Black-Powder Bushytails

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Published on: Sep. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 27, 2010

looser than those from a good bolt-action .22.

I concluded that the only way to make the transition from .22 to muzzleloader without frequent misses and cripples was to change my hunting habits. I would have to limit myself to shots at distances where I knew I could hit the mark. So, before leaving the rifle range, I determined my black-powder squirrel rifle's maximum effective range.

I shot at targets from a bench rest at five-yard increments beginning at 45 yards and working my way closer. I concluded that I should take only shots inside of 20 yards unless I had a secure rest from which to shoot. Even with a good rest, I decided never to shoot at squirrels beyond 30 yards.

Standing at the 20-yard mark with targets in hand, I looked back at the shooting bench. I could have hit it with a ping-pong ball. That's when I realized I was about to become a much better hunter.

Squirrels are not the most wary of game, but I was practically going to have to climb up in the trees with them. No more dropping a limit of bushytails from my comfortable seat in the middle of a 5-acre woodlot. If I was going to make muzzleloader squirrel hunting work, I would have to go to the squirrels or find ways to make them come to me.

My hunting re-education began that summer, when the trees were still thick with foliage. The reduced visibility of the summer woods had always been a handicap in the past, but it was now to my advantage. Not being able to see squirrels until I was practically on top of them was fine, since I couldn't shoot from greater distances anyway. And just as the greenery made the squirrels hard to see, it also hid me from the squirrels.

On my first hunt, I got skunked. (Squirrelled?) I sneaked into a patch of mulberry trees in an Osage River bottom about an hour after dawn and found it full of squirrels, but they were too alert for me to get close. I never even capped my gun.

I did better the next time. Scouting a trail through some upland woods one afternoon, I found a ridge where squirrels had been cutting hickory nuts. The next day, I was there well before first light, waiting for my rodent quarry to make the trip

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