Muzzleloader harvest tops 15,000

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JEFFERSON CITY–Hunters shot 15,238 deer during the muzzleloader portion of Missouri’s firearms deer season, the second-largest muzzleloader harvest on record.

Top harvest counties were Oregon with 314, Franklin with 285 and Callaway with 281.

This year’s muzzleloader harvest was up 18 percent from last year and fell just short of the record 15,907 deer checked during the 2009 muzzleloader hunt.

Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) Resource Scientist Jason Sumners said this year’s increased muzzleloader harvest continues a long-term trend.

Missouri held its first muzzleloader season in 1988. Back then, hunters had to declare if they intended to use a muzzleloader or a center-fire rifle. If they chose a muzzleloader, they had to use a muzzleloader during the firearms season in November but also could hunt during the muzzleloader season. That first year, the muzzleloader season was three days long.

Since then, many of the original restrictions on muzzleloader hunting have been relaxed. In 1999, MDC eliminated the separate muzzleloader deer permit, allowing hunters to buy one permit and hunt with muzzleloaders during the muzzleloader season and with center-fire rifles during the November and antlerless portions of deer season. By then, muzzleloader season was nine days long. Now it runs for 11 days.

“Those increases in opportunity to fill firearms deer permits led to increased participation in the muzzleloader portion,” said Sumners. “The muzzleloader harvest more than doubled between 1999 and 2002.”

In 2009, MDC reversed the order of the muzzleloader and antlerless seasons, putting the muzzleloader hunt in the last half of December to provide a better quality hunt for muzzleloader hunters. The muzzleloader harvest increased by 55 percent that year, surpassing 15,000 for the first time.

“Topping the 15,000 mark this year isn’t a surprise at all if you consider the changes in permit use, timing and participation,” said Sumners.

Changes in muzzleloader technology also have contributed to the sport’s increased popularity. When Missouri had its first muzzleloader hunt 23 years ago, most commercially available muzzleloaders were traditional caplock and flintlock types, and muzzleloader season was a practical exercise in hunting history. Today, most hunters use in-line muzzleloaders, often with telescopic sights. Modern propellants and bullets have changed dramatically from black powder and round lead balls, leading to improvements in ballistic performance. The loading process remains essentially the same as in pioneer days, but the accuracy of modern, in-line muzzleloaders is similar to those of single-shot, center-fire rifles.

-Jim Low-