 26-inch 416-stainless barrel was drilled and tapped for scope mounts, and had a twist rate of 1:28. The adjustable rear sight was a notch with a white diamond below it, and the front sight consisted of a small white dot. After our experiences with the fiber-optic sights on the other rifles, we thought the Remington sights were not as good because they were not as easily seen. An aluminum ramrod fit snugly under the barrel. The Remington had the longest bolt throw of the rifles tested, about 2 inches. Some shooters will like the longer throw because it’s similar to that of a typical centerfire rifle. It also allowed a lot more room to install and remove primers, no small matter if your fingers are frozen. The checkering on the bolt knob was very well done, which is common Remington practice. Removing the bolt required removing an Allen screw with the provided wrench.
The safety lever was located directly behind the bolt handle. Again, the forward position allowed firing. The same capping/decapping tool could be used on this rifle as was used with the others, though Remington provided one for decapping. The receptacle for the primer extended into the chamber more than on the other rifles, and we found that it was most difficult to get primers into or out of this rifle , compared to the other models, after some corrosion had built up.
The trigger of the Remington M 700 MLS was very good, we thought, in spite of its 6.5-pound break. There was no creep, and the letoff was crisp, with only slight overtravel.
Gun Tests Recommends
Knight Rifles DISC Extreme, $704. Our Pick. We thought the Knight was a first-class rifle. We thought its cost—highest of all rifles tested—was well justified. The wood was beautiful, and the fit and finish were excellent. Best of all, its DISC system set it apart from all the others. Knight offers variations on the basic design shown here, some with thumbhole stocks, and all are well worth considering. All of our shooters who tried the in-line rifles thought the U.S.-made Knight was the in-line muzzle-loader they’d choose.
Winchester X-150 Magnum W7000, $345. Buy It. There were no problems with the X-150 Magnum. We simply didn’t like it as much as we did the Knight, though we liked it a lot more than the CVA. There are also different stocks and finishes available. A visit to this company’s website (www.win chestermuzzleloader.com) would be time well spent if you’re planning a purchase.
CVA Firebolt 209 UltraMag, $300. Conditional Buy. Although the CVA functioned adequately, there were some things about it we didn’t like, such as the annoying fact that the safety flipped into the safe mode with every shot, despite what the owner’s manual said. True, you’d get used to this with practice, but we didn’t like the feature at all. We also didn’t like the position of the safety (behind the trigger guard), though we felt the buyer could get used to that also, and with the low cost of this rifle, some learning time would be justified. We also felt the plastic ramrod was unsuitable and would replace it. However, for a few bucks more you can get the Winchester X-150, which didn’t have these little problems.
Remington Model 700 MLS Magnum Camo, $569. Conditional Buy. If you want your muzzleloader to match the look of a Remington Model 700 centerfire rifle as closely as possible, this one is for you. There were no problems with this U.S.-made gun apart from the occasional difficulty in replacing primers, but we felt the Winchester represented a better deal for a lot less money.
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