Above - Early 2000's Promo For The Savage Arms "Smokeless" Model 10ML-II Muzzleloading Rifle


          What "If" Savage Had Gotten The 10ML-II Right?

     Twenty years ago ... back in 1999 ... I spent more time on  the range that year shooting muzzleloaders than I had done during any other two or three year period of my life.  Some of that shooting was done with a Knight .50 Disc Extreme ... some with a Remington .50 Model 700ML ... some with one of the Austin & Halleck .50 bolt-action in-line rifles ... and some with three or four other .50 caliber in-line rifles that were popular back then.  However, the vast majority of the nearly 6,000 muzzle-loaded rounds that I personally sent down range during the 300+ days spent at the shooting bench was done with a prototype of the rifle which, in 2001, became the .50 caliber Savage Model 10ML-II ... and a custom built bolt-action No. 209 primer ignition in-line rifle which led to Savage building that prototype and several others.


     What truly set that custom rifle (built on a Howa action) ... the  Savage prototype ... and the 10ML-II that followed ... apart from ANY other muzzleloading rifles in existence was that the custom rifle and the following Savage built rifles were built to be loaded and shot with clean burning high-performance smokeless powders!  And that year, I shot close to 8,000 rounds ... powered by a variety of smokeless powders ... such as IMR-4227 ... IMR-4756 ... Accurate XMP 5744 ... Vihtavuori N110 and a few other medium burn rate powders.  The other shooting done that year, with the "other" rifles mentioned above was purely to compare the performance levels of "smokeless loads" with the Pyrodex loads shot out of the "non-smokeless" in-line .50 caliber rifle models.  (Triple Seven had not yet been introduced.) 

     While modern-minded muzzleloading hunters tended to like the flexibility of loading the Model 10ML-II rifles with any of the modern black powder substitutes ... as well as black powder - so could all of the other modern in-line rifle models.  It was the fact that the new Savage muzzleloader could be loaded and shot with better performing and cleaner burning "smokeless powders" that immediately put this front-loader in the spotlight.  To get velocities with Pyrodex charges to come anywhere near 2,000 f.p.s. required massive 150- to 160-grain charges of the powder ... which still burnt every bit as dirty as real black powder.


     A custom riflesmith by the name of William "Henry" Ball, of Greensboro, North Carolina, had designed the system which had gotten the attention of Savage Arms, located in Westfield, Massachusetts.  Using one of the company's single shot bolt-action rifles, Ball had replaced the center-fire barrel with a 1-in-28 twist .50 caliber muzzleloader barrel (using Ball's patented breech plug) ... then sent the rifle to me to wring out.  That shooting was done with 35- to 40-grain charges of IMR-4227 and Alliant 2400 ... which got a saboted 250-grain .452" diameter Hornady XTP out of the muzzle of the 24-inch barrel at around 2,300 f.p.s. - generating just over 2,900 f.p.e.


     I flew back East to Greensboro, and from there Henry and I drove up to Massachusetts, to shoot the rifle with the management of the company.  They were impressed with the great accuracy ... and especially the ballistics possible with light charges of  smokeless powder.  Savage Arms C.E.O. Ron Coburn announced that the company would put Ball's "smokeless muzzleloader" concept into production ... and a couple of months later, one of the first "Savage Built" Model 10 ML rifles showed up at my office in Pike County, Illinois ... and over the course of the next year I easily put 2,500 rounds through that one rifle ... mostly shooting 41-grain charges of Vihtavouri N110 or 45-grain charges of Accurate XMP 5744 behind saboted 300-grain Hornady .452" diameter XTP bullets.          

     That buck above left was the very first whitetail I took with a Savage Model 10ML, shooting 45 grains of XMP 5744 and a saboted 300-grain Hornady .452" diameter XTP.  The load was good for 2,275 f.p.s. - and a whopping 3,447 foot-pounds of knockdown power at the muzzle.  This big Pike County, Illinois buck was right at 100 yards when hit by the jacketed hollow point … which at that distance was still good for nearly 3,000 foot-pounds of energy.  The 260-pound field-dressed whitetail went down on the spot.


     For the early Model 10ML rifles, Savage used basically the same center-fire rifle action as found on their Model 10 single-shot target and varmint rifles … complete with locking lugs on the bolt.  Many muzzleloading hunters complained about the rifle requiring federal paperwork to be filled out … the same as with the center-fire cartridge models.  So, in late 2000, the company began the testing of a true muzzle-loader version of the action … without the locking lugs.  The model was designated the 10ML-II.  Another feature that distinguished this model from the earlier 10ML was that the newer version relied on a "Bare No. 209 Primer" for ignition.  The primer was simply slipped into the primer holding grooves at the face of the bolt … and chambered into a tight fitting chamber in the breech plug.  The earlier 10ML relied on a stainless steel ignition module, into which a primer was seated.  The module was then chambered into the rear of the breech plug.


     At that point, the ignition system of the Model 10ML-II was no longer of "Henry Ball Design".  Another earlier deviation from 
Ball's design was the breech plug that Savage re-designed.  To contain the high 40,000+ p.s.i. pressures created by the smokeless loads, the Ball design incorporated a breech plug that featured threads which ran all the way to the front of the plug.  The re-designed Savage plug featured threads only on the rear portion of the plug … with the front half of the plug surrounded by an air space.  The company was relying on those rear threads to push a front shoulder of the plug against a corresponding shoulder at the rear of the bore "tight enough" to seal off those high pressures.


     Before Savage made the change to the Model 10ML-II design, I had harvested nine whitetails with the prior Model 10ML design … including one buck at about 225-yards.  I went into my third season with the newer 10ML-II with more than a dozen deer to the model's credit.  During a late Fall 2003 hunt, the buck above right chased a doe into a tangle of thorny brush … with just half of the facing shoulder visible through a small hole in all of the tangle between the deer and my climbing deer stand.  I guessed the distance to be right at 150 yards, but had shot the deadly accurate Savage muzzleloader and smokeless loads thousands of times ... and as I centered the crosshairs of the scope on that shoulder … and eased off the safety … I had the faith in the rifle and load to squeeze off the shot … and watch the deer drop right on the spot ... without expecting anything less.  (That deer is one of two hanging right over my desk as I build this page.)    

     In early 2004, I wrote the book at right ... for Stoeger Publishing Company ... and wrote about a lot of great modern in-line "High Performance Muzzleloading Big Game Rifles" - but no other rifle featured in this book could come even close to matching the performance of the rifle pictured on the cover - the Savage .50 caliber Model 10ML-II. 


     The buck on the cover had been taken during the Nebraska general firearms deer season, at close to 240 yards, just a couple of months before I started writing this book.  The load used consisted of 43-grains of Vihtavouri N110 and a brand new saboted bullet that had just recently been introduced by Hornady ... their 300-grain .452" diameter polymer-tipped SST-ML.  At the muzzle, the load was good for right at 2,350 f.p.s. and 3,678 f.p.e.  This bullet has a .250 b.c., compared to the .181 b.c. of the .452" diameter XTP jacketed hollow point.  Thanks to that .069 b.c. boost of the polymer spire point, at the distance of the deer, the rifle and load still insured that the buck was hammered to the ground with more than 1,900 foot-pounds of retained energy!  

     At that point, there was no one more convinced that "smokeless muzzleloading" was here to stay ... than me!  Starting with the Henry Ball built custom .50 smokeless rifle, built on a Howa action, and the buck I took with the rifle on Christmas morning 1998, during the Iowa late muzzleloader season ... and ending with a December 2003 Nebraska muzzleloader season buck ... I had taken a total of 41 whitetails with smokeless loads.  Every one of those deer went down on the spot ... at ranges of 30 to 260 yards.  Those of us who had come to love the accuracy and knockdown power of the Model 10ML-II jokingly referred to the great wallop the smokeless loads delivered as "SLAMMIFICATION!"

     All of the confidence I had in the Savage Model 10ML-II and smokeless loads went right out the window one morning in August 2004.  I was test shooting, for Savage, using the same rifle shown on the above book cover.  Only difference was, I had recently restocked the rifle with a laminated stock.


     Savage had sent me a new vent liner for the breech plug and wanted me to check it to see how it affected accuracy ... velocity ... and how many shots could be fired before the liner had to be replaced - due to heat erosion.   One of my most accurate test loads had been 45-grains of Accurate XMP 5744 - and that was the load I was shooting.  

     That morning, I was shooting on a Missouri Department of Conservation range, about 20 miles from where I lived just outside of Cape Girardeau, MO.  There were more than a dozen conservation officers there for their annual handgun qualification.  One was an old muzzleloader shooter I had personally known since about 1980.  He and two other officers walked over to see what I was shooting ... and watched me touch off a shot on a new 100 yard target.  The shot had printed right at the top of the bullseye.  Then, they watched me load the next shot ... and cut that hole.  I had just finished loading the third round when they were called back to the handgun side of the range to shoot their qualification round.  They were about half-way back to that side of the range when I touched off the shot ... and had the rifle literally come apart just inches in front of my eyes.  

     Before moving the rifle, I snapped the above left photo of the catastrophic failure of my rifle ... then had another shooter I knew, with an engineering degree, take a look at the blown rifle.  It took him all of about two minutes to identify where the failure originated ... from that airspace around the front unthreaded portion of the breech plug.  The thickness of the barrel steel ... due to the recess for the front of the plug ... was noticeably thinner there than around where the powder charge ignited.


     That evening, I pulled the breech plugs from two other 10ML-II test rifles and checked them with a magnifying glass.  The so-called "sealing shoulder" of each was eroded ... just like the plug shown at right.  This plug came from a rifle which had about 2,500 rounds fired through it.  The barrel was then removed from that rifle, and the rear portion of the breech plug recess was machined away to allow close examination of the sealing shoulder at the rear of the bore.  It too was badly eroded.  

      Eroded Shoulder Of 10ML-II Breech Plug

     The very next day , I shipped the blown rifle to Savage.  I really wanted them to get back to me with their findings.  What I got from Savage Arms, especially from the company's C.E.O. Ron Coburn, were a lot of accusations ... including being accused of intentionally blowing up the rifle.  Several weeks went by ... with no answer to "Why" the rifle had failed.  The company ignored my e-mails inquiring about the cause of the barrel explosion.  Well into the third week following the incident, I called the editor of a major hunting magazine to have him return an article I had sent to him just a week before the rifle came apart.  That article centered on the "SLAMMIFICATION OF THE SAVAGE SMOKELESS MUZZLELOADER".  He said the article was a very good article ... and asked why I wanted it back.  I told him ... and he asked if Savage had sent out a warning of any sort.


     I was sure they had not, since Model 10ML-II owners were still e-mailing me about suggested loads.  So, I sent an e-mail to the half-dozen or so people at Savage I had been working with on the "10ML-II Project" wanting to know if they were going to issue a warning.  In that e-mail, I shared that if they did not, by the end of that week ... I was going to.  Immediately, I received threatening e-mails from the C.E.O. and one of the company's vice presidents ... about the legal ramifications I would be facing if I published anything about the rifle failing.  My answers to them was pretty much ... "SCREW YOU!"

     Within a couple of days, I published "My Model 10ML-II Warning" ... and in the following several months Savage went on an all out attack against me.  I shared a lot of that with the muzzleloading public ... and within a month, I heard from another 10ML-II shooter who also experienced a catastrophic failure with his rifle ... more than six months before the barrel of my rifle exploded.  Then, within a couple of more months, two more Savage muzzleloader owners got in touch with me ... to share that their rifles had also failed.  All three of these 10ML-II shooters had contacted Savage about the failure of their rifles ... MONTHS BEFORE MY RIFLE FAILED!  Two of those shooters had lost fingers on their left hands.  Knowing about the dangers ... Savage FAILED ME ... by allowing me to continue test shooting with the 10ML-II rifles WITHOUT WARNING ME ABOUT THE BARREL FAILURES THEY ALREADY KNEW ABOUT!  


     Since 2004, I've now learned of 19 confirmed Model 10ML-II incidents during which the shooter or hunter was injured by pieces from an exploded barrel.  I've also learned that some 300 Savage Model 10-ML-II barrels have been replaced by the company ... due to the barrels splitting open.  Other than Savage Arms ... who knows how many other Model 10ML-II rifles have failed ... and how many others have been severely injured by those rifles.   


     I'm writing and publishing this piece to alert all muzzleloading hunters who still own ... shoot ... and hunt with a Model 10ML-II rifle that Savage has done absolutely nothing to alleviate the danger.  The company was apparently well aware of 10ML-II barrel failures since at least early 2004 ... and not once did they ever issue a warning ... or a recall.  Prior to building this page, I have had several conversations with injured 10ML-II users and their lawyers, not to mention scores of folks concerned about the dangers the 10ML-II poses to hunters both young and old.  If you continue to hunt with a Model 10ML-II ... think about how Savage Arms has ignored the safety of their customers.  Every time you sight in on a target or on game ... just before you pull the trigger of your Savage muzzleloader ... wonder … "Is this the time it lets go?" - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING


      During The Early 2000's The Knight .50 DISC Extreme Shown Here Was A Popular Non-Smokeless Model

        The Cost Of High Performance

     The rifle shown in the photo directly above is another of the "High Performance Muzzleloading Big Game Rifles" featured in that 2004 Stoeger Publishing book.  The rifle is one of the .50 caliber DISC Extreme models built by Knight Rifles.  Hunters during the early 2000's tended to follow the maker's suggestions when loading this rifle for top performance.  A popular load for the .50 caliber DISC Extreme consisted of three 50-grain Pyrodex Pellets … a saboted Knight all-copper 250-grain "Red Hot" bullet … and a Winchester No. 209 primer.  At the muzzle of the rifle's 26-inch Green Mountain barrel, that 150-grain three-pellet Pyrodex charge would get that bullet out of the muzzle at 1,985 f.p.s. - and develop 2,187 f.p.e.


     Back in 2002, I did a cost analysis to compare the expense of getting this level of performance from the Knight DISC Extreme rifle … and the "per shot" cost of loading and shooting the Savage Model 10ML-II.                            


     Back then, a box of 100 of those 50-grain pellets retailed for $24.95 … and a 10-pack of the Knight saboted 250-grain "Red Hot" bullets would set a shooter back $12.99.  So, three pellets ran right at 75-cents for the powder charge … and one of the saboted all-copper bullets ran $1.29.  Add to that 10-cents for one of the red "Full Plastic Jackets" for the primer and 3-cents for a No. 209 primer … and shooting this rifle with the recommended Knight load was kind of a spendy $2.17 every time the shooter pulled the trigger.

                              The Savage Model 10ML-II Gave Higher Performance At A Lower Cost! 

     In 2002, a one pound canister of Accurate 5744 (then known as XMP 5744), retailed for $21.95.  Inside that container were 7,000 grains of powder … making it possible to get 155 charges of 45-grains each.  Per shot, that worked out to 14-cents per shot.  Shooting the 250-grain Hornady .452" XTP jacketed hollow-point bullet, which then retailed for $18 per 100, added 18-cents per shot, while one of the MMP black .50x.45 sabots added 12-cents per shot ($5.99 per 50) … and a Winchester No. 209 primer for ignition tacked on another 3-cents.


     At the muzzle of the 24-inch Savage barrel, this load was good for 2,275 f.p.s. and 2,875 f.p.e. - at just 47-cents per shot! 

     If the folks at Savage Arms had spent more time working to make the Model 10ML-II a better rifle instead of constantly cutting corners in order to build a cheaper rifle, my guess is that a whole lot more muzzleloading shooters and hunters today would be using cleaner shooting … better performing … and more economical to load and shoot smokeless powders - OUT OF RIFLES BUILT FOR SHOOTING SUCH LOADS.  One of the biggest fears back during the early 2000's was that the popularity of the smokeless Model 10ML-II would encourage others to try shooting smokeless powders out of other "non-smokeless muzzleloaders".  Savage even shipped their rifles with a hang tag proclaiming … "DO NOT use smokeless powders in any other muzzleloading firearm unless expressly recommended to do so by the manufacturer."


     In the end … to save a few bucks per rifle … by compromising the original design that had been presented to Savage … it is now costing the company millions  of dollars in injury compensation.  While there are still a few custom "smokeless muzzleloading" rifle makers building $3,000+ rifles, it's doubtful that another mainstream in-line muzzleloading rifle manufacturer will ever again attempt to harness the power of smokeless powder loads. - Toby Bridges, NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING  




      If You've Experienced A Catastrophic Failure Or Split Barrel With A Savage Model 10ML-II …

                                               Please Contact Us At -  namlhunt@gmail.com 


                        Published 4-1-19


                                 From Out Of The Savage Ashes...

     Savage Arms failed to capitalize on the superior performance of the Model 10ML-II and the smokeless loads which caught the attention of tens of thousands of modern-minded muzzleloading hunters.  The company's re-engineering of the ignition system resulted in a "built-in" flaw which created a dangerous situation for anyone shooting the rifle, even with the prescribed loads.  For those who continue to shoot these rifles with those smokeless loads … future failures of Model 10ML-II rifles are inevitable.


     Out of Savage's failure, muzzleloading still changed.  A few companies realized that what drove the rifle's short-lived popularity was the step up in performance it offered.  Another … very big … factor in what made the 10ML-II appealing was the desire of muzzleloading shooters/hunters to get away from the fouling left by carbon-based "black powder substitutes" … which required much more cleaning than the smokeless loads.   Sleek new polymer tipped spire-point bullets, like the Hornady SST-ML (red tip) and Harvester Muzzleloading Scorpiuon PT Gold (gold tip) … shown in the above left photo became the hunting projectiles of choice.   In 2006, the development of Blackhorn 209 was launched … and the "ultra modern" muzzleloader propellant finally hit the market in early 2008.  This is the first nitrocellulose based black powder substitute ever offered … upping velocities and energy levels … without creating those extremely dangerous high pressure levels ... with light fouling which DOES NOT affect accuracy.


     A look back to the early 1990's will reveal that barrels of about 24-inches were pretty much standard.  Introduced in the early 2000's, the Thompson/Center Arms .50 caliber Omega, shown in the above right photo, was one of the first to break from the "short barrel syndrome" … and was built with a 28-inch barrel.  That extra barrel length, coupled with a hotter black powder substitute, could get one of those sleek poly-tipped saboted bullets out of the muzzle at just over 2,000 f.p.s.  In fact, the buck shown in this photo was taken at 214 yards with one of the Hornady 300-grain SST-ML bullets - and went just ten yards after being hit.  My load was 120-grains of FFFg Triple Seven … good for 2,024 f.p.s. at the muzzle, with 2,712 f.p.e. at the muzzle.  At just over 200 yards … that buck was hit with right at 1,400 foot-pounds of retained energy … WITHOUT USING SMOKELESS POWDER!  Out of a longer 30-inch barreled .50 caliber Traditions VORTEK SrikerFire LDR or CVA Accura V2 LR, this same load is good for around 2,060 f.p.s. and 2,825 f.p.e. - retaining very close to 1,500 f.p.s. and 1,500 f.p.e. at 200 yards. - Toby Bridges 




(QUESTION?  Does anyone know of a blued carbon steel Model 10ML-II barrel failing?  Here at NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNITNG, all of the blown Model 10ML-II rifles we've heard about have been stainless steel models.  A couple of exploded Savage muzzleloader client attorneys that have contacted us have shared that independent metallurgy testing has reveled that the stainless barrels are compromised by numerous impurity inclusions … greatly reducing the steel's ability to contain the high pressures created by smokeless powder loads.)  


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