It wasn’t that long ago when blackpowder hunting was the only way to go. Even after the advent of the Winchester 1894 .30-30 rifle, many clung to their .45-70 and Sharps rifles as well. Today, we have blackpowder hunting seasons in which only single-shot blackpowder rifles are allowed. This has resulted in practically every hunter owning some type of blackpowder rifle. Along the way, some have become fans of blackpowder’s white smoke. Some chase every advantage and use the inline muzzleloader with the cleanest powder possible. Others use only traditional firearms, and a very few even hunt with flintlocks.
No one is wrong as long as the procedure is safe and they respect the game. I have to admit that the first time I fired blackpowder many years ago, it was quite a thrill. The report just isn’t the same as smokeless, and the results are pretty amazing. I was already a handloader. I began handloading in my teens, so loading the Hawken wasn’t a challenge. In fact, I enjoyed working up light practice loads and full-power loads for serious use.
When blackpowder hunting season comes, don’t groan; enjoy the challenge. Firing a tight three-shot group at 100 yards is challenging, but once you have the procedure down and have worked up a good load, repeatability isn’t difficult. There are many reasons for owning a muzzleloader. The challenge is one. The primary reason, I believe, is the ability to hunt during the special hunting seasons mandated by state agencies. Also, there is the challenge of working in close. After all, we have only one shot. No matter how accurate the rifle and how confident you have become with blackpowder in general, you always wish to work in close to have every advantage.
Muzzleloading season is never as crowded.
There are many hunters who feel their traditional rifles are the way to go and don’t think the modern inline muzzleloader fits the spirit of the game. I have friends on both sides and will steer clear of this, saying simply, “To each his own.” I use a variety of rifles and appreciate them all, from the scoped .30-06 to the lever-action .32-20. Just remember that back in the day, many traditional shooters did everything they could to develop superior sights and loading procedures, even riflescopes. They longed for advanced rifles, and it’s an even bet that they traded up as soon as the opportunity presented itself.
Just the same, I respect traditional and really like the Hawken rifle. I don’t think a person armed with an inline muzzleloader with the same single-shot as anyone else is going to affect my enjoyment of the game. When you are hunting, chances are you’re going to be in an area with about 1/3 to 1/4 as many hunters as when conventional rifles are about. That isn’t a problem for anyone.
Getting It Right
It used to take a long time to load the rifle and get the accuracy right. It’s much easier with modern gear. Pellet-size powder, sabot slugs, and shotshell primers have changed the world. Debate spit or tallow patches all you want, but most of us don’t have the time to master traditional blackpowder loading, and we get along pretty good.
Shotshell primer ignition affords repeatability and excellent ignition, which are the brothers of accuracy. Sabots also give the shooter greater accuracy potential. By marrying the modern jacketed bullet to a sabot, accuracy is enhanced and fouling decreased. Plastic fouling, however, can be a problem. Clean the rifle every two to three shots when using sabots. The same problem can occur with a shotgun and plastic wads, although it is more pronounced with muzzleloading rifling. Clean after every shot for best shooting and accuracy.
I think 99 percent of blackpowder shooters are going to hunt with a muzzleloader because of the mandated season, but a few will for the challenge. The woods are more inviting when less crowded. When you purchase a muzzleloader, you are agreeing to accept the challenge, learn the necessary skills to make a clean kill on a fine game animal, and do the necessary study to ensure that you know what you are about.
Do you shoot smokepoles? What tips, tricks or stories can you share to show the enjoyment of hunting or just a day at the range with a muzzleloader?
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