The Joys of Muzzleloader Shooting
Muzzleloaders are a lot of fun to shoot! The concept of a single shot makes shooters try to do their best on every shot. Large puffs of smoke belching from the muzzle after each shot, makes this a very visual shooting sport. As well, muzzleloaders are capable of firing a variety of bullet weights and powder charges, giving them the ability to be a multi species firearm.
For years, people have shot muzzleloading guns. Most shooters fired old style flintlock guns with open sights. Some shooters found these early muzzleloading firearms reminded them of their forefathers and helped these individuals re-live the past. However, for many shooters, these guns were unappealing, inaccurate and were a royal pain in the butt to shoot and clean. Thus, there were a very limited number of people involved in muzzleloader shooting and hunting.
Over the course of the past several years, the interest in muzzleloaders and muzzleloader hunting has grown and continues to grow. Much of this growth is due to several gun manufacturers developing inline muzzleloading rifles that are built with today's technology, using yesterday's ideas. These fine firearms are fun and easy to use, have high percentage ignitions and are highly accurate. In addition, they're easy to disassemble and clean.
These new muzzleloading guns resemble modern centre-fire rifles. They have excellent safety mechanisms and precision rifled barrels. Many of them come tapped and died directly from the factory, so all a shooter has to do is add bases, rings and a scope. It's very common these days for shooters using in-line muzzleloaders with scopes to achieve one inch groups or better at a hundred yards.
Along with the invention of new muzzleloaders, there has also been a major advancement in gun cleaning solutions. There are all kinds of effective no fuss, no mess gun cleaning solutions designed specifically for muzzleloaders. These new cleaning chemicals make cleaning muzzleloaders a breeze. With these new products, gone are the hours of cleaning after each session at the range or in the field!
Hunters are also quickly discovering that muzzleloaders offer new hunting seasons, high levels of success and many other unique opportunities.
Extra Seasons and Hunting Benefits
Many states and provinces, including my home province of Saskatchewan offer special muzzleloader hunting seasons that are separate from regular rifle seasons. Many of these special seasons are approximately a month before the regular rifle hunting seasons and are often set up to coincide with or run just before the peak rut of the big game species. Hunting with a muzzleloader during these bonus time periods can prove very exciting and productive. Antelope, deer, moose and elk become more mobile and visible just prior to and during their rutting periods as they try to prove their dominance or search for mates.
In many jurisdictions, special muzzleloading seasons are often held after all other hunting seasons are over. Typically, these extra seasons are several weeks long. They give hunters ample opportunity to get out in the field and get in some bonus hunting action when big game animals are often patternable as they concentrate on cold weather feeding areas.
Inline muzzleloaders such as this one, have made muzzleloader hunting for
big game animals, much more enjoyable.
During muzzleloader seasons, there are usually fewer hunters in the field than during a regular rifle season. This gives muzzleloader hunters an excellent opportunity to harvest an animal. Fewer hunters means less pressure and less pressure means that the animals should continue acting in their natural ways. With the animals' daily habits remaining unchanged, muzzleloader hunters should be able to pattern the animals. If the hunter is able to determine when, where and why an animal will be in certain location, it should increase the hunter's odds for success.
Since in many areas muzzleloader seasons generally start before the rifle seasons, the muzzleloader hunter is able to get a jump on the rifle hunters. This early start accompanied with the fact that there are fewer hunters in the field, should allow the muzzleloader hunter to see more animals and get more opportunities at harvesting a big game animal before the rifle hunters move in.
Using game calls to attract big animals can be very productive during the muzzleloader seasons. Whitetail and mule deer will often respond to grunt and bleat calls. In the early part of the season, when the rut is just starting to fire up, they may come to your call out of curiosity. If this is the case, be patient as their approach will typically be very slow. Later in the season when the rut is in full swing, be prepared for fast action, as the deer may come storming in to investigate your call.
Many a muzzleloader hunter has rattled in a whitetail deer. To be successful during the early part of the season, you should just tickle your rattling antlers together to stimulate a minor sparring match. Try to scrape your rattling antlers on trees and bushes, trying to fool a buck that there is another buck in his territory. Later in the season, when the rut is more advanced, you can use more aggressive rattling techniques to stimulate full-scale battles.
Elk can be called into range with bugles or cow calls. If the bull elk are bugling, try bugling back to them. With any luck, they will respond and move into muzzleloader shooting range. If the bulls are not calling, try using a cow call to entice them into shooting range. Often a simple series of cow calls will bring in an entire herd of elk.
If you get a chance to hunt moose just prior to the breeding period, bull grunts can be used to effectively coax a bull into range. The reason for this is that bulls will be competing with one another for dominance. However, if it's breeding season, the bulls will be more interested in checking out the call of a cow in heat as opposed to responding to a bugling bull looking for a fight.
Some muzzleloader hunters pursuing antelope will use a decoy to try and lure in their buck. Although this technique can be highly productive, it can also be very dangerous. Other hunters may see the decoy and be fooled by it. The result could be someone shooting at the decoy and killing or injuring the hunter hiding behind the decoy. In most antelope/muzzleloader situations, I prefer to set up near a watering hole and try to catch a love struck buck as it comes in for a quick drink.
Muzzleloader hunters are usually able to go hunting in decent weather conditions. During a typical muzzleloader season, the temperatures are usually moderate to warm. Snow and winter blizzards are a rarity. This means the traditional hunting attire of long johns, toques and parkas can be replaced by T-Shirts, sweat shirts, light jackets and ball caps.
Many gun ranges have realized the growth of muzzleloading. As a result, special muzzleloader ranges have been built to meet the unique needs of smoke-pole shooters. Having spent time on such ranges, I have found that muzzleloader shooters tend to be friendly, outgoing individuals who are willing to help other shooters, teach them tricks of the trade and talk hunting and shooting for hours on end.
Book, magazine publishers and Internet websites, such as www.biggamehunt.net have also recognized the growth of muzzleloading. Over the past few years, there has been a steady growth in the number of books and articles published on muzzleloaders and muzzleloading hunting. With increased access to product reviews, reference materials, hunting stories and hunting techniques, muzzleloader shooters are able to learn more about their sport. Increased knowledge means greater satisfaction and a greater desire to participate in the sport.
Game of Accessories and Gadgets
Muzzleloader shooters will also find that shooting a muzzleloader requires a variety of accessories and gadgets. These items are fun to accumulate. They are even more fun to use!
A few accessories: bullets/sabots, ram rod T-handle, cleaning jag, wire brush,
ball/quick starter, speed loader and cleaning solution are needed for your muzzleloader.
The ramrod is probably the most used muzzleloader gadget you require. One of the main functions of the ramrod is stuffing bullets down the barrel. However, it is also used for maintaining and cleaning the muzzleloader barrel. Ramrods are typically threaded on both ends for adding a variety of gun care attachments.
In addition to your ramrod, you'll also need a jag (ribbed attachment for cleaning), ramrod extension, bullet puller and a short starter or bullet starter.
For those shooting loose powder, a powder measurer and a flask are essential. For a couple of dollars, you can also get a powder can nozzle that allows you easily pour powder right out of the can.
Just a few of my favourite things: bullets/sabots, speed loader, powder flask,
powder measurer, T-handle, ball/quick starter and a jag.
Whether you shoot loose powder or pellets, express loaders are a very good investment. These small tubes are made to hold a bullet and premeasured charge of powder. Express loaders make reloading a quick process and one that you'll appreciate, especially when you have a 1200 pound moose requiring a second shot coming straight at you.
A capper unit serves a dual role of helping you put percussion caps on your gun's nipple and allowing you to carry a few spare percussion caps. Speaking of nipples, a nipple wrench is necessary for removing and replacing the muzzleloader's nipple. In most muzzleloaders, the nipples must be removed before the gun can be cleaned. Since the nipples are threaded and generally tucked away, a specialized nipple wrench is another must.
A variety of muzzleloader accessories resting on a possibles bag. Included are a
powder flask, primers, ball/quick starter, powder measurer, capper and a speed loader.
Blackpowder and pyrodex are highly corrosive propellants as they attract moisture. At a minimum, you require cleaning patches, a wire brush, cleaning solutions and gun oil. However, as previously mentioned, with today's technologies, there are a variety of cleaning solutions and accessories that help make muzzleloader cleaning an easy event.
Cleaning is made easy these days!
After shooting your muzzleloader, you should clean it. For best results, get in the habit of cleaning it after every hunt. If you shoot your gun and store it away without cleaning it, you'll be in for a big surprise (and it won't be pleasant) the next time you go to use your muzzleloader.
A small glass jar with a lid on it is ideal for soaking small parts in cleaning solution. As well, an old toothbrush works great for cleaning hard to reach areas of your muzzleloader.
You will require a good set of screwdrivers for taking your gun apart and ensuring that everything is tight. Teflon tape is great for wrapping around the threads on the gun's nipples. A simple wrap of teflon tape makes the nipple easier to remove and prevents it from seizing. If you are shooting your muzzleloader with a scope, a roll of electrical tape is a good investment. Since blackpowder and pyrodex are so corrosive, you can save damage to your scope's finish by covering the scope tube with electrical tape.
When hunting, you will need to carry your muzzleloader accessories with you. Some hunters like to go with backpacks or bags they can carry, while other prefer a pouch that attaches to their belt. Whatever style you choose, make sure that it is big enough to carry all the equipment that you need, yet not so bulky that you continually leave it at home or in your truck. As well, make sure it seals shut, so that you don't loose your equipment as you stalk across the countryside.
Limitations and Potential Restrictions
Muzzleloaders have changed dramatically over the past few years. However, it's important to remember that they are still only capable of firing one shot at a time. In addition, they also have a limited effective range. While stories abound of hunters taking big game animals at long range shots with muzzleloaders, they really are a close to moderate range firearm. While many of the new in-line muzzleloaders loaded with a maximum charge have the capability of taking animals out to ranges of 200 plus yards, I personally try to limit my shots to 150 yards and prefer those in the 100 yard range.
Before heading out on a muzzleloader hunt, take time to check the regulations for the jurisdiction you are planning to hunt. Some states and provinces may have restrictions in place that do not allow hunters to use in-line muzzleloaders or scopes on their muzzleloaders. In addition, there may be restrictions in place for minimum caliber sizes.
Give It a Try
In this day and age with all the bad news of gun control and anti-hunting, it is great to see a shooting sport growing by leaps and bounds. If you're interested in muzzleloading, go to your nearest gun range and show some interest. Before long, one of the shooters will have you on the bench trying out their gun. After that first shot, I can guarantee that you'll be hooked for life and will have a new shooting hobby that will give endless hours of enjoyment and exciting challenges.