For people who have an unused deer or elk tag nagging you, there’s another hunting opportunity happening right now. There is a catch, however.
This new opportunity started last Saturday and runs through this coming Sunday, December 19. And the catch is that you have to use a traditional muzzleloader firearm.
There’s nothing about the muzzleloader season in the printed deer and elk hunting regulations, as the season was established by the Fish & Wildlife Commission, presumably after the printed regulations went to press.
There are many options for your muzzleloader gun, but a modern in-line black powder gun is not one of them. The classification in the regulation is a “Heritage” firearm. That’s defined as a traditional muzzleloader that is loaded by pouring a pre-measured charge of loose black powder, pyrodex, or other black powder down the bore. A plain lead projectile is placed over the powder charge by pushing it down the bore from the muzzle end and seating it on the powder charge. The gun is discharged by use of a flintlock, wheel lock, matchlock, or percussion mechanism.
In short, you must use a firearm that Daniel Boone would recognize. You can use only a “plain lead” projectile of .45 caliber or larger, not one that is in a sabot, a devise that fits around a projectile to center it in the barrel. The barrel may be rifled.
While I do happen to have a couple muzzleloading guns, I won’t be going deer or elk hunting this week, in that I didn’t buy a deer or elk tag prior to November 28, which is the first requirement.
Years ago, I received a Christmas gift of a muzzleloader double barrel shotgun kit. That meant a box with metal parts and an unfinished wood stock. It was a fun winter project to get things assembled, as well as sanding, checkering and finishing the stock. The following summer I took it out to the trap club and blasted a couple clay pigeons with it and gave a couple other people the opportunity to do the same.
It was literally a “blast,” with a big cloud of smoke out in front, but the recoil wasn’t much different than a regular shotgun, and the clay pigeons shattered when the shooter did his part.
I took it hunting once, thinking it would be fun to bag a ruffed grouse with an old-fashioned fowling piece. As it happened, we didn’t find any grouse, and then at the end of the hunt the only way to unload the gun is to shoot it. Then, after getting home, you must flush the gun out and scrub it, let it dry and then give the barrels a light lubrication. In other words, there’s a lot of hassle using an old-fashioned black powder gun. It increased my appreciation for the modern (as in the last 150 years) technology of smokeless, non-corrosive powders and primers, brass cartridges, or paper or plastic shotshells and other new-fangled accoutrements of the early 20th Century.
I also have a muzzleloading .50 caliber rifle that, in fact, I haven’t shot since I got it some years ago. I won it in a drawing at an outdoor writers conference. We had a morning at a firing range where we got to try out various guns, including this one, and some of the manufacturers put their wares in a drawing. Proving that lightning can strike twice, this is actually the second muzzleloader rifle I won in a drawing. I won one a few years earlier, and when I got the second gun I gave the first one to my son, Kevin. I don’t think he’s taken his out, either.
Using a muzzleloader can be educational. You learn the meaning of old expressions such a “flash in the pan,” or a “hang fire.” Then there’s the smell of burnt sulfur and rotten eggs when you scrub the barrel.
Still, these old smoke poles are accurate at reasonable distances, and some lucky shooters will bring home their venison the old-fashioned way.
Paul Vang’s new book, “Golden Years, Golden Hours,” is available at How Novel, The Second Edition, Isle of Books & Books, or online at http://writingoutdoors.com.