If you want to extend your deer season while enjoying a challenging one-shot traditional hunt, seriously consider the end-of-the-year flintlock-only season in Pennsylvania. The challenges are great, but so too, are the rewards. The season begins the day after Christmas and runs through Jan. 10 — what a way to bring in the new year.
But it won’t necessarily be the easiest hunt you’ve encountered. First, there’s the one-shot limitation which actually will make you a better hunter/shooter and a more patient hunter. Once the trigger has been pulled and the deer missed, there’ll be no second shot, just a big white flag disappearing into the brush.
Then there’s the fact that the deer you’ll be hunting have been dodging arrows and bullets from both camouflaged and orange-suited predators since mid-September, and to say they’re going to be quite cautious is an understatement. Although they still move to and from their bedding and feeding areas, most of their daylight hours are spent in the heaviest cover they can find.
Also, there’s Mother Nature who, during this time of year, can present some very challenging and uncomfortable hunting conditions. But with a good layering system, you should be able to hunt comfortably — especially if you are a sneak-and-peek hunter.
If you get lucky and have fresh snow cover during the hunt, finding their locations is not a problem. Finding a track and staying on it is one of the most exciting and rewarding hunting experiences you can have — especially when hunting with a flintlock. Take your time, three or four steps at a time, stop, look and listen then move again. You should not be looking for the whole deer but rather an ear, nose, tail-flick, etc. It’s also a good idea when sneaking and peeking to wear binoculars — preferably on a bino strap on your chest — and keep your flintlock in a safari sling that keeps your gun in the ready position.
On my first Pennsylvania flintlock hunt last year with Jerry Wilson, a Pennsylvania game call maker, we used a blind set up in some thick cover on a trail that the deer were using traveling to and from their feeding and bedding areas. Jerry had patterned these deer several days prior to my arrival and had the blind in place when I arrived.
It was definitely cold, especially when the wind blew, which it did every day. But we were prepared, and on all three days, we utilized a small catalytic heater which really kept us comfortable and allowed us to stay out all day. I do not think, with the wind chill, that we would have lasted all day without the heater.
We also periodically did small one-man sneaking and peeking drives. The watcher would stay in the blind, while the mover made a slow and deliberate still hunt in a complete circle around the sitter. Two deer came by me, but out of range. The key to this drive is to go slowly and quietly enough to not spook the deer into running. A running shot at a fleeing whitetail, with a muzzleloader or a regular gun, is not a high-percentage shot.
The other challenge for me was that I hadn’t owned or shot a true flintlock in 30-plus years. And because of my late decision to participate in last year’s Pennsylvania flintlock season, I had to borrow one of Jerry’s Traditions 50-caliber flintlocks. However, other than the three shots I took with that gun the day before the hunt, I never shot, but I had one opportunity and chose to pass on it. I won’t do that this year.
As for the gun, I was quite impressed with its performance and accuracy, especially since I was shooting with open sights — something I also hadn’t done in a long time. Because of its performance, I now have my own 50-caliber Traditions Deerhunter flintlock. It has a synthetic Mossy Oak stock, 24-inch octagonal barrel with a 1-in-48 inch twist and fully adjustable fiber optic sights, and weighs just six pounds. It’s a good shooter, and I’m very anxious to try it out.
One thing I found out about flintlocks is that no one in this area seems to stock them. So I suggest if you plan on getting one, have your local gun shops order it for you now. Suggested retail price is $271. You can check them out at www.traditionsfirearms.com
I used the powder and loads Jerry has been using successfully for a long time — 70 grains of Jim Shockey’s Gold Premium loose granular powder, 348-grain CVA Powerbelt bullets and 4F powder for the pan. One reminder when shooting a flintlock — ignition is not always immediate. Often, there’s a slight hesitation before the shot actually goes off. Keep you head down and your full sight picture for a few seconds after pulling the trigger.
This year marks the 34th year of Pennsylvania’s special flintlock season, and harvest expectations are high. Since their first flintlock season in 1974, the numbers of hunters taking advantage of the late-season deer hunting opportunity have been increasing. The first year, it was only a three-day season and a total of 65 deer were taken, four of which were bucks. However, with the increase in hunters, lengthening of the season, and increased hunting areas, the harvest numbers have increased significantly.
Regarding regulations, the definition of what’s classified as a flintlock is quite specific and straightforward. It must be an original or reproduction of a single-barrel, long muzzelloading gun used prior to 1800, .44 caliber or larger, with iron, open “v” or notched sights. Telescopic sights are not permitted; however, peep sights and fiber optic inserts are permitted.
The gun must have a flintlock ignition system — a hammer containing a naturally occurring stone (flint), spring propelled onto an iron or steel frizzen which in turn, creates sparks to ignite the gunpowder. As for the bullets, any single projectile can be used. This includes sabots, mini or maxi balls.
To hunt the Pennsylvania flintlock season, you must possess a regular adult hunting license and a muzzleloader deer stamp. The fees are $20 for a resident adult license, plus an $11 muzzleloader stamp. For non-residents, the adult fee is $101, an $21 for the muzzleloader stamp. For youths 12-16, a junior license and muzzleloader stamp is required. A resident youth license is $6; the stamp $11. The non-resident youth license is $41, and stamp $21.
Under the Pennsylvania Mentored Youth Hunting Program, youths under the age of 12, accompanied by a properly licensed individual 21 or older (mentor), can hunt antlered deer. The mentor relationship must be one-on-one, only one gun can be taken afield and when moving, the gun must be carried by the mentor. It’s the mentor’s responsibility to ensure that the youth is trained in firearm and hunter safety before heading afield.
If you have a youngster at home under the age of 12 with an interest in hunting, this program and special flintlock season offers an excellent opportunity to introduce and mentor a youngster in the field, while at the same time spending some quality time with them during their Christmas vacation.
You can purchase a license at any of the Pennsylvania issuing agents or go on-line to www.pgc.state.pa.us and click on “licensing.”
WHERE TO GO
In the 2007-08 season, 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMU) reported muzzleloading deer hunts. And based on this report, the top three WMUs with the most estimated muzzleloader deer harvested were: WMU 2D with 2,840 (90 antlered); WMU 2A with 1,620 (90 antlered); and WMU 5C with 1,500 (90 antlered).
Deer hunters will find that Pennsylvania has plenty of public land. The largest is the Allegheny National Forest which has over 500,000 acres spread out over four counties. For information and maps of the area, call (814) 723-5150.
French Creek State Park has 6,000 acres open for hunting in southern Berks County. For information and maps, call (610) 582-9680.
For the complete list of public land to hunt in Pennsylvania, go to: www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/recreation/hunting_www.dcnr.-
If you’re still in a deer-hunting mood, take this one-shot flintlock challenge and head for Pennsylvania. This year, I’ll be in my truck and leaving around midnight on Christmas Day with my new Deerhunter flintlock and plenty of warm clothes.