The Savage 10ML-II Smokeless Muzzleloader: Simplified


by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn

September 28th, 2005

Updated October 17th, 2005




Over the past few years, I have already written twice about the Savage smokeless muzzleloader; once soon after its introduction, and again when they fitted the AccuTrigger to that firearm. For more details on the weapon, I refer the reader to those two articles.

Since writing about the Savage, I have received, and continue to do so, many emails regarding the rifle. Whether or not you like inline muzzleloaders, they are here to stay. For more on that subject, I again refer the reader to my previous article, Thoughts on Muzzleloading.

This article is intended to address what is a recurring theme that I receive in email correspondence often, and that is to suggest a good hunting load for the Savage. Many muzzleloading hunters are just that; they are hunters first and foremost, and care little about experimenting with several powders and projectiles. They want a good load that works for deer hunting, is easy to load, and gets the job done. There is nothing wrong with this, as most hunters are not handloaders. However, muzzleloading hunters are handloaders by necessity; they just do not use a brass case.

I have in the past, and sometimes still do, run my Savage 10ML-II with several different powders, bullets, and sabots. I am an incurable experimenter, always looking for more accuracy, more velocity, flatter trajectory, or a combination of these.  I have found that many powders are not suitable for the Savage. That was no surprise. I have also found that many sabots will fail, leaving the bullets to hit my target sideways, if they hit it at all. I have also found several bullet/sabot combinations that are accurate, but are so hard to cram down the barrel that a quick reload is impossible, but I have also found that one particular combination of components works very well in every 10ML-II in which I have tried it. Accuracy is good, velocity is good, it is easy to load, and the bullets are available almost everywhere. The problem is that the manufacturer does not recommend the bullets for use in the Savage. I did not know why, so I called them. They have had good reports of the bullet working just fine out of the 10ML-II, but officially, they do not recommend that anyone use smokeless powder in a muzzleloader. That is understandable, for some shooters will try using smokeless powder in another brand of muzzleloader, which is stupid, to put it rather bluntly. Only the Savage is built to use smokeless powder, and smokeless powder must never be used in other brands. The Savage is built to use black powder, black substitutes such as Pyrodex and Triple Seven, and certain smokeless powders. It is with these smokeless powders that it offers its greatest advantages.

The bullet that I have settled upon for this load is the 245 grain PowerBelt AeroTip, and it has produced extremely satisfying results in the Savage.  The accuracy of this bullet is very good out of my rifle, and it is absolutely the easiest bullet to slide down the barrel that I have ever tried, yet it fits tightly enough to keep it in place and, with the right powder, assures consistent ignition. That powder is Accurate Arms 5744. I have tried other powders that offer higher velocity than I can get with 5744, but none with better consistency.

The simplified load to which I alluded in the title of this piece is 45 grains of 5744, a Winchester 209 primer, and the 245 grain AeroTip bullet. A shooter needs only a Lee 3.4cc dipper, which is included in the Savage accessory kit, to measure his powder charge. This load has given outstanding consistency with the AeroTip bullet. Out of the rifle pictured here, which is the Realtree Hardwoods HD version of the 10ML-II, I get an average velocity of 2012 feet-per-second, with an extreme velocity spread of less than 10, and an average deviation of under 2! I wish that I could get those kind of consistency readings from metallic rifle cartridges.  As shown in the picture, I also get good accuracy from this load. The picture shows a group of one and one-eighth inches at 100 yards, and the rifle and load can do this every time, if I do my part.

The PowerBelt bullets have a snap-on base, instead of a sabot, to provide a good gas seal. Instead of an undersized .429 to .452 bullet, the PowerBelt fifty caliber measures a full half-inch in diameter. This is no big deal, but just another plus in favor of the PowerBelt. The main advantage for me is the easy loading, and the accuracy.  The 45 grains of 5744 (which is, by the way, a powder that Savage recommends) offers all the power that a deer hunter needs, and then some. This is a load that is easy on the shoulder, but has plenty of power for whitetail deer. With a 150 yard zero, a hunter can hold dead on all the way out to about 180 yards, and still be in the kill zone. The bullet drops only six inches out at 200 yards. You can easily speed this bullet up in the Savage, but these is no need to.  The 3.4cc Lee dipper makes it easy to get the same load every time, even if the shooter has no elaborate powder measuring and weighing system. The load works, and it works well.

After testing this newest Savage 10ML-II, I am still of the opinion that it is the best inline muzzleloader available. It can be loaded up to power levels of the .375 H&H Magnum for larger game, but this load with the PowerBelt and the 5744 makes for an excellent formula for the hunter who just wants a good, reliable, easy-to-load  deer hunting recipe. The 5744 powder is available through mail-order stores such as Midsouth Shooters Supply ( They also carry the PowerBelt bullets (part number 002-AC1589AT), or you can get them at most Wal-Mart stores. The rifle also does not need the everyday cleaning as do other muzzleloading rifles, but can be cleaned like any other modern cartridge rifle. In the Savage 10ML-II, this AeroTip/5744 load works, and it works well. It will be my deer hunting load this year, and is the load that I recommend for deer hunting with the Savage 10ML-II rifle.

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For more info on the PowerBelt bullets, go to:

Jeff Quinn

UPDATE October 17th, 2005

I just received an email from the engineering department at Savage strongly recommending AGAINST the use of the PowerBelt bullet with smokeless powder. They certainly know more than I about this, so I am including their message here:

"PowerBelts are just undersized conicals, measuring .499 dropping down the bore of the .501" land to land 10ML-II. Not truly "jacketed," they have a thin copper cladding. Some Powerbelts remain pure lead.

"Encouraging the use of Powerbelts has several detrimental consequences. While there may be no misfires with the double-based, 20% nitro AA5744-- misfires and unhappy customers are likely with Savage recommended N110 and SR4759, a certainty with the long recommended 4227.

"There is the 295 grain PowerBelt Jeff was using, but the better PowerBelts on game are the 348, 405, and 444 Flat Nose versions. These far heavier bullets will send pressures through the roof with smokeless.

"As the copper cladding is thin, it is torn up by the rifling-- not the case in a saboted projectile. Use of the old, unplated Powerbelts (sold as BlackBelts) will coat the bore with lead. A big problem to remove, the classic method being to use liquid mercury. After the still-sold unplated PowerBelts came the first "copper clad" PowerBelts that are still around - the plating is a light copper wash, just like in .22 rimfire ammo. It is so thin you can see the lead through the copper, making bore leading a certainty.

"Harvester makes a competitive bullet to the PowerBelt, the Sabretooth. It is a very thin copper wash that promises lead fouling. If the PowerBelt is okay, why not the Sabertooth?

"PowerBelts generally do not move off the charge with filthy Pyrodex or Black powder fouling. With the use of ultra clean smokeless, movement of the bullet off of the powder charge is a good possibility-- possibly creating a bore obstruction.

"The Savage 10ML-II manual has long suggested only bullets in sabots by MMP with smokeless. To encourage or allow the use of bore-sized conicals may create some or all of the problems listed above-- bore leading, dramatically increased pressures, bore obstruction, and use of other conicals that are lubed lead also creating misfires due to powder contamination from that lube and also bore leading.

"With a PowerBelt, all of these problems can easily manifest themselves.

"Saboted pistol bullets, while not a true 'pressure valve', are at least an accuracy pressure valve. Those that choose to break the rules and just add more powder destroy the sabot seal, and accuracy is gone. No such deterrent is present in Powerbelts and other conicals.

"As a practical matter, a 295 grain PowerBelt, bore sized, cannot fly as flat or hit as hard as a .452 diameter Hornady XTP. The ballistic coefficient of the larger caliber bullet is correspondingly poor.

"Misfires, bore leading, and bore obstructions-- as well as the dramatically increased pressure from heavier (348, 4405, 444 gr.) Powerbelts are all problematic.

"Right in the Savage 'recommended powder loads' appears this statement, which I believe is also in all the manuals: "Use smokeless powder loads with saboted bullets only. When loading and shooting bore-sized lead conical bullets, Savage Arms, Inc. recommends loading with "Pyrodex® RS", "Select", "Pyrodex® Pellets", or "Triple Seven". Maximum recommended charge is 150 grains." That should be enough right there to dissuade people from Powerbelts and other conicals-- the manual clearly does not allow their use with smokeless."



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Click pictures for a larger version.


Savage's 10ML-II Smokeless Muzzleloader with Realtree Hardwoods HD stock.





The 10ML-II is equipped with high-visibility fiber-optic open sights...



...and is also factory drilled and tapped for scope bases.



The 10ML-II features Savage's excellent AccuTrigger.



The bolt holds a standard shotgun primer for ease of use and positive ignition.



PowerBelt's revolutionary AeroTip bullet.



All you need for a good deer load.



The combination of Accurate's 5744 and PowerBelt's AeroTip bullet offers all the accuracy, velocity and terminal performance you need for a successful hunt. Muzzleloading made simple!