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NULA’s Model 209 Muzzleloader

By Richard Mann

50-yard target shot
Almost every 50-yard target shot with the NULA 209 from the bench looked like this or better.

Open a catalog from any of the major hunting rifle manufacturers and you will find at least one “lightweight” rifle listed. This is great  news for hunters, especially those who like to hunt on their feet.

If you’re a fan of light rifles, you owe a debt to West Virginia gunsmith Melvin Forbes. In 1984, he started the “lightweight” rifle revolution when he introduced a bolt-action hunting rifle that tipped the scales at less than 5 pounds. Since then, New Ultra Light Arms (NULA), the company started by Forbes, has sold thousands of these rifles in many configurations.

Ironically, here in the new millennium, inline muzzleloaders are one of the hottest things going. Advancements in muzzleloading design came to a standstill around the mid-1800s. The War Between the States moved us into the arena of the repeating rifle and the self-contained cartridge, signaling the death of the frontstuffer. Then, about 100 years later, the “buckskinner” craze swept the nation. This interest in traditional blackpowder arms prompted many state game agencies to open exclusive muzzleloading or blackpowder hunting seasons. The stage for the modern inline was set.

Recovered from a large boar taken with the NULA 209
Recovered from a large boar taken with the NULA 209, this Nosler SHOTS bullet performed perfectly.

In 1985, Tony Knight, a gunsmith and former employee of the Rock Island railroad, introduced the first modern inline muzzleloader. It was a success, and now many manufacturers like CVA, Thompson-Center, Winchester and Traditions build inline muzzleloaders. Game departments soon offered additional big game muzzleloading seasons, many occurring before regular firearms seasons. Now, in 2004, only a handful of states limit the use of inlines or optical sights during these special seasons.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been fortunate to hunt with a variety of inline rifles. Most offered reliable service and hunting-grade accuracy, but none were tack drivers and all were heavy. Some weighed near 9 pounds.

During a visit with Melvin at the West Virginia National Hunting and Fishing Day celebration, I asked him why he’d not addressed the problem. Three months later, I had the first NULA Model 209 in my hands.

The NULA 209 is built on an action similar to what NULA uses for its bolt-action .22 rifles. Fitted with a 25-inch Douglas chrome-moly barrel. The .50-caliber rifle has a .72-inch bore diameter. A .45-caliber version is also available. The rifle relies on 209 shotshell primers for ignition, and the bolt is fitted with an extractor that will pull fired or unfired primers from the breech plug.

Remove the bolt, and a 7Ú16-inch socket can be inserted through the action to facilitate breech plug removal. The fire-control system is just like that of other NULA rifles and features a patented three-function safety and a Timney trigger. The same amazingly rigid, lightweight Kevlar-reinforced stock that NULA uses on all its rifles is included with the 209, and a full-length ramrod is secured under the barrel by two ferrules.

Today!Out of the box, the rifle weighs 4 pounds, 9 ounces! Talley lightweight rings come standard with each rifle and only add 1.5 ounces.

Just like other modern inlines, the 209 will handle “magnum” or 150-grain blackpowder loads. Here, you are probably thinking it kicks like a Georgia mule, but the stock has been engineered to tame recoil. It is straight, allowing perfect eye alignment with the scope and just the right amount of contact between cheek and comb with a tad bit of cast at the butt. I found it much more comfortable to shoot than other heavy, equally charged inlines weighing almost twice as much. In one day, I fired more than 50 rounds from the NULA 209 and did not experience any objectionable recoil. In fact, felt recoil was similar to my Kimber Model 84 in .308 Winchester.

This stock also provides tremendous rigidity to the rifle. In 20 years, NULA has never had to replace a broken stock. The rifle is full-length bedded, providing a rigid platform for the barrel to rest in. It is common for NULA centerfire rifles to shoot all bullet weights to nearly the same point of impact. The NULA 209 is no different.

NULA actions are just as tough as NULA stocks. Nosler has used a NULA action without failure for more than 15 years to test and develop data for its bullets.

When the NULA 209 arrived, I called Melvin and asked him about accuracy. He said, “I’ve never had accuracy problems with any of my rifles.” There was not a problem with this one, either. As you can see in the accompanying chart, 27 three-shot 100-yard groups consisting of nine different bullet/powder combinations produced an average 1.3-inch group! That’s outstanding performance from any rifle.

But there’s more. The NULA 209 is compatible with smokeless powder. This doesn’t mean you can substitute blackpowder data for use with smokeless powder, but you can use smokeless powder in the rifle. This makes the NULA 209 very versatile and a direct competitor to the Savage Model 10ML, but the NULA inline is 3 pounds lighter.

Just after I received the rifle for testing, I was invited to hunt with Kaps Optik-USA at the Brookson Plantation near Macon, Miss. Wild boar and whitetails were in season. Lifetime Hunts, located on the Brookson Plantation, encompasses over 9,000 acres. It is a first-class operation. The second day of the hunt, I used the NULA 209 topped with a Kaps 2-8x42 scope to take two wild boars: a sow at about 130 yards and a big tusker at 80 steps. I used the 250-grain Nosler SHOTS bullet ahead of 40 grains of IMR 4227. The sow was struck broadside behind the shoulder, and the bullet punched out the other side. The heavier boar was shot in the shoulder as he was quartering toward me. I recovered the bullet out of the paunch. It had expanded to .78 inches. Optics and rifle performed without fault.

Read More Stories From GunHunter MagazineIt took Melvin Forbes 20 years to get around to solving the problem of heavy inline muzzleloaders. The New Ultra Light Arms model 209 sets a new standard for muzzleloading. Priced around $1,000, it’s not cheap, but if you’re looking for a lightweight muzzleloader that shoots exceptionally well, the NULA 209 is the way to go.

(304) 292-0600 /

Reprinted from the August 2004 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine

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