Have you noticed that there has been a lot of single shots heard and smoke hovering over the local sportsman’s club shooting ranges lately?
It’s the result of muzzleloader hunters checking and reacquainting themselves with their smoke poles for Saturday’s opening of the muzzleloading deer season in the New York state Northern Zone.
For seven days, through Friday, Oct. 17, muzzleloaders will be sharing the north woods with only bowhunters. There are 14 Wildlife Management Units that will open for muzzleloading Saturday. In Region 5, they are: WMUs 5 A,C,F,G,H and J. In WMUs 6, they are A,C,F,G,H,J,K and N. Deer hunters during this early muzzleloading season can harvest a deer of either sex, except in WMU 6N, in the Tug Hill Plateau area in Lewis, Oswego and Jefferson counties. Antlerless deer cannot be taken there because the area is usually hit hard with heavy snowfalls and severe winter conditions which take its toll on the deer herd. There are no Deer Management Permits offered in this WMU.
How popular is muzzleloading hunting for deer? Last year, more than 232,000 hunters bought a muzzleloader license, and their total deer harvest of 17,207 was the highest muzzleloading deer harvest on record.
A review of last year’s total deer harvest numbers in the following WMUs indicates that the best bet, in terms of deer harvested per square mile, is in the units in Region 6. Last year, hunters harvested 6.3 deer per square mile, 2.8 of which were bucks in WMU 6G. This area is located in the eastern Lake Ontario plain in Jefferson and Oswego counties. The other two areas in this region with good deer takes per square mile are 6C, between the St. Lawrence River plain and the Adirondacks, 3.6 deer, and 6K in Lewis, Oswego, Oneida and Jefferson counties, 3.5 deer per square mile.
For a full description of all these WMUs, the deer take numbers and the state-owned public hunting areas, go to the New York Hunting & Trapping 2008-09 Official Guide to Laws & Regulations booklet.
Those who have hunted with a muzzleloader know that unlike hunting with rifles and shotguns, there isn’t the luxury of a quick followup shot. You get one shot, and that’s it. I don’t think any deer will hang around for a hunter to pour powder, push down and seat a bullet, then re-cap the nipple. Therefore, it’s imperative to make the first shot good, or not take it at all. And the confidence needed for this one shot begins at the rifle range.
The first step in sighting in a muzzleloading rifle is to make sure it’s completely clean. If you’re not changing anything (bullet type, propellant, sights, etc.), chances are good it will shoot as well as it did last season, so all that’s required is firing a few rounds to get reacquainted with the loading process. And always, when sighting in, use a bench rest position. Save the off-hand shooting for after the gun has been zeroed in.
Those who have made changes should start at 25 yards and establish a three-shot group pattern. Don’t worry about where it is on the paper at this time. Once the grouping is known, adjust the sights accordingly to center shots in the bull’s-eye.
Once you have the group centered, move to 50 yards and shoot again. The object is a center shot about three inches high. Set this way the sights will put the bulets in the six-inch “kill zone” of a whitetail deer at 120 yards. These are ideal distances for whitetail hunting in New York state where the typical shot is about 80 yards.
One thought on scopes — use them. I’ve argued with so-called traditional muzzleloaders on a number of occasions about this, but you’ll get the most accuracy with a scope. I don’t consider a modern in-line muzzleloader with its rifled barrel a traditional gun. And I know that once the state changed the rules, allowing scopes on muzzleloaders, the number of muzzleloading deer hunters increased. I know these old eyes love scopes.
I almost have a new muzzleloader this year, and had to go to the range to re-sight it. Actually, what I did was send the receiver of my Millennium Designed Muzzleloaders (MDM) Turkeywacka shotgun back to MDM Muzzleloading in Vermont, and they refitted it with a 25-inch rifled Buckwacka barrel and topped it off with a BuckTracka 1.5–4 x44 mm Illuminated Precision Point scope. I like the versatility of being able to carry one receiver with two guns (rifle and shotgun).
At the range, I was also quite pleased with a 1.5-inch group at 100 yards using 85 grains of Black Mag3 powder, equivalent to about 105 grains of Pyrodex. Even the bullet I’m using is new for me. It is a,50-caliber, 265-grain, Hornet Dyno-Core Magnum. I’ll be in Saratoga County’s Northern Zone this weekend, and then in Pennsylvania for its early antlerless muzzleloading season on Oct. 18.
Regarding the new propellant, there are several reason for my switch to Black Mag 3, one of which was an article I read written by Randy Wakeman, senior editor of Guns and Shooting Online. After extensive testing of several of the more popular muzzleloading propellants, he said, “Based on its accuracy, high and consistent velocity, low corrosiveness, swab-free loading and easy ignition, Black Mag 3 is the best black powder substitute that can be had today.”
And if there’s one thing I don’t like about muzzleloading, it’s the fouling and cleanup. This new propellant has taken a lot of the mess away.
The bullets I’ll be using this year are new also. Developed by MDM, this bullet uses a polymer tip and base surrounded by a grooved lead cylinder that produces tremendous expansion on impact. It’s a full-bore conical bullet that’s pre-lubricated for easy loading. Terminal performance of this bullet, which I hope to test this deer season, is said to be devastating. And by the way, at the ranger earlier this week, this combination produced a two-shot group that touched three inches high of the bull’s-eye at 50 yards; which will put it right on at 100-plus yards.
STANDS & BLINDS
There are those muzzleloaders who prefer to pursue the whitetail deer afoot, sneaking and peeking their way around, and many are successful. But not as successful as the educated sitter. By educated, I mean the hunter who’s spent the extra time in the woods he/she is going to hunt and learns where the deer are and where they move to and from.
Armed with this information, you can put up your tree stand or ground blind intelligently. Placed in a high traffic deer movement area and coupled with a patient hunter, either will usually result in a shot and/or deer.
I guess the tree stand is really most effective because of it is out of the deer’s line of sight as it approaches. One of the faults of a number of tree stand hunters is that their stands are too low, and any movement and even their human scent can be detected. I try to set my ladder stands up at least 15 feet above the ground and, if possible, drape a camouflaged skirt around the railing of the stand to cover up my dancing feet and normal stretching movements needed when sitting for a long time.
As for type, I prefer a double-wide ladder stand for easy, quieter and safer in/outs. And the double- wide gives you more room to maneuver for the shot.
The ground blind is the other option, and when set up correctly, it will definitely work for deer hunting. Although these blinds are usually fully camouflaged, they should not be set up in a wide-open area. Try to use some of the surrounding brush, bushes, etc. in the setup area. This will break up the outline and offer better concealment. As for a seat, bring one that’s comfortable for long hours of waiting. Be sure to cover your scent
Choose a blind that fits the type of hunting you’ll be doing. If you plan to sit all day or for long periods of time, get a good-sized blind with a blackened interior to eliminate profiling and provide maximum concealment. But if you’re going to move around, look for a somewhat smaller blind that goes up and down quickly and is easily transported.
I have used blinds on a number of occasions in Pennsylvania and in Texas, and found that it’s best if you can put up the blind several days or at least the day before.
Doing this allows getting into it quickly and quietly without being noticed in the dark.
If you’ve never deer hunted with a muzzleloader, there’s no better time than right now to get started. It’s a great way to spend a fall day in the woods and can be a very rewarding challenge.
The New York State Muzzleloaders Association will hold its Fall Rendezvous Oct. 11-18 in the Moose River Plains at the Limekiln State Park, just outside the village of Inlet. Those who come to camp are reminded that it’s strictly primitive. Visitor’s day is Oct. 12 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and admission is free. For more information, visit their Web site at nysmla.org or call Matt Huling at (315) 548-8933.