In a way, every hunt with a muzzleloader is like getting married for the first time; heart pounds, vision blurs and palms wring clammy, that sort of thing. Both the "agony of anticipation" and the "thrill of anticipation", in some unfathomable way, become "each the same"; stoking the emotional conflagration. As the hunt draws to its climax, and the hunter closes the distance, as they must when using a muzzleloader, conflicting feelings roil over one another, excitement and fear, anxiety and hope. There’s never been a better and there’s never been a worse!
There’s no popping off at 400 yards to ease the tension either, no blasting at running prey and no second shots; until the hunter slips within what would be considered "close range" with rifle, or "long range" with bow and arrow, the tension will not ease.
This is a good thing.
Making That Feeling Last
Simply put, some things are better rushed and some things are better savoured. Having a tooth pulled by a dentist is a thing that is better rushed. The long slow minutes when a big buck works its way towards your stand, is a thing that is better savoured. Better savoured because it happens so seldom. And when it does, it is far better to bathe in the moment, hang there on the brink for as long as possible, so every last beta wave has a chance to roll and crash around inside your brain.
During the last three decades, many of us, looking to make the feeling last, switched from our high-power centerfire rifles to archery equipment. Then just as quickly, many of us realised we didn’t have the "right stuff" to be Robin Hood. And so we looked for other options. That said, we who had changed to archery, had also learned to love the quiet times during bow season, sans the raucous action of rifle season. And how could we not love the special "archery only" rut hunts? There isn’t anything quite like hunting elk in full bugle, or hunting muledeer after the biggest of the bucks have slipped down from their impossible summer haunts to chase does. We learned also, to love hunting those "forbidden" zones around urban centres where rifles weren’t welcome.
In a sense, we were spoiled by the quality of the archery hunts, but we just weren’t born to be bowhunters.
The Perfect Choice
Thankfully, about the same time many of us found the marriage to our compound bows on the rocks, two things happened, the first was we discovered that the special muzzleloader seasons were nearly as desirable as the special archery seasons. And the second was that a man named Tony Knight had invented a revolutionary new muzzleloading firearm in 1985. It was a firearm that required the hunter use all the same skills required for archery, yet at the same time, it was a firearm that was efficient enough, provided the hunter had done his or her job, to "bring home the bacon".
The new firearm was called the "in-line" muzzleloader and it ushered in the "new age" in muzzleloading. Instead of using a traditional exposed hammer on the side of the gun to send the ignition flame into the side of the powder charge, Knight’s "in-line" muzzleloader used an internal, spring-loaded tubular hammer that sent the flame to the back of the powder charge. The tubular hammer, the nipple and the powder charge were all in a line, hence "in-line". Better still, the new firearm looked and felt like our favourite centerfire rifle and came drilled and tapped to accept a scope.
Advances in bullet design, like Nosler’s offering, and changes in substitute powder followed Knight’s introduction of the "in-line" muzzleloader and in fact, today, there are dozens of modern muzzleloaders being manufactured by other gun makers. The "new age" of muzzleloading is here to stay, as it should be, it’s the perfect choice for hunters looking to suffer in splendid glory.