While I have some very nice rifles in my gun case, these days I often find myself reaching for a gun which not only limits me to one shot, but also requires that I get fairly close before I take it. That gun is a muzzleloader and, for several years now, it has been my weapon of choice when heading to the woods in the fall.
Muzzleloaders have been growing in popularity in recent years as new models, and special seasons, have been developed. Some people are drawn to the romance and history of these firearms as they trace their origin back to the early development of gunpowder and firearms. My reason for getting a muzzle loader was for a simple reason, it allows me to spend more time in the woods. In Nova Scotia the muzzleloader season for whitetail deer runs from mid-September until early December.
While more time hunting was my main motivation for purchasing a muzzleloader I have also been impressed with several other aspects that shooting a muzzleloader brings. Since you are basically limited to one shot you have to make the first one count. This means stalking as close as you can to game and making sure you have a good shot before firing.
If you are in the market for a muzzleloader then you have a wide variety of models in a range of prices available to you. Basically you have two choices: replicas and in-lines. The replicas look like what many think a muzzleloader should look like. They are beautiful firearms with a wooden stock combined with steel and brass barrels and actions that will certainly make you look the part of a mountain man when you hunt with one of these firearms.
The action may be a flintlock or percussion. People who want to remain true to the history of these firearms will select a flintlock, which uses a piece of flint to create a spark to fire the black powder. The percussion model utilizes a cap to fire the powder. If you remain true to the original firearms the sights will be open and you will shoot a patched ball.
Today there are craftspeople who turn out beautiful, and expensive, reproductions of old-time rifles and I think it would be a pleasure to be able to hunt with one. However, if you are like me, and you want to get into muzzleloader hunting with a few more modern conveniences, there are other options available to you. Modern muzzle loaders are referred to as in-line guns. While by law they must load from the muzzle they can range from a variety of actions which resemble a modern centre-fire rifle to a break-action shotgun. They use a variety of propellants, projectiles and sights to give the modern-day hunter a wide variety of options.
If you decide to become a muzzleloader hunter not only will you be returning to the roots of our sport but you will also be opening up new opportunities as a hunter. Longer seasons and greater bag limits are one of the perks but the greatest benefit in my opinion was a return to the true nature of hunting where you concentrate on woodsmanship and stalking skills to make sure you are close to your game and are in a position for an ethical shot. When the smoke clears and your game is down you will know you earned it.
Don MacLean is an outdoor writer and biologist who lives in Pictou County.