October 1, 2020
By Brian Beck
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Well folks, it's that time of year again. The mornings are crisp, the leaves are changing colors, the fields are being harvested, football is on TV (surprisingly), and for some reason that I have yet to figure out, the store shelves are full of pumpkin spice flavored EVERYTHING. For many of us, especially those in the Midwest, all of these trigger excitement for one thing… Deer season! For years now, I have been an avid and active bow hunter, but this year is a bit different. My love of hunting and history have had a head on collision with my purchase and completion of a flintlock American Long Rifle kit. This choice was partially motivated by my aforementioned love of history, but also because of the fact that the only rifle you can legally hunt deer with in Illinois is a muzzleloader. This is the first muzzleloader I've ever owned and my first year hunting with one, so I thought I'd share what I've learned for those considering a turn to the dark side of black powder for hunting. So grab yourself a pumpkin spice latte and let's get ready to fill that freezer!
Buying a Muzzleloader
First things first. You have to get yourself a muzzleloader. There are a plethora of different options out there from modern inline guns to the more traditional flintlocks, and even matchlocks. I myself, went with a Jim Kibler Colonial Longrifle kit. For someone who wants to take the more traditional route and build their own rifle, longrifle kits can be a wonderful experience that can be incredibly rewarding upon completion as it continues a tradition that has persisted in this country for hundreds of years. I can't recommend one of these kits highly enough. For those less interested in building, but are still looking for that traditional 18th century hunting experience, it just so happens that there is a fantastic selection of beautiful antique and contemporary longrifles available in our October Sporting & Collector Auction, here at Rock Island Auction Company.
Sold alongside an abundance of other muzzleloaders and shotguns, any one of the rifles available in this auction is worthy of praise and admiration. As I said, the choice of muzzleloader is completely up to personal preference, so all I can say is do your research and check your local regulations, as they may vary. Not to mention, your selection of firearm will somewhat alter your equipment and preparations to hunt.
The next steps in the process are fairly simple: make sure you are adequately prepared and then shoot your newly acquired muzzleloader. In my opinion, using the rifle is the best way to determine what materials you will want and need. Experience is always the best teacher.
Assembling Your Equipment
Unlike bench shooting, one major factor to remember while shooting freehand is that you'll need to carry all of this gear with you during the entire hunt. Keep this in mind as you may be quite far from your house, truck, or from anything you'd normally be prepared to take with you to the range. When choosing the type of equipment to get, you'll also want to consider what type of hunting you'll be doing and what environment you'll be operating in. For me, it will be a mixture of treestand and stalking over frozen, rolling, hilly fields broken up by stands of timber; this means that I will be looking for clothes and equipment that I can comfortably sit in for hours at a time, but is also light enough to not weigh me down over miles of stalking, if that's what the day calls for. Here in Illinois, the muzzleloader only season is in early December, so I anticipate having to seek out the deer as they start to herd up for the winter, rather than waiting for them to come to me. Other factors can play into your selection too, such as how “traditional” you want to go. For my first hunt, I decided on a mixture of period correct 18th century gear (to match my rifle) along with some modern accessories such as boots and gloves. Since I will only have about two days or so to bag a deer, and need to be in the field for as much of those two days as possible, comfortable and warm clothes will be a necessity. Plenty of similar, traditional attachments, such as powder horns and flasks, will also be readily available in our upcoming October Sporting & Collector Auction.
It is extremely important to make sure you have enough basic supplies to keep your muzzleloader fed throughout the season. Powder, flints, percussion caps, patches, balls, and bullets are all critical supplies to keep with you in order to be properly prepared for the hunt. All of the periphery equipment in the world won’t do you any good if you can’t shoot.
Shooting and Hunting
If there is one thing I learned from my Grandfather (and other “old school” hunters and shooters like him), it’s that no amount of fancy rifles or top of the line equipment can make up for good old fashioned practice. With that being said, I am certainly no muzzleloader expert, but I will walk you through my learning process and maybe you can pick up a few things along the way. The first step, especially with a newly acquired muzzleloader, is to develop a load and sight in the rifle with that load. This can be fairly simple with modern muzzleloaders but a bit trickier with more traditional styles; for example, flintlock rifles are particularly finicky with what loads they’ll accept. The rifle I built is .50 caliber, so I started with 50 grains of FFFg black powder and gradually worked my way up in 5 grain increments, making sure that the rifle was still grouping shots nicely as I went. Throughout this process, the point of impact for the rifle was low and left of my point of aim, but it was making nice groups at 50 yards. I settled around 70 or 80 grains of powder and am now working on fine tuning. Part of this process has been adjusting the sights so the point of impact is closer to the center of the bullseye. Once this is adjusted and grouped in the bullseye, I start shooting with the load that I will be hunting with exclusively and getting comfortable with it. This load will most likely be 80 grains of FFFg powder, .015 thickness pillow ticking patches lubed with mink oil (to keep the powder dry), and a .490 swaged ball. I’ll practice with this exact load until I’m comfortable with it, and then practice some more.
Once all of your gear is assembled and you are comfortable with how the muzzleloader shoots, you might consider running a basic functionality check to ensure that even the smallest details are in order. Making sure you have tags and licenses, blaze orange clothing if required in your area, shooting supplies, climate appropriate attire, and a proper understanding of all local regulations are all extremely important in guaranteeing a successful hunt. This might also be a good time to write a check list of things that need to go with you when you walk out the door on opening morning because, if you’re anything like me, you’re really only fully awake about two hours after you’ve reached the stand. When you’re awake at 5 am or before, filled with excitement over that monster buck that is going to stop 30 yards in front of you, it can be easy to forget even the most basic essentials. Don’t be THAT GUY. Make a checklist to go through while you have your morning coffee, you can thank me later.
Last but certainly not least, make sure you have a good recipe for chili to have in the slow cooker for when you get back, and an ice cold Oktoberfest beer in the fridge probably wouldn’t hurt either. Don’t forget to check out our October Sporting & Collector Auction for all your hunting season needs, and good hunting!
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