The Savage model 10ML-II muzzleloading rifle is a bit of a wonder to me. For one thing, it is the only front-loader offered by a major rifle maker which is safe to use with smokeless powder loads. For another, it does quite well with black powder, and is less expensive than some black-powder-only guns. It does have some quirks that should be understood by anyone using the rifle, and of course loads should be kept well within safe limits. With a little knowledge, this rifle can be used very well.
It's Like the Savage 110... but not Entirely.
The Savage 10ML-II, as earlier stated, is unique. Though its beginnings were in a custom shop rather than in Savage's R&D department, design changes along the way have made this rifle uniquely Savage. Its operation is very similar to any bolt-action centerfire rifle, and it's even more familiar to those who have experience with Savage's 110-series rifles.
Unlike the 110 series, this rifle's bolt is retained by the rear action screw, making bolt removal less convenient, but like the 110, the 10ML-II sports a thumb-operated safety in just the right spot - the center of the tang. The bolt handle, cocking indicator, and AccuTrigger are all very 110-ish. The fiber-optic sights are a welcome departure from the 110, and are easily visible and very easy to use. They are some of the best open sights I own.
Like the 110, this rifle has the unique Savage locknut where the barrel meets the front of the receiver. Unlike the 110, the barrel is heavy and non-tapered. The shape of the stock and the feel of the rifle are very much like the 110, though it's more barrel-heavy than most sporter-type bolt-action rifles. The stiff ramrod looks like it belongs under that barrel, with an attractive barrel-type ramrod ferrule helping to hold it in place.
Safe to use with Smokeless Powder.
First, smokeless powder should ONLY be shot in guns that are specifically marked and/or recommended by the manufacturer as being safe for such loads.
Outwardly, the 10ML-II looks like many other modern muzzleloaders, yet the Savage is the only one (other than a few custom guns) touted by its maker as safe for smokeless powder. Extensive testing has shown that it is indeed safe to use with some smokeless powders, and in fact was built to do so. I'm at a loss to explain why others have not jumped onto this bandwagon, which I believe holds much promise.
While some scoff at this "new" technology, I think it's an intriguing twist on muzzleloading. If most muzzleloaders use Pyrodex or Triple-7, then why is smokeless powder considered by some to be unsuitable for muzzleloader use?
This rifle has not received the credit it deserves - mainly, I think, due to distrust of the shooting public. Some of that distrust is well-founded, while much of it is not.
While I was shooting this rifle at the range, a fellow shooter said he ought to try some smokeless in his in-line. I immediately told him NOT to, because his gun is definitely not safe for smokeless powder. I hope he believed me. But there are some in every crowd, and that scares manufacturers.
Shooting the 10ML-II
I first shot this rifle with black powder and home-made lead bullets. It did very well with them. I then moved on to smokeless in my testing, in part because the rifle is capable of it and I wanted to see what I could do with it, and in part because it seemed like a good idea. Smokeless is not corrosive, while black powder, Pyrodex, and 777 are. It's also much easier to clean smokeless fouling than black powder grunge.
I outlined my loads in my brief review of the rifle. I found that patching the bore between shots was necessary for the best accuracy, and I also learned that this patching was much easier to do with smokeless than with black powder. In all, I used three types of smokeless powder: IMR 4198, Accurate Arms 2015, and 2400. I found IMR 4198 best suited for my use - and again, here is the link to my Savage 10MLII smokeless powder loads.
I found the rifle easy and fun to shoot. In the next section I'll outline the special procedures I used with this rifle, because smokeless powder is NOT measured the same way that black powder & Pyrodex are. Aside from a different routine at the range, it was like shooting any fine muzzleloading rifle - slow and sometimes tedious, but enjoyable.
When I shot this rifle with black powder, all the routines were familiar to me. I measured the powder in a graduated black powder measure - the ONLY way to measure black powder and its substitutes. But when I moved on to smokeless, I had to use a new approach.
Black powder and substitutes are measured by volume, and smokeless powder is measured by weight. Smokeless powders vary greatly, so a given weight of one type vs. another can produce hugely different results, so attention to detail is essential. See the Measuring Powder link below for more information on this.
I already had a smokeless powder measure and a powder scale which I use for reloading ammo, and these were essential tools at the range. The scale was used to confirm each charge before I loaded it into the gun, and to fine-tune the measure. I used a c-clamp to mount my powder measure to the bench.
On a windy day, I had to build a barrier around the balance-beam scale so it would give an accurate reading. Other than that, it was just like shooting any front-stuffer. The lack of smoke and a bore with only a little bit of non-corrosive fouling were the most favorable differences.
This is a great rifle, with much potential.
(See page 2 for more info.)