In Maine, muzzleloader season commences immediately after the regular firearm season ends. This gives a hunter two more weeks of hunting with less pressure since fewer hunters own muzzleloaders or take advantage of this season. The first muzzleloader we owned was one we bought for my oldest son to use; however, I ended up using it. I am proud to say I was the first one to shoot a deer with it and I’ve used it several times. Since then we’ve gotten a second muzzleloader, but I have yet to shoot anything with it because I either tagged out before muzzleloader season, or didn’t get a deer at all.
This is my story about a muzzleloader hunt and the gun I used, a CVA .50 caliber rifle. It’s the new kind of muzzleloader, which at first some hunters mocked because it’s so easy to use. Unlike Laramy “Sasquatch” Miller, the mountain guy who pours the black powder into his gun and loads a ball inside a wad of cotton, we drop three gunpowder pellets called charges down the barrel. Then using the long rod, we press the sabot and bullet down into the barrel. The gun isn’t considered loaded until we place the primer, also called the cap, into place with a special tool. Our particular model takes a .209 cap, which is simply the size of the cap. The difference between rifle and muzzleloader hunting is that you only get one shot with a muzzleloader and then have to reload it in the field.
Our first muzzleloader was harder to use that our current one. It was almost impossible to get a primer into the gun without the special tool. Luckily, our new gun has a barrel that breaks open. Another issue with the first gun is the bolt was forever coming unlatched and the bolt would open. On more than one occasion, I’d lose the bolt right out of the gun, and onto the ground on my way into the stand. I finally figured out I needed to carry it on my right shoulder so the bolt handle wouldn’t catch on my jacket and get flipped open.
One year I hadn’t gotten my deer yet, so I bought my muzzleloader permit and planned to hunt. I also had an any-deer permit so the last thing I wanted was for that to go to waste. I hadn’t seen a deer all season. All I needed to do was see a deer to shoot….just one.
Overnight, we were graced with a huge dumping of snow, which was still falling when we headed out. The snow was soft and deep and best of all: quiet. John and I headed out back to look for deer sign. Before we even went 100 yards, we found brand new tracks in the snow. John decided to follow the tracks and went left. I was to circle around by the gravel pit right, and see if anything had come my way.
The snow was deep and hiking through it wasn’t easy, but it was incredibly quiet. As I rounded the pit and headed down the trail, I made my way almost to the end of it where it merges with another trail when I heard noise…deer noise. There in front of me at the top of the hill, were four big doe pawing for acorns under the newly fallen snow. I stepped off to the left behind some trees. They hadn’t seen me. I was only 20-30 yards from them. As I readied my gun, I noticed the bolt was slightly open. I pushed the bolt closed, took the safety off, and took aim. As I looked through my scope, I tried to pick a deer that didn’t have another one right behind it. The last thing I needed to do was shoot two does. I decided on the one that gave me a perfect broadside shot.
I pulled the trigger.
NOTHING!! The gun didn’t fire. In my mind, I was screaming NO!
I took the gun and looked it over. I lifted the bolt up and down, but didn’t cycle the bolt open because I didn’t want to make noise or take the chance of my primer falling out. I couldn’t see anything wrong with the gun. I took aim again and pulled the trigger. STILL NOTHING!! My gun wouldn’t fire. I tried again to figure out WHY... Then the deer noticed my movement. I looked up. They were looking at me. One stomped her foot…A few loud blows, and in a second, they all bolted. I was sick with failure and anger over the gun. Why hadn’t it shot?!
Standing there not believing what just happened, I opened and closed the bolt cycling it through the action and actually opening the chamber. The primer was in place.
So I pulled up and took aim at the big stump nearby. BAM! The air filled with smoke. The gun worked that time. F@&k!
John called me. “Did you get one?!” I couldn’t believe I had to tell him no.
Turns out this gun has a safety mechanism in it that prevents the gun from firing if the gun bolt comes open. The only way to cancel it is to fully open and close it. It would have been nice to know this…or better yet, IF I had simply cycled the bolt, I would have had a deer. The manual never mentioned this safety feature either… I still remember this moment like it was yesterday. Some hunts you never forget; I won’t this one. It was a true learning experience for me and to this day, every time I walk the hill where the does stood, it all comes back. I think what frustrated me the most is that I had shot a deer with this same muzzleloader in a previous year, so I couldn’t figure out what was different.
Although putting meat in the freezer is the best feeling, failure is sometimes part of the hunting experience. I try not to dwell on unsuccessful hunts; dwelling makes one start second-guessing one’s abilities, decisions, and whether or not one should be there. Don’t dwell. These are experiences I never would have had if I hadn’t started hunting. I got to see deer, and you can bet that whenever the son takes his gun out, I stick in a reminder to make sure to not let the bolt open.
I avoid the shoulda-woulda-coulda’s of regret. This year’s grand slam proved to me that I know how hunt. Things happen, and not every hunt will be a perfect textbook. Accept it and make changes when necessary, but never ever beat yourself up. That’s why we have next season–to do it all over again.
I’ll be back there next year ready for another great year of hunting. And when muzzleloader season gets here, and if I haven’t gotten my deer yet, I’ll be bringing the “new” muzzleloader out. Whatever type of hunting you do, be sure to get out there and enjoy every minute, even if it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted.