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Muzzle Loader Moments 1

By Scott Irving

 

I first started shooting black powder guns back in the early 80’s while living in Laramie, Wyoming. With so much western history occurring in this area, I couldn’t help but take up an interest in the history and shooting of primitive firearms. The first muzzleloader I purchased was a CVA .50 caliber Hawken which came to me as a kit. It was a lot of fun “making” this gun into something that I could take out to the range and shoot with. I ended up killing a pronghorn antelope with that rifle and I still have the skull and horns in my den from my first kill with a muzzleloader. While he wasn’t a huge buck, any antelope with a black powder rifle can be considered a trophy as it’s so difficult to get close to them. Since those days, I have been on many hunts with a muzzleloader in hand, from the caribou fields of Alaska to the forests of Washington State. On many of these hunts, I have come home empty handed. But on a few, I have been lucky enough to fill my tag. The hunt described below was one of those lucky hunts.

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Every year, on the first weekend of October, the community of Issaquah, Washington celebrates the return of the salmon with a weekend event in town called “Salmon Days”. It is a popular event which attracts thousands of people to our small town every year. The highlight is for people to observe the thousands of salmon returning to spawn in the local streams and creeks. I have spent many of the last few years enjoying this annual event with my family. The problem is that this weekend usually coincides with the opening weekend for muzzleloader deer and elk seasons in Washington. So, on this weekend in 2007, I got smart and figured out a way to enjoy both events. The first day I would go deer hunting and the second I would go to Salmon Days with my family. Perfect!

With just 1 day to hunt, I could not make a long range trip but would have to hunt close to home. This narrowed my choices down to just a couple areas, one of which is about a 10 minute drive from my house. After making the drive in the early afternoon, I parked the truck and started a 2 mile hike toward a clear-cut where I had seen deer in the past. The weather was sort of a typical fall day in the northwest…cool and very rainy. On the way into the clear-cut, I observed some fresh elk tracks and since the season was open for elk in this unit as well, I had to be ready for an encounter with them too. With the rain starting to get worse, I found a large cedar tree on the edge of the clear-cut that I decided to sit under and wait until dark.

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While waiting for a nice buck to come out into the clear-cut, I reflected on how fortunate I was to be out hunting today. The weather was horrible, I was cold and wet, and I was getting less optimistic about my chances by the minute. But this is what we wait all year for, and rain or shine, it’s great to get out in the field with a rifle in hand! One thing I really enjoy about hunting is that you just never know from one minute to the next what you are going to see. I always tell my young son that when things are slow, try not to let your guard down because more often than not, that is when a buck will sneak right by you.  

With daylight fading fast and in the last few minutes of legal shooting light, I stood up and was getting ready to start hiking out when I caught some movement in the clear-cut below me. After confirming with my binoculars that what I was seeing in the low light was in fact a deer, I had to quickly come up with a plan to get into shooting range before it would be to dark to shoot. I was carrying my .54 caliber Thompson Center Hawken and I prefer not to shoot at anything over 100 yards with it. My rangefinder told me this animal was out about 120 yards, so I needed to take a little bit of the distance off before I was comfortable taking a shot. As I crouched down, I had very little cover to put a sneak on the animal but there appeared to be just enough brush and small trees between me and the deer to use if I belly-crawled a ways. After getting the 20 yards closer that I needed, I looked up to see the buck staring right at me. It was now or never so I stood up and took an offhand shot at 102 yards. Through the haze of the black powder smoke and pouring rain, I could not tell if I had hit the deer. I shot as the deer ran uphill and then out of sight behind some cedar trees. I reloaded my rifle as quickly as I could and hustled over toward the direction that I last saw him. As I came around from behind the trees, I saw him standing uphill from me about 40 yards away. He appeared to be wounded and was hit hard.  One more shot from my Hawken put him down for good.


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I was using a 365 grain T/C Maxi Hunter bullet on top of 95 grains of GOEX black powder. I prefer using black powder over Pyrodex because black powder is simply more combustible. When hunting in the damp conditions of the Pacific Northwest, you need every edge you can get when hunting with these guns. There is nothing worse than after all the preparation, hard work, and getting into a shooting situation, the only sound that you here when the trigger is pulled is the cap exploding without igniting the powder! If you hunt long enough with muzzleloaders you will probably experience this at some point, but there are a few things you can do to minimize the chances of this occurring. I’ll go over some of the other things you can do to avoid misfires with your traditional black powder rifle in the next issue of Deep Countree.