Muzzleloaders receive a bullet and propellant -- gunpowder -- through the muzzle, rather than through the breech, as is the case with modern firearms. Think of the long-barreled Springfield M1855 used during the American Civil War, and you'll get the idea. In fact, many still regard Springfield rifle-muskets as some of the finest weapons ever made.
Repeaters, such as the lever-action Spencer and Henry rifles, gradually replaced muzzleloaders in the late 1800s. They were in turn usurped by more advanced bolt-action rifles of World War I. For many years, few people beyond gun collectors and re-enactors sought out muzzleloaders. But two recent trends have renewed interest in this traditional gun. The first is the addition of primitive-weapons-only seasons in regions where whitetail deer populations have soared. The second is the introduction of improved rifle designs.
The inline muzzleloader defines the modern form of this firearm. Inline refers to the igniter, which sits directly behind the powder charge. Because the igniter and the charge are lined up, ignition is more efficient, and the explosion propelling the cartridge has more energy. More important, the ignition systems of inline muzzleloaders aren't exposed to the elements, eliminating the constant worry to "keep the powder dry."
Thompson/Center Arms offers a full line of inline muzzleloaders and accessories. Many hunters and sportsmen consider its Encore 209x.50 Magnum to be the most versatile muzzleloader available today. The Encore has a 26-inch barrel and produces a muzzle velocity of 2,203 feet (671 meters) per second, giving it stopping power out to 200 yards (183 meters).
The next gun on our list doesn't have the same range, but that doesn't diminish its popularity or its usefulness.