Making the Most

Maximize your deer-hunting opportunities by taking advantage of the state’s generous muzzleloader seasons.

While sitting on my stand during the opening day of Area 7’s October muzzleloader season, a popular outdoor channel commercial came to mind.

The panorama and scene is set with a guy listening to the radio while driving in his pickup truck in a pouring rain. Paraphrasing the commercial’s rhetoric, it goes something to the affect: “It’s muzzleloader season, and this morning a hunter shot a 10-point buck.”

“In this weather?” the fictitious listener replies. “He must be shooting a Knight!”

Most folks who love the outdoors spend weekdays praying their life away. I am no different; the weekend just doesn’t seem to get here fast enough for me either.

The sad part is, I am reaching an age where that isn’t such a good idea — the praying my life away part, that is. I believe in having all my bases covered with hopes of being successful doing something in the Sportsman’s Paradise during upcoming weekends.

So my question is: did they test the muzzle-loader on that popular outdoor channel commercial in Louisiana? I sort of doubt it, but I sure was testing my in-line. The extreme conditions’ name was Tropical Storm Matthew. All I could think was that the good Lord must have been ignoring me all that week.

Call me all the adjectives you like, but I’d like to think of myself in terms of words that express the positive. Words like dedicated, devout and avid all came to mind that day as I attempted to put the mess into perspective, while rain dripped off of my nose and down the inside of my raincoat’s collar. This was opening weekend. Wasn’t that enough?

Atop my platform, I had become extremely uncomfortable. I was trying to keep the action of the in-line covered while at the same time pointing the barrel down to prevent water from getting in the muzzle.

The truth is, in these conditions, I didn’t trust the technology, and I wasn’t shooting a Knight either.

I was convinced of all of the horror stories with regards to muzzleloaders. It seems like everyone has a tale about the guy taking aim on a huge buck, and upon pulling the trigger — nothing! The cap didn’t go off.

The fact is the technology has come a long way, which is one of the two biggest reasons muzzleloader hunters, not just in Louisiana but also across the nation, are on the increase. The only thing primitive about today’s modern in-line muzzleloaders is how they are loaded.

According to Blake Romero of Lafayette Shooters Wilderness & Western Wear, technology is the reason for increased interest.

“There are fewer misfires,” he said. “Today’s caps are 30 times hotter than musket caps, and guns shoot farther in distance than in the past.

“Where older arms reached out 50 to 100 yards, some of the newer guns today reach out to 200 yards. The technology is there to perform.”

Romero went on to say that even cleaning has become easier. Muzzleloader aficionados now can choose Hodgdon Triple Seven sulfur-free powder. Triple 7 is water-soluble, but still has the performance of other traditional black powders.

One of the things that keep muzzleloaders primitive, as I said, is the way they are loaded. There is a lot of effort that goes into that second shot, especially when you’re trying to see through the smoke if the first shot was a good one.

In the movie “Glory,” Matthew Broderick’s character, Col. Robert Gould Shaw, says, “A good man can fire three aimed shots in one minute.”

I personally can barely get the push rod out in one minute. Since I can use all the help I can get, I was excited to try Hornady’s new Lock-N-Load bullets.

The load I chose for my .50 caliber muzzleloader was the Lock-N-Load .50 Sabot with a .45 caliber 250-grain Super Shocked Tip bullet for muzzleloaders (SST/ML).

The sabot has a stem protruding from its bottom to securely attach up to three 50-grain pellets of powder. In my case, I only shoot 100 grains of powder; therefore, the instructions clearly allow you to snip the end a bit, so that no protrusion blocks the breech plug.

Essentially, one step is eliminated, thus making the second shot, if necessary, quicker to load. The manufacturer utilizes the package the bullets are sold in as a handy carrying case that allows you to carry 10 pre-powdered shots. I wouldn’t consider the case water-tight, or weather tight, for that matter.

On wet days you may want to consider taking some additional precautions to seal the package before placing it in your bag or shirt pocket.

The SST/ML bullet is a hollow point that actually uses ballistic-tip design. The ballistic tip helps reduce damage to the bullet’s nose; therefore, it enhances down-range performance and accuracy. While sighting in the scope I placed on my muzzleloader, I achieved 1 1/2-inch groups at 50 yards consistently with these bullets. I am quite sure, given more time at the range, I could easily achieve similar results out to 100 yards.

I tend to get all glassy-eyed when it comes to shooting; shooting with a muzzleloader is no exception. I have a hankering to try Power Belt Bullet’s Aero Tip loads, but they will have to wait for another sight-in session next year. However, it is this kind of knowledge and variety that helps us gain the maximum performance from our in-lines.

Still, it’s hunting, not shooting, that draws so many Louisianians out of their warm, cozy homes on bitterly cold winter days.

“In Louisiana, we like to hunt, and if there is a way to do it, we will,” Romero said.

Increased season opportunities now go hand in hand with the latest cutting edge technology we are seeing today.

Dave Moreland, deer study leader for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries agrees.

“The interest in muzzleloader hunting has increased, and license sales and the deer harvest now exceed the bow harvest,” he said.

Moreland was quick to give credit where it was due by mentioning Glynn Carver, the former commission member who emphasized the importance for a good muzzleloader season.

“Basically, the present season structure was designed to provide a week of hunting prior to the gun season in each area and one week at the end,” Moreland said. “Prior to this, it began as a five-day, Monday through Friday, season that saw little participation.

“The first season provides some hunting prior to or during the first peak of the rut in many areas, and the last season provides hunting during the rut in Areas 1 and 6, and some late opportunities for other areas.”

One thing that muzzleloader hunting also allows is either-sex hunting in most areas. Like bowhunters, muzzleloader hunters are not subject to specific doe days as are the regular gun hunters.

Does taken during the first muzzleloader hunt in my area, I find, are butterball fat at this time of year. Moreover, most will agree that a doe tends to eat better than a buck-in-rut any day.

If you are purely a meat hunter and do not muzzleloader hunt, then this should be a consideration for taking it up. Over the years, I have personally taken does during muzzleloader season. You’d swear they were part hog, they were so fat.

Recommending the right muzzleloader isn’t too difficult, even though the terrain here in Louisiana varies considerably from north to south. You can virtually hunt open marsh, open pasture, heavy woods, over a food plot or any combination of these throughout the state. In areas like the Atchafalaya Basin, you can even hunt in knee-deep water if you’re so inclined.

The range of a muzzleloader should typically be limited to within 150 yards. Since most makes and models on the market today have no problem handling any of these terrain possibilities, the suggested 150-yard range is ample distance to allow for clean kills.

When reviewing the ballistics for muzzleloaders, it becomes apparent that the velocity and energy drop off considerably as the projectile reaches out beyond this suggested distance.

However, there’s no doubt that a scoped-out, top-of-the-line muzzleloader, in the hands of a competent marksman, can cleanly make 200-yard kills as the technology continues to be perfected.

Hunters do not have to have deep pockets to get started. Any one of the terrific vendors who advertise in this magazine can fix you up with an inexpensive model with a starter kit, and the right powder and ammo combination, for under $200.

If you determine muzzleloader hunting is for you, then you can always upgrade by trading or selling your old one for the down payment.

From behind my stand, I heard the distinct splooshing sound that deer make when moving through high water. Weather being as it was, I strained to get a fix on where they would come out on me.

The thick stand of myrtle trees, interspersed with willows and tall grass, made this extremely difficult. I hesitated to uncover the scoped-out, in-line action portion of my muzzleloader from under my raincoat.

As it turned out, it didn’t matter. The deer slowly moved off, staying in the thick cover, never giving me an opportunity for even a quick glance.

Back at camp, we listened to the weather updates on the radio. Tropical Storm Matthew would come on shore the following morning, bringing with it winds gusting up to 45 m.p.h., possibly 7 more inches of rain, and more high water. Opening weekend of the Area 7 muzzleloader season would be a bust for me.

Even though it would be back to my day job Monday morning, I remained undaunted. I still would have another crack with my muzzleloader for our area in November, after the close of the first regular gun season.

As we enter December, most areas throughout the state will have seen more than their share of bow, gun and muzzleloader action. Muzzleloader hunters now can look forward to some late-season opportunity, as these second seasons open. With this in mind, you won’t want to miss out, especially if you hunt in areas 1 and 6, as Moreland pointed out.

The combination of technology and increased opportunities statewide make muzzleloader hunting for Louisianians a viable and affordable reason to extend their season. As for me, I might soon be trying one of those new weather-tight models with the fancy sealed, water-tight caps.