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Mar 17, 2014

Traditions Buckstalker Review - Muzzleloader Hunting Rifle

Target Shooting the Traditions Buckstalker
Target Shooting the Traditions Buckstalker
The Traditions Buckstalker is an excellent black-powder rifle for hunting medium to large game. Accuracy, knockdown power, and an extended hunting season are all benefits this firearm offers for the budget minded hunter, especially in areas where high-powered rifles are restricted. With a MSRP (manufacturer’s suggested retail price) of $218, it’s a hard deal to beat. Just add a scope and you have a rifle that can easily take white-tailed deer within the 150 yard range. So, let’s get started right off the bat with some pros versus cons and then I'll give you some tips & tricks on my system of hunting with the Traditions Buckstalker.

Pros: 
Crack open design for cleaning, breech plug removal and inserting primers.
Crack open design for cleaning, breech plug removal and inserting primers.
1. Practical - The Buckstalker uses a proven breach crack-open design similar to the majority of other muzzleloaders on the market. It has a threaded breach plug that screws in/out for cleaning. This allows for a pretty standard mode of operation. The breech plug is made of stainless steel and accepts shotgun primers. The rifle comes tapped for mounting a scope from the factory, no gunsmith required. All you need to do is purchase the correct scope mounts (approx. $9).

2. Simple & Reliable - The barrel is thick and has a nice blued finish. The barrel rifling is visually outstanding (brand new from the factory) and can be easily inspected by simply removing the breech plug. As long as the firearm is kept clean and coated with appropriate products (I use bore butter.), it should function and last quite well. You will get plenty of practice cleaning the Buckstalker as frequent barrel cleanings are recommended :)

3. Accurate - On its clean shots, the Buckstalker is capable of considerable accuracy. I’ve experienced three shot groupings of two inches at 100 yards (2" MOA). This was with a thorough cleaning between each shot and quality bullets. The trigger weight is ready to shoot right out of the box. The pull was light enough that alterations for better accuracy weren’t really necessary. Again, no gunsmith required. It also has a standard push-button type safety.

4. Knock Down Power - I’d go as far to say that my Buckstalker will more reliably knockdown deer than any of my 7.62mm rifles. Yeah, that’s right! Nothing compares to the raw knockdown power of a .50-Caliber bullet, similar to that of a 12 gauge slug. That is pretty good considering the Buckstalker is more accurate and pleasant to shoot than any 12 gauge I’ve ever gotten my hands on. I’ve shot several deer with a Traditions Buckstalker and have never had one run more than a few yards. I cannot say the same for any of my other modern rifles. For this reason alone, the Buckstalker deserves at least an 8/10 on the "boom-stick" scale.

Shooting Traditions Buckstalker at Multiple Ranges
Shooting Traditions Buckstalker at Multiple Ranges
Cons: 
1. The factory iron sights are plastic so the rear sight can get jammed or wedged frontwards/rearwards even if it’s tightened. Admittedly both stay well aligned regardless of how many times they’ve been whacked in either direction. After dragging the barrel over tall grass and foliage, the front fiber optic bead cracked off the site post, which can be expected. Although the front fiber optic bead cracked, I can still use the front post with accuracy.

Traditions Buck Stalker .50 Caliber Muzzleloader Rifle - A Budget Hunters Dream!
Steel iron sites would’ve been better. Better yet, if they offered a rear peep site, In either case I may not have put a scope on my rifle to begin with. This is undoubtedly Traditions’ method of keeping costs down. Because I use the scope almost exclusively, even at close ranges, this is not a deal-breaker. I have yet to miss the front fiber optic piece that cracked off nor have I replaced it. Recently, I removed the sights altogether and installed a lower profile scope mount. (Just a scope for aiming now!) It gives the firearm a lower profile and prevents the barrel from catching on foliage while walking around in the woods.

Dirty Cleaning Patches - Fouling From 1 Shot
2. Fouling The firearm suffers from significant fouling every shot. I debated whether or not it was fair to mention fouling in a review on a muzzleloader since fouling is an inherent problem for all firearms using black powder. For this reason, I do not fault the Traditions Buckstalker but it is still worth mentioning for individuals considering purchasing or using the Traditions Buckstalker or any muzzleloader for the first time.

Factoid!  During the Civil War black powder muskets and rifles were made with atypical larger bore diameters in order to address the issue of barrel fouling on the battle field. For this reason, accuracy suffered. Today’s modern muzzleloading firearms are still prone to the same issue. In modern muzzleloaders, the bores are appropriately sized for accuracy versus repeated fire. As soon as the barrel is fouled (usually one shot!) accuracy begins to decline.

Muzzleloading Accessories
Muzzleloading Accessories
Tips & Tricks:
Bore Butter & Thompson Center Cleaner
Bore Butter & Thompson Center Cleaner
Cleaning - Even after one shot, most of the breech area, barrel, plug threads and firing pin plate will contain significant fouling. As far as the barrel is concerned, you can usually expect one excellent shot from a thoroughly clean rifle. The following rounds will begin to incrementally suffer in accuracy if the barrel is not thoroughly cleaned after each round. With the Buckstalker, you may still accomplish decent accuracy into the third round by swabbing the barrel with a wet patch between re-loading. When doing this, the second and third rounds should shoot accurate enough to make fatal hits on a white-tailed deer center mass out to 100 yards. Unfortunately, after three rounds, the barrel will need to be thoroughly cleaned with the breech plug removed.

To prevent gaseous expanding particles from jamming the threads during firing, the breech plug threads need to be coated with some sort of grease. Also, the breech plug will need to be removed, thoroughly cleaned, and lubed every three to five rounds without exception. Otherwise, removing the breech plug may be very difficult. I used to use a special purpose grease for lubing the breech plug but have since switched to using bore butter with moderate success. Bore butter is cheaper too!

Gorilla Grease for Breach Plug Threads
Gorilla Grease for Breech Plug Threads
Loads - With the Buckstalker, I use 100 grains of Pyrodex in the granular form. I like it better than the nuggets (personal preference). You can precisely adjust the amount of black powder you are using to optimize recoil and accuracy. One hundred grain loads seems to be my Buckstalker’s sweet spot. I store the Pyrodex in plastic, air tight beakers as shown in Figure A. They keep the powder dry and I can carry several pre-measured loads with me along with bullets, primers, and cleaning patches while hunting.

Let’s be honest though. Reloading in any decent amount of time requires American Civil War era practice. I could probably perform a single reload in a two minutes including running a wet patch after my first shot. So, when hunting, you will need to be thinking along the lines of . . . one shot, one deer!

Black Powder 100 gr. loads stored in air tight beakers.
Figure A. 100 grain loads of black powder stored in air tight beakers.
Using 265 grain Powerbelt slugs is a given. The rifle is designed to take a sabot, Powerbelt, or other hybrid type bullet. The Buckstalker barrel rifling has a 1:28 rate of twist. 

Therefore, it’s worth mentioning that you can actually load a .50 caliber patch and ball into the firearm but this is a bad idea. Although it can be done, it takes an ape to push it down. You will more than likely bend or break your loading rod (We had to try!). More importantly, the lead balls will fly sporadically because the patch will not catch the rifling as the rate of twist is too aggressive for a patch and ball. You need the plastic lip or sabot jacket offered by a more modern round to achieve desirable and safe shooting results.

Shooting - Relying on the gun’s first shot accuracy, I typically aim for the neck. The bullets themselves are large, heavy and at close ranges you can expect the bullet to fly clean through meat and other tissue. You will not likely achieve the high velocities of a modern high-powered rifle but you should have no problem killing a deer. Remember, high-powered rifles rely on wounding channel, proper penetration, expansion and fragmentation of the bullet to accomplish fatal tissue damage. With the .50-Caliber round of the Traditions Buckstalker, you are relying mostly on the wide wounding channel the bullet produces as it passes through.

.50 Caliber Muzzleloading Bullets
.50 Caliber Muzzleloading Bullets
When hit with your bullet, the target is going to have a half inch hole punched in it. Over-penetration becomes a non-issue because the bullet itself is already large enough to create a fatal wounding channel without expansion or fragmentation. But it's also worth mentioning that with the higher velocities of a this modern muzzleloader, the bullet usually fragments or expands anyways. Because of this, performance at modest ranges is outstanding!

Things to consider!
Stainless Steel - With all the fouling and required cleaning, some amount of corrosion is almost guaranteed. The stainless steel version should help prevent much of that and is still moderately priced.

Scoped - You can find deals with 3x9 scopes already installed on these rifles. Although I’d venture to say that I prefer a low zoom scope (like 1x5) on this type of firearm because it's not typically purchased for long range shooting. A 3x9 scope should still work quite well.

Final Thoughts:
Traditions Buckstalker .50 Caliber Blackpowder Rifle
Traditions Buckstalker & Barska Shotgun Scope
I’ve shot three white-tailed deer directly in the neck and spine with my Traditions Buckstalker. The bullets passed right through and completely shattered the vertebrae as well as leaving massive exit wounding channels (tennis ball sized) through the neck. The deer literally fell dead in their tracks! This is an excellent advantage when hunting in areas that don't allow the use of high-powered rifles. In Wisconsin, due to line of site, heavy trees and brush, the Traditions Buckstalker proves to be tactically sound. This puts it at the top of the list in terms of effective shooting during drives, in a tree-stand, or even waiting point at the edge of a field with some yardage to cover. Overall, I would highly recommend the Traditions Buckstalker .50 Caliber Muzzleloader Rifle!

What are your questions, comments, or experiences with the Buckstalker? Please share or comment in the comments box below.
Traditions Buckstalker On Display At Retail Store
Traditions Buckstalker On Display At Retail Store


18 comments :

  1. I have a question in regards to loading and proper equipment to have purchased. I purchased the Smackdown 250gr. ez load 3 petal Sabots, Tapered Copper Jackets, Remington Kleanbore primers 209's, and the Triple7's and White Hots for the Pellets, Should only 2 50gr. Pellets be used in the Buckstalker? The rod seems too short for the barrel do I need to purchase more items? And can this be used on Big Game as well? Bear, Elk, Moose, Bulls?

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    1. Two 50gr. Pellets of your Triple7 or White Hots should be 100gr. of powder and should be safe to use. For the Buckstalker 130 grains of Triple7 is the MAXIMUM load (at least according to our user manual). SO… if you wanted to try and get more power out of your muzzleloader you could break one of those pellets in half and add another 25 grains or so. 2.5 pellets should be about 125 grains. Be sure to measure as accurately as you can. You do NOT want to put 3 pellets in there because then you run the risk of cracking and/or exploding the breech and that would not be good or safe.

      Once the pellets break in half they make a mess and crumble and you shouldn’t really finger the powder up with your hands or anything else because it could cause inconsistencies in the charge. Use a clean dry butter knife on a clean dry plate or something similar. This is also why I recommend using loose powder with a clear measuring tool out of the container vs. pellets. It seems like more work but really all you are doing is pouring powder into a measuring cup.

      I ended up purchasing a separate fiberglass rod for cleaning that is full length. I also had to replace the original rod with a new one because I bent the old one on accident. When I load I usually use 100 grains and the end of the rod sits just above the muzzle of the barrel. This is because I left the replacement rod a bit longer when I cut it down to size. The jag or bullet end actually sits in front of the muzzle when the rod is fastened to the bottom of the barrel. It looks stupid but solves the problem you are referring too. The other option is that I have one of those plastic bullet starters… it has an arm on it that allows me to push on the rod into barrel and works good for starting the bullets and pushing hard on the rod without hurting your hand. It will also allow you to push the rod further into the barrel.

      I use around 100gr Triple7 or Pyrodex on white-tailed deer all the time and the bullets you are using should be plenty accurate and no reason they shouldn’t perform well on most animals with your Buckstalker… That being said for something large like a Bear, Elk, Moose or Bulls you are asking many hypotheticals.

      The Buckstalker can easily kill any one of the animals you listed with one well placed shot. But there are limitations to everything.

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    2. I can think of two major downsides to using the Buckstalker on the animals you just mentioned…

      1) Modern muzzleloaders like the Buckstalker try to attain higher speeds with their bullets to try and increase performance. Unfortunately, the modern but still big and heavy .50 caliber bullets are still prone to the same issues they were one hundred years ago. The bullets will not be moving as fast and will slow down faster than a modern high powered rifle. So you need to consider this when shooting at longer ranges. In fact I’d be wary to shoot anything that big over 100 yards unless shot placement was no less than excellent. Though this is true with any of the modern high powered rifles as well on larger animals and muzzleloaders it becomes a more important consideration.

      I’d also consider getting 130 grains of powder in your loads to be sure and maximize power. Keep in mind… Teddy Roosevelt shot and killed a bear with a .22 back in the day they even have photos of it.. That doesn’t mean it was a good idea or safe.

      2) The other thing I’d like to point out is that you are only going get one good shot out of your Buckstalker… Bear, Elk, Moose or Bull can all be very dangerous when startled. Even with an excellent shot rarely do animals that large fall over and die immediately. You have to consider that you may need a second shot to kill it and even worse you may need a second shot to save your life if the animal decides to charge or becomes agitated.

      With any muzzleloader unless you have civil war training you probably will not be able to reload your next shot quickly at all… even then a bear at 50 yards can close the gap within seconds. Though it seems unlikely I would not hunt one of these animals without some form of backup or safety measures in mind, just in case you expel your round and things turn south. My best suggestion is an experienced cool headed friend with a high powered rifle.

      Sorry for the book but I want to be as thorough as I can.. you don’t want to mess up a hunt because of bad information as I know how expensive licenses and traveling can be.

      Good luck! and let me know if you get anything, It’s always great to hear a good story or see a good photo.

      IsaiahC

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  2. Since I've been asked this many time here is a list of 8 items that you will absolutely need along with your muzzle loader to go shooting at the range. This is the bare minimum but enough to keep shooting till you run out of ammo.

    1) Black Powder and something to measure it with by volume.
    2) Bullets (Powerbelts are excellent for hunting cheap sabot slugs for plinking).
    3) Primers (209 shotgun primers work well).
    4) Bore Butter or similar barrel lube. Do NOT use traditional firearm lubes or solvents they will linger in your barrel and mess up your powder.
    5) Barrel/Breach cleaning solvent. Thompsons Bore Cleaner, simple green, hot water or spit all work depending on the circumstances.
    6) Patches I cut up old bed sheets and pillow cases because you'll need a lot of them.
    7) Cleaning/Loading rod with the correct jag ends. Your loading rod brass fitting is different than a cleaning jag. I use an extra rod for cleaning cause it's longer but you can use the loading rod that came with your firearm for cleaning too.
    8) Loading rod pusher. This helps start the bullets as well as jam the load down the barrel without hurting the palm of your hand.

    If you have these 8 items it should be adequate to go to the range and fire your brand new muzzle loader. Replace supplies as needed.

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  3. Things you may not need but might be nice when using your black powder firearm.

    1) Breech Plug Grease... you can buy it special but I stopped and just started using Bore Butter because it's cheaper and doesn't seem to make any difference.
    2) Powder Horn... these are neat wish I had one but not completely necessary unless you are reenacting the civil war or plan on shooting a lot of deer. I just put my loads in seal-able plastic medical beakers that I bought at a science surplus store for $0.37. They also sell something similar next in the muzzle loading equipment isle for way more.
    3) An extra cleaning rod... it's nice I use one but leave it in the case when I actually go hunting. It's more of a range item, it's fiberglass and longer than the loading rod. Easier to clean with.
    4) Coon Skin Hat... I'd leave it at home when you go hunting but anywhere else is just plain fashionable.

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  4. I am not an advocate of the higher grains of powder or need. My son shoots two 30 grain Triple7 pellets, 60 grains total. Scope on his buckstalker is set 1" high at 50 yds. He is a touch low at 100 yds. Most shots are inside of 75 yds. I shoot 80 grains of triple7 (50 + 30 pellet); pass through on doe at 60 yds last night. No recoil equals comfortable shooter that equals dead deer.

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  5. In the review Isaiah says "Using 265 grain Powerbelt slugs is a given.". I am only finding 245 and 295 grain Powerbelt slugs at two places I have looked so far. Is there a 265 grain Powerbelt slug or did Isaiah mean 295 (or possibly 245)?

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    1. Sorry I am using the 245 gr bullets. Didn't catch that had to find the package to verify. Thanks!

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  6. Just out of curiosity what type of scope is that? Referring to the one you have mounted, not the the one that comes with the gun. Very nice set up and review!!

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    1. The scope is a barska shotgun scope. ItItb is 1.5x5 power. Wasn't expensive but works great on a muzzleloader.

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  7. If you bought a buckstalker not knowing that there was a nw buckstalker can you just buy the nw breech plug and put it in buckstalker or do you have to buy a nw buckstalker to have the right breech plug just wondering if the 2 are interchangeable or not thanks

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    1. It depends on what Breech plug you are talking about. There is a newer Buckstalker™ Accelerator model that takes a specific Accelerator Breech Plug. This should NOT be interchanged with the regular/older style or Non-Accelerator Buckstalker breech.

      You can however purchase a new breech plug for either model from Traditions website. So it depends on which breech plug you are talking about purchasing. You will want to be positive that you are purchasing the correct breech plug for your firearm. Using the wrong breech plug or one not designed for your model firearm could be very dangerous if not fatal to the shooter.

      Here is a link to the breech plug for the NON-Accelerator Models:
      https://www.traditionsfirearms.com/product/209-hex-head-style-breech-plug-a1446

      Here is a link to the Accelerator Breech Plug:
      https://www.traditionsfirearms.com/product/accelerator-breech-plug-a1443

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    2. is there a "northwest version or adaption for hunting northeast states as does the CVA?

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    4. Yes Traditions Buckstalker Northwest Magnum is legal for use in the Northwest states like Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

      MSRP is around $329.00 Which is an excellent price for this type of firearm.

      I believe your concerns are related to these two restrictions in the Northwest States...
      1) Equipped only with a flint, percussion cap or musket cap. 209 primers are prohibited.
      2)Equipped with an ignition system in which any portion of the cap is exposed or visible when the weapon is cocked and ready to fire.

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Thank you!