I was cold, hungry, and cramped from sitting as still as possible in a tree stand for several hours. There was wind, blowing sleet, and more wind. Did I mention wind? Gusts of 35 mph make your tree stand shake and sway until you doubt whether you could pull off an accurate shot even if presented with an opportunity. I’m a traditional muzzleloader guy at heart, but this time I was glad the smokepole in the stand with me was as modern and cutting-edge as they come.
The sun had set and darkness was creeping in from the horizon when a good buck cautiously poked his head from the saplings fringing the thicket below me. It was only 28 yards, and within seconds the Vortek Ultralight had done what it was born (okay, designed) to do.
As I gathered my gear I couldn’t help reflecting that my beloved flintlock could have pulled off that shot with ease. However, it’s a bit difficult to keep FFFFg priming powder dry in a gale of sleet and snow, and that makes it harder to keep one’s focus on searching wood and dale for deer. The Vortek’s weather-protected, shotgun-primer-activated ignition is less demanding.
On that bad-weather note, the Vortek Ultralight–introduced last year–is admirably engineered against the elements. The 28-inch, fluted barrel and LT-1 alloy frame shrug off corrosion courtesy of a CeraKote ceramic protective layer. The stock features Hogue Comfort-Grip overmolding, and while I’ve never dropped or lost control of my flintlock longrifle due to water or sleet, the rubbery synthetic material on the Vortek simply makes a rifle easier to hang onto in adverse conditions.
When I first unpacked the rifle, I worried that it might prove uncomfortable to shoot. At 6.25 pounds, there isn’t much mass to resist that equal-and-opposite-reaction thing caused by 250 or 300 grains of lead accelerating down the bore to the tune of almost 1,800 fps. Fortunately, again virtue of a couple well-though-out features, such as muzzle porting and a good buttpad, recoil wasn’t bad at all.
With a hunt looming, I mounted a clear Nikon 3-9X 40mm scope sporting the company’s Ballistic Drop Compensating (BDC) reticle calibrated for muzzleloader trajectories and went to work sighting-in. Technical load testing would have to wait.
Traditions offers a Hornady-built proprietary saboted muzzleloader bullet dubbed the “Smackdown.” With a limited reserve of 250-grain versions, I attempted to initially sight-in the Vortek with some standard Hornady SST sabot bullets. That’s the only time I ran into trouble with the rifle. The bullet stuck. I had to screw out the breech plug (easily done, thankfully), dump the powder from the bore, and pound the SST out from the breech. A later discussion with a Traditions representative revealed that the Vortek is built with tight bore tolerances, but that most “three-petal” sabots should work through it. Avoid two- and four-petal versions.
After shaking off the frustration of the stuck bullet, I loaded the Vortek with 100 grains of Blackhorn 209 (www.blackhorn209.com), a fantastic blackpowder substitute that allows many shots between cleaning. This time, a Traditions Smackdown seated easily.
Accuracy was good–certainly good enough to shoot at extended distances–though I didn’t get the 1-inch groups I’d heard touted from the Vortek. I sighted-in at 100 yards and shot at 150 and 200 to find and note impact points against the Nikon BDC reticle. Turns out I wouldn’t need it, as demonstrated by the 28-yard shot I ended up taking, but the capability was there.
After the hunt, and when time allowed, I switched the camo Nikon scope out for a Bushnell 2.5-16X 42mm Elite 6500 for some serious accuracy testing. This time, I toted a pound of Goex FFg blackpowder to the range with me, along with an assorted variety of modern substitutes and saboted projectiles. The results of my endeavors may be seen in the accompanying chart.
During the extensive cleaning I did while accuracy testing, I came to appreciate the easily removed “Accelerator” breech plug and the drop-out trigger assembly. I never had any problems with function at all.
There are two points I found lacking: (1) Occasionally I’d drop a live primer into the guts of the open action when attempting to prime the rifle, especially with cold hands. This is a common issue with many muzzleloader designs, and not much can be done about it; it just happens. At least the primers always fell right out when I turned the gun over and gave it a shake. (2) Early on the fiber optic in the front sight became loose, and halfway through my hunt it fell out. As I was using a scope, it made no difference, but if I’d been hunting with irons, I’d have found it irritating.
Performance in the field was exemplary. Six and a quarter pounds is light for almost anything but a fine British side-by-side, and that factor alone makes the Vortek a joy to carry. It also handles well and comes to the shoulder and points n
aturally. Barring the use of some several-seasons-old pellets, I never had a hang- or misfire, so I’d call it 100-percent reliable. The trigger is reasonably good, making it easy to shoot the rifle accurately. There’s little to dislike.
Has the Vortek Ultralight earned the place in my heart that my flintlock longrifle holds? No. Will it? It doesn’t have several hundred years of heritage on its side, and I’m a guy who likes history. So, no.
Do I trust it?