Different approach needed for the muzzleloader hunt


December 13, 1992|By LONNY WEAVER

Though this year's traditional rifle/shotgun deer hunt closed down yesterday, the increasingly popular muzzleloader hunt is set to begin Saturday and will continue through Jan. 2.

Technically, the muzzleloader and bow seasons are classified as "primitive weapons hunts." I say "technically" because of the high-tech, top-quality equipment used by both groups of hunters.

The techniques and problems of bow and muzzleloader rifle hunting are uniquely different from modern arms hunting, but not anywhere as different as some would lead you to believe.

I strongly believe that if someone wishes to turn back the clock a century or so in regard to hunting equipment, yet does not wish to devote the time demanded to become a competent archer and tracker, then that person should opt for muzzleloading.

This is not meant to take anything away from the flavor of the old rifles or to imply the superior ability of the bowhunter. It is just that hitting a target is a whole lot easier for the casual hunter or shooter with one of today's super-accurate front-loaders.

To hunt deer in Maryland with a muzzleloader, your rifle (either caplock or flintlock) must be at least a .40 caliber and use not less than 60 grains of blackpowder to propel an all-lead ball or bullet with one pull of the trigger. Unless you have a certification from an ophthalmologist regarding the poor condition of your sight, a scope is forbidden.

Most buckskinners opt for nothing less than a .50-caliber rifle stoked with 90 to 100 grains of black powder behind a tightly patched roundball or maxiball. Such a combination leaves the end of the typical 28-inch barrel packing 1,600-plus-foot pounds of energy. Hit a deer in a vital spot with that nearly one ounce of lead, and you will be eating venison this winter.

With the right load, these old-time rifles are amazingly accurate. But, because of the muzzleloader's rainbow-like trajectory and poor ballistic shape, I am reluctant to make a shot much beyond 100 paces and feel a lot more comfortable shortening that to half in most typical deer-hunting situations.

Participants must comply with hunter-orange requirements and wear a hat, coat or vest containing front and back panels of fluorescent orange.

From time to time I stumble across someone who implies that muzzleloading guns are mere toys. Remember that until the turn of the century, all wars were fought with such arms, and these guns were relied upon by all hunters.

Black powder is dangerous stuff that will explode at the drop of the nearest spark. Never smoke while handling or carrying the stuff. Give your barrel a moment to cool off and hold the muzzle at an angle away from you when dumping a charge down the tube.

Also, never use a powder horn. Think of such a thing as if you are holding a bomb in your hand. Instead, use a quick-loader, which is a container that holds but one measured charge topped by a bullet or ball.

Technically, your percussion rifle, which is the most popular type, is not loaded if the cap is not in place. When the gun's hammer hits the cap, it sends a tiny flame into the main powder charge that ignites and explodes the ball out of the barrel. Without the cap, the gun will not fire.

What sometimes happens is that after the hunt, the cap is removed and the rifle goes over the fireplace. Weeks later, the rifle is either double charged or cleared with a cap. That is how "unloaded" guns kill people. At the end of the hunt, fire your gun into the ground so that you know it is empty.

November goose survey done

The number of Canada geese counted on the Eastern Shore during this year's November survey stands at 298,980. The largest number of geese was observed in the Chester River area (80,687), western Kent County (36,017) and the lower Choptank River area (34,220).

Last November, the three aerial survey crews composed of state, federal and private wildlife personnel found 333,584 statewide, compared with this year's total of 315,546.

On the western shore, 16,566 geese were found. The highest number of geese were observed on farm ponds and reservoirs scattered throughout Montgomery, Howard and Frederick counties (7,205) and the upper Patuxent River (5,035).

Department of Natural Resources officials said preliminary reports from state goose hunters indicate that the majority of geese bagged have been adult birds.

Estimates of other waterfowl species included 89,508 snow geese, 19,145 scaup, 6,796 tundra swans, and 4,719 canvasbacks.

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