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Modern muzzleloaders have come a long way

October 6, 2010
By Joe Hackett, News Outdoors Columnist
The inexorable advancement of autumn continues unabated. Birds are still on the wing headed south, brook trout and lake trout are on the spawn and hunters are again on the prowl.

Already, a considerable accumulation of fallen leaves pads most of the local trails. Weather patterns have delivered the combination of blustery winds, rain and cooler temperatures that are typical of the season.

Typically, a thick fog has encased most area waters each morning and the diminishing daylight hours have served to abbreviate the duration of daily outings.

Outdoor travelers should take these changes into consideration when planning a trip and allow adequate time for the return. As always, packing a flashlight with spare batteries is a wise move.

The fall foliage has moved well past peak in the upper elevations, and appears to have progressed into the “mellow yellow” stage, with a mix of muted tan, yellow and brown being the most predominant colors.

With only a week remaining in the trout season, sportsmen will soon be trading in their fishing poles for smoke poles, as the muzzleloading season for whitetail deer opens Saturday, Oct. 16.

Modern muzzleloaders

When first devised, the muzzleloading season was developed to permit hunters an early opportunity to pursue big game with primitive arms, prior to the opening of regular rifle season.

In the Northern Zone, hunters are allowed to harvest a deer of either sex during muzzleloading season. In effect, it has legalized a long-standing tradition of taking a doe for camp meat.

Muzzleloading season was first initiated for “primitive arms,” which were defined as a single-shot rifle loaded with a charge in the barrel. Most of the muzzleloaders available at that time were either flintlocks or percussion cap models, with the Hawken and the Kentucky long rifle style being the most popular guns of choice.

However, in recent years, advancements in muzzleloading technologies have rapidly changed the game. Davy Crocket or Daniel Boone wouldn’t even recognize the modern muzzleloading rifles.

Possibly, the only common variable between today’s rifles and the primitive guns that these famed woodsmen once carried is that they still require a charge to be loaded down the muzzle of the gun. Beyond that simple requirement, all bets are off.

Many modern muzzleloaders feature advanced ignition systems. No longer is a percussion cap or the spark of a flintlock necessary to fire a muzzleloader.

The charge now rarely consists of traditional black powder; rather, it is typically a non-corrosive, smokeless substitute called Pyrodex.

Pyrodex is an easier, cleaner and more consistent charge than traditional black powder. It also comes in a pre-measured pellet form, which improves the consistency of the load, the accuracy of the shot and the ease of cleaning the firearm.

Not only have ignition systems and the type of powder changed, so has the ammunition. The traditional round — mini-balls of lead that were once rammed down a barrel with a patch of linen — have been replaced with copper-jacketed slugs sheathed in a plastic sabot.

The advent of inline ignition systems, reliable loads and advanced optics have combined to make the modern day muzzleloader an extremely accurate, highly effective and relatively smokeless “smoke pole.”

It is interesting to note the comparable technological advancements that have occurred in archery. The advent of compound bows, which use a system of wheels and pulleys to reduce draw weight, has reinvigorated interest in bow hunting.

Technological advancements in bow systems and modern materials have greatly diminished the learning curve. Bows now feature sight systems, sound dampeners, stabilizers and a host of additional aids that make bows lighter, faster, stronger and more reliable than ever before.

Some hunting traditionalists wonder if the technology of hunting implements has gone too far.  Have the modern advancements removed the primitive elements from primitive arms?

“It’s still only one shot,” explained Bob Brown of Saranac Lake, a veteran hunter and well-known sportsman. “I’ve still got to be careful and make it count. And the deer is not going to know what hit him, whether it is a sabot or a round ball from a Hawken or a modern in-line.”

Brown makes a valid point. Whether the muzzleloader features a stainless steel barrel, synthetic stock, inline ignition, electronic scope and a host of other advanced technologies, the success of the hunt essentially remains the same. The most important ingredient remains the hunter’s skill set.

It boils down to individual choice. Have graphite fly rods diminished the angling experience? Are graphite rods actually more productive than fiberglass or traditional bamboo? Do such advancements provide sportsmen with an unfair advantage?

In the wider picture, if the latest technology can produce lighter and less expensive outdoor equipment that is easier to use and maintain, what is the harm?

From an advocacy perspective, outdoor equipment that is user-friendly, less expensive and more readily available is certain to aid the effort to recruit hunters.

In fact, when New York lawmakers recently passed legislation to allow crossbows to be used during the hunting season, state Sen. David J. Valesky explained, “Expanding New York’s hunting regulations to include crossbows will expand Upstate’s economic opportunities. It will provide increased revenue to the state and our local communities through licensing and will also draw in out-of-state hunters looking to experience hunting in New York.”

The new law, which will not take effect until next hunting season, will allow hunters to use a crossbow during regular big-game season when most firearms are in use.  According to the bill, hunters will be able to use their regular gun season tags and their muzzleloader tags in coordination with crossbow hunting.

Upcoming events

A bit closer to home, on Sunday October 10, The Wild Center in Tupper Lake will host a full day of events and activities in support the 10/10/10 Global Work Party. Organized by, the 10/10/10 Global Work party will represent the world’s largest day of practical action to fight the climate crisis. 

Communities in over 100 countries will join the effort by participating in activities that demonstrate local sustainable food, energy, water and transportation solutions to climate change. In honor of this monumental event, The Wild Center has a planned a full day of activities for the whole family that will celebrate more sustainable ways to coexist with the natural world.

Fisheries presentation

The Lake Champlain Chapter of Trout Unlimited has announced that DEC Region 5 fisheries manager Bill Schoch will be the featured speaker at their October Trout Unlimited meeting. The event will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 12 in the Gander Lodge Room at the Gander Mountain Store in the North Mall, in Plattsburgh. It’s free, informative and everyone’s invited.

Article Photos

Photo by Joe Hackett
The top gun is a Thompson Center Arms Encore Inline Muzzleloader with a synthetic stock and stainless steel barrel. On the bottom is a Thompson Center Arms Hawken muzzleloader, outfitted with traditional hardware.



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