Article By Chuck Nease
With the 2020 spring turkey season coming soon, it was time to make some decisions on how I would hunt this year. With only seven weeks since my knee replacement, I felt a natural blind with a short safe walk in was my best choice. After following the current pandemic and isolation rules, it would be great to spend time in God’s beautiful outdoors. Sitting in my den, I knew it was time to take the neglected 32 cal. smoke pole off the wall for a hunt. I still had everything in my leather possible bag; the only change was using 30 grains of Triple 7 instead of black powder. After two shots dead on at 50 yards everything was ready to go.
The first morning in the woods I heard several gobblers and had one strutting at 80 yards until his girlfriend took him over the hill. I decided to move the blind 40 yards closer to his strut zone for day two. As I walked to the blind before first light, I could hear two gobblers sounding off 100 yards on the ridge to the East. After quickly setting my decoys at 20 yards, I placed a percussion cap on the rifle and got my calls ready. After a few soft yelps on my box call, there were 3 gobblers making their presence known and a couple of hens making some tree calls less than 40 yards to the West. As the hens flew down I could see one mature bird strutting half way up the ridge with 2 gobblers sounding off on the right. I knew I was sitting in the middle of a turkey hunter’s perfect storm. All I had to do was wait for an open shot on the dominant bird. I pulled my hammer and set the trigger as I saw the top of the blue white head easing around the log. He was strutting and gobbling all the way to his hens when the 60 grain lead ball passed through his vitals and broke the spine. Walking up on the tom I realized what an exceptional morning I had just experienced while taking one of my best birds to date. Sitting on the log, I took a moment to reflect on all the great friends and successful hunts I shared with this special rifle.
Black powder hunting not only enhances your hunting excitement, but it allows you to touch the past and experience our country’s history. Flint locks and muzzle loading rifles were the ultimate weapon of choice for survival and protection from the 1700s until the end of the civil war. Our country won its freedom with patriots armed with courage and muzzle loading rifles. Growing up in
the 50’s and 60’s my heroes were Daniel Boone, Davey Crockett and frontiersmen who battled the wilderness and enemies with only their wits and long rifles. I dreamed I would get to shoot and hunt with those beautiful rifles someday. Looking back it’s interesting; when you have a dream and set goals they usually come true. I was basically a bow and gun hunter back in the early 70’s, just learning about whitetails and different methods of hunting and enjoying the outdoors. A chance meeting with a fellow deer hunter gave me the opportunity to attend a local black powder competition and shoot many of the flintlock and percussion models on the practice range. During the matches I was amazed at the accuracy and performance of the rifles and shooters. I asked a lot of questions and received a valuable education from some seasoned black powder shooters. The simplicity of measuring your powder and using a patched ball and primer while carrying everything you need in a possible bag was a new
experience. After that I was hooked, and decided I would hunt with muzzleloaders at every opportunity; but continue my bow and rifle hunting. I shot the Thompson Center Hawken and Seneca models for a few years and had good success. In 1977 I contacted Tom Nixon, who offered to build me a Pennsylvania 32 caliber and a Hawken 54 caliber muzzleloader. His craftsmanship was amazing, starting with a 6 foot piece of curly maple, barrel and 40 other pieces; he built a beautiful 32 caliber percussion rifle that is extremely accurate and a pleasure to shoot.
I took a lot of game with those rifles in the 70’s and 80’s, but work and family priorities tend to shorten a man’s hunting and outdoor time. So the rifles went on the wall until special black powder and muzzle loader seasons started to happen in surrounding states. The longer seasons created more hunters, and the firearm companies began the race to build faster, more accurate and easy loading models with better bullets, powder and optics. Our American tradition of making everything bigger, faster and better, has changed the meaning of the original term “muzzleloader”. The last 200 years of firearm evolution has given hunters and shooters a variety of choices that are accurate, dependable and safe.
On top are the Pennsylvania and Hawken style rifles with black powder flask, round lead balls, patch and percussion caps; including ball starter and powder measure. These rifles can be updated with new black powder substitutes for easier loading and cleaning. Third is the Remington 700 in line 54 cal. using pyrodex powder or pellets and sabot bullet with 209 shotshell primer; with starter and quick loaders. The in line rifles may come in a variety of styles with endless choices of loads and optics that can rival many of today’s modern deer rifles.
Last is the Savage ML 10 50 cal. using smokeless powder, Parker custom bullets, sabot and 209 primers. Several firearm companies are designing smokeless powder front loaders for more powerful and longer range kills. This quantum leap in muzzle loading technology has put more hunters in the woods and lots more venison in the freezer. Muzzleloaders are extremely safe, you just need to follow the manufacture’s loading procedures and use normal firearm safety rules. With the introduction of new seasons and laws, it’s best to check your hunting states annually to see what changes are made to allow or reject the type of rifle and loads you choose to use. Either way, there’s something special about loading that one bullet and reliving history for a short time.
If you really want to step back in time and experience all the sights and sounds of the past Virginia hosts an event that puts you back in the era of the Civil War, with all the excitement, pageantry and firearms of that time. The North South Skirmish Assoc. puts on two national events each year at Fort Shenandoah, located near Winchester Virginia. Hundreds of authentic dressed Union and Confederate soldiers compete against each other with original or replica rifles, pistols and cannons. Imagine a quarter mile line of civil war units all shooting in a speed and accuracy competition for a national title. Just the black powder smoke and rifle shots gives you the experience of a battle from the time. The fort also offers a glimpse of how the families and soldiers lived and dressed during those years. There are shops and stores that have original and replica souvenirs for sale. Once you attend and see all the excitement and fun you just might have another hobby on your agenda. For more information, contact www.N-SSA.org for events and dates.
Good Shooting and God bless.