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Muzzleloader Hunting

Muzzleloader Hunting

When muzzle-loading rifle hunters head to the woods for big game each September and October they carry forth both a firearm and a hunting tradition that sparks a sentiment of nostalgia for times more primitive. Hunters sighting down heavy octagon-shaped barrels charged with black powder and lead balls have delivered wild game to family tables for centuries. Prior to the appearance of cartridge rifles in the mid-1800s, muzzleloaders ruled the hunting game.

Rifle calibers and barrel lengths varied with regions of the nation and the species hunted. While .32 caliber long rifles were popular in the eastern woods, in the Rocky Mountains, hunters and mountain men favored the larger calibers. Most carried .50 to .58 caliber rifles with short barrels.

But times change, and for many of today?s hunters, muzzle loading is more than a wistful yearning to relive the days of the mountain men. It is about being in the woods during elk rutting season, about listening to the bugling of the bulls or calling in a curious cow. It is about deer hunting in the warm glow of September when the aspens are turning and the snow has yet to fly, and about afternoon naps in sunny meadows.
Muzzleloader Action For others, however, it is more about getting a jump on hunters in the regular rifle seasons. It is from this camp that sprang the movement for in-line muzzle-loading rifles. And from this movement arose the question of how to maintain the spirit of the primitive hunt without prejudice toward progress.

With limited range and only one shot to spend, muzzle-loading hunters must work close to their quarry. With traditional muzzleloaders, long-distance shots are out of the question. Most hunters consider fifty yards as the maximum distance, and many will not take shots longer than forty yards. In-line rifles increase the range out to about one-hundred yards and provide cleaner kills at closer distances. And therein lies the argument for logic.

In Colorado, in-line rifles must be loaded in the traditional manner, the use of sabots are not allowed. Sabots are conical-shaped lead bullets enclosed in plastic jackets. By creating a tighter seal and reducing friction, sabots greatly increase the muzzle velocity and the range. Both sabots and scopes are not legal for hunting in Colorado.

The first separate hunting season for muzzleloaders opened in 1971, as a primitive hunting season. Participation in the beginning was marginal and hunters were nearly sure of drawing a license, except in trophy elk and deer units. However, the number of hunters applying for muzzle-loading licenses increased significantly when in-lines were legalized in 1999. Bull elk are the main attraction and there are approximately three applications for each license drawn.

Flintlock rifles are the most primitive, using an exposed hammer that holds a wedge of flint. When the hammer falls, the flint strikes a metal plate called a frizzen, sending sparks that ignite a small charge of powder that sends a flash of fire through the touch hole, which leads to the main charge of powder located in the breach. Misfires are understandable, and flintlock hunters must remain diligent in keeping their powder dry.

Traditional muzzle-loading percussion rifles have an external hammer that strikes a percussion cap covering the small end of a funnel called the nipple. The nipple directs the flash through the touch hole and into the side of the breach. Misfires are fewer than with flintlocks, which become less reliable under wet conditions.

Modern in-line muzzle-loading rifles have internal hammers. Firing is similar to that of a cartridge rifle, with ignition caused by a firing pin striking a primer on a nipple at the rear of the breach. The firing pin, primer, and breach all are in-line with the barrel. Ignition is both efficient and reliable in all types of weather. In-line .50 caliber rifles using a 209-style shotgun primer and legal black powder are capable of muzzle velocities surpassing 1,500 feet per second.

All Colorado muzzle-loading elk, deer, and pronghorn licenses are by draw only. Hunters interested in hunting the 2008 season must apply by April 1, 2008. Muzzle-loading bear licenses are sold over-the-counter.

Teller County hunting game units include Units #59, #511, and #581.

by Dennis McKinney


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