By Kevin Naze
Hunters who haven’t had enough fresh air after nine days of
blaze orange during the regular firearms deer season can pick up a
“smokepole” and head afield for the seven-day muzzleloader hunt,
which will run Nov. 26 through Dec. 2 this year.
Getting a whitetail with a muzzleloader in Wisconsin isn’t so
much of a challenge because of the firearm used, but rather the
timing of the season.
Blackpowder fans are handicapped by the fact that they’re
hunting deer immediately after the nine-day gun season ends and, in
many cases, animals pursued by archers for two months before
It shows in the annual kill. State hunters registered a record
528,494 whitetails with firearms last year, but only 3,814 of them
were taken during the muzzleloader season. Fewer still 867 of those
were antlered bucks.
Counties with 100 or more muzzleloader deer registrations
included Ashland, Columbia, Marathon, Marinette, Oneida, Price,
Sauk, Sawyer, Shawano and Waupaca. The top five buck counties were
Price (45), Oneida (43), Ashland and Iron (42 each) and Waupaca
(29). The top antlerless kill counties were Marathon (122),
Marinette (107), Columbia (103), Waupaca (101) and Oneida (88).
If you can find a spot that hasn’t been hunted hard, that’s a
huge plus. Large blocks of public land in the north are one option.
So is private land where the landowners already have all of the
venison they need. Muzzleloader hunters who knock on a few doors
might find access to private land much easier now than before the
nine-day gun season because many landowners are finished
Eligible hunters need only have an unused gun deer carcass tag,
Zone T tag, antlerless bonus tag or disabled hunter permit and
carcass tag or hunt with someone who does and stay within voice or
visual contact under the group hunting law.
While scoped muzzleloaders are legal in shotgun-only counties
during the regular firearms season, basically no scopes are allowed
during the special seven-day season. The exception is that
muzzleloader hunters may use scopes that do not have any
magnification. That means 1X. A scope of even 1.5X offers
So why bother mounting a 1X scope or “red dot?” Light-gathering
capabilities. Even a 1X scope offers better sighting capabilities
over open or iron sights at 50 yards.
Add the “one-shot challenge” to the equation and you’ll need
some luck to score.
In farm country, skip the edges and get back into the thick
bedding cover long before sunrise. Figure out where the deer are
feeding. Then try to take a back door approach to the suspected
bedding cover so you don’t spook them when walking in before
Cedar swamps are one of my favorite destinations during any deer
season, but especially so during the muzzleloader season. Look for
well-used trails and hunt the thickest tangles in which you’re
comfortable. In such cover, you might even get some daytime
movement. Hunt the edges, and you’ll likely see just shadows moving
at dawn and dusk. Last year, despite an estimated herd of 1.8
million deer, blackpowder hunters who stuck to the high ground
didn’t see much during the muzzleloader season. The deer were in
thick cover and, in most areas of Wisconsin, that translates into
Hunters often are reluctant to enter these swamps either because
they’re afraid they’ll spook deer out, or because they’re concerned
they might get lost. It’s easy to get turned around in a cedar
swamp, especially on those typically gray days of December when the
sun isn’t around to offer guidance. That’s why it helps to carry a
compass. Get in there and get set. It will pay off.
A solo hunter has two options in a cedar swamp sitting or
still-hunting. The latter must be done at a very slow pace, but it
does work. Two hunters can work a smaller swamp effectively by
using the “sit and spin” approach. One hunter sits on the inside of
the swamp while the other slowly works his way around the edges of
the swamp. Deer could bust to the high ground, but, in all
likelihood, they’ll stay in the swamp and simply walk away from the
moving hunter. At some point, they should walk in front of the
If you’re the solitary type, the Northwoods country would be a
good all-day bet. Snow for tracking makes your job a whole lot
easier. If the snow is soft and the wind is in your favor and
covers the noise of your movements, you might even be able to sneak
within range of a bedded deer.
If you think you’re close, settle into some cover and try a doe
or fawn bleat, or a buck grunt call.
Still no deer? Look for the freshest sign and pick out a
comfortable spot to sit. Dress for the weather and have a backpack
with food and refreshments.
Now the waiting game begins.
For those who don’t like the passive approach, get together with
some other hunters for some planned pushes through likely hideouts.
Slow, quiet and easy is the way to go. Even then you might have
deer explode as you approach their position. Sometimes, though,
they’ll get up early and try to sneak away. Guess the right escape
route and whoever is posted might get an easy shot.
For hunters who don’t like crowds, the muzzleloader season is
the way to go. There’s almost no hunting pressure, even though the
season has been around since 1991.