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Author: Jim Shockey
Hunting by primitive means rekindles the true spirit of the hunt.
It was my first whitetail buck with a muzzleloader, my first muzzleloader hunt to be more exact.
My heart pounded. My vision blurred. The palms of my hands sweated and I had a sudden urge to answer the call of nature. The buck on the other hand was a picture of confidence. Even at 200 yards it was obvious he was the "King of the Forest." His heavy rack swept out beyond his ears and high over his forehead. Slowly, he moved one interminable step at a time towards where I sat hidden in a willow bush.
Just as slowly, I became unglued. The worst case of buck fever I've had since my first deer hunt 20 years before. To quote Elvis, I was "shaking like a leaf on a tree."
I watched the buck approach, step by every single step. It seemed to take forever; my pulse was out of control. To this day the image of that big whitetail buck is crisp and clear. At 60 yards, he stopped and stood broadside, head high, proud and challenging. The sun was behind me, bathing the buck in golden hues and turning his polished antlers into a crown of highlighted spears. Impressive, would be an understatement.
I, on the other hand was about as impressive as a bowl of Jell-O and twice as wobbly. Summoning all the Certo that existed in my body, I managed to raise my fancy new Knight in-line muzzleloader and yank the trigger in the buck's general direction. Let me tell you, it was a relief. I couldn't have taken another minute of that intense level of tension.
Needless to say, I missed.
The buck turned and trotted back toward the knoll. A second before it had been a relief to yank the trigger, but now suddenly the realization of what I'd just done dawned on me. I was disgusted with myself and felt like busting my muzzleloader in two. Who was it that ever thought of muzzleloaders anyway? If I had been using my big rifle, that buck would have been dead the instant it stepped from the woods. I wouldn't have had buck fever and my pride would now be intact.
That's when the oddest thing happened; the buck stopped, turned and started coming back! For the second time in as many minutes, I lost control. Reload! Fast! I grabbed my pack, unzipped it and dumped it out on the ground. Like a junkie I clawed for bullets, powder and caps. Done! In one motion I rose to my knees, sighted and fired at the buck now standing 20 yards away. BOOM! Smoke and then nothing. The buck trotted back into the trees.
And so for the second time I lost it. I cursed every person who ever said a good thing about muzzleloading. I cursed muzzleloading in general and then, suddenly...an epiphany! I cursed the fact that I hadn't started muzzleloading earlier in my career! What a rush! I'd hunted with a rifle for so many years that I'd forgotten what it feels like to have the adrenalin hammer through the old body. Sure the opportunity is there with a bow and arrow, but after the hundredth big buck passes just out of range of your bow you start to get a little conditioned to never quite getting a shot off. With a muzzleloader it's different. You know you'll get a shot off...or at least the odds are higher, but it will only be one shot. That puts a certain pressure on the hunter that isn't there in other forms of hunting.
The hunt I related above is of course the exception to that rule; no Einstein that buck, normally when you hunt with a front stuffer, you only get one shot. Therein lies the first argument in favor of muzzleloading. One shot. The hunter has to make that shot count. If he does not he can expect very few second chances.
The second pro-muzzleloading factor has to do with the relative inefficiency of all muzzleloaders in the power department. High power centerfire rifles they ain't. Loaded with 100 grains of powder like I load for every animal I've ever hunted in North America, even a sabotted Nosler slug from my muzzleloader barely approaches the hitting power of the ancient .30-30 Winchester. Not to take anything away from a .30-30. Likely more game has been taken in North America by that calibre then any other, but at best it is a close range option, as is a muzzleloader of any type.
This fact leads us to the third factor in favor of the muzzleloader. You have to be close to your quarry to kill it. The hunter, generally speaking has to be better acquainted with his prey then a road-hunting buddy who uses a high-power, repeating rifle. In other words, the quality of the hunt is better.
And the fourth factor is safety. Because a muzzleloading hunter is not inclined to blaze away at a deer running half-a-mile away, and his single bullet, will not carry destructive energy nearly as far as a high-power centerfire rifle, there is less chance of collateral damage. This factor is particularly important in the more densely habituated rural areas surrounding our major cities.
So those are the reasons for muzzleloading; single shot capability promotes a higher level of hunting skill, which in turn makes for a better quality hunt and thereby ensures a greater measure of safety for all concerned. All factors to be considered by those who make the rules in the provinces and territories that do not yet provide a special muzzleloader-only season.
Which all serves to bring us around to my own inauspicious muzzleloading debut... After the magnificent, albeit patient buck made it back to the trees, I reloaded one more time knowing full well that whatever the outcome, I was hooked on muzzleloading forever, miss or no miss. Thankfully my last shot had been true and I recovered the buck a short distance away. To this day, that buck overlooks my desk, right above my head.
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