My Muzzle-loading Mistakes

White Tales 11/30/2012

I thought I’d made all the possible muzzle-loading mistakes, but when 8 deer walked up to me yesterday and my cap went off without firing the powder, it was a new one. I quickly repeated the mistake, placing a new cap in the rifle and firing again at one of the deer that had, amazingly, not run off after the first cap fired.

That was an exercise in futility, because of course the powder again failed to explode. And I watched the herd of deer saunter off, smiles on their faces to match the frown on mine.

My hunting partner Ed Pineau later explained that the powder probably took on moisture because I kept my rifle in the house between hunting outings. So much to learn. So little brainpower left.

I love the muzzle-loading season, with few hunters, colder weather, and plenty of deer left from the rifle season in November. Even though I saw 21 deer during the rifle season, including a spike horn that walked up to me with 30 minutes left in the season, I passed on all of them.

My plan was to try for a big buck in November, then take what came my way in the muzzle-loading season, when I am concentrating on the woodlot of a farmer-friend who has deer problems.

The problems are not surprising, given that I saw 12 deer on his woodlot yesterday, and that doesn’t count the big buck that Jerry Pineau saw nor the doe that walked by Ed.

My second encounter of the afternoon added a new muzzle-loading mistake to my long list of errors with this firearm.

About an hour after messing up with the herd of 8 deer, I was in a new location, sitting on the side of a hill, waiting to plunge into the bog below me and hunt my way back to Ed’s stand.

I heard a deer coming, well below me, and saw it step through a small opening in the trees. Another doe, seemingly alone. It entered a fir thicket, and then I heard a second deer, well to my right. Glancing that way, I could just make out the silhouette of that deer, behind a row of small firs.

With no effective way to shoot, I had to wait and hope that one of the deer would advance up the hill toward me. As they got closer, but still in the fir thicket, I discovered that there were more than two deer. And my heart rate doubled. Pretty soon I could make out four deer.

But by then, I’d been holding the rifle up quite a while, and my arms tired to the point that I had to lower it a bit. And that’s when one of the deer saw me, whirled, and started back through the thicket.

All four deer exited about 100 yards below me, running through that same opening where I’d first seen the deer. As the fourth deer jumped into my field of vision through the scope, I fired. Or tried to.

There was a very slight delay between the firing of the cap and the explosion of the powder. I later learned that this is not unusual, and it’s critically important to hold steady until the powder does explode.

I think I lifted the gun in that instant between the cap firing and the powder exploding – or perhaps the deer simply jumped out of the way. Doesn’t matter. She escaped unharmed, leaving me out of powder, bullets, and patience.

But I still walked through the bog and arrived at Ed’s stand in time to tell him my tale of woe as we walked out of the woods. It was one of the best afternoons of hunting I’ve ever enjoyed.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.