Fifty-plus Caliber Freedom

[su_heading size=”35″ margin=”0″]Fifty-plus Caliber Freedom[/su_heading]

The Advantages Of Hunting With Muzzleloaders

Story and photographs by Mike Nesbitt

[su_dropcap style=”light”]B[/su_dropcap]elieve it or not, there are some real advantages to hunting with muzzleloading rifles and smoothbores. Those advantages are not found in the ballistics or the rapidity of follow-up shots; the real advantages are found in making a good shot from the beginning and knowing that the hunter will be reticent to take a shot until a good hit can be expected. Those can be real advantages.

There are more areas open to hunting this way as well. I’m making this statement in a very general sense, but many areas, sometime entire states, are closed to hunting with high-powered rifles. Areas like that are usually open to shotguns, loaded with either buckshot or slugs, and often those same areas are open to muzzleloading rifles. Let’s face it: We can’t have a good and successful hunt without a place to do so.

More than a few years ago I enjoyed hunting in Iowa, and at that time the farms, if not the entire state, were closed to shooting with high-powered rifles. That was fine with me: I was a dedicated muzzleloader shooter and hunter at the time. I hunted with John Hambleton from Iowa Trophy Hunting; Hambleton has since passed away, but his son Todd is still running the show, if you ever want to go.

The Hambletons cater to archers and hunters with muzzleloaders for deer, and when I was their guest I carried my .50-caliber flintlock Hawken made many years ago by Ozark Mountain Arms. That particular gun builder left the market in the early 1980s, but anyone who has a rifle by them would agree that those were very fine rifles. I loaded a powder charge with 80 grains of FFFg powder by GOEX underneath a patched .490-inch round ball. With that charge and that ball load my rifle was more than ready to make some venison.

It was pretty chilly, well below freezing and often below zero. What I thought about more than the cold was that in such weather there is hardly any moisture in the air. This made my flintlock more than ready to go. Getting good ignition with a flintlock on that hunt was never a problem.

The author’s new .52 caliber Leman named “So Tacky.”

The day my tag was filled, Hambleton had taken me to a specific spot and told me, “Stand right there.” He added, “Don’t move around.” With those instructions, he left. I found out a short time later that Hambleton doubled back and went to the bottom of a wooded ravine where he knew several deer were sheltering from the wind. I hadn’t waited very long when about 60 whitetail came storming out of there and galloped right past me, not more than 30 yards away. This was my best chance and I knew it. While the deer were going by, most of them about 30 yards away, I looked for a good buck. As more deer approached I saw the buck I wanted, not a big one, not what we’d call trophy sized, but a nice meat buck. Right as that buck passed me by just a little bit my flintlock fired instantly, which sent the .50-caliber round ball all the way through its chest, getting both the heart and the lungs.

Though it came at the cost of a cut thumb, “Big Foot” Folty grins with his first deer taken with a flintlock.

Of course, we didn’t know that right away. The deer kept going and I’ll admit that I lost sight of him while I reloaded. But blood began to show on the trail and soon that blood led us to the dead buck. Hambleton complimented me on my shooting and I had to compliment him on his guiding.

Don’t take my story as any kind of guideline about the legality of using a muzzleloading rifle in other shotgun-only areas. Each and every hunting area can have its own definitions about which guns can be used, so be sure to check.

Another way that muzzleloaders can offer an advantage is when on private property. We must all ask permission when seeking to hunt on another mans land, and if the landowner understands that you will be hunting with a muzzleloader or perhaps a bow and arrow, they may be more prone to allowing it. The reason is because with just one shot, and what we generally accept as a short-effective range, the hunter will usually be more careful, which means less wounded game.

4Your first successful hunt with a muzzleloader will change you as a hunter and it will be a day never to forget. A friend of mine named “Big Foot” Folty was rather new to muzzleloading when he bought a Leman-style rifle made by Matt Avance from Tennessee Valley Muzzleloading. Big Foot’s Leman was a .54-caliber flintlock nicely stocked in curly maple with brass furniture; a gorgeous rifle that any gun enthusiast would be proud to own. His backyard borders on a cattle ranch and the ranch owner allows him to hunt there. Big Foot doesn’t take that permission lightly, and most certainly does not abuse it. He once offered to take me on a hunt, but I too would have had to ask for permission.

One morning late in the season when does were legal, Big Foot loaded his Leman with 90 grains of GOEX FFg powder under a patched .54-caliber round ball, and left on a hunt. With a final check of his flintlock’s priming, he was keeping an eye on a frequently traveled deer trail, on which the deer would be returning to cover after feeding. He was experienced at deer hunting, although this would be his first deer with a muzzleloader.

Big foot
“Big Foot” with his Tennessee Valley Muzzleloader .54 caliber rifle when it was brand new.

Luck was on his side: he saw two does approaching, but something gave him away and the pair retreated. One of them, however, paused just before disappearing about 80 yards away and turned broadside while looking back. That was just what Big Foot wanted and the shot was made.

It was a good shot, but even so, Big Foot reloaded before even thinking about approaching the deer. When he made his way to the deer, she wasn’t quite dead, so a second shot put a definite finish to the hunt. That first deer with a muzzleloader was all his.

Then it was time for some knife-work. Ol’ Big Foot got a little careless and sliced his left thumb rather well. In the photo of him with his rifle and the doe, his thumb is clearly bandaged. Ever since then we’ve referred to that late season as the thumb-cutting moon. ASJ

Author’s note: The Hambletons own Iowa Trophy Hunting and P.S. Manufacturing. You can check out their website at For excellent muzzleloaders, visit TVM at

For those who love to hunt with muzzleloaders and smoothbores, many find that kitting out with all the appropriate accoutrements makes the experience even more enjoyable.

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