To take a trophy buck with your CVA muzzleloading rifle, hunt the opposite way from how everyone else on that section of land hunts. Most hunters buy the newest, the longest-shooting and the most-accurate blackpowder rifles they can afford. Oftentimes, hunters think that because their rifles can shoot further, they can look at more country and take more bucks. Therefore, they’ll encounter numbers of muzzleloader hunters where they can see the farthest. They may fail to realize that those same rifles that can bag bucks at 200 to 300 yards also will take bucks at 70 yards and less. To pinpoint a buck to hunt during muzzleloader season, if you live in a state where bow season arrives before blackpowder season, bowhunt the bucks before blackpowder season.
Dr. Robert Sheppard of Tuscaloosa, Ala., a longtime, avid deer hunter, explains that by bowhunting, “I know where the bucks are travelling in thick cover. Many times I’ll spot a really-nice buck from my bow stand that I can’t take because he’s just out of range for my bow. When I find a buck like this during bow season, I’ll move out of the area and leave that buck alone until gun-deer season arrives. Then I’ll go to that same place, hunt from that same stand and reach out and take that buck with my blackpowder rifle.” Even though the bucks of bow season may remain out of range of the archer in thick-cover sites, they generally won’t move from those spots. Then you can hunt them there when blackpowder season arrives.
By shrinking the yardage you plan to shoot with your blackpowder rifle to much less than the maximum effective range of the rifle, you can begin to identify what I call nowhere places that often home big bucks you can hunt at close range. You’ll locate a nowhere place in:
* the woods where big bucks travel that no one assumes will hold good hunting;
* small, heavy-cover sections of land perhaps less than 30-yards wide with a road on one side and a field on the other; and/or
* a small patch of thick cover behind a campground where no one will consider hunting.
Charles Stewart of Alabama took a 4-1/2-year-old 12-point buck that scored 161-3/8 Boone & Crockett points when he hunted a thick-cover region less than 1/2-mile from the biggest campground on a wildlife management area (WMA) in north Alabama where thousands of people hunted yearly. For 3 years, many of these avid hunters passed by this spot, but the smallness of the area as well as its closeness to the campground meant no one except Stewart hunted it. “I found this buck and his brother when they were 1-1/2-years old,” Stewart recalls. “At 1-1/2-years, this buck was an 8 point, and his brother was a 6 point. I passed them up. The next year, when I went in to hunt them again, this buck was a 9 point, and his sibling was an 8 point. The third year when I took the buck, he was a real trophy. I found him in the same spot he’d been in the first year I saw him. I’m almost certain no one else ever discovered these two deer, even though they were less than 1/2-mile from the biggest campground on one of the busiest WMAs in our state.” When I asked what happened to the 12 point’s litter mate, Stewart told me, “He was taken by an Oldsmobile driving down one of the woods roads. I try to have two or three bucks that I’ve been watching all year or for several years to hunt close-up during gun deer season. I never go to the area where these bucks are holding, if I know the wind or the weather conditions aren’t right. If you spook a buck out of one of these core regions, you may not be able to find him again.”
Today, you can shoot more accurately and take deer at longer ranges with modern blackpowder rifles than ever before in the history of blackpowder hunting. However, extending the range at which a blackpowder rifle shoots effectively may not increase the number or the size of bucks you take this coming season. Instead, step back into the past when you had to hunt close, study the deer more and know when you could hunt and when you couldn’t hunt because of the wind, since blackpowder guns then wouldn’t shoot as far as they will today. Use the traditional, close-hunting tactics of yesteryear to bag bucks this year with your muzzleloader.
By John E. Phillips, outdoor writer and longtime blackpowder hunter