Saturday, October 10, 2009
The last time that I was a real fan of the .54 caliber bore was during the early 1980s, when I spent most of the summer to build a very authentic percussion half-stock "Hawken" rifle. And, appropriately, the rifle featured a slow turn-in-66 inches rifling twist - for shooting a patched round ball. The nearly 10-pound rifle, stuffed with 120-grains of FFg black powder and a tightly patched 230-grain .535" diameter soft lead ball, was super accurate and deadly on big game out to about 75 yards.
When I made the switch to Knight's MK-85 in-line ignition rifles, and saboted bullets, during the late 1980s, I pretty much abandoned the .54, going in favor of the .50 bore. I simply found the .50 to be far more accurate, thanks to sabots that allowed me to shoot a bullet that was closer to the diameter of the bore. From time to time, since then, I have played with a few .54 caliber rifles, but always returned to a .50 caliber in-line rifle. And, as it turned out, I wasn't the only one to abandon the .54. From 1992 thru 1997, I headed up Market Development for Knight Rifles. When I first went to work there, close to 30-percent of the rifles produced were of .54 caliber...and about 10 percent were .45 caliber. The 50 caliber bore represented 60-percent of all the rifles the company produced. By the time I left the company, the .50 caliber accounted for right at 90-percent of all Knight rifle sales.
Other in-line muzzleloading rifle manufacturers experienced the same demise of .54 caliber rifle sales. And I now know of just one company that currently offers an in-line ignition rifle in that bore size. And that is Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Company, and the rifle is their short 20-inch barreled "Brush Rifle", a slick custom version of a Knight DISC Extreme.
I have been shooting one since the rifle was first offered. In fact, my rifle is serial number 0001.
And thanks to some improvements in sabot technology and bullet selection, I have truly enojoyed shooting and hunting with this fast handling, hard hitting close cover muzzleloader. The buck in the above photo was taken during the 2008 season, at just 15 or so yards - dropped where it ran - by a big 325-grain Barnes all-copper Expander MZ hollow-point bullet. And recently, I have discovered an even harder hitting load built around Harvester Muzzleloading's saboted 400-grain Hard Cast lead bullet.
More on this short and sweet .54 in-line muzzleloader at -
When Knight Rifles introduced their .52 caliber bore back about 2000, they developed new .52x.458 and .52x.475 sabots for the new bore size, and came up with some new choices for the muzzleloading hunter - with bullets ranging from 275- to 375-grains. Many of those who own...shoot...and hunt with a Knight .52 consider these rifles the finest shooting and hardest hitting big game muzzleloaders ever offered. While I agree that the .52 has been a remarkable shooting and energy retaining long-range big game muzzleloader, I also feel that if the same effort had been spent to come up with more compatible sabots and bullets for the .54, that bore size would still be alive and well today. As great as my .52 DISC Extreme has shot with the saboted 375-grain spitzer .475" diameter hollow point, I can only imagine how well a 26 to 28 inch barreled version of the same rifle in .54 would shoot had there been a .54x.475 sabot available.
Barnes makes the bullet...and offers saboted bullets for the .54. With easily 200,000 to 300,000 .54 rifles still out there, you would think that someone would at least make an attempt to revive the bore size. And that would start with several new sabot-bullet combinations.