The good thing about catching an early-morning flight to Denver is that the plane was landing as the sun was breaking on the eastern horizon. Another short flight to the northwest corner of the state put me less than an hour's drive from my elk adventure for the next five days. With the special elk license I had under the Ranching For Wildlife program, I was able to hunt during the September rut. Though I could have brought a big magnum centerfire rifle, I opted to use a muzzleloader to make the hunt more challenging and rewarding.
When I arrived at the lodge, I didn't even unpack my gear before heading to the rifle range. I had a new Traditions Vortek StrikerFire LDR that provided the latest technologies for quick, silent and reliable use that also extends the range if required. The LDR acronym stands for Long-Distance Rifle—the 1:28 rate-of-twist rifling and 30" barrel on the StrikerFire model I had is designed to improve accuracy when shooting greater distances. I settled onto the shooting bench and sighted in my gun at 100 yds. Because I traveled to my destination, I was not able to bring my own powder and had arranged for some to use at camp. I've been shooting Traditions muzzleloaders for decades and know how accurate they are out of the box. The groupings that I shot, however, were not satisfactory, and I immediately suspected the powder. With plenty of day left, I headed to the closest town that carried muzzleloader supplies to purchase new powder and primers. The effort proved to be well worth it as the gun shot perfect cloverleafs upon my return. A few more tests at longer ranges and I knew that I was ready to chase elk in the high country.
The next morning we traveled to a high-elevation camp and wasted little time getting out on the mountainous terrain. We weren't 45 minutes down the trail when the first bull responded to our calls. The area boasted an incredible population of elk and it wasn't difficult to find bulls in every direction when scanning the distant ridges with our binoculars. The specific license I had permitted me to only hunt certain boundaries of the ranch, which meant most of the elk would have to move before being accessible. We sat on a steep ridge and played cat and mouse with a big bull that teased us by edging up to the border of our fence but would not commit to our challenge.
The days went quickly, and on the last day of our hunt, I decided to stalk another steep ridge with some large meadows near the top. I had watched a herd of elk filter through a fern-choked opening in the trees that morning and thought a bull must be with the large number of cows. Late in the afternoon I hiked up the ridge, and as I started to tiptoe through the stunted oak trees next to the fern meadow, a tired herd of elk stood up from their beds just 20 yds. from me. They had no idea what was happening but sensed an interloper approaching. The bull led the herd into the meadow a mere 50 yds. from where I stood. When he stopped to look around, I slid the striker of my muzzleloader to the fire position, centered my crosshairs on his vitals, and gently squeezed the trigger. As my gun belched grey smoke, there was no doubt that my bullet found its mark, and the bull ran about 70 yds. through the ferns before tipping over.
My StrikerFire LDR, which I had planned to use for a long-range shot, had worked equally effectively on my close encounter. Weighing in at just 6.8 lbs., the rifle was ideally suited for the strenuous hunt. The gun offers the newest technologies in muzzleloading, such as a cocking mechanism that does not include a hammer. The StrikerFire gets its name from the StrikerFire slide button that is pushed forward to silently cock the gun. If you wanted to put the gun back in the safe position, you simply depress the button on the mechanism allowing it to slide back to the uncocked position. Traditions is well known for its additional safety features, including a trigger-block mechanism that can be engaged when the rifle is cocked.
The gun also features a projectile-alignment system for keeping your bullet straight on the bore while pushing it with the ramrod. The barrel tolerances are ideal and produce complete gas seals when the gun is fired while allowing the user to push the bullet the length of the barrel without straining.
The screw-in breech plug of this gun makes it incredibly easy to clean and maintain. With no external nipple, the 209 primers are loaded straight into the device for positive ignition. The gun is aesthetically pleasing, with straight lines and a stock made of composite material available in black or different camouflage options. The ambidextrous stock features a soft-touch covering and is easy for anyone to shoot. Traditions has gone the extra mile and made the recoil pad removable so users can store speed loaders or other field components in the hollow buttstock. One of the reasons this gun is so accurate is due to the TAC2 trigger, which is factory set around 2 lbs. The trigger was firm and broke clean with moderate pressure making it easy to stay on target.
The StrikerFire would be considered a well-rounded gun for any type of hunting, from treestands and blinds to spot-and-stalk, or even hiking and covering steep terrain. The .50- cal. break-action in-line rifle has a 13-1/2" length of pull and an overall length of 46". The tapered, fluted, magnum chromoly barrel is protected by a CeraKote corrosion-resistant finish, which also makes the gun durable and easy to clean. At no extra cost, the gun comes with a Williams metal fiber-optic sight on the Northwest Magnum model, or, alternatively, a scope can be easily mounted as the barrel comes pre-drilled and tapped.