Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are Muzzleloader Seasons In Danger Of Being Eliminated?

The biggest threat to hunting are the anti-hunting organizations that tend to hide under the cloak of being concerned about the environment or protecting animals. You know, groups like the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Earth Justice, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Center For Biological Diversity, plus more than a dozen others. Well...they just may have found a way to put an end to hunting as we know it. And that is by pooling their financial resources and keeping another, seemingly not so related, issue tied up in court. And that issue is managing an ever growing number of wolves in this country.

The gray wolf was successfully reintroduced into the northern Rocky Mountains in 1995-96, with 60 or so Canadian wolves first released into Yellowstone National Park. The goal of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to bring wolf numbers up to 300, then turn managing the wolf population over to the state wildlife agencies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. And when the wolf population reached that level, in 2000, guess what happened...nothing. The same organizations who have always fought hunting went to court to fight removing the western gray wolf from the Endangered Species List...and wolves continued to receive Federal protection for another 7 years...then were delisted. But not for long, thanks to the combined efforts of the same "environmental" groups...taking it back to court again, and having a Federal judge put the wolf back on the list. Then, earlier this year, the wolf was pulled from the Endangered Species List again. But, guess what, those same organizations have now filed another suit to prevent management of a wolf population that is now 8 or 9 times more than the targeted goal.

And, it takes a lot of deer and elk to keep 2,000 to 2,500 or so wolves fed. In fact, some very knowledgeable game managers have established that in the northern Rockies, each wolf accounts for 20 to 36 elk kills a year. Or, in other words, these apex predators are now pulling down between 40,000 and 90,000 or so elk annually - and their impact on huntable elk populations is beyond belief.

In Idaho, before the wolves had gotten a solid toe hold in every area of the state's top elk units, hunters annually harvested around 25,000 elk. Last year, the harvest was right at 15,000. Idaho's elk population is now easily 30- to 40-percent below what it was just 7 or 8 years ago - due to wolf predation. And next door in Montana, this spring wildlife biologists recorded the lowest cow-to-calf ratio EVER...and found that at such low calf numbers it would be impossible to sustain a huntable elk herd. And down in Yellowstone Park, where the northern park herd once numbered right at 19,000 elk...fewer than 6,000 are there now - again due to wolf predation. (2011 Update - This spring, that herd has dropped to 4,400.)

We have our muzzleloading big game seasons because they were implemented as game management tools. These popular seasons (with close to 4-million U.S. muzzleloader hunters today) gave wildlife managers another tool to help keep wildlife populations in balance with habitat and food sources. And when wildlife populations drop to dangerously low levels - hunting seasons will be curtailed or eliminated altogether.

In most states, muzzleloading hunters were the last to get a season of their own. We're the low man on the totem pole. And when hunting opportunities have to be cut back, we'll be the first to feel that tightening of the belt.

What do you think needs to be done to prevent the loss of our muzzleloader seasons?

For more on this, go to

Toby Bridges


2011 Update - Since this was written back in July 2009, wolves have continued to destroy big game herds in the Northern Rockies. Yellowstone's elk herds have been pulled down by more than 80-percent...and many hunting opportunites outside of the park have been eliminated already. The same is happening elsewhere in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Now the wolves are beginning to spread into Washington, Oregon, Utah and Colorado. Without management of wolf numbers, hunting in the West is doomed. Likewise, the Upper Midwest is now home to between 6,000 and 7,000 wolves across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan - where the average wolf kills around 25 deer for food, and about the same number for "sport" (eating nothing) EACH AND EVERY YEAR! Add in the wolves of the West, easily 4,000 now, and it's easy to realize the damage 10,000 wolves can do to our wildlife resources. With each killing 50 animals annually, we are losing right at 500,000 elk, deer, moose, bighorn sheep, and other big game animals to wolves EVERY YEAR! For more on this, go to .

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Getting Ready For Elk...

Some of the earliest muzzleloader big game seasons are the elk hunts offered in the West. Some of these hunts begin as early as late September. And if you've drawn one of the muzzleloader hunt tags...and haven't finalized the load you intend to use...time is ticking away. This is being written on July 26th...and next week this time it will already be August.

If you've never hunted elk before, keep in mind that they are big animals. One bull I took in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah back in the mid 1990s easily topped 900 pounds on the hoof. So, it stands to reason when you are hunting an animal this large (even if it weighs "just" 700 pounds), it's going to take more knockdown power to get the job done than when going after even a big whitetail. Most hunting experts agree that it takes a minimum of 1,200 foot pounds to consistently put elk down quickly. And that is at the distance of the target, not at the muzzle.

If you're headed for Colorado, where the majority of muzzleloader elk hunts are held, keep in mind that you're faced with a few ridiculous (and non-supported) muzzleloader hunting restrictions - one being that you cannot hunt with a modern saboted bullet. Here, a very unknowledgeable state wildlife agency mandates the use of a less effective patched round ball or bore-sized conical bullet. While I personally feel it is great that the hunter who wants the challenge of "getting very, very close" and taking his or her elk with an old style muzzleloaded rifle and patched round ball has that opportunity, I also feel that it is not only wrong but unethical for a game department to prohibit the modern day muzzleloading hunter from going out with the most efficient rifle and load possible for cleanly taking game - especially game as large as elk.

For those who aren't all that muzzleloader ballistics savvy...did you know that a .50 caliber round-ball-rifle, stuffed with a 100 grains charge of FFFg black powder and a patched 183-grain .495" soft-lead round ball is good for 1,928 f.p.s. at the muzzle of a 28" T/C Hawken barrel, with 1,509 f.p.e. at the muzzle. By the time that aerodynamically inferior sphere gets to 100 yards, it has slowed to 1,095 f.p.s. - and hits with just 485 foot-pounds of punch. That's not enough for taking a 600 to 900 pound animal. In fact, such loads drop below the accepted 1,200 foot-pounds minimum energy level at only about 30 yards. At 50 yards,the rifle and load are good for only 834 f.p.e. - enough for deer, but not enough for elk.

Still, the Colorado Division of Wildlife condones the use of such loads during the muzzleloader elk season, while prohibiting the use of more effective saboted bullets that would greatly reduce wound loss. Take a load I've been playing with lately - shooting a T/C "Triumph" primer-ignition in-line rifle with 120-grains of Blackhorn 209 behind a saboted 325-grain .458" Hornady poly-tipped FTX bullet (loaded with a Harvester Muzzleloading "Crush Rib" sabot). At the muzzle of "this" 28-inch barreled rifle, this load is good for 2,017 f.p.s., with 2,935 f.p.e. At 100 yards, this big bullet would plow home with around 2,080 foot-pounds of big game taking knockdown power.

Which of these 28-inch barreled .50 caliber T/C rifles do you think would put a big ol' bull elk on the ground the quickest and most humanely?

Weigh in on this topic and share your thoughts about muzzleloader elk loads...and backward regulations that seem to be geared more toward wound loss than the clean harvest of such a great game animal.

(For more on the Hornady 325-grain FTX go to

Toby Bridges

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hot Weather Shooting

This is being written in late July, and even here in the Missoula Valley of western Montana it gets hot this time of year. Today, the high will be in the mid 90s.

When it is this hot, after just a few shots the barrel of a muzzleloader will heat up and holds that heat - especially if you're shooting from an uncovered position. And once a barrel gets heated, accuracy with plastic saboted bullets goes right out the window. A barrel that is exceptionally hot to human touch will make those sabots soft and less resilient. When loaded ahead of hefty hunting charges, a sabot that has been in the barrel for as little as a minute, or less, can become so soft that it simply cannot stand up to the pressures created by the burning powder charge - and it's not uncommon for the sabot to exit the muzzle in bits and pieces. Needless to say, the bullet it held at the moment of ignition is not going to shoot with any degree of accuracy.

One solution to this problem at this time of year is to only shoot during the first hour or two of daylight early in the morning. This is the coolest time of the day, and where humidity is high, temperatures can already be in the upper 70s-lower 80s before the sun even pokes up over the horizon. Maintaining accuracy even for such a short shooting period will still mean giving the rifle at least 10 minutes of cool down time (in the shade) between shots. But to load and shoot any faster is simply a waste of powder and bullets...not to mention your time.

Let's get a discussion going on this topic and see what others have to say. I have a lot more to share, and I'm interested in learning from some of you.

Toby Bridges
North American
Muzzleloader Hunting


In the past, we have tried to establish a blog several times...but for one reason or another, they just didn't work out.

This time, we're doing it with a little support from Thompson/Center Arms.

Now, that does not mean that the topics and issues we cover here will ONLY be related to shooting and hunting with a Thompson/Center muzzleloader. The information shared here by myself or anyone else will not be brand specific. Sure, we'll all share what we tend to favor, but whether or not the products discussed are Thompson/Center products, or the products of any other NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING Web Magazine sponsor, will not matter.

Our goal here is to share information in a forum which allows other muzzleloading shooters and hunters to join in, and from which everyone stands to benefit. As always, there will be differences of let's keep it nice.

The 2009 hunting seasons are just around the corner, which means that many of you will soon be trying out a lot of new powders, bullets, sabots, primers, scopes...or maybe even a brand new rifle. If there's something you're not sure about, sign up and post a comment on what you'd like to know. Among us, we surely have the answers to just about every muzzleloader problem.

Toby Bridges
North American
Muzzleloader Hunting