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The Ins and Outs of Muzzleloading for Big Game

Muzzleloader hunters have a lot of great options and opportunities.

Muzzleloader rifles have evolved from smoothbore muskets to high-tech weaponry. Most of this progress has been within the last two decades. Today, a hunter wishing to use a muzzleloader has many choices that will compliment nearly any hunting style or situation.

Traditional Muzzleloader Hunters

Traditionalists often adhere to guns, gear and game that were available in the period of the past they want to emulate. From flintlocks to percussion ignition, many original and replica rifles are available.

A true traditionalist likes real black powder or the closest available equivalent, patched round balls and horn powder flasks. These hunters are most likely to also favor buckskin clothing and vintage tools and accessories.

Joe Riekers
Joe Riekers


The post modern traditionalist uses a sidelock rifle or hammer rifle of some sort, however it may be a recently-made replica. This category of muzzleloader hunter doesn't mind modern sights including fiber optics or adjustable peep sights on their rifles.

They are more likely to use black powder substitutes like Pyrodex and may use bullets in conjunction with sabots. These hunters are likely to dress in the latest camo and may compliment their somewhat dated firearm with modern accessories like a laser rangefinder. Accessories can also convert musket cap or percussion cap rifles to utilize 209 primers for more reliable ignition.

Joe Riekers
Joe Riekers

Modern Muzzleloader Hunters

The 21st Century muzzleloader hunter uses rifles that have little to no resemblance to the firearms of yesteryear. The modern in-line muzzleloader is likely to feature a composite stock and wear a modern scope. Propellants, usually in the form of pellets or ultra-modern power like blackhorn 209, are favored to get top-notch ballistics from this type of muzzleloader.

Projectiles will almost always be in a sabot and many will have a plastic tip for aerodynamic efficiency. With the right combination of components in a modern muzzleloader rifle it is possible to shoot at fairly long ranges. Some muzzleloader-specific scopes feature ballistic aiming points calibrated out to 250 yards.

Joe Riekers
Joe Riekers


A Growing Demographic

The National Shooting Sports Foundation reported a stunning increase in the number of female muzzleloader hunters in the past five years at over 150 percent. The number of female muzzleloader hunters continues to hold at over half a million.

However, that number only takes into account the number of muzzleloader-specific hunting licenses sold and does not account for muzzleloaders being used in general seasons or for exotic hunting.

The versatility of a muzzleloader makes it attractive to new and experienced hunters alike. Loads can be tailored to the situation so you only get what you need. Less powder and/or lighter bullets mean less recoil. Under fairly close range situations for whitetail deer, a muzzleloader can be loaded down enough to sufficiently do the job without obnoxious recoil.

These lighter loads are also great for practice. As long as the sights are adjusted properly, a bigger powder charge or heavier bullet can be used for longer ranges or bigger game like elk or bear.

Even with sabots, muzzleloader bullets are typically at least .44 caliber diameter. These large bullets tend to create good wound channels with heavy blood trails, making it easy to track game that was properly hit. Large, heavy and slow bullets have a reputation for anchoring big game so tracking may not even be necessary in most cases.

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Many states have a specific muzzleloader season, special "muzzleloader only" areas, or restricted "muzzleloader only" hunts. Since muzzleloaders are less popular than modern firearms there is less competition for limited draw hunts and special muzzleloader only hunts. Some states even allow for an additional deer to be taken with a muzzleloader, therefore increasing your allowed bag for the season.

Joe Riekers
Joe Riekers

Muzzleloader rifles can be purchased through the mail without any special paperwork or background checks that apply to modern cartridge firearms in most places. Check your state laws as some states, like New York, restrict muzzleloader purchases. Components can be purchased at most large sporting goods stores like Cabelas, Bass Pro Shops and Gander Mountain.

Some hunters like to make their own bullets for their muzzleloaders. Bullet-making supplies are available through a number of sources including Midway USA and Dixie Gun Works.

Muzzleloading offers hunters an efficient rifle for hunting in any situation along with increased opportunities to hunt. What's not to like about that?

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The Ins and Outs of Muzzleloading for Big Game