River Valley Outdoors
Bagging that big buck doesn’t have to end with the closing of the firearms season – hunters can continue to pursue whitetails with muzzle loading rifles.
The last week of muzzle loading deer season, in full swing this week, runs from December 3 through December 8 in Wildlife Management Districts 12, 13, 15–18, 20–26, and 29.
Muzzle loading rifles are loaded, as the name implies, by pouring black powder down the barrel and shoving a projectile into the muzzle. A ramrod pushes the bullet down the barrel, seating it firmly on the charge of gunpowder.
Muzzle loading hunters typically choose from three different priming systems. Older style flintlock rifles use a piece of flint attached to the hammer to set off a charge of fine black powder that ignites the main charge. The more “modern,” caplock system uses a small primer, or cap for ignition. Pulling the trigger releases a sear that allows the hammer to fall sharply onto the cap and set off the charge.
The third system, and most modern, happens to be the in-line muzzle loading rifle. This rifle uses an enclosed ignition system, with a primer setting directly (in line) over a charge of black powder in the breach of the barrel.
Hunting with a muzzle loader can be quite challenging on several levels. Only one shot can be fired at a time, until the hunter goes through the complete reloading sequence described above. Rarely will even the most accomplished black powder hunter get a chance to fire a second shot – the reloading process just takes too long, and most white-tailed deer won’t stand around and wait for the hunter to complete the sequence.
The next challenge involves keep the powder dry. Wet black powder won’t ignite, and even a moist priming system can spoil the deal by not igniting the main charge properly.
Condensation in the barrel can also render the gunpowder inert. Folks that move their rifles back and forth from a cold and warm environment can start this condensation inside the barrel and ruin the powder.
Rainy or snowy days can easily cause both caplock and flintlock ignition systems to fail. This doesn’t mean hunters using these priming systems need to give up hunting in rain or snow – they just have to learn how to keep the ignition area from being exposed to the elements.
Traditionalists use the hide from a calf’s leg joint to cover the priming area, while others shield it with more modern materials like a plastic baggie or waterproofed canvas.
In-line muzzle loading rifles don’t have this problem with the rain. The in-line system encloses the primer and ignition area within the rifle, protecting the temperamental charging system from contact with rain or snow.
When I hunt in the rain or snow with my caplock rifle, a Thompson/Center .54 caliber Hawken, I even go so far as to put a rubber balloon over the muzzle to avoid rain or snow from seeping down the barrel and damaging the black powder charge.
Although the big, heavy bullets used in muzzle loading rifles can easily drop the biggest deer, they tend to only provide reliable accuracy out to around 100 yards. Some modern-designed bullets on the market, fired from high-tech muzzle loaders, might move that accuracy yardage out a little further.
Muzzleloader’s ballistics just can’t compete with modern rifles that use smokeless powder and new rifle designs, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun hunting with the ol’ smoke pole. Carrying my heavy Hawken around in the woods sets me back in time, to a place where mountain men wore buckskins, and enjoyed venison over an open fire in the woods. Now I just need to find that venison.