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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Give Muzzleloading a Try

by Steve Sorensen
(Originally published in the Warren Times Observer, Warren, PA, Oct. 13, 2007.)
Deer are shifting from the salad bar to the meat buffet,
so don’t expect them to be where you saw them a few weeks ago.
351 days – I counted them. As a 12-year old it was a long, long time for me to wait from the end of my first deer season to the beginning of my second.

We don’t have to wait so long any more. We might still count the days, but with all the deer hunting opportunities we have, we don’t have to wait 351 days.

Already, archery season has been open for two weeks. And today marks the opening of a special week-long season we didn’t have those many years ago. Hunters using muzzleloaders can fill antlerless tags starting now.

So, if the regular firearms season is too cold or too crowded for you, now is a nice time to get out in the woods. Unlike the late post-Christmas muzzleloader season when the rules dictate flintlock only, any muzzleloading rifle – flintlock, percussion or in-line – is legal in Pennsylvania for this early season.

To take advantage of the early season, I bought a modern “in-line” muzzleloader, which means the ignition system is aligned with the bore – not off to the side as in a flintlock or percussion gun. The basic difference between in-line muzzleloaders and cartridge firearms is that the in-line doesn’t use a brass cartridge case.

You actually become a handloader when you use a muzzleloader. You dump a measured powder charge down the muzzle end of the barrel and push a bullet in after it. For an in-line gun, you insert a 209 primer (a primer normally used in shotgun shells) into the breech end.

From there, the gun fires like a centerfire rifle. Pulling the trigger drops a firing pin on the primer, which ignites a powder charge, and the expanding gases shove the bullet out the barrel. Then you start all over again because a muzzleloader is a single shot affair.

Last October was the first time I hunted this early muzzleloader season. Relentless rain proved that I made a good choice in purchasing a stainless steel rifle, and the Mueller red dot scope turned out to be truly waterproof as advertised.

Unfortunately, despite a bumper crop of apples and an abundance of deer sign, I saw only a few deer – none I was confident of shooting under the monsoon conditions.

Torrential rain is not the only thing that can make the October muzzleloader season challenging. Deer are shifting from the salad bar to the meat buffet, so don’t expect them to be where you saw them a few weeks ago. They’re depending less on clover and apples, and more on acorns in preparation for the rut and the long winter.

Also, their behavior is less predictable. The bucks are getting restless even though the does aren’t yet ready to be bred, and archers have been in the woods for two weeks now. Those two facts mean deer are continually looking over their shoulders.

Thanks to Pennsylvania’s October season and similar opportunities in other states, in-line muzzleloaders are popular and their evolution has been rapid. Plenty of manufacturers are producing quality rifles at affordable prices.

The in-lines often get a person started in muzzleloading, but many hunters go on to gain an extra measure of satisfaction by learning how to do it the traditional way – molding bullets and even building primitive replica rifles that bear witness to another era.

Hunting opportunities have increased significantly in recent years. So if you’re a gun hunter itching to get into the woods, why wait for the traditional rifle season? Try muzzleloading. For more information and a comprehensive review of all aspects of the sport, get your hands on Muzzleloading For Deer And Turkey, by Dave Ehrig, Pennsylvania’s leading authority on the subject.


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