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Instant Slamification:
The Savage 10ML Story

North Carolina has had its fair share of innovators and colorful characters over the years. Among them are such names in the funnel of firearms foundation as Richard Jordan Gatling, born in Money's Neck, North Carolina, and David Marshall "Carbine" Williams. Carbine Williams is the fellow who looks a lot like Jimmy Stewart! In auto racing, Lee, Maurice, Richard, and Kyle Petty should sound familiar. A "lead-footed chicken farmer from Ronda" happened to hunt coons and run moonshine. He was the subject of an elegant Esquire article: "The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes!" by author Tom Wolfe. Years ago, a North Carolina machinist and gunsmith by the name of Henry Ball used to race short track with one Ralph Earnhardt, father of the late, great seven-time Winston Cup champion Dale, Sr.-- Ralph himself an International Motor Sports Hall of Famer. It is out of this rich tapestry of fast and firearms that southern gentleman "Hurricane" Henry Ball strides forth.

September 20, 1990, may not be a memorable day for you, but it was a day that changed muzzleloading indelibly. On that day, North Carolina's Henry C. Ball was shooting his sidelock muzzleloader at the range, and its action failed. Henry, a southpaw, caught the metal screw from his sidelock's bolster drum in his right arm traveling through his forearm, finally coming to rest some two inches above his right elbow on the back side of his triceps. Mr. Ball underwent surgery later that day.

Henry Ball recalls vividly the injury that was near tragedy: for a fellow shooter was in perfect alignment to receive the piece of failed metal in his eye, causing certainly blindness if not death. Had Mr. Ball not been shooting lefty that would have sadly been the case. It was at this time that Henry decided that there had to be a better way, a more effective way, and a safer way to enjoy muzzleloading hunting and shooting. After recovery from his injury, Henry out to achieve his goal: a muzzleloader that was first of all safe, so that no one using his design could possibly face the type of injury he just had, due to a sub-standard materials and workmanship. While he was at it, he wanted a muzzleloader that outperformed any production muzzleloader made, and eliminated the type of hassles associated with the run of the mill smokepoles. The answer was clear from the beginning: smokeless powder used in concert with true rifle-grade actions and barrels.

Black powder is fundamentally dangerous to handle. As Major General Julian S. Hatcher, Retired, who succeeded Colonel Townsend Whelen as C. O. of the Frankford Small Arms Ammunition Plant in 1923, has recorded, "Black powder burns with an almost instantaneous flash even when burned in the open and unconfined. Moreover it is easily ignited by even a very slight spark, and hence it is much more dangerous to handle than smokeless is." Dangerous to manufacture, highly impact-sensitive, corrosive, and inefficient- the far safer smokeless powder propellant was the first successful blackpowder substitute, displacing black powder as a small arms propellant in the late 1800s. As a coincidental sidebar, the first cartridge for the Springfield .30 caliber service rifle, Model of 1903 was known as the "Ball Cartridge." Henry Ball claims his youthfulness as "proof" of it only being coincidence.

Using 209 shotshell primers from the inception, in a unique ignition module, Henry successfully adapted his smokeless muzzleloader ideas to the InterArms Mark X action for starters in 1990, following quickly with a Sako bolt action, an H &R action, a Ruger #1 action, and a rolling block. Someone told Henry it couldn't be done with the Winchester 1894 action, so he quickly did that too. If I gave Henry a ball of steel wool, he could probably knit me a Volkswagen! With a rich tradition of performance and safety as a black powder substitute dating back about one hundred years (Pyrodex was not developed until the 1970s. Its inventor, Dan Pawlak, died January 27, 1977 when his powder plant blew up), what could possibly be better than smokeless powder? How could a reasonable person not want a muzzleloader that clearly offered more safety, more efficiency, didn't try to destroy its own barrel and action with fouling residue and rust, and offered more humane game-getting effectiveness in the process? I can't answer that, but it is a matter of fact that those profiteering from the rejuvenated in-line muzzleloading market did the natural thing, covering their own behinds, and seeking to protect their own interests.

Many folks were discovering that Henry Ball's innovation didn't just harvest game, it slammed them down where they stood like no other muzzleloader. Hence, Henry's pet term for proper muzzleloading performance, "Slamification!" Knight Rifles passed on this giant leap of muzzleloading design, as did Weatherby (approached in the middle of a plant move), an assistant to Bill Ruger did likewise, and Remington-suffering from the "not invented here" syndrome, did likewise. What successful innovative jewels have sprung forth from Remington in the last twenty years escapes me at the moment, and Sturm Ruger, & Company's non-success in the muzzleloading market has made itself clear. Nevertheless, the opportunity was offered to these folks.

Henry's design was better than good, it was great-and captured the imagination of muzzleloading expert Toby Bridges shortly after its inception. Manufacture continued on a small, custom basis for years, until a discussion with President Ron Coburn of Savage Arms at the 1999 "SHOT SHOW." A short-action Savage was sent off to Henry Ball for his module magic, and the original Savage 10-ML was tested in June of the same year. In late July, Henry Ball took the trek to Savage Arms for demonstration and further testing. Apparently the twinkle in Ron Coburn's eye said it all, as the deal was done in February 2000, with some 1900 production Savage 10-ML's shipped late that year.

Perhaps the Savage 10-ML was too good? The Sporting Arms and Ammunition Association was lobbied by an odd assortment of non-SAMMI muzzleloading companies, seeking to derail the innovative new muzzleloader on the ridiculous, specious notion of "safety." Since the beginning, the notion behind the locomotion of the 10-ML smokeless muzzleloader was safety, so that deceptive dance was disbanded. Though the Savage 10-ML was designed to comport to the BATF's non-GCA guidelines of muzzleloader, the BATF apparently had a little trouble deciding what their own regulations meant, and the Savage 10-ML II was created to definitively remain a non-GCA arm, just like the cheapest muzzleloaders, and it remains so today.

The established muzzleloader manufacturers, who have yet to be able to agree on any standards among them, apparently were quick to agree that the Savage 10-ML II was a real threat-as it offered higher velocities, lower cost per shot, lower recoil, and a level of safety most non Gun Barrel Quality inline muzzleloading rifles could not have. Additionally, the Savage did not foul and corrode itself like other modern muzzleloaders. The 'other" makers responded with the "magnum muzzleloading" myth of three synthetic pellet charges, and various overstated brags of "7mm Remington Magnum" performance. In so doing, they have proven that the Savage offers no particular range advantage with their synthetic three pellet loads, though it makes the Savage even more economical to shoot by comparison. As a hunting tool, the average hunter has no particular range advantage with the Savage, as the Savage shoots the same projectiles as any other muzzleloader, and has the built-in barrier of the polypropylene sabots that gasket today's modern inline bullets.

Savage Arms, in this writer's opinion, has been a victim of their own success. Recently hitting a home run with their terrific Accu-Trigger, catching other rifle-makers asleep at the wheel in the process, Savage is in fortuitous predicament of having an array of some of the most sought after rifles in the country. As a result, the promotion of the 10-ML II has been lackluster compared to the relentless bluster sprayed about by other muzzleloading companies.

With a chamber tested to withstand 129,000 PSI, the Savage is easily the strongest muzzleloader ever made. It may well be the strongest production rifle in existence: it is difficult to find any small arms cartridge that can be safely loaded to even 70,000 PSI. It is a sealed action with no consumables, can never stick a primer, has a very low, economical cost per shot, and for 2004: will be the world's first inline muzzleloader that has a user adjustable trigger that voids no warranty. Hardly an unproven design, it is already backed by well over 12 years of testing and refinement. Its propellant array offers more choices than any other muzzleloader, with far less recoil than pricey pellets, and its powder really IS a powder-safer to manufacture, handle, and use. The Vihtavouri N110 remains the mainstay performance hunting powder of choice, now if we just can get our friends at Vihtavouri to make half pound containers available, good for nearly 90 shots, it will be easier for the average consumer to buy and use.

State Departments of Natural Resources around the country, who of course care about hunter safety and effective, humane game management tools-- cannot help but welcome the Savage 10-ML II with open arms. The States that have given the matter a fair and objective view, have already have done so. After all, it is patently obvious and the common evidence that smokeless powder is a safe and effective blackpowder substitute is no farther away from anyone than a new, factory box of shotgun shells. Right on the top of the box of modern shotshells, the type of powder charge is expressed in "DRAM EQ," "DR. EQ", or "DRAM EQUIV." This has always been shorthand for "drams equivalent of blackpowder," and has been marketed that way for 100 years-it continues to this day. Safer to ship, store, handle and use-- smokeless powder is the blackpowder substitute preferred universally around the globe. There is just no legitimate reason to deny the muzzleloading hunter this economical, non-corrosive, and far SAFER alternative.

I was very impressed with the Savage 10-ML II I recently tested, and the 2004 Accu-Trigger model neatly eclipses it. It is the muzzleloader whose time has come: for the knowledgeable muzzleloader, and the knowledgeable game departments around the country as well. A salute of excellence is due Henry C. Ball, Bill Ball, Ron Coburn, Brian Herrick, Paula Iwanski, and the team at Savage Arms-- as well as the Fish & Wildlife departments who have welcomed this TRULY better idea. It is destined to be the standard by which others are judged for the next decade, or several decades. For "Hurricane Henry" Ball, aren't you glad that you stayed the course, and that "Instant Slamification" is now readily available to the masses? I, for one, certainly am!


© 2003 Randy Wakeman.

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