I doubt it will surprise anyone to hear that I’ve become somewhat of a nut for muzzleloaders. In retrospect it seems like a natural outcome of a lifetime of hunting, but it was never a goal. As recently as 10 years ago I never even considered the possibility.
My interest is the result of a logical progression from conventional rifle hunting to archery, then handguns and finally charcoal burners.
In a nutshell, I get the most enjoyment on my hunts from working up close to deer. I’m not bothered in the least to “blow” a stalk on an animal, even a trophy, on a long and challenging stalk.
In fact, with each failed stalk my appreciation of the animals grows. It’s an unexplainable contradiction to folks who don’t hunt, but the more I hunt, the more I appreciate the animals.
My excitement and enthusiasm for deer hunting grows by the hour as the general season winds to an end on Oct. 31. That’s because the primitive weapon season for archery and muzzleloading starts Nov. 1 and runs through Nov. 14.
The numbers of hunters drops dramatically and makes it easier to find undisturbed deer. And best of all, the weather is changing and the rut is closing in.
Really large bucks that have spent their summer far back in the interior of Kodiak will be making their moves to lower elevations and closer to the coast in search of does.
Hunting during the special primitive weapon season is close to hunting the areas beyond the road system while spending each night at home in your own bed.
It’s been so long since I’ve hunted deer with a bow that I won’t even try to talk about it. There are lots of folks here on Kodiak more qualified to tell you about archery hunting.
But on behalf of everyone who has passed the ADF&G qualifying class and will be hunting with a muzzleloader this year for the first time, I’ve got lots to say.
First and foremost, muzzleloaders can be accurate! With a little load development and steady practice, I can shoot as well offhand with a muzzleloader at 100 yards as I can with a bow or handgun at less than half that distance. And in fact it takes a lot less practice to shoot well with a muzzleloader than with either of the others.
You still won’t make shots as long as with a scoped deer rifle, but I bet you can do as well as you could shooting the same rifle with open sights rather than a scope. While I limit myself to less than 100 yards due to aging eyes, I know skilled muzzleloader shooters who shoot quite well to at least 150 yards.
That’s all theoretical for me because I prefer to stalk within 50 yards, but in truth your shooting skills will be more of a limitation than the muzzleloader you carry.
It’s worth pointing out that you’re not allowed to use a scoped muzzleloader during the primitive weapon season, even though you can certainly use a scoped muzzleloader during the regular season.
With that in mind, there is zero, zip, nada advantage to using a modern inline muzzleloader rather than a traditional sidelock muzzleloader, whether a percussion gun or a flintlock.
Open sights on an inline don’t take advantage of the large powder charges and sabot bullets they were designed for.
I own and use both styles of rifles, and in fact I find the traditional styles of guns a lot easier than inlines to shoot accurately on hunts. They may be comparable from a benchrest, but when it comes time to shoot offhand on a hunt the traditional gun’s extra barrel weight really steadies the sights.
And as long as I’m comparing the two, I find traditional guns no more difficult to clean and maintain than inlines. In fact, traditional guns are easier to clean because they’re easier to dismantle.
You certainly won’t hear that from the companies selling inlines, so take it as the word of experience from a guy who uses and likes both. The bottom line is that the residue from black powder and most of the substitute powders is corrosive, and you need to clean the guns thoroughly after firing them.
Here’s another insight for you. Yes, you’re carrying a one-shooter, but bows and some pistols and centerfire rifles like the Ruger No. 1 are one-shooters, too. If you miss it takes a few moments to reload before you can shoot again, but not as long as you might imagine.
Using a little device called a “speed loader” that contains both the powder and the bullet, most folks can reload in well under 10 seconds with a little practice. If you think about it, that’s only about twice as long as it takes to reload a bow or a Ruger No. 1.
But what about Kodiak’s wet weather?
Now things get a little interesting, but less so than you might imagine.
If you take normal precautions, a muzzleloader is virtually as reliable as your standard deer rifle. You need to place a strip of black electrical tape across the muzzle, but most seasoned Kodiak hunters do that with any rifle, just to keep sticks, snow and mud out of the bore.
And you have to keep you prime dry, whether that’s a No. 11 percussion cap, a 209 shotgun primer or the pan of fine black powder on a flintlock.
The traditional method requires an oiled leather sleeve called a “cow’s knee” that fits over the lock. But you can do just fine with a piece of plastic wrap and a strip of tape, or by merely developing the discipline to keep the lock under a flap of your raincoat as you hunt.
If there is an advantage to modern inlines, it surfaces with the ability to use waterproof No. 209 shotshell primers for ignition. But the truth is, even when using those I still worry about water and protect the lock. If you haven’t experienced it yet, Kodiak’s rain has a nasty habit of creeping into all the wrong places and causing problems in spite of the latest technology.
In my experience with flintlocks, merely keeping the water off the lock isn’t enough in wet weather. Humidity from the air will eventually foul the priming powder, so it’s a good idea to change that every half hour or so.
Now what about bullets? A whole lot of advertising money has been spent to sell sabot-style bullets of the many sorts. They certainly offer an advantage for flat trajectories and long range shooting.
But inside 100 yards? Nah. In my experience plain old patched round balls kill as well or better, making it possible to shoot a lot cheaper and practice a lot more. Remember what I said about practice being the important element in accuracy with open sights?
I certainly enjoy and respect the capabilities of sabot-style bullets, but I’m sincerely impressed with the killing power of round balls, too, even at modest velocities from a traditional sidelock rifle. All but one of the balls I’ve shot deer with gave complete pass-throughs with impressive exits.
The single ball I did recover started life at .530-inch diameter, but finished under the hide on the far side of a deer at .980-inch while retaining 90 percent of it’s weight. Round balls are pure lead, after all, and they expand well while also retaining weight.
Which muzzleloader you hunt with and what you stuff down the barrel are personal choices, and I can’t criticize any of them. They’re all quite capable if you do your part.
And that’s the whole deal. Doing your part.
You have to hunt differently than you do with a rifle that shoots accurately at 400 yards and beyond.
For me that’s the magic of muzzleloaders. And archery. And handguns!