Just as quickly as the regular season came, it is now three-quarters over with. For whatever reason, I just do not have the same drive for the regular firearms season as I do for archery. However, once the late season rolls in, I find the drive again to get back out there. If you still have a buck tag, or even two, burning a hole in your back tag, late muzzleloading season is one of my favorite times to get back out in the woods.
What tags are usable during the late season? This question gets asked again and again across a multitude of forums and platforms.
This particular rule has not changed in as long as I can remember hunting. In a nutshell, any leftover tag may be used during the late muzzleloader and bow season. Bow/muzzleloader antlered tags and regular season buck tags may be used to harvest bucks, but they also may be used to take a doe during the late bow/muzzleloader seasons, including the “holiday hunt” season. A bow/muzzleloader antlerless tag may only be used to take a doe. These aforementioned tags are valid anywhere the late season is open, which is most of the state, with the exception of the Adirondack Park. Doe permits are also valid for antlerless deer during the late season as well but must be used within the Wildlife Management Unit (WMU) designated upon the face of the tag.
LATE SEASON TECHNIQUE
While the second rut could certainly come into play, I would not be basing stand locations off any type of rutting activities.
Now is the time to get back on the green, and by green, I mean focusing on food sources. Bucks will now be getting back into patterns more reminiscent of early season. Bedding and feeding are now their top priority. Of course, a doe that comes into estrous will throw a stick in the spokes of all of this, but for the most part, you can bet on bucks trying to recover lost fat reserves prior to heavy snow and cold winter temperatures.
Sitting this time of year can be a daunting task due to very cold temperatures. Thankfully, the times of all day sits are well behind us for the season. The last few hours of light are really the best this time of year. Especially on those super frigid days, deer seem to get up on their feet a bit earlier to hit the food sources. If you can bite the bullet, get out in the woods, and shake off the cold, it can be an amazing time to harvest a great buck. I feel as though bucks can be the easiest to pattern during the late season. Bedding to food. Food to bedding. That is the key component of success in the late season.
Muzzleloaders require just a little bit more care to keep them functioning properly. Not a lot by any means. A little TLC goes a very long way when dealing with the old school “smokepole.” Most “modern” muzzleloaders utilize a #209 ignition system. It is the primer found in your run of the mill everyday shotgun shell. Most breech plugs are removable and have the inset of the #209 primer pocket built right in. The days of #11 percussion caps and tiny finicky nipples elapsed 15 or more years ago now are over. Keep. Them. Clean. That is all. Seriously, that is really it. I have had the same Thompson Center Encore from one of the first years they hit the market, I was in high school then. That rifle is still in absolutely impeccable condition. It has never once failed to fire or even had a hang fire.
Cleaning a muzzleloading rifle is a vastly different procedure than cleaning a modern rifle. First off, and probably the single largest mistake I witness time and time again while watching hunters clean muzzleloaders is to never ever use a petroleum based solvent, such as the tried and true Hoppes #9. I love Hoppes #9 for almost any other bore cleaning scenario. Just not muzzleloaders. The effect of the solvent and old school powder (yes, even Pyrodex and Triple Se7en fall into this category) when mixed results in corrosive compounds being left inside the bore, which ultimately results in rust. Stick with a water soluble cleaning solution like T/C #13 Bore Cleaner. A patch or so of that, followed up by a few clean dry patches, will have your rifle left with a shiny, happy bore.
Another thing I always do after cleaning is to snap a couple of primers to burn up any residual moisture that could have seeped down into the breech plug and ignition system. Lastly, I will always push down a snug dry patch all the way to the breech plug and then fire a primer off. It will completely burn a bore size hole in the middle of the patch. I love seeing this, and it just reassures me that when I pull the trigger in a hunting situation that I can 100% count on my rifle firing.