ARTICLE BY DAN CHASON | PHOTGRAPHY BY KELLY MOORE CLARK | ITEMS AVAILABLE AT SIMMON’S SPORTING GOODS
If you examine the history of weapons and compare it to the seasons granted to hunters in our area, you will see a very definite trend. In ancient times there is evidence of various weapons for hunting. It started with lances and spears but soon developed into stick and string and stayed that way all the way up until the development and settlement of the western United States. Bows were used by native cultures as well as in medieval times. With the invention of gunpowder, it gradually moved to a more proficient but still primitive and barbaric use of firearms, cannonry and other devices that would push projectiles in a more efficient manner. Bows and crossbows even in early European countries was the choice of warriors and hunters alike.
If you compare this trend to our seasons and available weapons, you will see that we start with a bow in October, then primitive firearms and then to modern weapons to hunt deer. But even bows today have lost that primitive history and can now be effective up to at least 100 yards. Purists will scoff at compound bows and cross bows and it does create a big challenge when the hunter decides to take a recurve bow to hunt big game animals. I respect a hunter who can be successful with a recurve as the distance is quite shortened and the pay back is the knowledge that being able to achieve this is quite an accomplishment.
Compound bows now are super fast, efficient and deliver the knock down power needed to humanely and quickly dispatch your animal. There are many shapes, sizes and models to choose from with the two most popular brands being Matthews and Hoyt. These bows sport over sized cams and with the correct arrow are reliable and are prized by bow hunters nationwide. In Louisiana, the powers that be finally realized that dispatching of animals in a humane manner was more important than restricting the manner when comparing a compound or recurve to a crossbow. It used to be that the hunter had to have a disability such as shoulder issues or extremity limits to be able to use a crossbow. Now any licensed hunt can use any of the three bow choices and for the most part in our area be able to hunt from October 1st to the end of January (state bag limits apply).
Then we move to muzzleloaders. Call them a smoke pole, primitive weapon or your favorite rifle but the difference between a muzzleloader and modern rifle has one major difference: one shot capacity with no reserve ammunition in the weapon. In the old days, the smoke pole got its name as a true muzzleloader where the power (poured down the barrel in a specific load weight), then the patch to pack the round, then the ball or round was forced down the barrel with a rod or metal rod and jammed against the power. Later on the development of gun powder pellets allowed the hunter to accurately put the correct amount without measuring. The technique was the same and the concept was simple. Constrain the power and bullet/ball and ignite it from the rear causing the powder to explode and send the round down the barrel. After the shot is fired you will discover that black gunpowder produces a cloud of smoke…thus the name “smokepole.”
The old muzzleloaders had serious flaws. One, moisture was a severe issue. This caused misfires and delayed firing. You are holding the weapon, pull the trigger and all that ignites is the flint or primer. This could mean either no shot goes off or worst yet it delays and goes off unexpectedly. The other issue was the amount of necessary gear that you must carry to hunt with this weapon. Primer, powder, ramming rod and a cleaning tool to keep the ignition port clean. Compared to a modern rifle, you only need the rifle, cartridges and a scope cover. My how things have changed!
Randy Ogles from Holly Ridge, LA is a certified Hunter Safety Instructor for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and an avid muzzleloader hunter. According to him, the popularity of muzzleloader hunting has grown for the most part due to the new modern “in line” muzzleloader now legal in Louisiana. This modern muzzleloader has changed deer hunting in our area. Not only is it easier to not be encumbered with old age technology but the new weapons are safer and easier to maintain and use. According to Randy, cleanup of the modern in line weapon compared to the old style muzzleloaders is the fact that there is less gumming up by damp gunpowder in the weapon. This serves the hunter well and prevents misfires and dangerous issues when the primitive gun does not function. He notes also that the season for muzzleloaders gives the majority of us another 2 weeks of hunting compared to just modern gun seasons. I asked him for some tips on gun safety and he was very blunt about additional concerns if using a primitive muzzleloader compared to an in line weapon that uses a cartridge.
Whether you decide on a .35 Whelen, .444, a 45.70 or the original primitive weapon, muzzleloader hunting in Louisiana has changed drastically. On that note, be aware that muzzleloader hunting on Louisiana numerous game reserves (WMA’s} have specific and restricted requirements to muzzleloader hunt in the game reserves. Make sure to check restrictions and rules as well as the additional licenses to hunt a WMA.
I asked Randy Ogles if he could sum up muzzleloader hunting in a simple statement. I found his comments to sum it all up very well: “What I like about my smokepole is when you launch a 265 grain bullet at a hog or deer, one of two things is gonna happen. You either find him laying right there, or you missed him.”
This is very true in my experiences and one comes to mind of recent. A huge 250lb hog came into my area. He fed around on acorns and just would not give me a good angle. He was facing me and I took the shot that is usually not very effective. I aimed right between his front legs and squeezed the trigger on my .444. The hog dropped as if you let the air out of him. When cleaning him, I found the bullet in his rear ham. I am super confident in my muzzleloader as it is deadly effective and does the job. Muzzleloaders have evolved to be a weapon you not only can depend on for 2 weeks a year but is one that I used the entire year with great success. Happy hunting!