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Since dawn's first light, I had been watching a couple of yearling deer running around a field and crossing back and forth over the road that entered it. My field of vision was about 270 yards along the field road, which is a very long shot for a muzzleloading rifle. However, I figured I could cover most of that distance with the rifle in my hands.
The Savage 110 MLS was invented by a Greensboro gunsmith named Henry Ball. The rifle is the only muzzleloader that is approved by SAAMI, the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute, for use with smokeless, nitrocellulose-based powder. That is the same type of powder used in modern rifles and shotguns. Some states require black powder or black powder substitutes for use during special muzzleloading firearms seasons, but North Carolina does not. Of course, the Savage can be loaded with those corrosive propellents for use in other states or if the shooter desires. Some states also require flintlock actions and do not allow scope sights. But here, anything goes.
I enjoy shooting my .50-caliber Hawken replica rifle with a patched round ball and 90 grains of FFg black powder. But when the hunting is serious, I go with the most modern, long-range rifle I have in the rack. The Savage was loaded with 43 grains of 5744 powder and a 250-grain, .45-caliber Hornady XTP pistol bullet inside a Magnum Muzzleloading Products sabot. The load will shot two-inch groups at 100 yards, generates 2,240 feet per second and as much muzzle energy as a .30-06 rifle.
There are several reasons to participate in the muzzleloader season. An important one is that a couple of years ago, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission extended the seasons all across the state from one week to two weeks. In the coastal plain, that gives the still hunter two weeks of quiet hunting before the regular firearms season fills the forests and fields with so many hunters and hounds it gives deer the jitters.
Wm. Hovey Smith has written several books about primitive weapons and hunting with them. His book, Crossbow Hunting, was published in 2006 and is the definitive reference for hunting and shooting them. He also wrote Practical Bowfishing a few years ago. He handed me a copy of his latest book, E-Treme Muzzleloading last week when I was at a writer's conference in Tennessee and I have been reading it during long waits in tree stands and ground blinds.
E-Treme Muzzleloading is not only a reference source, but an inspiration to muzzleloader hunters who use smoothbores and rifles for all sorts of game. Like the Savage I was carrying, Smith discusses the use and range of modern inline rifles in Africa as well as North America and mentions a deer taken at 137 yards with a Knight Disc Rifle and a 100-grain charge of Pyrodex black powder substitute pellets propelling a 225-grain, 45-caliber Powerbelt bullet in a sabot. He also describes missing a deer at 150 yards.
Smith covers hunting with muzzleloaders for big game, small game, turkeys, upland birds, waterfowl, hogs, alligators and plains game. He even has a chapter on camping and cooking, along with a muzzleloader hunter's checklist.
I was daydreaming about the book's cover, with a Cape Buffalo, Bison, Alligator and Tundra Swan taken by the author, when a larger deer appeared. The buck was not an overly large buck, but the 4-pointer would do nicely for this season's first batch of burger and sausage.
I found the deer in the 2x-6x Bushnell Scope Chief scope and aligned the crosshairs, waiting for the buck to turn broadside. As he was entering the woods on the opposite side of the field road, the trigger tripped and he was down.
The range was 165 yards, not a bad shot from a muzzleloading rifle. Bows and arrows and muzzleloaders are known collectively as primitive weapons during these early seasons. However, a compound bow is hardly primitive. Neither is a muzzeloading rifle capable of that kind of long-range accuracy. Any time a hunter wants to go primitive and shoot a stickbow or flintlock rifle, he can. But it's also nice to have the choice of using modern "primitive" weapons when the chance for a shot is on the longish side.
To contact Wm. Hovey Smith or order his books, visit www.hoveysmith.com or call 478-552-7445.