Late muzzleloading seasons are among the most underutilized in the country, one of the reasons that big bucks are taken each year while the center-fire crowd is sipping eggnog and watching football. A prime example is a hunt I took with Seth McGinn, owner of the Can Cooker, in South Dakota during the worst weather imaginable. A foot of snow had just fallen and the wind howled at 30 miles per hour closing roads and knocking out power.
Our camp was snuggled in a shallow river basin with plenty of cover and I knew of a high point that would be sheltered from the Northwest wind. “Hunting in this weather is probably crazy, but I know of a good spot where deer may be moving to get out of the wind,” I said to my partner, a native of Nebraska, he wasn’t going to be intimidated by a little snow and wind.
We had barely left camp when we began jumping deer, an indication that the weather may be pushing them into tight cover. Half an hour later, we peeked over my ridge top and saw an 8-point watching its back trail, apparently a deer we had jumped on the way in. McGinn settled his rifle on a small tree, fire flew from his muzzle and the buck dropped right there. Imagine our amazement. Hunting in a blizzard and one peek over the ridge bagged a buck. As we watched the buck with binoculars to be sure it was dead, a second buck suddenly appeared on a path that also crossed below us. Apparently the howling wind had confused the deer and it ran toward us. I steadied my rifle, squeezed and the buck went down 20 yards from McGinn’s. This was insane! Two bucks in 10 minutes in a roaring blizzard with muzzleloading rifles.
Late muzzleloading seasons often occurs over the Christmas break when youngsters are out of schools and college kids are home for the holidays- an ideal time to spend quality time with them. Most young boys and girls are interested in firearms and the ability to develop a load appropriate for them is a huge benefit. If you are shooting for fun, load one pellet or about 50 grains of powder which will result in very moderate recoil, yet an accurate bullet and plenty of smoke. Eye and ear protection are important as are safety rules which are easy to teach and reinforce.
Once youngsters are dialed into loading and shooting safely, bump up the powder to 80-100 grains which is plenty for most deer hunts. Personally, I love an Aimpoint red dot scope because it allows me to put that red dot exactly where I want to hit.
Deer by the Bunch
McGinn and I were certainly lucky to take our two bucks so quickly, yet high winds and storms will force deer into tight cover, especially along creeks and streambeds. In general, deer tend to “herd up” in December and January and you may see groups of deer bedding together or focusing on a food source.
Snow is often a crystal ball that can’t guarantee where deer will travel yet shows you where they’ve been. Winter wheat fields, picked corn fields, and any leftover crop is bound to be a magnet.
Hunting early morning stands in very cold weather can be brutal and it may make more sense to try small deer drives during mid day or hunt the afternoon at likely food sources. Yearling does may come into estrous in late season and don’t be surprised to hear a buck grunt or see one sniffing the ground. Be sure to carry a grunt and bleat call and sometimes rattling will work.
In-line muzzleloaders continue to dominate the hunting market due to their consistent performance with the break-open models the most popular. I used a Traditions Vortek that shot very accurately at 200 yards and beyond. www.traditionsfirearms.com
Hodgdon Triple Seven pelletized power is also a huge benefit and makes measuring a load safe and consistent. www.hodgdon.com
Finally, new bullet designs make loading easier, even after the first shot. Federal Premium’s B.O.R. Lock MZ bullets load easily, seat consistently and deliver deep penetration. There is no sabot to worry with and you don’t need to clean the bore for a second shot. Visit www.federalpremium.com.
Muzzleloader shooting and late season deer hunting are just plain fun. You’ll find the deer woods uncrowded, even on public land, and there are far more big bucks hanging around than you imagine. Heck, just look, McGinn and I found two, that’s sure tells a story.