New Era of Muzzleloading: Traditions NitroFire & Federal FireStick
Muzzleloading rifles have been one of the most constant, old-fashioned hunting platforms for hundreds of years. Yet, the crazy year 2020 launched one of the largest advancements to hit the muzzleloading market. What happens when the world’s largest ammunition manufacturer joins forces with a black powder rifle specialist? Guns.com sends .50-caliber projectiles downrange with the Traditions NitroFire rifle loaded with Federal Premium’s FireStick charges.
What the Heck Is This?
There’s a quick answer to the question hunters have been asking since hearing of the launch – just what is the NitroFire and FireStick combo? This partnership between companies created a rifle and load combination that must be used together to be functional.
The Traditions NitroFire is a .50-caliber muzzleloading rifle designed specifically to be charged with the Federal Premium FireStick, an encapsulated powder charge. To better understand both why the companies launched this platform and how it works in detail, read on as we break down the components, costs, performance, and more.
Traditions NitroFire Rifle
The advent of a new ignition system for muzzleloaders necessitates the design of a new rifle. Enter the new Traditions NitroFire .50-caliber rifle. The breech of the NitroFire is designed specifically to accommodate the polymer FireStick charges. Because the bullet still loads from the muzzle, the rifle is still technically considered a muzzleloader, though its design necessitates the completion of a form 4473 at the FFL dealer.
The rifle’s barrel is essentially built with a “bullet shelf” so the projectile seats in the same spot each time. This eliminates a potential problem with standard muzzleloaders whereby rushed loading could result in crushed pelletized charges or improper seating. The design offers enhanced safety, as it can be quickly unloaded by removing the FireStick before climbing into a tree stand, crossing a fence, or entering a vehicle. Because there’s no breech plug, the NitroFire is easier to clean and maintain as well.
Federal Premium FireStick
Federal’s patented and proprietary FireStick is the driver of this new ignition system and encapsulates the propellant – Hodgdon Triple Eight granular powder – inside a polymer “shell” that loads much like a cartridge from the breech. The FireStick is impervious to moisture, a bane of traditional muzzleloading loose powders and pellets. Because of this, internal company testing has shown better shot-to-shot consistency and accuracy.
FireSticks can be quickly unloaded from the breech, thus eliminating the need to discharge and clean the rifle after each hunt. Naturally, Federal Premium FireStick is optimized for use with their Trophy Copper or Lead Tipped muzzleloader bullets. A 209 primer is inserted by the shooter into the end of the FireStick. Federal recommends using their 209 Muzzleloading Primers, though standard 209s also work. Instead of removing the primer at the end of each hunt, that primer can remain in place while the hunter removes the entire FireStick. Federal Premium FireSticks are available in either 100-grain or 120-grain options with an MSRP of $26.95 for 10-round packs.
Our test NitroFire rifle came as the black synthetic model with a 26-inch barrel and Traditions 3-9x40 scope. We headed to the range with a healthy stock of FireSticks, cleaning gear, and a host of bullets. While the rifle and charges must be used together exclusively, hunters can opt to use their preferred brand of both primers and projectiles. To that end, we launched a mix of 270-grain Federal Premium Trophy Copper, 350-grain Federal Premium Lead, 275- and 305-grain saboted Traditions Smackdown Carnivore, and 350-grain Hornady FPB.
While the NitroFire seems to foul less than other modern in-line rifles, don’t mistake the setup for one that does not need to be cleaned. We found the greatest accuracy while running patches through the bore after every six to eight shots. With one fouling shot, the combo regularly put out 1.85-inch groups at 100 yards with each of the types of bullets. Our three-shot best group came when using Federal Premium Trophy Copper, Federal Fusion primers, and the 100-grain powder charge.
The included dual-hammer extension makes the rifle easy to cock with a scope in place and makes the rig ambidextrous friendly. Breaking with regularity at just a few ounces under 3 pounds, the trigger is surprisingly nice for a black powder rifle. The rifle includes sling studs, its loading and cleaning rod, and a rubber buttpad to eat up some of the recoil.
Speaking of recoil, this was our first time using Hodgdon’s Triple Eight powder, which was inside the FireSticks. Partnered with the rifle’s fairly lightweight, there is a somewhat more sharply felt recoil than with what we’ve come to know as more of a push from other in-lines. That trade-off, however, gets the shooter legitimate accuracy in an easy-to-use package that’s even easier to clean.
By far the biggest strike against the new combination has nothing to do with the performance of the products themselves, but rather with legality. Muzzleloading setups are defined differently state by state. Because the NitroFire does not have a breech plug and uses an encapsulated powder charge, it is not currently legal for black powder seasons in some states.
Hunters interested in the NitroFire should consult the map, which shows 15 states giving it the green light, another 19 reviewing the technology, and 16 specifically ruling it out. However, we know several hunters who enjoyed the platform so much they still opted to buy and use it during the regular rifle season.
Who Should Buy the NitroFire and FireSticks?
The idea behind the partnership and engineering is a sound one – create a system that is appealing to new black powder shooters and experienced hunters. To those unfamiliar with black powder rifles, making the move can seem a bit daunting without significant research. What type of rifle should you purchase? Loose powder or pellets? How many grains? Throw in all the cleaning supplies and the time spent cleaning it properly, and the sport can be off-putting. Traditions and Federal remove much of that guesswork.
Even experienced hunters will appreciate the convenience of FireSticks. In addition to more rapid unloading and reloading, the NitroFire and FireStick combine to become the easiest muzzleloaders to clean. There’s no breech plug to soak, pick, and polish. The barrel is readily accessible for cleaning. Further, the FireStick is easily unloaded because that powder is encapsulated instead of sitting loose in contact with the chamber.
While we agree there’s nothing quite like loading and firing old-school muzzleloading rifles and true black powder, there is also room in the industry for modern advancements. Together, the partnership of Federal Premium and Traditions simplifies the use of muzzleloaders and changes the face of the market.