Dec 10, 2018

Muzzleloading

A long and challenging tradition in Wisconsin’s woods

By Carl Luedke

The flintlock, cap-and-ball rifle, and muzzleloading pistols were state-of-the-art weapons and hunting tools back in the day.

Man learned he could pack black powder in a steel cylinder, ignite it through a very small hole on the side of the pipe adjacent to the powder which creates a great thrust of power exerting force through the open end. He also learned he could pack the powder in the cylinder and insert a cloth wad to keep the powder packed and in place.

Then he added a projectile – usually a lead ball – or a number of projectiles. Examples are BBs, glass, nails, pebbles or anything that would fit down the barrel. Insert another cloth wad to hold the projectiles in place, and by igniting the powder this weapon sends the projectile at a high rate of speed and can do a lot of damage.

Modern muzzleloading

Although there are a lot of traditional muzzleloaders in use today, there are much more modern ones than those we associate with the American Revolutionary War. A good muzzleloader today can be very accurate and have a killing range of more than 200 yards.

The muzzleloader deer hunting season in Wisconsin runs 10 days after the traditional nine-day gun season. You can also use your muzzleloader in any of the rifle or shotgun seasons in Wisconsin.

A rifle barrel is to be used for one slug or ball, whereas a smooth-bore muzzleloader can be used as a shotgun for waterfowl, upland birds, squirrels, rabbits and varmints. You can also run a lead ball down a smooth barrel for a good close-range, big-game gun.

There are many opportunities across the country for special muzzleloader hunts. In Colorado, for example, you can hunt with your muzzleloader during the elk rut. This is a high-percentage and action-packed hunt.

Consider purchasing a muzzleloading shotgun for hunting turkey, pheasant, duck, squirrel or rabbit for a real challenge in your hunting adventures.

A good rifle barrel for big game hunting will add to the challenge of that hunt. With only one shot and a lengthy reloading process, you will learn quickly to make that one shot count.

Still hunt

Still hunting with a muzzleloader can be very successful. This hunt is in the first two weeks of December, when the days are short and most of the deer are nocturnal from the nine-day gun season.

I will have a stand arranged to sit in during the last hour of daylight. However, during the day I can hunt different areas of the 20, 40 or even more acres of woods I have permission to hunt. It may also include some standing corn fields.

Here is how I still hunt a standing corn field. I go to the downwind side of the field and will always keep the wind in my face while carefully stepping into one row at a time, looking up and down that row. I run a large zigzag through the field. With the noise of the corn leaves rustling in the wind, the sound I make goes undetected. A snail could probably move faster through the corn field than I move. I have shot many deer this way while they are bedded down.

Still hunting a woods is even more enjoyable. Again, start on the downwind side. Carefully enter the woods as quietly and stealthily as you can. Take one step at a time, working a wide zigzag pattern through the woods while keeping the wind at your face.

Most of the time the deer will stand up and look around if they hear a twig snap or sense something different. Every step you take, you should stop, look and listen. Check out everything that looks odd or out of place. By standing perfectly still and scanning slowly, you should be able to pick out anything odd or out of place. A good still hunt on 40 acres should take you three or more hours to complete.

One memorable muzzleloader hunt was when we filmed a hunt for the No Excuses Outdoor Show. Randy Williams, Jeff Gagnow, Steve Jordan and I were filming Randy hunt his first buffalo. Randy and I dressed in our frontier clothing. Unfortunately, the weather was against us. It was very cold and windy.

Randy wanted to use his flintlock. To shoot this gun, you need to pour gun powder on a small pan or surface. When you pull the trigger, a hammer comes down to create a spark to ignite the gun powder on the pan, which in turn creates a flash into a small hole in the side of the barrel and ignites the charge of powder behind the projectile. 

On this day, it was difficult keeping gun powder on the pan with the extreme wind. I helped Randy by experimenting with practice shots. We ended up using black powder on the pan and shielding the wind with our bodies the best we could.

After a few instances of the gun not firing, Randy made a perfect shot on a nice buffalo. It was an exciting experience that took us back to some of the great buffalo hunts years ago. After a round of high fives, Randy took some time to himself with the buffalo, showing respect and sharing his thankfulness for the opportunity to harvest this great animal.

Consider taking a smoke pole out to the woods this year for a great experience.