Get ‘one more chance’ at deer with muzzleloading rifle

Why do the words of a young child always seem wise beyond their years when applied to adult situations?

When I think of the many deer hunting opportunities we Wisconsin hunters enjoy, I recall my daughter’s sincere pleas when my wife and I would mete out punishment for one of her misdeeds:

“Give me one more chance! Just one more chance!”

It was tough to follow through when looking into those dark brown, pleading eyes, normally moist from fresh tears. She’d later admit she could cry on command, and once did it when I asked her to. Even though I knew I should stick to the punishment (back then, it was taking her iPod for a few days), I’d occasionally cave and give her another chance.

After seeing a total of 11 deer during the gun-deer season, buddy Lance Stratton and I were ready for “one more chance.” That came in the form of Wisconsin’s nine-day muzzleloader season. While we both were off work all Thanksgiving week, Lance had to return to work Monday, while I had Monday and Tuesday off. I, of course, crawled back into the ground blind for more hunting.

He’s planning to join me again today and Sunday as the muzzleloader season wraps up. Then it’s the statewide antlerless-only season Dec. 7-10, and in a few counties (including Waupaca), the antlerless Holiday Hunt Dec. 24 to Jan. 1. Muzzleloaders are welcome during those seasons, too.

I’ve been shooting a muzzleloading rifle since the 1980s, but like almost any hunting- and shooting-related gear, these once-primitive “smokepoles” have made tremendous advances in design and ease of use.

Traditional muzzleloaders such as those often favored by the older members of our Fox Valley Muzzleloaders Club in New London, including flintlocks and percussion sidelocks, are what many of us think of when we recall our patriot forefathers and the settlers and free trappers of the West.

Today, most muzzleloading hunters have opted for the inline rifle, an invention generally credited to Tony Knight of Knight Rifles fame. I met Tony years ago at his Centerville, Iowa, factory and bought a Wolverine .50-caliber inline rifle from the factory store at a nice discount. Tony’s ingenious design put the flame from the percussion cap (or later, from the 209 shotshell primer or musket cap) in direct line with the blackpowder (or later, Pyrodex and Triple 7 propellant pellets).

Sidelocks are designed to fire the cap at a 90-degree angle to the powder charge, and this angle often means that the powder doesn’t ignite. I lost at least two deer to such misfires with my sidelock CVA Mountain Rifle.

Enter Mr. Knight’s invention. Hunters quickly discovered that inlines had much more reliable ignition and therefore more venison in the freezer. Using Pyrodex or Triple 7 pre-measured pellets instead of loose powder means there’s no need to carry a powder measure or waste precious time measuring out the next load in the event that you need a follow-up shot (yes, it still takes about 30 seconds to reload an inline with a pellet).

Traditional No. 11 percussion caps used in sidelocks do not have the fire of a modern 209 shotgun primer or musket cap, so once again, the odds of positive ignition are better with the inline.

I’ve heard many an old-timer tell me he’s never had problems getting a sidelock to go bang. Maybe his memory is gone or maybe he just doesn’t want to remember all the hangfires or no-fires. It’s the same argument I’ve heard from traditional archers telling me they can shoot their recurve bow or longbow “just as accurately” as a compound bow. Maybe at 10 yards, on a good day, but the compound bow will consistently win that bet, even in the hands of a beginner.

There’s no shame in wanting a reliable weapon and a clean kill. In fact, that’s what we all should want. As Lance begins to shop for an inline, I’m giving him pointers on what to look for and whether he plans to use a scope, a red dot or open sights.

Our club doesn’t allow scopes or red dots for competitions, but most hunters want either a low-powered scope or red dot for hunting. Open sights work fine out to 75 yards or so, but again, a decent scope or red dot will increase your odds of success.

The problem with red dots is they depend on batteries, and batteries will fail you when you need them most. Cold weather common to deer season also saps batteries. A scope will work without batteries. A nice compromise is a scope with lighted crosshairs, which is ideal in low light. When the battery goes dead, you still have the crosshairs.

I have a Bushnell Firefly scope on my Thompson-Center Encore muzzleloader, which has glowing crosshairs activated with a flashlight. They do not stay glowing for very long, however, although I love the quality and thick crosshairs, which are fast on target.

As I’ve said many times before, you want low power for deer hunting. You will never need more than 6-power for a muzzleloader, and a 1.5-4 power scope is ideal. I’m looking through my unused gear right now for an old Nikon 1-power scope I bought when Wisconsin used to prohibit any scope magnification for the muzzleloader-only season. Thankfully, that law changed.

New muzzleloaders also offer quick-removing breech plugs, which make cleaning a snap. Muzzleloaders need to be kept clean, especially if you still insist on shooting traditional blackpowder, which is very corrosive. I shoot Triple 7, which can be cleaned with water only and will not corrode the bore if you leave it dirty.

I’m not a fan of plastic-saboted bullets, because the plastic leaves a residue that affects accuracy. I’ve sighted in saboted rounds only to find they are hitting 2 feet off on the next shot. Instead, I prefer a solid-lead conical bullet or “Minie ball” that engages the rifling. My favorite round, the Ball-et (a round ball on the end of a conical), is no longer made.

Get yourself a muzzleloading rifle and extend your season. “One more chance” means double the fun and potentially more venison in your freezer.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at