No Land to Hunt? Ask….or Find It.

First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours.

Sperson knocking on dooro I started following a group of women hunters, and a question came up about hunting when you have no land of your own, and what to do when you aren’t very comfortable about knocking down doors to ask.

First of all, it’s important for anyone, man or woman to ask to hunt land that isn’t yours. Even if the land isn’t posted, if you feel you have to sneak around, it just won’t feel right. And the last thing you want to do is be chased off land you didn’t ask to use, because you now know the answer would be no for sure.

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Town map…find your spot and then find the owner

There are ways to find available land no matter where you live. Look for access by permission only signs and find the owners if it’s not listed on the sign. Don’t be afraid to go to the local town offices to look at town maps, or get online and find landowner information from tax assessing records. You won’t find a phone number, but you will find a name and address, and that’s a start.

I was scared to death to ask a farmer to hunt turkey, especially being a woman. Low and behold, despite their surprised look of a woman asking, the owner was cordial. She had promised it to another hunter, but if I could wait until Thursday, then I could have it. Turns out she knew my Dad, and was happy that I was a Norridgewock native. Small steps may lead to a big opportunity.

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LaGrange to Medford Trail

There’s a lot of public land in Maine that’s accessible to hunters. Now I know it’s annoying that there are some places that people used to hunt that are now off limits because land was donated to a group or cause, and they make their own rules. Many of these organizations don’t consist of hunters, and because patrons might feel afraid, they restrict hunting…blah, blah, blah…it’s not going to change unless we are part of the process. The one thing that will help all hunters is making sure good landowner relations continue to protect what we do have access to use. So asking is best.

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Bigelow Preserve

So I did a little digging. I can’t give away all my spots, but this will help you find public land to hunt. Be thorough and do your homework on the area. First of all, you can hunt on public lands and even some state parks, but you have to put on your detective hat and scout the land. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has some great information on their website. Hunting is not allowed at State Historic Sites or Memorials, and there’s a list of places you can and can’t hunt right there to review. You can search by activity and these are the public lands and state parks that came up for hunting. Just be mindful to know the rules pertaining to state parks and when you can hunt. I was surprised to see so many options in southern Maine, since I’ve never really considered it anywhere near accessible to hunters…but it is. I live farther north and don’t hunt in southern Maine, but there are lots of opportunities to  hunt.

Bear hunting has more restrictions/requirements, but bear hunting is still allowed on public lands, but by permit or lottery. It’s either by straight application and the sites are split equally among requests, or a lottery is done if the number of requests outnumber the number of sites. More information about how to apply is found here.

There’s also information on gathering (berries, mushrooms, fiddleheads) which has become very popular, and as with hunting, permits are required for some types of gathering.

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My moose from zone 5 in North Maine Woods

Another source for hunting is the North Maine Woods, which is actually several timber companies that let you access their land for a fee. You pay at the gate, and the land is there to hunt. Just know the zone rules for whatever game you are hunting. Now when we hunt the NMW, it’s a trip, week long or at least three days because we live so far away, so it’s not something right out your door, but it’s nice to know it’s there. And there are several registered guides throughout the NMW that can help you get that deer, moose, bear or whatever you want.

IMG_20190826_120920641.jpgAnother source is paper company land closer than the NMW. We rabbit hunt “north” and it’s on paper company land. Some companies such as Wagner and Weyheuser, have a permit/lease system for bear hunting, and it’s pretty gobbled up by a few guide services, so don’t be totally discouraged because they hold some sites for DIY’s like us, and sometimes sites become available. They have roads to bird or rabbit hunt, deer hunt, moose hunt, and even bear hunt if you’re lucky enough to see one not over bait, so it’s not a total loss.

And a fairly new option I sort of stumbled upon is land trusts not state owned, such as the Ezra Smith Wildlife Conservation Area, donated by George Smith and family, and is managed by the Kennebec Land Trust which allows hunting on most of its parcels of land. There’s quite a comprehensive list so go to their website and check it out.

img_20191015_235710_011.jpgNow getting back to landowner permissions. The ONLY way we bear hunt on private land is because we got landowner permission, and in return, we give back by maintaining his road. We feel so privileged that we have this access and we take it very seriously. And all we did was ask.

My son hunts on land that isn’t his, and all he did was ask. And he asks every year. I’ve hunted turkeys on land that wasn’t posted, but we still asked. The landowner appreciated it and told us so.

no hunt signAnd you’ll have some landowners who are anti-hunting or what I call land greedy (it’s mine all mine and you can’t use it even if I don’t) and they have their signs posted everywhere, but sometimes conversations can lead to opportunity such as just asking to bow hunt instead of rifle hunt and a door opens. Sometimes not, but it’s worth asking.

Ask a farmer. He may hate those turkeys eating into his silage pile, and wants you to “shoot all of them.” And if all else fails, ask friends if you can hunt with them. You may just find a mentor. Many friends make a trip to hunting camp each year and/or leave their own property un-hunted. Opportunity….Ask. Ask. Ask.

You may just be surprised to find more people are willing to let you hunt than you realize. Access is only a knock away. The more we talk to landowners, the more we build relationships that will help protect the future of hunting.

Good luck and be sure to identify your target before you shoot.

 

 

We’ve Come A Long Way

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One of the first fishing trips John and I went on with his family. We caught a bunch of brook trout.

As I was talking with John the other day, it occurred to me that we’ve changed so much over the last thirty something years. We married in October of 1984, and through all these years, we’ve persevered and have become what some have referred us to as a “power couple.”
IMG_20160507_110851408I laugh when I hear this because it’s usually in the context of hunting and fishing and all the things we do together. It’s quite a compliment, but honestly, it’s just about being together and enjoying what we do. Our kids are grown and off doing their own things with friends and family, so we have more time together that we didn’t have when we were raising our three kids. Hopefully they’ll take some of the times we spent hunting, fishing and wildlife watching with them and pass it onto their families.

So how did we get here?

My dad was pretty strict, but I think it was his own fears that made these rules. I remember not being allowed to go into the woods. My father’s house was only on two acres, but apparently he felt that was more than enough for us to get into trouble, so we (the kids) weren’t allowed to “wander off” and had to stay in the backyard. As an adult, this had lasting effects as I was dreadfully afraid of the woods and what might be lurking in those woods. The first time John and I went for a walk, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a partridge took off. I was never aware of my surroundings and all I remember was that I didn’t enjoy mosquitoes, and I certainly didn’t go looking for wildlife. Even when my family spent time at the camp lot, a parcel of land that my parents bought in the mid 70’s, that had an old school bus on it that we turned into a camper, we were not allowed to explore beyond our boundaries. Now when I hear partridge drumming, it only makes me want to find it.

From the age of 4, my oldest son Zack would want to go “hunting” with his BB gun, so he and I would put on our orange and take walks in the trails behind our house. We never saw anything, but he got the chance to work on his stalking skills and just loved every minute we were out there. I, on the other hand, never went beyond the trails because that’s all I knew.

One of these times, we hadn’t gotten further than 30 yards off the edge of the field, when I spied legs walking down the right trail. In my mind, I thought this was one of John’s cousins who is tall and skinny and who also lived next door. While I was wondering what he was doing out back, I soon realized it was a rutting moose coming down the trail. His head was down and his antlers…huge antlers…were going side to side as if to challenge us. I grabbed Zack by the arm and made a run for it back toward the house. I wanted Zack to see it, but I didn’t want the moose to charge us. I went into a full asthma attack as we hid behind a tree. We never saw it up close because I was so concerned about getting away from the scary monster, and meanwhile the moose changed course and headed down a different trail.

Zack grew to love the outdoors so much that he’d wander off all day. I’d worry and every night, I’d have to yell, “Zack-Ah-reeeeee“, for him to come home. He certainly explored beyond my boundaries, but would come home with stories of his travels and of all the stuff he saw in the woods.

When my husband was a young boy, he would sit around and listen to the men tell hunting stories, but moose hunting wasn’t allowed then so there were only stories of beastly moose and how scary and unpredictable they are. As a youth hunter, he had an encounter with a rutting moose that charged him, which left a lasting impression. John was set up in front of an oak tree while hunting deer. A moose came in to the smell of his buck lure, and when the moose saw John, he charged. John ended up yelling and kicking leaves at the moose and eventually shot over its head to scare it off. He retold this story  as a teenager and said it was one of the scariest moments as a kid he could remember. Then while in college, John was working the wood yard when a young moose wandered into camp. John decided to challenge himself and he was pretty impressed that he was able to make calls to the moose and eventually scare it off. It was then that he realized moose weren’t all that scary.

Thirty plus years later, we’ve grown to understand moose, and fully appreciate their presence in the woods. We’ve successfully hunted, tracked, and called them in just for the sake of seeing if they’d respond. There are no longer fears associated with moose or any animal for that matter.  If anyone had told me ten years ago, that I’d be hunting bear, or that I’d get my grand slam, I would have laughed. I am no longer afraid of the outdoors, the dark, the water (somewhat),  or going beyond my boundaries and stepping out of my comfort zone. I am still challenged when I face new adventures and those old fears creep in; however, I know I have the skills to be competent in the outdoors, so I just push forward challenging myself at every chance I get.

We’ve come a long way from where we were thirty years ago. I hope that if you’re thinking of getting into hunting and fishing or even just nature, that you’ll not put it off for another day. Don’t expect it to be perfect when you do venture out. Just take each time as a new and learning experience. I’m so thankful for who we’ve become both as people and as a couple. I can’t imagine life any other way.

 

No Second Chances This Year

So deer season consumed every ounce of my free time from the time I went bow hunting through the last day of muzzleloader season, which many of you know was last Saturday. I never even got to go expanded archery hunting because I spent so much time hunting the regular seasons.

I wasn’t able to score an any-deer permit this year, so I knew I’d either have to shoot a doe with my bow or a buck with my rifle.

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My bow spot…where I shot my doe last year…notice how green the leaves are!

Bow hunting didn’t have many great nights to sit, but I could sit fairly late. The winds were awful most nights and it was hard to hear anything. I hadn’t had any action until one night, at almost the end of the night, when I could sit no longer, I stood up. Not expecting anything, I was soon surprised and confused by an animal that charged across the road and into the woods. What to heck was it?! It was so low I swore it wasn’t a deer, but looking back now, it had to be a deer…or a bear…I still don’t know. It rattled me a bit because I had no other form of protection, which is the last time I bow hunt without a handgun also close by.

Rifle season was much more exciting. I had some great morning hunts. The camera we put up for three days had three different deer on it. One was an eight point buck, another was a spike horn and there were does. Awesome. I was sure I’d see a buck. I’ll put up a couple of those videos on my Facebook page.

I set up a blind where the camera was since I had a buck chasing a doe in video. It was a very long walk into the blind, and trying to beat sunrise while being quiet was proving difficult. So on one morning, I opted to stop at this hemlock tree and sit on a rock beneath it. It was awkward, but I had heard deer running around and I didn’t want to blow my chance.  I made a grunt call with my call. Immediately, I had two deer start walking toward me. I readied my gun as they approached. One stayed in the woods, but the other one was in perfect view: broadside. The only problem was that it wasn’t shooting time, and the deer’s head was in the shadows of the sunrise and I literally couldn’t see if it was a buck or doe. The entire head was shadowed by its body. I waited, with gun pointed. Eventually my arms could no longer hold my gun and as I lowered it, the deer heard me and blew. Game over. The deer left and I never saw the second one. Five minutes later, and it was full daylight…damn…so close, but I think the one deer I saw was a doe. Her tail was curled up and she had responded to a buck grunt. The other deer may have been a buck chasing her, and if it was, I’ll never know.

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My spot under the hemlock. Still too dark to shoot when the deer came out by the birches (orange leaves on the left)

Many mornings I made the hike up this hill that had weeds chest high. John and I rode the four-wheeler over it so a lot of the brush was knocked down, but it certainly wasn’t quiet. A few wet mornings made going easy, but I also had some really crunchy, noisy mornings trying to get to my treestand that we put in the hemlock I had sat beneath.

I heard deer where I couldn’t hunt because it’s too close to houses. I heard deer to my right. I heard deer to my left coming up the hill. I saw more buck paws and scrapes than I thought possible. I managed to call a doe out at night and watched her head out in front of me in the tall weeds. I saw two doe another morning, that I called in. They came up behind me in the tree line, then moved out in front of me only briefly before heading back into the woods. They didn’t take the easy route up the road and out in front of me-well except for the deer I encountered after traipsing all over the woods until nearly 10 am. As I headed down the road back to my car, I came face to face with a doe. IMG_20171129_090740619_HDR

And the deer in the beeches off to the right of my stand refused to show themselves but instead headed for the oaks below me. I heard them every morning, and even got one to come my way a couple times, but I couldn’t get them to actually come into view because of the trees blocking my view. It was as if they had me figured out.

So I took some days off and hunted other spots to give my “hot” spot a rest. This was pretty cool because on one of these days, I got to see a bobcat make its way across the bog that I was hunting. This was only my third bobcat I had ever seen in the wild. I couldn’t shoot it because it wasn’t bobcat season unless I was trapping it…which we did after this.

Then one morning, I heard what I’d been waiting for all season. I heard a buck chasing a doe as I climbed the hill. I heard him rattle his antlers on a tree. The wind is always in my favor walking up the hill, but once to the top, anything behind me could and would smell me. So I carefully sprayed a little doe-in-heat lure on some old goldenrod flowers. I had instant lure and cover for me.

I made my way to my stand. I climbed in and secured my harness and took a seat. This time, I made a doe call but not right away. I sat and waited until it was almost shooting time. I still heard other deer,  but as soon as I made the doe bleat call, I had a deer coming. It was undeniably a deer coming my way. He raked his antlers on some trees right behind me! A buck! I waited. I finally heard him come behind me and make his way to my right. I watched him over my right shoulder.  He came into view for a second. A buck with crotch horn thick antlers…all he had to do was walk out around the trees between me and him…just walk out in front of me.

But he didn’t. He veered right and moved through the next bunch of trees in the tree line. I had to sit there and watch him walking away. He swung left and stepped through an opening in the trees right at the road. It was a small opening, but I was afraid I wouldn’t get another chance.  I aimed right behind his left shoulder and pulled the trigger.IMG_20171117_063325712.jpg

He kicked like a bucking bronco then stood there flicking his tail, which told me I didn’t hit him-or at least it wasn’t a lethal shot. I jacked out my shell and as I went to cycle another round my gun didn’t do as it was supposed to. I had to cycle a second time to put a shell into my chamber. By then he had moved and was about 90 yards away walking broadside toward the treeline. I took another shot. He continued to walk stopping briefly. Then he did the unthinkable. He moved behind a growth of birch trees. All I could do was watch him, but it was pointless to try another shot because the growth was too thick. IMG_20171117_063330340

He turned and walked into the woods. I called John hoping I had a deer to track.

At first we couldn’t find any sign of blood. I had to climb back in my tree and wave my arms to where I last saw the deer. Finally we managed to find a small drop of blood, perhaps from my second shot. We followed a one drop at a time blood trail for about 30 yards, then there was no more blood. None. I had probably just grazed him, but it didn’t take a way the feeling of guilt and failure. IMG_20171116_072123219

I tried to figure out what I did wrong. This is the first season with my new 30.06. “Was my gun off ?”, since I can say I generally don’t suck at aiming and shooting. I had fallen with it days earlier, but didn’t think I hit anything. We had purchased different ammo. This ammo was to separate and expand upon impact. John used the same ammo for his hunt. His deer had no exit wound…if this was the case with my deer, then there was only one way to bleed and that could make tracking a lot harder.

IMG_20171109_065649170_HDRGoing back the next day, as the sun rose, I could see clearly many more branches through the opening than I did the day I shot at my deer. I clearly didn’t make a good decision to take the shot, and that’s something I have to reconcile in my own head. Had my bullet hit a branch, broke apart, and just grazed him then? I’ll never know. I hope he survived.

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The porcupine that fooled me…I thought it was a deer.

I continued to hunt from my stand, but with the rut over, things weren’t happening. Later I moved to the bottom of the mountain and sat over a buck rub area that would make you dizzy. The very first night I called out a deer. He actually came crashing out, but instead of coming out into the opening, he also stayed in the treeline and circled around me. I could hear him smelling, sniffing the air, trying to find his doe, but with so many trees behind me, I never saw him…and he walked away…and after that night, he never responded again. He had figured me out.

So I ended the season without getting a deer tagged. There was no second chance buck to make it right. It was hard to swallow losing my only chance I had at a buck, but that’s what makes it hunting. I not only saw deer, but each and every hunt I was graced with nature’s amazing wildlife, celestial events, and just complete enjoyment being outdoors. And for that I am thankful. I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

 

 

Expanded Archery Tales

On the last day of muzzleloader season, expanded archery would also come to an end. I convinced John to go expanded hunting with me since I was seeing way more deer in the city than he was muzzleloader hunting, and at least in expanded archery, we each had a permit to shoot either a buck or a doe.

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View from my blind overlooking a chopping. c. SWarren

Instead of going where we had been going, John decided to take me to a spot he’s hunted for years in Oakland. He scouted it in advance and prepared two separate blinds out of brush for us. The first morning we hunted together, I followed him into the spot and took my place behind my blind…well, after he came back and led me to where it was. I had never been that way and even though he said, “it’s right there,” I went too far left and missed his trail entirely. As I stood in the dark trying to find my way, a figure in the dark walked by me…it was him. The wind was howling and it got cold. I didn’t think the wind was to our advantage, and I was ready to leave when my teeth started chattering. We didn’t see anything, but sign was abundant so I wasn’t too discouraged about coming back.

 

We may not have seen any deer, but we scored some fall oyster mushrooms, which are probably the best mushrooms we’ve eaten besides our chanterelles. Yum!img_20161203_075113430

The following night, I couldn’t hunt, but John went. He decided to sit further in from our original spot, and although he didn’t see them, he heard two bucks fighting as their antlers clashed just before dark.

So the following weekend, we came in from a different way and took up new spots on the other side of the mountain. That morning before daylight, we hiked that tall, steep mountain. It was so steep and going was slow on the slippery snow. I thought I’d die trying to pace my breath before we got to the top only to sweat as soon as I made it to the top. Thank goodness I have good layers to wick away the moisture!

Eventually we made it into our spot, which was filled with acorns from all the oak trees in the area. The deer had been feeding here, so it would just a matter of timing before we’d see a deer. John had picked out a really nice spot for me right at the tip of a fallen-over hemlock tree. It made great cover right on the ridge of a valley. I could see all over the other side and all around me. Deer sign everywhere! All I had to do was sit still.

It wasn’t long after daylight when I heard a deer. At first I thought the deer was behind me. I realized I was also hearing a squirrel at the same time I was hearing the deer…out in front of me. John was sitting off to my right about 40 yards. I thought sure he’d see this deer. It made its way from the right to left slowly walking down the bank at a diagonal. It went out of sight when it reached the bottom of the valley because a big blown down poplar tree’s  root ball on my side of the bank blocked my view. As I waited, I finally saw the right ear of the deer. She was coming right up in front of me at about 20 yards. I drew my bow and held it as I waited for her to step out. With the deer fully in sight, I lined up my peep sight with the knock on my bow. I realized the deer was looking right at me!

I released the arrow, and watched it hit the deer where I thought was just behind the left shoulder. The deer took off. I felt it was a good shot. However, the arrow did not light up when it hit as it did with my first deer. The deer bound to my left, then turned and headed down the hill, and then back up the other side where it stopped right at the top. I could hear the leaves rustling and thought it had gone down, but I couldn’t see clearly where it had gone. I saw more deer off in the distant. The hardest part about bow hunting is trying to capture what’s happening so you can remember everything. It’s much harder when there’s a bow in your hand, and everything happens so fast!

I texted John when he didn’t text me right away. I thought, hadn’t he seen the deer? I thought for sure he saw the whole thing go down.

Me: Schwack! (I was feeling pretty proud about now!)
Me: Didn’t you see the deer?
John: No, did you shoot?
Me: Yes, I hit it.
Me: I think anyways. (beginning to second guess my shot)

I could hear John coming my way, and at the same time, I saw the deer off in the distant coming our way. I couldn’t get John’s attention before the deer realized he was there and bound away. He was pretty disappointed he hadn’t seen the other deer, but there was a large tree that blocked the deer from his view. He had heard it but couldn’t see it.  I chuckled when he said he couldn’t believe that I had once again taken a shot at a deer. After all, this was only my first season of bow hunting, and this shot made three deer I had taken a shot at. Apparently it’s not normally like this?

img_20161210_093700584We talked about where the deer was standing, where the deer was shot, which way the deer went…and all before we even took a step away from my tree. John found the spot where I had hit the deer and where it ran. He found the spot where the arrow was broken off and laying on the ground in a bunch of spattered blood. The arrow had a lot of fat on the front of the arrow. There was no sign of a gut shot, so where was this deer?!

We followed blood sign, first tiny specks, then a whole bunch down over the valley and back up over the other side. Then the blood and trail seemed to disappear. No blood anywhere. Not even a speck. Are you kidding me?! I felt sick. We spent almost an hour trying to find where the trail went cold. We eventually found where the deer had ran and eventually we found a minute, tiny speck every once in a while that would keep us moving.

We really thought eventually this deer would lie down and bleed. Our only explanation was that either the arrow passed through the deer and the fletching end of the arrow was still in the deer and possibly plugging the wound, or I hit lower than I thought, and had only caused a superficial wound to the deer. But we made every effort to keep tracking as long as we could. I didn’t want to feed the coyotes.

After about two hours and quite a distance, we followed the deer’s tracks out into a road. On the other side, we spotted between 8 and 10 deer all in a group with one very big deer chasing around…a buck! John had left his bow back at my tree. I gave him my bow to take a shot. I hid behind a tree and gave a bleat on the doe call. The buck started running our way. Just as John drew, a doe on our right busted us, and every one of those deer turned and scattered in every direction.

Now we were discouraged. There was no way to tell which way the deer I had wounded ran if it wasn’t bleeding. We spent a while longer and I finally resolved that we wouldn’t find the deer. I was very disappointed. I never, ever thought I’d lose a deer. I really thought it was a good shot. What would people think? I pride myself on being a good shot and making a quick, clean kill. I know hunters who use both rifle and bow and have lost deer. I understand that it can happen. Nothing is a given, but it still feels awful. So I’ve decided that if I have anything to do with it, this will be my last lost deer.

IMG_20160526_172913838.jpgI’m not going to get stuck in the woulda-shoulda-coulda trap. What I will do is practice. Practice more. Practice until I shoot that spot the size of a quarter. I’ve always hit, but never that tight of a grouping…but next season I will. Next season, there will be no question. I will learn to be more patient, not rush a shot, and have more faith in myself. I will use this failure to learn from, and not stop me from doing what I love to do. I will not let the possibility of failure stop me. I will make sure that I am prepared so that my possibility of failure is minimal. It still won’t be a given for success, but I can make sure that I’ve done everything I can do to make it is as failure-proof as it can be.

When you head out into the woods, don’t let the possibility of failure stop you from trying new things. Don’t let previous failures stop you from trying again.

Remember: There’s an adventure that awaits. Be prepared and your chances of success will follow.

 

 

 

 

Muzzleloader Memories

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.

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Old fashioned black powder gun photo found on Pinterest

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.

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The primer sits in the tiny hole…trying putting one there with big fingers or cold fingers…almost impossible! photo: armslist.com

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.

muzzleloader-deer
My first muzzleloader deer with the same gun- a story for another time.

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.

break-action-muzzleloader
Newest muzzleloader with break action. Loading is much easier with this type of firearm and has no bolt to fall out.