Muzzleloaders Are Doing Well


December 29, 1991|By Bill Burton

The muzzleloader season is at its halfway point, and in Carroll County as elsewhere across the state, front-end loaders appear to be doing quite well, thanks to obliging weather.

With continuing good weather, last year's record kill of 4,640 might well be topped, though the Department of Natural Resources has made no tally yet -- and won'tuntil the season closes Saturday.

Muzzleloaders get the last chance at deer. Many of the better bucks have already been taken in the modern firearms season, a few by bow, so the pickings aren't as good as desired.

This appears to be holding true in Carroll County. Checking stations report most hunter success involved antlerless deer, or small antlered bucks.


On another shooting front, a Westminster reader questioned shooter ethics involved in our recent report of a county hunter who bagged a 900-pound bull elk at 500 yards with a .30-06- caliber rifle in Colorado.

The letter was in reference to our report of Jim Orzolek of Taylorsville and his trip to Eagle County, Colo.

In his letter, the critical hunter, who asked not to be identified, complained that "not many hunters can hit with consistent accuracy at this extreme range, even from a bench rest. When the stress and strain of hunting conditionsare added, it become exceedingly difficult to do so.

"Second, at 500 yards, a .30-06 rife does not have the stopping power to properlyand cleanly kill a heavy-boned animal like an elk; in fact I'd say that almost no cartridge does! The fact that he had to shoot the animal four times (in addition to one miss) would seem to support these two points."

In closing he asked, "Please mention to your readers that such long-range shots in the field should not be taken. The chanceof having a fine game animal escape to die a lingering death

is just too great. In addition, some species of birds which feed on carrion (eagles, vultures, condors) have in fact contracted lead poisoningfrom eating the bullets in such a carcass.

"Last, but not least, deer and elk carcasses left by irresponsible hunters can only foster a negative image of sport hunting! We must all be constantly considerate of our sport and our wildlife resource."

Some hunters might pass the question off with the observation that the proof is in the pudding. Orzolek hit his target, got his trophy, which was the object ofhis hunt, and the bottom line speaks for itself.

I am inclined toagree, but first let's consider some thoughts by the late Jack O'Connor, many years the gun editor of Outdoor Life magazine -- and considered one of the foremost authority on firearms and big-game hunting.

Between flights of Canada geese at Remington Farms in Chestertown,Kent County, about 25 years ago, O'Connor and I were discussing big-game hunting in Alaska, where I lived in the mid-1950s before coming to The Sun to write an outdoors column.

Talk turned to .30-06s, the most powerful rifle I commonly used, though I did own a .460- caliber Weatherby I considered too heavy to carry for moose, caribou and brown bear.

I was young then, did much walking while hunting and preferred to travel as light as possible, considering I also shouldereda rucksack with camera, food and emergency gear. The only time I used the Weatherby was for a fine brown bear in the Kenai Peninsula -- and one shot did the job efficiently.

O'Connor told me the .30-06 was sufficient for all Alaskan game with the exception of a polar bear. He said he often used one and then got into his experiences with .30-06s.

He told of several kills of elk with that weapon, some at 400 yards with 180- and 220-grain shells. Orzolek used a Federal 180 load.

Also, O'Connor said the .30-06 -- at that time -- was probably the most popular of all rifles for bull elk. He added that he got his first elk with two lung-penetrating shots from a .30-06 in Arizona, as I recall.

Though big, big-boned and with thick rib cages, elkare not exceptionally difficult to down, O'Connor said. All that is needed is a well-placed shot -- where hunter preparation and skill play an important role. In all big-game hunting, he said, a perfect shot with a lighter rifle will do better than a less-than-perfect shot with a heavier weapon.

The nitty-gritty of arguments about the bestloads and rifles for big game, in this writer's opinion, center on marksmanship. Much big game is lost not because the load was too lightbut because human error was involved.

Too many hunters, in their haste and excitement, aim at the whole animal instead of a vital area-- and with the elk it's the lungs.

It's easy to second-guess a hunter after a hunt, successful or not. The person with the gun makes split-second decisions.

If he knows his weapon, its load and his marksmanship, only he can decide whether to shoot or not. He is irresponsible if he shoots when his chances aren't good -- a clean shot is the textbook rule.

Orzolek got his trophy, so how can I second-guess him?

Still, I wouldn't ever consider going deer hunting with a .22 again. One can be lucky only so many times.

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