Using a Muzzleloader to Hunt
Hunting with a muzzle loader is not for everyone. There is an old adage, ‘Keep your powder dry’. If the black powder used in muzzle loaders gets wet, it will fail to ignite and you will go hungry. There are a lot of steps to load and fire the weapon safely and accurately.
The range of the smoothbore muzzle loader is about 50-75 yards. A rifled musket can reach out to a range of 200 yards and the average range of the newer in-line muzzleloader is about the same. If you are hunting in thick brush or where cover is ample, these ranges are more than adequate. However, if you are hunting in an open area such as high desert or grasslands, your average shot is 250-400 yards. This is not to say that you cannot use these weapons, just that you will have to stalk closer or use a blind for cover.
A disadvantage of a muzzle loader is that you have only one shot, unless you purchase a double barreled muzzle loader, then you have two shots. That is correct; you had better not miss when the time comes. This is a double edge sword. A follow up shot will take upwards of 2 minutes, but knowing this will make sure you are taking the best shot you have and forcing you to concentrate better on your aim. This can be a great training tool for new shooters. With modern magazine fed weapons, there is a tendency to have the attitude of, ‘I have another round’. With muzzle loaders, you do also but it takes a while for it to get reloaded.
There is a positive when using a muzzle loader and that is one of the reasons they are still sold today. In the long run, they are more economical. If you recover your lead, all you have consumed when you go shooting is the black powder used as a propellant, the patch which can be an old shirt or table cloth and the flint or cap used to fire the round. Lead can be recast and reused.
There is no casing to lose or worry about. The current cost of 1 pound of GOEX FF powder, the powder commonly used to fire the round in black powder weapons, is 19.99 USD. The average cost of smokeless powder per 1 pound container is 24.99 USD. You don’t have to go out and buy a multi stage cartridge reloader and all the dies and accessories that can set you back 1000s of dollars. You will need a heat source, a crucible to melt the lead, a ladle to pour the lead into the cast and a casting die. This was done back in the 1800s and the technology really hasn’t changed much. This will be around 150.00 USD or so. A basic single stage reloader for a modern cartridge is 150.00 USD. Lead can be purchased premixed with the proper amount of tin, lead and wax already cast into the ingots.
The decreased range of muzzle loaders does force the shooter to have a better field craft. I have seen modern hunters driving their ATVs down the road, looking for a game. This type of hunter is better off shopping at a grocery store than to actively hunt for their food. If you want to hunt, you have to walk. If you want to use a black powder, you are going to stalk and become one with nature. There is no way around that. Moving silently in nature is one of the basic field crafts but it has become almost a lost art today. With a black powder firearm, you have to get closer than a modern hunter. You have to try and be a better hunter. This creates a steep learning curve, but it can be overcome.