If the word muzzleloader makes you think about civil war battles, you’re due for an update. Here’s another great guest post by John McAdams, who is an expert in muzzleloader hunting (and firearms in general). He provides some great options you should look at if you want to extend your big game hunting season.
As I covered in a previous post, there are some very real advantages to hunting with a muzzleloader. However, most hunters, particularly those who are unfamiliar with the muzzleloader hunting world, would probably agree that selecting a muzzleloader to hunt with can be an incredibly overwhelming experience. For one thing, there is an unbelievable variety of different muzzleloader options to choose from. At the same time, the regulations pertaining to hunting with a muzzleloader in many states can be very difficult to decipher as well.
The last thing any hunter wants is to purchase a muzzleloader and then find out later that particular muzzleloader is not legal to hunt with or that they bought a low-quality model that’s on the verge of being discontinued.
With all that in mind, my goal with this article is to provide a couple of different muzzleloader hunting options that are excellent for hunters in various states with a wide range of differing regulations and hunting conditions.
First, we’ll start with a very primitive traditional muzzleloader option.
Pennsylvania has a special Flintlock Muzzleloader hunt each year and this particular season has very strict requirements on the weapons hunters are allowed to use. Basically, hunters are restricted to using flintlock rifles and handguns manufactured prior to 1800 (or replicas of those weapons).
As you can probably imagine, muzzleloader hunting with one of these can be extremely challenging. These rifles have very basic iron sights (scopes aren’t allowed), have a relatively short effective range, and require extreme care with loading for reliable ignition. Even then, flintlock rifles are notorious for misfires and hang-fires in wet or snowy conditions. They’re also restricted to using pretty basic round lead balls or primitive conical bullets.
However, early American settlers used flintlock muzzleloaders very similar to these with great success for deer, elk, and bear hunting in the 1700s and early 1800s. So they’ll clearly work if you take the time to become an expert at using a primitive muzzleloader. For this same reason, harvesting a deer with one of those older style muzzleloaders can be an incredibly satisfying experience.
Among other options, Traditions™ manufactures a modern replica of the famous Kentucky Rifle that fits the bill here. This particular rifle is available either as a finished product or as a kit if you want to finish assembling the muzzleloader yourself. Lyman® also manufactures a flintlock version of their Great Plains Hunter rifle that’s an excellent choice and Davide Pedersoli produces some traditional muzzleloaders that are beautiful works of art as well as being functional weapons for hunters.
In addition to Pennsylvania, these rifles are legal to hunt with in almost every single state that has a muzzleloader hunting season. So they’re great options for muzzleloader purists, those who enjoy the challenge of hunting with a more primitive weapon, and/or hunters who just like the experience of using a flintlock muzzleloader.
Basic Inline Muzzleloaders
With all that being said, the good news is that hunting regulations in most states do permit the use of more advanced inline muzzleloaders that are easier to use, are more reliable, have a longer effective range, and are more powerful than most flintlock muzzleloaders.
The exact details on what is legal vary from state to state, but most places allow hunters to use modern black powder substitutes for propellant and modern rifle primers for ignition. Many states also permit hunters to use scopes on their muzzleloaders.
For instance, Arizona, Minnesota, and Texas all have relatively permissive regulations and hunters can use almost any kind of muzzleloader as long as it cannot be loaded at the breech. These states also allow hunters to use scopes. On the other hand, states like Washington and Wisconsin also permit the use of most inline muzzleloaders, but those states do not allow the use of scopes during muzzleloader season.
In particular, the CVA® Wolf and the Thompson Center® Impact are both great entry-level muzzleloaders. They’re legal to use in most states and are well suited for a variety of hunting situations. The Wolf and the Impact are also extremely reasonably priced, so they’re very good gifts for hunters who are just trying to get started hunting with a muzzleloader.
The CVA Optima and Accura, the Traditions Vortek Strikerfire LDR, and the Thompson Center Triumph are all excellent muzzleloaders for hunters who want something a little nicer and more capable than the entry-level Wolf and Impact models.
In general, these muzzleloaders are much easier to use than flintlock muzzleloaders. At the same time, while hunters still need to exercise care when loading, modern inline muzzleloaders have more reliable ignition and are less susceptible to misfires (though they still happen on occasion). They can also use a much wider variety of modern muzzleloader bullets, which offer better terminal performance on most species of big game and have a longer effective range.
For those reasons, these modern inline models are the best muzzleloaders for the vast majority of hunters who just want something that’s reasonably priced, easy to use, effective on most big game under typical hunting conditions, and is legal to hunt with in most places.
High End Muzzleloaders
Now let’s talk about really high end, long range muzzleloaders. Most run of the mill inline muzzleloaders have a maximum effective range of around 200 yards. That’s plenty far for most hunters, but there are also people who want a little bit more reach. This can be especially important for elk, mule deer, or pronghorn hunters out west.
In this case, hunters really have two muzzleloaders to choose from: the CVA Paramount and the Remington® 700 Ultimate Muzzleloader (UML).
Both muzzleloaders are capable of incredible accuracy and are marketed as options for hunters who want the capability to take game at ranges in excess of 300 yards. Each muzzleloader goes about accomplishing those goals in a slightly different manner (the Remington UML can use more powder for a higher muzzle velocity while the CVA Paramount uses a more aerodynamic bullet), but their capabilities are very similar and both are highly regarded by serious muzzleloader hunters.
These muzzleloaders are legal to use in some, but not all states. For instance, both the Paramount and the UML are legal to use in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. On the other hand, they’re not legal to use in Idaho or Oregon.
If you’re considering using a muzzleloader on a serious hunting adventure out west or in another country (like on an African hunting safari), both the Paramount and the Remington UML are great choices.
Other Muzzleloader Hunting Considerations
There are a couple of things you should keep in mind regarding muzzleloaders though.
First, while it is legal to fly with a muzzleloader on an airline, it is NOT legal to fly with powder or primers. This means you’ll need to make arrangements to purchase or otherwise obtain power and primers once you arrive at your final destination. This isn’t always a big deal, but it can really complicate the logistics of a hunt, especially if you’re travelling to a different country.
Aside from that, transporting a muzzleloader on an airline is just like flying with a centerfire firearm: make sure it’s unloaded, pack it in a locked, hard sided container, and declare it to the airline when you check in for your flight.
Muzzleloader Hunting Safety
Finally, let’s talk about the safety considerations involved with hunting with any muzzleloader.
Most muzzleloaders aren’t quite as loud as a centerfire rifle, but their report is still typically loud enough to damage your hearing. So, make sure you wear ear protection while hunting with any muzzleloader.
Wear eye protection as well. This is REALLY important when hunting with a sidelock muzzleloader because the ignition source on those muzzleloaders is mere inches from your face.
Yes, wearing eye and ear protection while hunting with a muzzleloader can seem strange, especially if you’re a traditionalist. However, it’s not uncommon for sparks or percussion cap fragments to fly in all directions when firing and I’ve had a couple of real close calls that made me a real believer in wearing eye protection when shooting a muzzleloader.