There is something about hunting with a muzzleloader that gives me great
satisfaction. It has right from my first muzzleloader deer hunt some 30 odd
years ago when I heard that the Fort McCoy Military Reservation near Tomah,
Wis., was holding a special muzzleloader only hunt.
I applied, drew a permit and then had to scramble to come up with a
muzzleloader -- finally borrowing a .50-caliber T/C Hawken
from the only guy I knew who owned a muzzleloader. My friend John showed me how
to load the rifle and how to clean it and off I went!
The next morning, before dawn I slipped quietly over the rolling, oak
studded hills looking for a good place to sit. About the time day was breaking, I heard what I thought sounded like some deer scuffling through the leaves on
the other side of the ridge. When I peeked over the ridge a few minutes later
there were three deer -- two does and a fine, fat 6-point buck, all of them
pawing through the oak leaves in search of acorns.
I cocked the rifle, pulled the set trigger, got a good rest alongside the trunk of a handy oak, settled
the front blade in the rear notch and settled that behind the buck's near shoulder and nudged the forward trigger. It was
a still morning and the white smoke seemed to hang in the air forever, but when
it finally cleared there laid the buck, "stone-cold-dead" as the old saying
goes. I've been hunting with a muzzleloader ever since!
I've learned a few things since that day in the Wisconsin
hills, too. Like never trust that your muzzleloader is still shooting dead-on
like it was the previous season. Muzzleloaders are finicky contraptions. They
are not like that slug-gun or .06 in the gun case. Take them out and shoot them
a time or two, now before the weather turns cold and you have an excuse not
And don't get caught up in the advertising, which strongly suggests that we
all be shooting three 50-grain pellets. If you are comfortable with the
three-pellet 150-grain load so common today and if it shoots well in your
rifle, then by all means continue to use it. But know
this: 100 grains of powder or even slightly less will take down any whitetail
that ever walked the great north woods, and many rifles shoot better, sometimes
much better, with lighter loads. For example, my favorite muzzleloader can
handle three pellets, but I have learned through time on the range, that the
rifle shoots it's very best with 130 grains of loose Pyrodex,
so that is what I feed her.
Some of us who are on the far side of 40 don't see as well as we once did
and the iron sights on most muzzleloaders are not well suited for aging eyes.
If your state does not allow scopes, as is the case in my home state of Minnesota, consider
switching to either fiber optic sights or a peep sight -- either is much easier
and quicker to line up and get on target.
Muzzleloading hunters have one universal bad
habit. Or at least I see it as a bad habit. They wait for that perfect shot! You know, the kind you see on the cover of hunting
magazines, where the buck is broadside, close and in the open. Well if you hunt
the kind of places I hunt, you might wait a long, long, long time for a deer to
pose like that for you.
My advice? Take the first decent shot the deer offers you. I've been doing just that for
the last 25 years and only rarely have I been sorry.
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Gary Clancy writes a column for sportsmansguide.com. Gary has hunted whitetail deer in 20 different states and provinces. He has harvested many record-book animals, and presented hunting seminars from Tennessee to Wisconsin. Gary also has authored or co-authored six hunting books, four on whitetail hunting.