locally owned since 1854

Primitive muzzleloading season means hunting in the old style: Tom Shank's Woods & Waters

Posted 3/27/19

I enjoy the primitive muzzleloading season that begins the day after Christmas and runs several weeks into January.

During this special deer season, only muzzleloaders that are classified as …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Primitive muzzleloading season means hunting in the old style: Tom Shank's Woods & Waters

Hunting deer with a muzzleloader — with a  flintlock ignition, the old-fashioned way as the early frontiersman did it — brings a different excitement to the sport, Tom Shank says.
Hunting deer with a muzzleloader — with a flintlock ignition, the old-fashioned way as the early frontiersman did it — brings a different excitement to the sport, Tom Shank says.
photo courtesy of the Pennsylvania Game Commission
Posted

I enjoy the primitive muzzleloading season that begins the day after Christmas and runs several weeks into January.

During this special deer season, only muzzleloaders that are classified as “primitive” may be used. That means flintlock ignition, the old-fashioned way of using a weapon as our early frontiersman used. Daniel Boone always comes to mind when hunting in this way.

My muzzleloader rifle is a Thompson Center 50-caliber Hawken that shoots a patched round ball, propelled by 90 grains of black powder. It’s a simple combination of a flint striking metal that produces a spark. If it all works in proper sequence, the rifle will shoot a projectile down range. Open iron sights must be used.

Shooting black powder is fun. Hitting a target the size of a pie plate at 50 yards is my goal. Hitting a deer in the wild is a completely different story than practicing on the range. My range shooting isn’t that bad, with ideal conditions and a steady rest to lean on. Give me an offhand shot with my Hawken and the deer usually wins.

Missing is part of black powder hunting. But the dreaded misfire, hang fire, or no fire at all, plagues me more times than not. You see, black powder is very sensitive to the weather. Wet, dampness and snow can cause your black power not to react and thus the powder doesn’t burn and you get no ignition. You’re left with the dreaded powder “hiss” and a frustrated look. So, having your gun go off is an accomplishment. Getting a good opportunity with everything working as it should, with the deer being stationary, is a lot to ask for. My recent hunt in Columbia County will attest to all of the above.

I was asked to be part of a large group getting together for a deer drive using muzzleloaders during the primitive season. I couldn’t wait to be involved, and my confidence level was high. I had practiced many times, and my gun was shooting perfect. I told myself, give me a shot at a deer standing within 75 yards and I could close the deal.

I began the first deer drive as a stander positioned on a mountainside. I was part of a line of hunters numbering about 12 that went from the top of the mountain to the bottom. Another group of hunters lined up and walked toward us hoping to push deer in our direction. It took about two hours for this drive to complete. I saw one deer and a coyote not offering a shot. The hunter below me sounded off with a “kaboom.” A quick glance toward him showed he connected on a doe. His gun went off and the shot was 20 yards. I dreamed of such an opportunity, and the day was young.

Being a stander on the first drive, it was now my turn to be a driver allowing other hunters to take up a stationary position. I moved along the mountainside keeping in line with the hunters on my left and my right. It was a long tract with many boulders and extreme elevations changes.

This drive took another two hours to complete. I had several deer run past me at high gear, never stopping. I didn’t shoot, but I heard shots ring out during this second drive. I thought to myself, some of our group are getting some action and wondered if my turn would be next.

I didn’t have long to wait. The third drive had me again as a stander. I must say after walking for two hours, I needed to be a stander to rest and recuperate. I found a large tree to lean behind that allowed me to hide behind from any deer and to give me the added support to increase my accuracy of my flintlock.

As I stood there against the tree, my wish to see some deer came true. Several brown shapes came running toward me but veered away at the last moment. Well, I saw some deer and felt pretty good. Then as I peered up the mountain top, they came. A herd of deer numbering about 15 were angling toward me. I got myself ready for a shot and pulled my hammer to my gun.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The first deer in line was a six-point buck followed by deer after deer with no visible antlers until the last one showed. There taking up the rear was a huge massive antlered buck. His brilliant white rack was the largest buck I had seen in many years. He was coming closer and closer to me. Then for no reason at all he stopped. All the other deer kept moving, but he didn’t.

Like posing for a picture, he was broadside at 50 to 75 yards, providing me with a shot of a lifetime. I was steady on the sights and centered on his shoulder. I took a breath and squeezed the trigger.

“Hiss.”

Oh, no! My gun misfired. I frantically recocked and pulled the trigger the second time with the same result. After the second attempt, the buck shifted into mobile gear and escaped behind me. I couldn’t believe my luck. I finally had my chance with a buck of a lifetime and my gun misfired.

I was disappointed, but felt much better after witnessing the hunter to my right.

It wasn’t long that another herd of deer came my way and stopped directly in front of the hunter next to me. I watched as he aimed at the closest deer and could hear the “hiss” of his gun and the reaction of his misfire. We both had our chances on this drive and the outcome was the same — deer won, hunter lost.

After the third drive was over, all the hunters who participated in the day’s hunt reminisced of their sightings, shots and experiences. My “big” buck event topped all with some good laughs especially when one of the youngsters asked, “Did you have your gun loaded?” “Must have had buck fever” came from others.

I must say, it was a hunt I will never forget. I will continue to hunt with my flintlock knowing that misfires and no-fires at all is part of the primitive flintlock season. I wouldn’t miss it for anything.

Next year, maybe instead of a “hiss,” a “kaboom” will result.

Tom Shank has been writing the Woods and Waters column for the Press & Journal for about 10 years. His expertise has been gained through more than 50 years hunting, fishing, trapping and exploring the full gamut of nature. The Susquehanna River and his cabin in Lycoming County are his true loves. Woods and Waters is his playground in life, and to write about it for the Press & Journal is a dream come true.