Muzzleloaders are back and better than ever. If you’re not in the game, here’s what you’re missing and what you need to know to experience the most exciting hunting ever.
by the HuntDaily staff
Is hunting no longer the exciting challenge it used to be?
Do you want to spend more time chasing big game?
Would you like to raise your hunting challenge to a new level?
If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions, here is the good news—muzzleloader hunting is on the rise, with more opportunities to hunt, more products and technology to choose from, and more help to get you started than ever before. And if you have never hunted with a muzzleloader but have been thinking about getting in on the action, now is the perfect time to jump in.
Many hunters and shooters who have not tried a muzzleloader often ask a common question: “Why would I want to?” Yet ask anyone who is actively involved in shooting and hunting with muzzleloaders and you had better have a pen and several sheets of paper handy to take notes. But never mind that. We’ll break it down for you.
Why Would I Want To Hunt With A Muzzleloader?
- Extend your hunting season – The time we have to spend in the woods is a rare commodity. Most of us are working longer hours and more days a week than previous generations. Add in family obligations, and we are lucky to get more than a couple of days a year to hunt during our state’s centerfire rifle season. Fortunately, thanks to advocacy groups like the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association, most states have set aside special seasons just for muzzleloader rifle hunters. By picking up a muzzleloader, you have effectively extended your hunting season by a day or two (maybe more), and increased your chances of putting more meat in the freezer.
- Become a better hunter – Muzzleloader hunting follows the one shot, one kill ethic. As such, it requires you to hone your shooting skills and woodcraft. You learn to make each shot count, and you learn how to get closer to your game. Just like bowhunters, muzzleloader rifle hunters are more attuned to the hunt and the techniques needed to successfully and ethically harvest wild game.
- Hunt when there is less pressure – In many states, the centerfire rifle season is a time when hunters seem to be standing on every ridge line and along every field edge. Muzzleloader season is different. The chaos of centerfire rifle season is usually over and the woods have returned to relative calm. Muzzleloader season is a time when you can slip quietly through the woods without bumping into someone, or sit in your stand as deer—no longer pressured—go back to their normal patterns. Many times, this is when the really big deer, the ones that were smart enough to avoid the mass infiltration of rifle hunters, venture out of their hiding spots.
- The DIY factor – Whether you pick up a muzzleloader to hunt or simply to spend fun time on the range, shooting offers a do-it-yourself element that folks who hunt exclusively with a centerfire rifle never get to experience (unless they do their own reloading). Every rifle, whether it is a muzzleloader or a centerfire, has an accuracy “sweet spot” when it comes to the bullet and powder combination. Finding that sweet spot with a centerfire rifle requires a lot of custom handloading, or going through hundreds of dollars worth of factory ammunition. With a muzzleloader, the process is much simpler. Every charge is hand-loaded by means of a small powder measurer. Increasing or decreasing the powder charge within the recommended range will allow you to find the most accurate charge for your specific rifle and bullet combination. The process is not difficult, but it is fun and quite rewarding. There is also a great sense of satisfaction that you, as the shooter, are in full command of your equipment. Moreover, when you successfully harvest an animal with the load you developed, the satisfaction increases exponentially.
Muzzleloader vs. Centerfire Rifle Hunting: It’s All About The Fun
Speaking of satisfaction, here is a good example of how muzzleloaders can deliver a more robust hunting experience than conventional centerfire rifles.
In early October, a couple of friends and I went to southern Colorado to hunt antelope. At the same time, our outfitter was hosting another group of four hunters who were also after antelope. The difference between our two groups was that we were all using muzzleloaders while the other group had long-range centerfire bolt-action rifles and an AR-platform rifle. By noon on the first day of our respective hunts, three of the centerfire guys had tagged out. The last of their group got his pronghorn later that afternoon. Within hours, their hunt was over.
By contrast, my friends and I spent that entire first day chasing antelope—spotting, stalking, and trying to get within a comfortable 200-yard window. One of my companions made a long stalk (after a couple of failed attempts earlier in the day) and dropped her first goat at 225 yards. I spent the entire next day stalking (three in all), finally getting mine with a 240-yard shot right at dusk. The last member of our group put in a long stalk on the third day before dropping his trophy.
The point is, had we not been hunting with muzzleloaders and trying our best to stalk to within close range for a lethal and ethical one-shot kill, our hunt would’ve been over that first morning. We never would have been in the field to watch the sun set behind the arid hills, never would have learned the peculiarities of this uniquely American game animal, and never would have had the satisfaction of completing a successful stalk and making a challenging shot. In other words, we did not travel 2,000 miles just to tip over an animal. We had gone to Colorado for a new hunting experience, and the muzzleloaders allowed us to do just that.
Getting Started With Muzzleloaders
Shooting and hunting with a muzzleloading rifle can be as simple or as involved as you want to make it. Most people start out with a basic, low-cost setup, and then, after a season or two, find their true “muzzleloading groove.” Others just jump right into the deep end. That is one of the great things about muzzleloader shooting—this is a customizable sport. Whether you are meat hunting with an entry-level inline rifle or going all-out with an old-school flintlock and dressing in period regalia, the muzzleloading rifle lets you find that comfortable niche that is uniquely you.
The elemental components of muzzleloader hunting or shooting are:
- Rifle – The muzzeloading rifle comes in three common ignition styles: flintlock, percussion cap, and inline. For shooting convenience and easier cleaning of the rifle, the inline muzzleloader is most common today. Many folks, however, enjoy the looks and nostalgia of the 19th century style percussion cap rifles or the flintlock rifles that preceded them. Whichever you choose, all are fun and exceptionally accurate.
- Propellant – There are several forms of propellants that are used with muzzleloading rifles, from traditional black powder to synthetic powders to pre-formed “pellets” that require no measuring. Which you choose depends on your rifle and your style of shooting.
- Bullets – Round ball, conical, or copper-jacketed alloy with sabots…there are many bullet styles to choose from. In some cases, your rifle will tell you what it likes best, or simply go with your personal taste. Flintlock and percussion cap rifle shooters tend to use round balls and patches or conical maxi balls. Modern inline shooters usually opt for sabot-style loads that feature copper-jacketed lead in a variety of point designs.
- Other Necessities – There are a number of items commonly associated with muzzleloader rifles. At its most basic, these include a powder measurer, a bullet starter, and cleaning materials and tools.
As you can see, the art and science of shooting a muzzleloader goes far beyond what we have time to discuss here, and it may seem daunting to someone who is just getting into muzzleloader hunting for the first time. But do not worry. Information and assistance is as easy to obtain as asking for it. One source, in particular, that can be of tremendous value to novice and veteran muzzleloader rifle enthusiasts alike is the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA).
The NMLRA was founded in 1933 with the goal of preserving the craft and sport of muzzleloading guns. Since then, the organization has helped to expand muzzleloader hunting seasons across the country, and it continues to be an advocate for our gun rights today.
One of the great things about the NMLRA is that its members are always eager to help newcomers to the world of muzzleloaders. Getting your questions answered—from how to select your first muzzleloader to what type of ammo to use—is as easy as calling (800) 745-1493, emailing email@example.com, or posting your questions on the NMLRA’s Facebook page. You can also become a member of the NMLRA even if you are new to the sport. In addition to the long list of benefits and support from fellow muzzleloader enthusiasts, you will receive a subscription to Muzzle Blasts magazine, where you will find entertaining and educational articles designed to help you get the most from the muzzleloader rifle experience.
So, if you are looking to add a new and exciting dimension to your hunt, join the growing number of outdoor and shooting enthusiasts who are taking up the muzzleloader rifle challenge. You will become a better hunter in the process, expand your time in the field, and provide a low-cost, high-fun sport that you can enjoy year-round.
Article copyright 2015 by HuntDaily.com; promoted by National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association