Muzzle-loader hunters

By Larry Dablemont, Contributing Columnist
Posted 1/4/23

You have to be smart to hunt with a muzzle-loader! If you aren’t giving some thought to what you are doing and you nonchalantly ram a bullet down the barrel before you pour the powder in, you …

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Muzzle-loader hunters


You have to be smart to hunt with a muzzle-loader! If you aren’t giving some thought to what you are doing and you nonchalantly ram a bullet down the barrel before you pour the powder in, you have a problem. The powder absolutely has to go in first!

Hunting with a ‘smoke-pole’ causes you to think more and be more careful about the placement of one shot. One of my problems as a deer hunter is patience. I get tired of waiting; sitting in one spot up against a tree, with always one or two small rocks beneath me which do not seem to be a problem when I sit down, but become more of a problem the longer I wait. And though I know that all good things come to those who sit and wait, including deer, I once heard of a guy who had a limb fall on him while he sat and waited! I sort of like getting up and sneaking along, seeing new country thinking maybe a deer somewhere might be waiting on me.

Muzzle-loader hunting is just made for that kind of hunter, because you don’t have everyone and his brothers and uncles out there ruining the ambiance. Usually, during the mid week part of the muzzle-loader season, when I get off out into the deep woods away from the beaten path, I don’t see anyone else, and I feel a little bit like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett with that old black-powder rifle across the crook of my arm, easing along into the wind, pretending that folks back in the local settlement need venison. For a time, I can forget that a tank of gas is worth more than my trusty firearm.

The idea of muzzle-loaders was perfected long ago. You pour a charge of powder into the barrel through the end of the muzzle, and then follow it with a bullet which has to be rammed down to where the powder is with a rod.

Some hunters still use old- fashioned round lead balls, which sit on a little patch of cloth. Others just use a bullet-shaped lead slug with no patch needed. In the recent days of muzzle-loader hunting, some have begun to use a bullet, which sits inside a plastic case known as a sabot, rammed down against that powder charge. The powder is exploded when the hammer falls on a little firing cap at the base of the barrel.

It is true that we now have something known as an inline muzzle-loader, a recently created weapon which you can even put a scope on. This is a much truer and more dependable muzzle-loader but it is not at all something that a grizzled old veteran outdoorsman like me would use, because it reeks of modernidity, and defeats the purpose of hunting with a primitive weapon. If you intend to use one of those, you ought to be ashamed of yourself. You might as well don a blaze orange cap and go hunting with a single-shot shotgun and a slug; it has about the same similarity to what muzzle-loader deer hunting was suppose to be about.

There are some who still use a flintlock muzzle-loader, in which the firing cap is replaced by a flint mounted in the hammer, striking a plate which produces the spark and fires the powder charge which in turns sends the bullet. The Revolutionary War was fought with those.

Anyway, you probably won’t like true muzzle-loader hunting, if you are one of the modern day rifle hunters who would rather kill a deer than be in the woods. It is not difficult to get a deer with a muzzle-loader if you understand the weapon, and you can shoot it effectively. But again, there are those times when muzzle-loader hunting can break your heart. A misty, drizzly day often dampens the black powder and keeps it from firing. Once I sat beneath a big oak tree overlooking a deer trail for an hour in a light mist and fog, a significant accomplishment for someone with no more patience than I have. In time a fairly nice buck came along, with a doe behind him. That too, is a little hard to explain, usually the doe is in front, and the buck is following. But that day, I noted he was a nice fat little buck with an unimpressive six point rack, and at 50 yards, I figured he was about to relieve the hunger of the folks back in the local settlement. But when I squeezed the trigger and the hammer fell, the cap fired and the powder charge ignored it. It sounded like my cap gun use to sound when I was a little kid chasing bank robbers in the back yard. The buck noticed, and lurched a little, hopping along for a few yards before he settled back into a comfortable observant walk down the woodland trail. Powder don’t need to be wet to cause a problem… just moist.

To get a deer, I normally just need one shot. But sometimes I need one shot several times. I am getting tired of cleaning deer anyway. I don’t have to kill one every day I go. What I hope for most is just a really enjoyable few days in the woods where I can walk for hours, and an occasional good soft sitting place up against a tree where I can rest, and nobody else within five miles and maybe a good story or two to come from it. I most generally always find that in the muzzle-loader season.