Thursday, June 12, 2014

Modern or Traditional Muzzleloader Hunting?

            When contemplating getting into muzzleloading for whitetails, too often an early decision that must be made is, whether to go the modern in-line ignition route or to follow the path of tradition, to hunt exactly as our forefathers hunted - with an old fashioned side-hammer percussion or flintlock muzzleloader.  I'm one of those guys who just tends to do it all, and to play on both sides of the muzzleloader fence.

            Over the years, I have been drawn into this division of muzzleloading, and the bickering over what is right...what is not - and what should be allowed during the muzzleloader seasons, and what shouldn't far too many times.  It has been this very rift which has prevented muzzleloader hunting from enjoying the same growth as bowhunting - which has embraced both traditional and modern archery tackle.   Still, there are today around 3-million muzzleloading hunters in the U.S. - and the No. 1 game hunted by today's  smokepolers is the whitetail.

            In a number of states, such as Michigan, Ohio and Virginia, as many as 200,000 hunters annually participate during the muzzleloader deer seasons held there.  Across the country, in the 49 states which do offer a recognized muzzleloader big game season, the number of participants would very likely average between 30,000 and 40,000.  Most require the purchase of a separate muzzleloader hunting license or permit, adding greatly to the operating funds for the wildlife agencies in those states.

            The one and only state which does not offer a muzzleloader season is Montana, where I now live.  Unfortunately, it has been the Montana Bowhunters Association which has staunchly stood in opposition to establishing a season or hunts for the muzzleloading hunter.  Fortunately, there is now a new push to get such a season established.
             The vast majority of muzzleloading hunters today tend to favor the better performing modern in-line ignition rifles - which currently account for right at 90-percent of all muzzleloaders manufactured and sold.  Another fact is, most of the muzzleloader seasons now held in this country were established after the popularity of those modern in-line rifles - due to their efficiency, accuracy and better range capability.  That kind of performance lured more people into muzzleloading, just as the compound bow brought more hunters into bowhunting.  Through the late 1980's and 1990's new muzzleloader hunting seasons popped up all over the country - with some states offering both an early and a late muzzleloader hunt.

            The "added range" of modern in-line rifles and loads has been one issue that has tended to irritate some extremely staunch traditional muzzleloader fanciers - who very often claim that old style muzzle-loaded rifles were not capable of delivering 200 yard accuracy and big game knockdown power at that range. 

            The fact is, long range muzzleloading was developed right here in the U.S. during the 1840's, with the introduction of rifles featuring a fast twist rate of rifling, which could properly stabilize a long and heavy conical bullet - also an American invention.  Many of those rifles tended to also feature one other shooting innovation, which was developed right here in this country - the telescopic rifle sight (a.k.a. riflescope).

            I could never fully choose between hunting exclusively with either a "modern" muzzleloader or a "traditional" muzzleloader.  However, I've always hunted with a rifle, projectile and powder charge that insured the accuracy and game taking energy needed to insure a clean harvest of the game - within the effective range of the rifle and load being used for the hunt.

            My favorite annual deer hunt takes me to north central Montana , to the Musselshell River, along the south side of the Missouri Breaks.  In 2012, I hunted there with a modern copy of a late 1840's .50 caliber percussion bullet rifle, which had been topped with a Hi-Lux Optics modern copy of a period correct 6x Malcolm riflescope. 

            The rifle has been dubbed the Missouri River Hawken, produced by the Davide Pedersoli & Co. gun making firm of Brescia, Italy - and offered here in the U.S. by Dixie Gun Works, of Union City, TN...and a few other importers.  The percussion half-stock features a hefty 1-inch diameter barrel measuring 30-inches in length, and rifled with a fast turn-in-24 inches rate of rifling twist.  My load consisted of a weighed 90-grain (98.5 gr. by volume) charge of Alliant Black MZ powder, behind one of the big 350-grain bore-sized Hornady FBP bullets  -  which is a modern rendition of the old Civil War hollow-based Minie' bullet.  The big difference is the copper plating and polymer-tipped spitzer nose of the much sleeker and flatter flying Hornady hollow-based FPB bullet.

            At the muzzle, the rifle and load are good for 1,734 f.p.s. - which generates 2,331 f.p.e. at the muzzle.  The long 350-grain bullet has a high .285 b.c., and at 200 yards the bullet retains right around 1,250 f.p.s. - and 1,200 f.p.e.  The scope had been sighted dead on at 100 yards, and when a nice 5x5 buck walked into the open along the edge of an open hayfield right in front of my blind, I guessed the range at 160 to 165 yards.  To allow for bullet drop, I held right at the top of the buck's back.  At the shot, the deer literally dropped on the spot.

            The big bullet had zipped right through, doing a lot of damage to internal organs.  The exit hole was several inches lower than I expected, so when I drove out to pick up the deer, I took a laser rangefinder reading on the blind - 174 yards.  The longest shot I've ever taken at a whitetail with a traditionally styled muzzleloading rifle.

       During the 2013 season, hunting the very same river-bottom hayfield, on the fifth day of the hunt, another good 5x5 whitetail buck offered a perfectly broadside shot at about 150 yards.  The rifle being hunted with was one of the modern break-open No. 209 primer ignition Traditions .50 caliber VORTEK Ultra Light LDR in-line models.  The 30-inch barreled muzzleloader had been stuffed with 110-grains (volume measured) of the latest in high performance muzzleloading propellants - Blackhorn 209.   The charge had then been topped with an equally modern saboted 300-grain spire-point bullet - the Scorpion PT Gold from Harvester Muzzleloading .  The instant the crosshairs of the modern Hi-Lux Optics TB-ML 3-9x40mm muzzleloader hunting scope settled just behind the front shoulder, the trigger eased back and the rifle barked.
            That buck went just 20 yards and piled up.  Leaving the muzzle at 2,009 f.p.s., the spire-pointed 300-grain bullet had developed 2,688 f.p.e.  Out at 200 yards, the load is still good for 1,451 f.p.s. and 1,401 f.p.e.  At the distance the buck was standing, the deer was anchored by about 1,600 foot-pounds of knockdown power.

            Traditional or Modern?...That choice is yours to make.    I thoroughly enjoyed preparing for and making each of these hunts.  For me, and a growing number of others, the enjoyment and satisfaction of hunting with either is the same.  -  Toby Bridges, Harvester Muzzleloading Hunter  


  1. The rift between traditional & modern muzzleloader hunters baffles & frustrates me...almost as much as the missed hunting opportunities caused by the rift. I do both. We could learn a lot from bow hunters on this.

  2. If you've experienced hunting game, then you'll see the importance of the right gear to get the best results every time. In this case, an excellent riflescope for hunting deer. I literally live in "deer country" so it's natural to see our town come alive during deer season. With many newer gear today such as the Nikon Prostaff and the Bushnell Trophy 600 XLT DOA, it's important that you choose the right one for your needs. For great reviews, see: