I love hunting deer with a one-shot muzzleloader. As soon as that season was authorized, I purchased a modern in-line muzzleloader and took to the woods, where we often have snow, and I rarely see another hunter (unless he’s hunting with me).
My good friend Ed Pineau and I actually try not to shoot deer in November now, so we’ll have the chance to hunt in December.
Today is the opening day of the muzzleloading season, so I will share with you some of my best muzzleloading memories. And yes, my mistakes have been especially memorable!
I sat on a stone wall, on the higher ground, while Ed worked his way through the bog below me. This is one of our favorite strategies: one of us still hunting through an area, the other up ahead where the deer are apt to run.
I hadn’t been sitting very long when I saw movement down in the woods. Imagine my astonishment when I started to count the deer, all heading my way single file: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight! And the very first one was a large doe. With an any-deer permit in hand, I raised the gun, and when that doe was broadside about 40 yards away, offering a clear shot, I pulled the trigger.
And heard, “Click.” Misfire. The click was loud enough that most of the deer took off, but two of them, including the one I’d picked out, went only about 30 yards and stood there while I reloaded the gun with fresh powder and aimed again at the biggest doe. And heard another, “Click.” Another misfire.
I was mystified and, as you might expect, deeply disappointed. And you can imagine the ribbing I took when Ed got up to my stand and asked why I hadn’t shot at any of those deer he headed my way. Actually, I’m still getting ribbed about that, years later.
But I did turn this into a learning experience. What I’d done was leave the gun, powder, and bullets out in my garage overnight, where the powder picked up some moisture. And yes, now I keep it all in the house!
Clean the gun
Two years ago, on the opening day of the muzzleloading season, I met Ed and his wife Cate at the Fayette farm where we love to hunt. Getting out of the vehicle, very excited to be kicking off this great deer hunting season, I pulled out the muzzleloader to insert the powder and bullet.
But I couldn’t open the gun to insert the bullet. It was stuck shut. Apparently I’d forgotten to clean the gun at the end of the previous season. I hunted that day without a gun and then Ed loaned me one for the rest of the season. He took my gun home to see if he could get it opened and cleaned, but he couldn’t. So it ended up at Audette’s in Winthrop, where the guy who services their firearms got it all fixed up for me.
Another lesson learned. Clean those muzzleloaders often, and especially when the season is over!
Ed and I have a place we reserve for muzzleloading season near the village of Wayne. It’s a fairly small piece of woods near the shore of a small pond and along the stream that exits the pond. I think it was the first or second muzzleloading season when I stepped to the edge of the woods and saw a doe and large buck take off on the other side of the bog.
I raised the gun, rested it against the trunk of a large Pine, and fired. A clean miss, judging by the way the deer continued to run through the swale grass. And with a muzzleloader, you only get one shot, so I was through. Later, I hiked over there just to make sure I’d missed, and I tracked the deer for a ways. No harm done.
When I met Ed later that morning, near the spot where I’d shot, I took him over to show him. “I was right here, and the buck was over there, on the far side,” I said to Ed’s great astonishment and amusement. “That’s about 300 yards!” he exclaimed, explaining that the range of my muzzleloader was about 100 yards, tops. “You didn’t even scare them,” he said. Good to know and another learning experience.
When I got up about 4 am that morning, it was snowing hard. Ed wasn’t hunting with me that day and I thought about going back to bed. But I do love to hunt in the snow, so I bundled up and drove, very slowly and cautiously, to Wayne, where I parked on the side of the road and hiked in about 300 yards to a stone wall where I liked to sit.
The deer often cross the road here after a night of wandering and head into the bedding area near the edge of the bog. Sure enough, about a half hour after sunrise, I saw a group of deer heading my way. I could only see bits and pieces of deer, and even though I had an any-deer permit, I decided to wait for a better shot.
Unfortunately, the deer turned and headed toward a house at the top of the knoll behind me. So I turned to face that way, hoping they’d return. And after about 15 minutes, I spotted a small doe headed back down the hill toward me. When she got to about 50 yards, I fired and she dropped.
By now, it was clear this storm was going to be a blizzard. It was really snowing hard and we’d already gotten about 6 inches of snow. After cleaning the deer, I trudged out to my vehicle to leave my gun and backpack before returning to haul the deer out.
When I got to the road, a state trooper was parked behind my vehicle, concerned that someone had broken down. He was a bit incredulous that I was out there hunting in the blizzard, but after I told him I’d just shot a deer, he actually offered to help me haul it out! I thanked him and told him it wasn’t that big and I could do it myself. And I did.