Matching up with a Modern Muzzleloader
19th century, buffalo hunters routinely used muzzleloaders to kill buffalo at ranges well in excess of 200 yards. Those hunters, however, were masters at judging distances. Their livelihood depended on it, and, of course, their targets were considerably larger than white-tailed deer.
The one functional difference between in-line and traditional muzzleloading rifles is that in-line rifles are drilled and tapped for telescopic sights. Most sidehammer muzzleloaders are not. This gives these rifles different capabilities.
Place a quality telescopic sight on any muzzleloader, in-line or traditional, and you extend its effective range from 75 yards (with open sights) to 125 yards.
With open sights, position the front blade over the heart/lung area of a white-tailed deer standing 75 yards away, and the blade will all but cover the deer’s vitals.
From the same distance, the cross hairs of a telescopic sight cover only a fraction of the same area, making precise bullet placement easier.
For years, I only used telescopic sights when hunting deer. With a solid rest, any open shot at a deer standing broadside at 100 yards or less was easy.
When I switched to open sights, I quickly learned that any shot past 40 yards was a challenge. Because of these limitations, I decided that I would not attempt to take a deer beyond 75 yards.
Another advantage of telescopic sights is the quality of the sight picture. A high-quality telescopic sight gathers light and accentuates contrast, allowing good shot placement under low light conditions. On cloudy days, and during the first and last moments of legal shooting hours, open sights often prove insufficient to allow a well-placed shot. A good scope, on the other hand, allows a hunter to shoot confidently from the opening minutes of a hunt until day’s end.
If you hunt deer with an open-sight muzzleloader, select stand sites as if you were planning to bowhunt. Instead of hunting from spots that afford long visibility and long shots, hunt in overgrown travel corridors that deer use as they move from feeding and bedding areas. These areas offer only close shots, and they remove the temptation of taking long shots.
Where to Buy
Purchasing a high-quality, in-line muzzleloading rifle is easy. Most stores that offer hunting equipment sell in-line rifles. That isn’t the case for muzzleloaders of traditional design. Because of the popularity of in-line rifles, many major retailers no longer stock sidehammer muzzleloaders, but most will order them for a buyer on request.
A hunter interested in purchasing a muzzleloader of traditional design can buy a kit or a completed sidehammer rifle with adjustable sights and other modern modifications. Kits involve a little wood finishing and general assembly. You may prefer to build a sidehammer muzzleloader to historical specifications from scratch.
Many companies offer parts for building authentic replicas of muzzleloading rifles from scratch. If you want to build a U. S. 1792 contract flintlock like the ones Lewis and Clark carried during their expedition into the Louisiana Territory, parts are available, as are parts for a variety of other historic firearms.
This approach, however, involves considerable work and expense. Building a muzzleloader to historical specifications requires specific woodworking and metalworking skills. Inletting the stock to receive all metal parts must be finished by hand, and you must tap holes in metal to receive screws and lugs. Parts to complete a historically accurate replica of a muzzleloading rifle also are expensive, ranging from $400 to $600. The effort and expense, however, allow the owner to hold a piece of history, and once you’ve hunted with one of these firearms, you’ll find it was worth every ounce and hour of effort.
Learn from Others
The best way to learn about a sport is from someone who takes part in it. If you are new to muzzleloading and would like to contact veteran blackpowder buffs for help and advice, call your local conservation office for the names of local people and organizations that might help you get started.
Traditional muzzleloading firearms shooters are almost always willing to help anyone interested in muzzleloading. Living history or reenactment groups, will have members interested in both target shooting and hunting. Buckskinner or fur-trade era groups hold family events, called rendezvous, that feature tests of frontier skills. These are usually open to the public. Introduce yourself at an event and ask questions. It’s a great way to make friends.
Magazines for blackpowder enthusiasts contain ads for suppliers of just about anything you’d want, from rifles to costumes, in addition to tips and how-to info.