Muzzleloading rifles can be divided into two types: Traditional sidelocks and modern in-line guns. Traditional rifles appear similar to historic firearms, with ignition via flint or percussion cap, and many of them fire patched lead balls. Modern in-lines emerged as hunting regulations were modified to accommodate better ignition methods, sabot bullets and blackpowder substitutes. The new Traditions Pursuit G4 Ultralight falls in line with the latter.
Muzzleloading seasons generally begin in late September or early October and extend beyond typical centerfire seasons. Hunting with a muzzleloader is the best way to get out in the field for extended periods of time, especially if you’re after deer. It’s also a way to get familiar with the landscape and scout your game fields while offering a great chance of shooting an animal before and during its breeding season. Trophy deer hunters really appreciate this advantage, since prime bucks are, shall we say, distracted. Another advantage of access to a longer season is the ability to take multiple animals of either sex. All this is dependent on your local game laws, of course.
Which brings us to the Traditions Pursuit G4 Ultralight, a step above other in-line muzzleloaders with better ballistics, greater reliability in any weather, easier cleaning and the ability to mount magnified optics. What’s not to like?
Shedding Weight With the Traditions Pursuit G4 Ultralight
When customers asked for a lighter Pursuit muzzleloader, Traditions Firearms answered the call and delivered the Pursuit G4 Ultralight, which weighs less than 6 pounds unloaded. It also has a barrel made of chrome-moly steel, which has long been recognized as the best barrel material for strength and accuracy for rifles of any configuration. It has a greater strength-to-weight ratio than standard steel, allowing for tighter tolerances during the manufacturing process and improved accuracy downrange.
The 26-inch, 1-in-28-inch-twist barrel also sports a premium Cerakote finish for greater corrosion resistance, and Traditions has included its Accelerator breech plug and Speed Load System for easier loading and better consistency. Another advancement is the Dual Safety System, which, as the name implies, means there are two safeties: a trigger block built into the triggerguard and a secondary internal hammer block that prevents the hammer from engaging the firing pin unless the trigger is pulled.
Several different configurations of the Pursuit G4 Ultralight are available, with various finish and furniture options and MSRPs ranging from $295 to $435. The .50-caliber model that I tested for this review came with a black synthetic stock and forend as well as a silver Cerakote finish on the metal components. Traditions also included a 3-9x40mm scope and a deluxe carrying case, all for $419.
I also turned to Traditions for ancillary items necessary for in-line muzzleloading: Sabot projectiles, cleaning supplies and barrel “seasoning” compounds. Traditions offers multiple bullet styles, including the Bleed, Carnivore and XR sabots. They’re all mated to Ridgeback sabot sleeves to create a reliable gas seal for repeatable accuracy. The sabot walls are also reduced and given horizontal ridges to reduce the amount of contact between the sabot and barrel, decreasing the overall friction. Less friction means easier loading, and a better gas seal provides more accuracy and a reduced need for cleaning.
The 170-grain Bleed and 250-grain Carnivore and XR bullets provide excellent .50-caliber terminal performance. Heavier bullets are available for larger game. The bullets are inserted into the Ridgeback sleeves before loading. For my testing, I used 100 grains of Hodgdon Pyrodex or Triple Seven powder, no matter the bullet that sat on top of it. Loading was easy, too—I simply inserted two 50-grain pellets. Hodgdon Pyrodex and Triple Seven are two of the most common blackpowder substitutes. Each offers a number of advantages over traditional black powder, including reduced sensitivity as an explosive and increased efficiency as a propellant powder.
The velocities of the three different Traditions bullets ranged from 1,725 to 1,810 fps. The accuracy was impressive as well—3-inch groups at 100 yards were typical, and some were much better. The included 3-9x40mm optic was handy for testing as well as maximizing the Pursuit G4 Ultralight’s potential in the field. I fired three-shot groups to avoid fouling the bore too much before cleaning. This brings us to the “dirty” part of the muzzleloading world.
Traditions offers various items that will allow you to maintain your muzzleloader. Everything from cleaning and seasoning patches, breech-plug grease and pre-saturated cleaning patches to foaming bore cleaner is available from the company. Don’t be overwhelmed or intimidated. Concise instructions are part of the Traditions Pursuit G4 Ultralight package. Once you’ve done it a couple of times and established a method, cleaning takes about 20 minutes. This is important because you need to clean the rifle immediately after you’re done with it, before you put it away.
Black powder, even the substitutes, fouls a barrel quickly, degrading accuracy and complicating loading. Even firing more than a few rounds at the range while sighting in will require cleaning. Ramming down sabot rounds will become problematic in most in-line muzzleloaders as the round count increases beyond a dozen. On top of this, black powder is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts and retains moisture. Moisture in the tight confines of your steel barrel breeds rust. In short, clean your muzzleloader!
Fortunately, this is where in-line muzzleloaders—especially simple ones like the Pursuit G4 Ultralight, with its patented Accelerator breech plug—come into their own. The removable breech plug offers numerous advantages. The action opens with a button at the front of the triggerguard. This exposes the Accelerator breech plug, which removes easily without tools using minimal thumb pressure. An O-ring at the base of the plug seals off any powder and debris from blowing back into the shooter’s face. It is important to apply Traditions breech-plug grease to prevent the breech plug from binding up. Removing the breech plug allows for simple and efficient push-through cleaning, similar to centerfire rifles.
Rounds Downrange With the Traditions Pursuit G4 Ultralight
For a change, I actually read the instruction manual before hitting the range. This led to cleaning the barrel beforehand with the included cleaning and seasoning patches. Over time, seasoning will reduce loading difficulties and form a protective coating on the rifling. Think of it like a cast-iron skillet. Treated guns also store better over long periods with less corrosion. I removed and greased the Accelerator breech plug and screwed it back into place, then inserted two 50-grain Hodgdon Pyrodex or Triple Seven pellets down the barrel.
Then I started a Traditions Smackdown sabot round down the barrel. Starting it was the hard part, and I pinched my fingers a few times while trying to hold the round still and get the Quick-T ramrod moving it downward. Once the round was started, the first couple of inches down to the breech was simple as long as I applied steady force to the ramrod. Once I’d confirmed that the round was sitting on top of the powder load, I opened the action and placed a #209 primer on the breech plug. Then I cocked the hammer and fired. It took less time to accomplish than reading this paragraph. And the recoil was about the same as a 20-gauge shotgun’s.
I sighted the rifle in at 25 yards, and my first shot was slightly low but dead on for windage. I then moved to 50 yards, where two shots hit a couple inches high. My 100-yard zero was 3 inches high with a single three-round group fired for effect. I got a 150-yard zero 3 inches high at 100 yards, providing a 200-yard impact 9 inches down from the point of aim. After this, it was time to clean the Pursuit G4 Ultralight. Overall, I was pleased with being able to sight the rifle in so easily. After scrubbing, I confirmed the cold-bore zero with a clean rifle. Numerous cycles of firing and cleaning followed.
The Smackdown Carnivore and XR bullets have a ballistic coefficient (BC) of 0.262, and the Bleed has a BC of 0.200. Why am I bringing this up? When hunting, I am somewhat conservative in my approach. Despite the superior accuracy of the in-line Traditions Pursuit G4 Ultralight, hunting should be confined to closer ranges—no farther than 150 yards.
Trajectory isn’t the only issue. Energy quickly bleeds off from these rounds. For example, the 250-grain load offers approximately 1,800 foot-pounds of energy (fpe) at the muzzle but drops to 760 fpe after 200 yards. The standard for ethically taking a deer is 1,000 fpe. Beyond 150 yards, the energy is below that. Wind drift is another daunting prospect when the wind exceeds 10 mph and the target is beyond 150 yards. I’m not trying to sound preachy here, but you get my point. Hunting is not about sniping from far away. Get close to the game, and make your shot count. After all, you are using a single-shot rifle that isn’t quick to reload when you consider wounded game scurrying away.
None of this is meant to dissuade you. After all, one chooses a muzzleloader—even an in-line variant—for the challenge it presents. A hunter using a muzzleloader is making a statement about his willingness to accept the task of getting closer and making sure that his first shot counts. I promise the experience afield early in the fall will pay dividends in priceless encounters and greater familiarity with and respect for the game you’re hunting. For more information, visit TraditionsFirearms.com.
Traditions Pursuit G4 Ultralight Specs
- Caliber: .50
- Barrel: 26 inches
- Overall Length: 42 inches
- Action: Break
- Weight: 5.75 pounds (empty)
- Stock: Synthetic
- Sights: 3-9x40mm scope
- Finish: Cerakote
- Capacity: 1
- MSRP: $419
|170 Smackdown Bleed||1,810||2.00|
|250 Smackdown Carnivore||1,770||2.25|
|250 Smackdown XR||1,730||1.75|
All ammo above is from Traditions. Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in fps by chronograph and accuracy in inches for best three-shot groups at 100 yards.