March 19, 2021
Hundreds of new firearms and ammunition products are introduced every year, but few of those products are revolutionary. However, Federal’s FireStick is a genuine innovation, as is the new Traditions NitroFire .50-caliber muzzleloader that chambers it. Federal’s FireStick combines the primer and propellant in a single waterproof unit to make muzzleloading simpler, more reliable and safer than ever. It’s a progressive step forward in the evolution of blackpowder firearms.
The FireStick design is simple. Inside a watertight plastic case is a single charge of Hodgdon’s new Triple 8 powder, either 100 or 120 grains. Moisture is gunpowder’s greatest enemy. When wet, blackpowder will not ignite. Precipitation in the field is the most common way in which blackpowder is exposed to moisture, but simply transitioning between two locations having different temperatures and humidity levels, even going from a warm pickup truck to a cold deer stand, can cause condensation to form, which can lead to reliability issues. FireStick’s unique design protects the powder from moisture and offers consistent ignition regardless of the weather.
Dirty primer pockets are another factor that leads to misfires in muzzleloaders, but the FireStick eliminates the issue because the primer pocket is integral to the polymer case that holds the powder. The design allows hunters to insert a 209 primer into the FireStick’s base when it’s time to shoot. The primer pocket is completely clean prior to each shot, which eliminates the risk of a misfire. The FireStick also does away with the need to periodically remove and clean the primer pocket or breech plug, which can be a tedious chore.
Federal & Traditions Though Federal’s patented FireStick is a clever invention for muzzleloaders, a rifle was needed. The FireStick demands a completely new muzzleloading action, so Federal turned to Traditions Firearms to build a muzzleloader specific to the FireStick. That rifle became the new NitroFire, and, as part of an exclusive agreement, it will remain the only muzzleloader available to chamber the FireStick for one year.
To load the NitroFire, insert the bullet from the muzzle end and, using the ramrod, set the bullet against the internal steel ring that separates the FireStick and the projectile. Next, open the empty breech by pressing the button at the front of the triggerguard and insert the color-coded FireStick that corresponds with your desired load. Orange FireSticks hold 100 grains of Hodgden Triple 8 powder, while maroon-colored FireSticks carry 120 grains. Then, close the action. At this point, the muzzleloader is loaded and ready to be primed. Opening the action activates an elevator at the base of the rifle’s chamber and lifts the FireStick slightly for easy removal.
The NitroFire is made in Spain for Traditions Firearms by Ardesa (ardesa.com). These guns offer a long list of forward-thinking and shooter-friendly features. All NitroFire models come with 26-inch, 1:28-inch twist, .50-caliber chromoly steel barrels. The barreled actions are Cerakoted and set in polymer stocks, and all are equipped with Traditions’ Elite XT trigger system that utilizes a rebounding, half-cock captive hammer with dual thumb extensions and a crossbolt safety. When the Federal-Traditions partnership was announced January 2020, I expected only three or four NitroFire models to arrive in the first year, but Traditions currently lists 10 different guns including models with black and camo stocks, and “package guns” that arrive with mounted and bore-sighted scopes. The two NitroFires evaluated by Guns & Ammo came with a black stocks and Traditions’ 3-9x40 muzzleloader scope in medium-height rings. The setup weighs less than 8 pounds (unloaded) and carries an MSRP of $635. The same rifle sans scope costs $549, and prices for the packaged guns go up to $1,220 for the Realtree Edge model equipped with a SIG Sauer 3.5-10x42 Sierra BDX scope.
Worth considering, unlike many traditional muzzleloading rifles, the NitroFire requires that buyers to fill out an ATF Form 4473 prior to its purchase. Unless you have an FFL, NitroFire muzzleloaders can’t be shipped to your home.
Safety & Simplicity Federal launched a laundry list of new products at SHOT Show 2020, so Senior Media Relations Manager J.J. Reich was one of the busiest attendees on the convention floor. When I managed to catch up with Reich at that time, he was most eager to introduce me to the FireStick. The first of its features that Reich emphasized was not the convenience or accuracy potential the FireStick offered, instead, his focus was on its safety benefits.
“With FireStick, there’s no risk of loading a double charge or accidentally loading the wrong powder in your gun,” Reich said. “You can also simply remove the FireStick from the gun and there’s no chance it will fire.” Reich also pointed out that hunters can remove the FireStick without removing the bullet from the bore, and that eliminates the need to fire the gun to unload it. Also, you can instantly open the breech to determine whether or not there’s even a bullet in the rifle, and that prevents accidentally loading the gun twice and having to pull a bullet. As someone who has actually had to perform the task, I can tell you it is no fun at all. Moreover, when you insert a bullet into a NitroFire rifle there’s no powder charge in the barrel, which makes the design that much safer. Couple this with features such as a captive half-cock hammer and crossbolt safety, and it becomes obvious that the NitroFire-Firestick combination is safer than other muzzleloaders.
The pairing is also much simpler to operate and maintain than traditional muzzleloaders. There’s no loose powder to measure and no pellets that can be crushed when the bullet is loaded. FireStick offers a consistent, pre-measured charge, and since the bullet is seated in the exact same location on every shot, accuracy potential is very high. For new shooters this system is far superior to traditional designs because it takes the guesswork out of measuring and inserting propellant in the rifle. Further, the new Hodgdon Triple 8 powder used in FireStick is cleaner burning than other muzzleloader propellants, which means routine maintenance takes less time and you can fire more shots between cleanings. And, should you need to remove a bullet without firing, simply push it from the breech toward the muzzle using an unloading jag.
As mentioned, G&A’s test samples arrived with the Traditions 3-9x40mm scope mounted to the NitroFire, which bumps up the retail price from $549 to $635. The scope is basic, offering capped turrets with ¼-minute-of-angle (MOA) adjustments for windage and elevation, and a duplex reticle. However, it is well-suited for most hunting situations and allows Traditions to keep its package pricing affordable. The forearm is rather narrow and a bit short for my arms, but the finger groove and texturing offers a comfortable hold.
The tapered barrel is a nice addition since the long, heavy, straight-taper .50-caliber barrels of many muzzleloaders can feel quite front heavy.
New hunters are learning that blackpowder firearms can expand their hunting opportunities, and FireStick makes it even more appealing for rifle and bowhunters to make room in the gun safe for a muzzleloader. In my home state of Ohio, for example, deer hunters can use a muzzleloader during both the regular firearms season and blackpowder season, effectively doubling time in the field.
The FireStick is indeed a game changer, and is one of the few new technologies actually poised to change the shooting market. Traditions was smart to partner with Federal.
At the Range Both of G&A’s NitroFire rifles proved reliable. The dual hammer extensions made cocking the gun simple, and help to make the rifle left-hand friendly. The hammer can be cocked silently in the field, too, which is a boon for hunters.
Underneath, Traditions’ Elite XT trigger was exceptional. There was a bit of take-up, but a crisp break. The trigger averaged 3.1 pounds for 10 pulls on my Wheeler trigger gauge.
Overall length measured 411/2 inches, which is short enough to be manageable in the tight confines of a blind or stand. The stock and Cerakote finish will serve you well against the rigors of hunting season, and the grime associated with blackpowder shooting.
Though my test gun came with the Traditions-branded 3-9x40mm scope installed, the crosshairs and the point of impact were about 3 feet apart at 50 yards when boresighting. The front scope ring, I noticed, wasn’t seated in the cross-slot base, so it’s worth checking if you purchase a similar setup. I adjusted it, but the rings are obviously inexpensive.
Accuracy was very good once I got the scope secured, but I’d suggest upgrading the mounting hardware, at least, and the scope when you can afford it.
Loading FireStick charges into the NitroFire rifle is as fast and easy as you’d imagine. After shooting, pull the spent FireStick and toss it in the garbage. It’s easy to drop a few FireSticks and 209 primers into the pocket of a hunting vest, and there’s no loose powder to spill or soak up moisture.
For the range evaluation, I fired three, three-shot groups with three different bullets using both 100- and 120-grain FireSticks for accuracy and velocity figures. Modern muzzleloader bullet technology has kept pace with the rifle design, so I selected three tipped, all-copper, .50-caliber muzzleloader bullets for this evaluation: Traditions’ new 250-grain Smackdown Carnivore is set in their Ridgeback sabot; Remington’s 250-grain Premier Accutip sabot is popular; and Federal’s 270-grain BOR Lock Trophy Copper bullets are a favorite. Traditions includes their Quick-T ramrod handle with the rifle, which is held in place under the barrel with the ramrod. It comes free when the ramrod is removed, which is a convenient setup. The Quick-T threads to an included jag to make cleaning and loading easier. Bullets seat consistently in the NitroFire without the fear of crushed pellets.
Consistent bullet seating, coupled with the FireStick’s reliable charge weight, and the NitroFire’s excellent Elite XT trigger produced some very impressive results. The best group of the day, generated using 120-grain FireSticks behind Federal BOR Lock bullets, measured around .6 inches for three shots. That cloverleaf was exceptional, but most three-shot groups averaged just more than an inch. That result is roughly 15 percent better accuracy than I achieved testing a Traditions rifle charged with pelleted powder. The NitroFire-FireStick combo produced great accuracy for a muzzleloader, and I believe Federal’s claim that FireSticks are loaded with consistent powder charges was borne out during this test.
Velocity figures also support Federal’s promise of exceptional consistency. I won’t rehash all the numbers, but the general rule seemed to be that the 100-grain FireStick pushed most .50 caliber sabots somewhere between 1,880 and 1,980 feet per second from the 26-inch barrel, while the 120-grain loads propelled the same bullets at, or just below, 2,100 feet per second. Recoil from both FireStick charges is quite manageable and the NitroFire is a suitable muzzleloader for new or recoil-sensitive shooters. The dense, thick recoil pad (the antithesis of the curved metal buttplates from the Hawken’s days of yore) helped mitigate the rifle’s setback. The 120-grain load shoved a bit harder than the 100-grain load, but not so much that I would shy away from the more powerful charge for anyone but the most inexperienced shooters.
When FireStick first came to market, Reich assured me that Hodgdon’s Triple 8 powder was a clean-burning muzzleloader propellant. That’s an accurate statement. FireSticks don’t produce a billowing plume of smoke that shrouds the shooter’s vision, and I was even able to see the splash of debris behind the target after I fired. What’s more, Hodgdon’s clean-burning formula for the Triple 8 also means you can fire more shots between cleanings. While accuracy testing, I wiped the bore and breech down between shots. Afterwards, I fired several shots in a row to see just how far the clean-burning Triple 8 would allow me to go between mandatory cleanings. As blackpowder hunters know, you may only get two or three shots before a gun is so gunked-up that you have to clean it to reload it. After three rounds of FireStick, with no cleaning in between, I could still start the BOR Lock bullets — by hand. I got to six shots before things got sticky, and I’m convinced that in a pinch you could go 10 shots between cleanings, which is far better than traditional muzzleloaders.
Cleaning the NitroFire is simple, too. You can easily access the bore and assess the quality of your cleaning job, but the Triple 8 powder certainly does simplify the cleaning process. It generated less filth than most traditional blackpowder propellants. Still, Traditions sells a breech cleaning kit for the NitroFire that includes, among other things, a set of nylon and bronze brushes and a mop for around $15. It’s a smart purchase to make when you pick up a NitroFire. Cleaning a muzzleloader properly so that it lasts for years and maintains good accuracy requires regular maintenance, and cleaning a muzzleloader is always a much more enjoyable process with the right tools.
Changing the Rules It’s likely that Federal’s FireStick will affect the future of muzzleloader hunting. The system is safe and simple, and FireStick eliminates some of the variables such as inexact charge weights. Traditions’ NitroFire is a worthy platform in which to debut the FireStick, and with a starting retail price of $549, this innovative technology isn’t beyond the reach of average shooters. What’s more, the simplicity of the FireStick system makes it simpler for new shooters to take up hunting, and it’s exactly the type of product that will encourage the recruitment of the next generation.
The firearms industry faced many challenges in 2020, but products like the NitroFire rifle and FireStick offer hope. These mark an evolutionary turning point in muzzleloader design and offer increased participation in hunting.
Traditions NitroFire .50 Muzzleloader Specs
Type: Break-action muzzleloader
Barrel Length: 26 in.
Overall Length: 41.5 in.
Sights: None; scope base, included; scope packages (optional)
Length of pull: 14 in.
Weight: 6 lbs., 11 oz. (no optic); 7 lbs., 10 oz. (with optic)
Stock: Black polymer; camo (optional)
Finish: Cerakote (steel)
Trigger: Elite XT; 3 lbs., 2 oz. (tested)
MSRP: $549 to $1,220 ($635 as tested)
Importer: Traditions Performance Firearms, traditionsfirearms.com
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