Rethinking so-called muzzleloader hunting limitations
A decade ago, when we were flush with antlerless tags and believed that the burgeoning deer herd would always be at high population levels, I muzzleloader hunted a lot here in Minnesota. During the first couple of years, I almost always missed a deer to start my season.
Most of the time, it was because I simply shot too far for open sights. As primarily a bowhunter, I expected too much out of my muzzleloader and more importantly, my ability to shoot it well in the outdoors. It took me a few whiffs to realize that I needed to reign in my shots and start to use a rangefinder. It also happened that I spent some time at the shooting range trying to hit a deer target at 100 yards, which is totally doable. It’s also an eye opener, because at that distance the sights cover half of the target, and while you can lay your bullets in there pretty well off a bench with all of the time in the world, that doesn’t translate to in-the-woods accuracy.
After that, I started catering my muzzleloader hunts so that my shots were either within bow range, or not too far beyond. That meant 75 yards tops, but even more welcome were the shots in the 35- to 50-yard range.
Of course, closer is better but it’s not always ideal considering that late-season deer aren’t ones to put up with getting a whiff of human scent or an earful of anything that might signal danger. When they get out half-of-a-football-field away, they are in that sweet spot where making the shot is pretty easy and they aren’t as likely to bust you.
Naturally, it takes some time with any muzzleloader and your chosen powder and bullets to know that even at those closer ranges, you can put your shot right through a pair of lungs, but that is a given. It’s also always a good idea to use shooting sticks whether you’re on the ground or in a treestand. If that’s not an option in a tree, I try to set my stand so my shot will be to the backside of my stand. That way I can lean solidly into the tree trunk for my shot and be as steady as possible.
If you’re planning to muzzleloader hunt Minnesota this season, and you’re under the age that allows for scope usage, consider how far you’ll shoot and how you plan to hunt so that you can make the most of your time in the woods toting a smokepole.