Muzzleloaders are nostalgic, effective

Larry Woody • Nov 1, 2017 at 9:30 AM

Muzzleloader season opens Saturday, Nov. 4 and thousands of hunters will take to the fields and forests to try to bag a deer the way our frontier forefathers did.

Well, sort of.

The frontiersmen didn’t have scopes on their smoke-poles as I and many other modern muzzleloaders do. They didn’t use plastic-booted Sabot bullets; they fired hand-molded punkin balls rammed down the barrel on greased patches. They primed their long-rifles with coarse black powder instead of synthetic powder or pellets that make for cleaner, more dependable firing.

But although the equipment has changed, the spirit is the same.

Muzzleloader hunting is challenging; you generally get only one shot, and you learn to make it count.

The shots have to be relatively close, which puts more emphasis on hunting skills. Granted, while a modern muzzleloader can drive tacks at 100 yards, there’s no sniping deer at 300-400 yards.

Since I hunt from the ground rather than perched up on a tree stand, most of my shots are fairly close – probably 40 yards or less. My muzzleloader is deadly at that range.

Just how effective modern muzzleloaders are was proven last year when young Gallatin hunter Stephen Tucker used one to bag a world-record non-typical buck. That’s about as good a testimony as you can get: the biggest buck on record was killed with a muzzleloader.

I started muzzleloader hunting many years ago using an old-fashioned hammerlock with no scope, shooting punkin balls and black powder. Poor eyesight eventually necessitated the use of a scope, and I gradually added an in-line rifle and other modern accoutrements for convenience and dependability.

One of my hunting buddies, Clarence Dies, refuses to give into such modern-day temptations. He hunts with a replica of a 17th-century long-rifle, using genuine black power and greased-patch punkin balls.

Clarence doesn’t stop there; he also dresses the part with fringed buckskins, moccasins, beaver-pelt hat and the type of gear that was in use over 200 years ago. He puts as much emphasis on history as on hunting.

In addition to keeping us in touch with our inter-frontiersman, muzzleloader season offers other charms. For starters, it comes in early November when the weather is perfect. I’ve always thought September and October, when the bow hunters are afield, are too warm to deer hunt. December and early January, during deer season’s stretch run, can be frigid and miserable.

But November is ideal, with an early-autumn nip in the air at dawn, warming up quickly after sunrise. The woods are starting to turn golden and scarlet, and there is a whiff of wood-smoke in the air.

Hunting pressure is not as heavy as it will be later on when gun season opens, which means the movement of deer will be more natural and predictable. Hunting is not only more enjoyable, but usually more productive.

For some of us, muzzleloader time is the best time. We’ve waited all year for opening day, and now it’s finally here. We’re ready to smell some powder smoke in the frosty morning air.

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