Thursday, August 6, 2009

Traditional Or Modern..And Who Decides?

There are two very distinct sides to the sport of muzzleloading, or more appropriately these days, muzzleloader hunting. On one side, you have the traditional extremists who scowl at the thought of anything that deviates, even if just a little bit, from what "they" deem a traditional pre 1860s muzzleloader, load or sight. On the other side, you have the modern day muzzleloading hunter who has simply gotten into muzzleloading to enjoy the extra hunting time provided by the special muzzleloader big game seasons. And the rifles preferred by this side of the sport can be extremely modern in-line ignition designs, incorporating hot No. 209 primer ignition, shooting hotter modern black powder substitutes and better performing aerodynamic saboted bullets that can easily shoot inside of 1 1/2 inches at a hundred yards...thanks largely to a magnifying scope sight (preferred by most).

And there's not a lot of gray in between. Today's muzzleloading hunters are pretty much either extremely traditional...or extremely modern in their way of thinking, and what they use when going after big game during a "Muzzleloader" season.

So which side should have the most say so when it comes to regulations that define what can or cannot be used during these seasons?

There are somewhere between 3 1/2 to 4 million muzzleloading hunters in the U.S. today - and the only state that does not have a muzzleloader big game season is Montana. The sales of ALL muzzleloading rifles indicate that more than 90-percent of those who hunt these seasons swing in favor of the modern in-line rifles...modern muzzleloading powders...saboted bullets...and telescopic sights (scopes). Less than 10-percent of ALL muzzleloader sales are for traditionally styled muzzle-loaded guns.

The rifle in the photo at the top of the page is as traditional as any other muzzleloader of pre 1860s styling. This particular rifle, a fast-twist Pedersoli percussion half-stock, rifled to shoot elongated conical bullets, is fitted with a period correct 6x 1850s style riflescope...and can shoot with great accuracy and big game knockdown power out to and slightly past 200 yards. Still, it's not legal to use in 11 states - because of the very traditional, very period correct scope. And even though the rifle is fully capable of shooting modern saboted bullets, which definitely perform better on big game (for cleaner, quicker kills), it is illegal to use them in several states. Likewise, conical bullets dating from about 1840 on into and through the mid 1860s were commonly 2 1/2 to 3 times their diameter in length (weighing upwards of 500 grains)...this rifle loaded with such a projectile would make it illegal to use during the Colorado muzzleloader seasons...even without the scope...because of the bullet length???

A dozen or so state wildlife agencies continue to enforce such regulations, favoring restrictions that they claim "discourage" (or greatly reduce) hunters from taking shots at long range (greater than 100 yards). But, do they? Or do such regulations simply increase the amount of wound loss, due to hunters (especially those over age 50) who cannot see open sights well enough to precisely place their shots...or do mandated ineffectual hunting projectiles, like the patched round ball that cannot retain enough energy to insure a clean kill much past 50 or 60 yards, also result in the loss of game?

Such regulations side in favor of the minority traditional side of the sport. Should the modern-minded muzzleloading hunter have more voice in what is allowed, or not allowed, during the muzzleloader seasons? After all, they out number traditional muzzleloader hunters 9 to 1.

Toby Bridges


  1. Toby,

    I thought here in California after three years of pestering that the Fish and Game Commission would get off the iron sight only rule and permit optical sights. Well, they did, sort of.

    You can now use a 1X optic (no magnification), but you have to get a new form from DFG, get your doctor to fill it out and then submit it to the DFG. Of all the ways they could have gone, the Commission chose to go the path that costs the State of California the most money. This state now furloughs employees three days per month, and that included DFG and Wardens.

    They chose this rule because The Dept. of Interior's interpretation of ADA was the doctor's note was an acceptable accommodation, and this gave them the political cover to do it.

    Jim Dodd

  2. Toby,

    Your traditional test rifles really look good. I would like to build their equal. Which rifle do you recommend now as a starting point, and who do you like to supply the fast twist barrel?...thanks

    jim dodd

  3. It is a double edge sword. Anything we do that increases harvest rates in a muzzy special season, would cause a proportional decrease in the numbers of tags issued. So while I would be for allowing 1X scopes, I would be against allowing multiple power scopes that would increase the range of muzzleloaders.

    FYI: I own 3 inlines and 1 sidelock. I can use anything in Texas I want, but have never put a scope on any of my muzzleloaders. I have plenty of rifles for that.

  4. Txhunter58

    How many deer and elk do you think are lost annually due to poor shot placement because hunters are forced to use open sights they cannot see well enough to precisely place their shots?

    It is a lot more than you realize. And those kills that are lost are a waste. But, they are still part of the "harvest".

    When I worked for Knight Rifles, I did a lot of work with the various state Hunter Education departments...who readily sent me the accident reports involving muzzleloaders.
    I remember one season when there were three incidents where humans were mistaken for game and were wounded...and all three of those incidents happened in states that did not allow scopes during muzzleloader seasons.

    While NO ONE should ever use the scope on any rifle to spot for game...good clear optics could have prevented those accidental shootings by providing a sight impaired hunter one last opportunity to positively identify the target as a deer, elk or other big game and not another hunter, hiker or some kid on the way to school...before the trigger is pulled.

    And it was that safety factor which helped get magnifying scopes legalized during the Wisconsin muzzleloader season earlier this year.


  5. Jim;

    I built that rifle back in 1983...using parts taken from a T/C Hawken. Back then, I built is with a custom rifled .50 caliber barrel. Today, I ely on the great drop in T/C Hawken barrels offered by Green Mountain.
    The barrel I shoot most is a turn-in-24 twist .50 caliber bullet barrel. Green Mountain offers a number of others for round ball, with even a .36 caliber small game barrel, and the company also offers turn-in-28 inch barrels for shooting saboted bullets.

    Go to their website at


  6. Wolfkill said:

    "How many deer and elk do you think are lost annually due to poor shot placement because hunters are forced to use open sights they cannot see well enough to precisely place their shots?

    It is a lot more than you realize. And those kills that are lost are a waste. But, they are still part of the "harvest".

    Slob hunters are slob hunters. I would contend that you will still have the same wounding loss, just from shots at longer ranges. Instead of guys wounding animals at 150 yards, they would be wounding them at 250 to 300 yards. With a 9 power or higher scope, people WILL take those shots, without really knowing how to compensate for it.

    As far as guys shooting people, you might be right on that one, but that IS what binocs are made for. Again, slobs are slobs, they may just be shooting people at 250 yards instead of 100, don't really know, the jury is surely out on that one.

    I still contend a good 1X scope would give good vision of the target out to reasonable distances for a primative weapon season.

    I see you did not address the issue of fewer tags if our success rate went up. For me, that is a now brainer, it would happen. Therefore, we would be in a sense, shooting ourselves in the foot.

  7. FYI: Just returned from a Colorado elk hunt. Took an elk with 90 gr BH 209, a 350 gr Hornady FPB, and the Knight Long range hunter (bare primer set up).

    110-120 yards, open sights. These 51 year old eyes can still see that far at least. Would have been easier with a 1X scope.

    120 yards is my max range for this set up and I am satisfied with that.

  8. txhunter58...

    You assume way too much. No where that scopes have been legalized has there been a reversal to take them away because the harvest has increased so significantly. Several state wildlife agencies that now permit scopes on muzzleloaders have shared with me that they wished they had legalized them much sooner...thanks to reduced wound loss...not to mention the safety of allowing the hunter to positively identify the target as the game being hunted - BEFORE THE TRIGGER IS PULLED.

    Please share with me one state where available permits have been reduced because scopes are allowed during muzzleloader seasons.

    Scope or no scope, the average shot taken at big game is still under 100 yards. Rest asssured, without scopes there would be significantly greater wound loss.


  9. "Please share with me one state where available permits have been reduced because scopes are allowed during muzzleloader seasons."

    I am specifically talking about western states and deer/elk tags that are only issued by drawings. The numbers of animals are tightly controlled and if one season suddenly had a significant increase in the success rate, I feel sure it would cause a decrease in tags issued.

    So I will ask you the same question, although in reverse: Name one state that issues deer/elk muzzy liceses by drawing that has gone to using mulitipower scopes and has not lowered the numbers given out?

    Colorado has already lowered the numbers of elk bull tags for muzzleloader hunters significantly in the last two years because they are getting close to "objectives" in most areas. If success rates suddenly jumped to 40-50% instead of 25-30%, you don't think they would lower them even more?

    To me, the only real question is whether allowing scopes would increase harvest success significantly. Seems to me it would.

  10. Also, by the way, I am not sure I ever thanked you for all the info you gave me when I purchased my Knight LRH. It was invaluable in getting ready for my successful Colorado elk hunt this fall! Thanks.

  11. txhunter58

    I'm not trying to argue with you. It's just that I've listened to that same argument dozens of times over the years...and it's never held true.

    Until the CO DOW gets off its butt and does an honest to God wound loss one will ever know if the number of animals lost to poor shot placement, due to open sights requirement, accounts for a significant loss of elk and deer during the muzzleloader season. I contend that it is every bit as high, or higher, than what would be harvested (and lost) if scopes were legalized. Only real difference would be that fewer animals would be wasted.

    Two elk states which have not reduced the number of permits since legalizing scopes during muzzleloader season hunts have been New Mexico and Arizona...and Iowa, which has had a cap on the total number of late muzzleloader season deer tags, has not reduced the number of permits either due to legalizing scopes a number of years fact, the number has increased.


  12. That is news to me. I don't know about AZ, but NM has allowed scopes as long as I can remember. At least I can remember some friends in the mid 90's that used scopes. Did they originally have open sights only, and if so, when did they change. Any link to the number of tags before and after the change? Same question for AZ.

    And I don't consider this arguing. I seem to learn the most from discussions where I disagree with others.

    And if we can't have a meeting of the minds, we can agree to disagree. That is what makes the world go around: at least at MY house!

  13. Also, do you know if the states that allow 1X scopes, such as Utah, have a reported lower wounding loss rate.

    Having people (even DOW personell) SAY that there is a lower wounding rate after scopes is one thing. Have any evidence to back that up other than word of mouth? Word of mouth just isn't that reliable. When I shoot an animal at 50-100 yards, I usually know that I wounded it by its reaction and it is easy to check for blood because you know right where it was standing. I have known a lot of people that shoot with rifles at 200-300 yards that don't SEE evidence of a hit, and don't even go to check. So, "they missed" And even those that do may not know the exact area the animal was standing when they are that far and may miss signs of a hit.

    Maybe I am the one arguing, but I would be glad to be proved wrong.

  14. There are slobs in all things...and hunting is no different. Fortunately, they only make up about 10 percent of all things.

    Just because our autos and pickups have the ability to cruise at 100+ m.p.h. does not mean that all drivers, or even a higher percentage of drivers, will always push the maximum speed a vehicle can go. It's that 10 percent who will.

    Same with scopes on muzzleloaders. Just because a hunter has one on his muzzleloader doesn't mean he's going to suddenly try longer shots. That's just an assumption some like to make. In the past, I've shared more than one hunting camp with a few open-sight traditional hunters who thought they were Mathew Quigley...and had no qualms attempting shots out to 150-175 yards. And some of these very same guys are some of those who are belly aching about the legalization of scopes during muzzleloader seasons.

    Like I said, none...not one...of the states with a muzzleloader season has ever conducted a wound loss survey. So, there is nothing documented in writing by any game department. They don't have a clue, one way or the other.

    However, after working with game departments in several states that have legalized scopes on muzzleloaders in just the past couple of year, several officials I have conversed with have said that many of the hunters they've spoken with are happy about the change...since "they miss" a lot less. And as you pointed out, a miss is not always a miss.


  15. Well, if you can't see to take a good shot - don't shoot! I am 40 something now - yes, my eyes are not as good as they used to be - but they are good enough to have recently killed a deer with a flintlock smoothbore at 60 yds.

    In-Lines are muzzleloaders only because they happen to load from the muzzle. They do not resemble anything near a traditional muzzleloading weapon. Keep muzzleloading seasons - primitive - using matchlock, flintlock, or percussion guns shooting round balls or minie balls!

  16. The use of a scope doesnt ensure a perfect kill shot. My brother in law and i tracked a wounded elk for well over a mile and a half & 4 hours of tracking,before calling it quits. The guy that shot the elk was using a 30-06 and couldnt place a shot on an ELK at only 200 yards.

    I scoped my Accura and the first thing my brother in law says, I bet you i could easily take my deer at 300 yards with this.

    I personally have shot an elk with a .54cal round ball at 140 yards and it performed beautifully on the elk. Both lungs shattered, an easy to follo, 60 yard blood trail if that.

  17. Shouldn't we stop to consider that if it weren't for earlier sportsman that pushed for special muzzleloader(primitive/traditional)seasons,then the seasons wouldn't even exist,nor is it likely that in-lines would even exist today?Modern inlines are a weapon that were created for a season that already existed,instead of a season created for the increased challenge of using traditional muzzleloaders as was the original intent and spirit in which muzzleloader seasons were created.Take away most,some,or all of the challenge by allowing modern,scoped,200+ yard rifles and of course bag limits and season lengths will need to be reduced to account for increased success rates.
    The whole entire argument for in-lines is reminiscent of crossbow supporters piggybacking their way into bow seasons on the backs of those that fought for them IMHO.

  18. for modern in-line sales outnumbering traditional ML sales by 10-1,have you checked on the availability of traditional vs. in-lines recently?Most companies have either drastically reduced the number of traditional models that they produce or eliminated them from their line altogether due to the increased demand for in-lines,a product designed for the "generation now" crowd that wants instant results and high performance,with no regard for the nostalgia or challenge of hunting with primitive weapons.The majority of modern ML hunters are only interested in the increased opportunities afforded by ML seasons that have strayed away from the spirit in which they were created,much like up to 80% of "bowhunters" now use crossbows in states/provinces where it is allowed during "archery" seasons.

  19. Fact is guys, the majority of muzzleloader seasons have been established since the introduction of the in-line muzzleloaders. The vast majority of those who now hunt with a muzzleloader have never even shot a traditional rifle...or a load of real black powder for that matter. If push ever came to shove...the traditional side is out numbered 9 to 1. So, be safe and don't piss off the never know what regualtions they'll push through by sheer numbers.


  20. In Central and Southern CA traditionalist shooters (me) are out of luck, No Lead can be used when hunting large game, period... I don't know about your traditional round ball rifles that can accuratly put a sabot down range without getting a new barrel. Scope is another issue all together personally, but if you can get a Lead Free roundball, it don't matter.

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