KODIAK — Call me a duffer or a geezer, or just plain old fashioned, but I’ve always held a special place in my heart for single shotguns. I doubt I’m alone in starting my youthful shooting career with single shots.

My first rifle was a single shot, bolt-action .22 purchased from a catalog after a couple of years of saving my paltry allowance and doing odd jobs ranging from mucking out horse barns to setting irrigation pipe.

I was all of 12 years old by the time the collection of coins amassed to cover the purchase. You can imagine I was a happy kid wandering through the desert with that cherished gun, but my first day out taught me a valuable lesson.  

It took two weeks of allowance or the help of at least one odd job to cover a single box of the cheapest .22 shorts. But even with a single shot, I could go through a whole box in under an hour.

Talk about an early lesson in practical economics!

I learned to resist the urge to shoot until I was close and sure of my target; from that day forth “plinking” was a luxury reserved for those with more jingle in their pockets.

The passage of a couple of years expanded my tastes and ambitions for hunts, especially in the fall, when dove season opened and my .22 relegated me to the role of bird dog for friends and family members owning shotguns.

My selection of odd jobs increased as I grew older and stronger, so it took me only a year to save for a single shot .410. But I learned more economic lessons once I had it in my hands. A box of .410 shells cost five times as much as a box of .22 shorts, but there were only 25 shells in a box. And, those darned doves and quail were especially good at avoiding my diminutive shot clouds.

A 12 gauge, single shot, of course, followed on the heels of the .410 with another jump in ammo prices, but no more doves or quail in my bag.  And, back in the days before minimum wage, when a dollar a day was considered good pay for kids, it took three days of sweat in the desert sun to cover the cost of a single box of 12 gauge shells.

Providence smiled when it was time for a “real” rifle, because an elderly neighbor offered to give me his beloved old Model 94 30-30 if I’d move all the hay bales from his field into his barn.  

You never saw a kid work so fast or so hard with deer season just over the horizon!

But, alas, it was an ancient lever gun with a replacement butt stock whittled from a 2x4, no sign of bluing and a badly dented magazine tube. It was accurate as a snake bite, but due to the dent nonetheless a single shot.

By the time I graduated from high school, my cash flow had improved considerably, but I was cursed by genetics. I’m so left-handed a right-handed rifle was little better than a single shot, and there were virtually no lefty rifles to be had. Rather than settling for a wrong-handed bolt gun, I stayed with single shots.

The point behind that long drawn-out account is to help explain my affection for stalking game up close and making a single perfectly placed shot.

Sure, I’ve owned many bolt guns over the following decades, lefty, of course, but the extra rounds in the magazine are almost an afterthought once I leave the range and head into the hills.

I’ve made some very long shots, but always with what amounts to a sense of guilt. Over 50 years later, the 12-year-old kid with a single shot residing in my genes feels almost robbed in foregoing the opportunity to stalk up close to the animal before taking the shot.

Since the establishment of a muzzleloading deer season on Kodiak on November 1-14, I’ve found the perfect arena where nostalgia for my youth can step away from modern hunting with long range guns, big glass and lots of hunters.

You have to take a class and pass a shooting test to qualify for the hunt; the rules of the game ban scopes in favor of open sights and close range stalking. Best of all, not many people have bothered to become qualified to hunt the special season.

In a decade of hunting, I’ve run into only two other hunters in the field. And, they were archery hunting, the special season for which runs concurrently with the muzzleloader season.

It’s certainly too late to take a class and qualify for this year’s hunt if you haven’t already done so, but with the Christmas season approaching, there’s plenty of time to consider a muzzleloader of your own. More important than that, the span of time between now and the 2019 muzzleloader hunt will give you plenty of time to learn to shoot a muzzleloader and take the class.

I’m not talking about a huge investment when I urge putting a muzzleloader in your rack.

Perfectly serviceable muzzleloaders can be bought new for less than you probably paid for your last rifle scope. And certainly less than a modern rifle, handgun or shotgun. You can probably buy all the loading components and tools you need in addition to the cost of the muzzleloader while still spending less than the cost of a modern gun.

Muzzleloading rifles fall into two broad “camps.” There are the traditional or “sidelock” versions, which have been used for centuries, and there are the modern “in-line” versions with their roots in modern guns.

It really doesn’t matter which path you follow into the muzzleloading world once you recognize that you won’t be able to use a scope on either for the special muzzleloading season.They’re both accurate within about 100 yards, the practical limit of their open sights an arcing trajectory.

I own both, and I have to tell you that there’s no advantage to one over the other when it comes time to clean and maintain them after shooting. It’s a fact of life that the fouling from black powder and its substitutes can be highly corrosive. You have to clean both styles of guns right after you return from shooting, with no “if’s” or “but’s” about it. In fact, I find the older sidelock style easier to clean and maintain than most in-lines.

The real beauty of a muzzleloader comes in the field. Because you’re “reloading” your ammo after each shot in the field, you can vary the load combos just like you do with metallic cartridges at your reloading bench.

You can increase powder charges on the spot for deer hunting or small game hunting.

Though you might be impressed by the calibers of muzzleloaders used for deer hunting, they also make terrific small game guns.  You might use 80 or 100 grains of powder for deer, but the same rifle turns into a head shooter for snowshoe hare with only 30 grains of powder.

As a matter of fact, I consume a whole lot more powder with those 30 grain charges than I ever manage with larger charges for deer. If you do your part, you only need a single large powder charge to end your deer season, but you can go for months on end shooting 30 grains at a time for snowshoe hare.

If you discover that close hunting and single shooting is right for you, there’s a much larger world of muzzleloading you can tap into.

I delight in dedicated small game guns in calibers like .32, .36 and .40, just as I delight in using flintlock smoothbore guns with range limits more like 50 yards for taking deer. The smoothbores are especially fun since they’re mostly available in .62 caliber and larger. If you want to really impress your friends at the range, pull out a .75 caliber muzzleloader and make large clouds of smelly white smoke!


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