By Tom Fegely
When hunting with a muzzleloader, you have to make your one and only shot count. Most often, that means passing on a running deer.
Over the four decades I’ve been hunting whitetails, I’ve cleanly killed perhaps a dozen fast-running deer, although none were more than 75 yards away. Some were missed cleanly. Most of the fast-movers whose overdrive had kicked in were simply watched through binoculars or a scope as they disappeared.
Although all deer hunters must be prepared for running shots, the muzzleloader carrier shoulders an extra burden. Ballistics differ from centerfires to caplocks or flintlocks, with the more primitive front-stuffers presenting the greatest challenge.
My wife, Betty, who has been hunting for more than 20 years, never took a shot at a running deer until a couple years back in southern Iowa. There, she dropped an 8-pointer with her muzzleloader at 73 yards after it suddenly appeared and nearly ran her down.
“I wasn’t exactly ready when he showed up,” she explained. “For some reason he took an abrupt left turn as I swung my scope on the brisket and squeezed off the shot. He dropped immediately.”
To Shoot or Not to Shoot
Whether or not to shoot at a running deer with a muzzleloader is a personal decision based on practice, preparation and knowing your firearm. The introduction of inlines in 1985 resulted in big changes. The inline permitted more modern hunting methods, including the addition of scopes and the ethical considerations of longer, more accurate shots. Nevertheless, the limit of one shot remains the essence of the blackpowder sport.
Betty Lou Fegely took this Iowa buck with a. 50 caliber muzzleloader. Practicing by shooting at a rolling tire gave her the confidence and skill to make a clean shot.
On that memorable southern Iowa hunt, my wife fired a .50-caliber sabot slug from a 2-7x scoped Knight Wolverine. Our pre-hunt sighting-in a week before our hunt was followed by several shots at a tire rolling across the sloped, harvested cornfield owned by a farmer-friend.
What I learned from my range shooting is that I now feel confident when shooting offhand at a running deer at 50 yards or less when using a flintlock or caplock. Anything farther will get a free pass unless it happens to stop and look back, as did my Iowa buck on that same hunt. It was a handsome 9-pointer that I managed to stop in its tracks at 151 yards - when it cooperated with a sudden stop and gazed my way.
Once and Done
Even with a big buck in his sights, the muzzleloader hunter must be aware that only one shot is available. The wise hunter won’t waste that lone shot by being hasty. The flintlock, which I’m forced to use without a scope during the post-Christmas season in Pennsylvania, is surely not a preferred firearm for running shots. I know before I tug the trigger that a shot at a speeding buck or doe via iron sights is not a wise choice.
Of all the shooting positions suggested for long-range game (seated with a solid rest, prone, kneeling, braced, seated with ankles crossed, etc.), offhand is probably the least effective. But if practice makes perfect, taking some shots offhand in addition to the sighting-in procedure can be a valuable practice. Wise gunners will first make certain their sights are on, sandbag their rifles and adjust their scopes or iron sights. The session ends with a half-dozen or more off-hand shots.
The muzzleloader hunter must be fully aware that only one shot is available no matter if the deer is sprinting or loafing. It takes a completely different mind-set, and beginners should constantly remind themselves that they have only one chance to make a clean harvest.
-- Reprinted from the July 2007 issue of Buckmasters Magazine