Maine’s statewide muzzleloader season for deer begins Monday and runs through Saturday. In Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) 12, 13, 15-18, 20-26 and 29, basically the bottom third of the state, black-powder deer hunting continues from Dec. 9 through 14, a generous two-week season in the south country.
That 12-day frame in southern, central and midcoast Maine ranks as quite a bonus for folks who didn’t tag a deer during the archery or regular firearms seasons, and the way the calendar falls this year muzzleloaders have the latest day possible to legally hunt Maine whitetails.
And talk about solitude. Within 12 to 20 miles of Augusta during the black-powder season, I have never run into a deer hunter. We’re usually alone in this hunt, but it’s nice to have hunters in the woods to push deer.
In comparison to the November regular firearms season, December hunters have colder weather. And deer move more in cold, and a moving target is a vulnerable target. Hunters are also more apt to have tracking snow and a white background.
Preseason shooting on a range also helps polish reloading skills, so hunters can load without a mistake – even in the predawn dark.
Target practice also improves marksmanship, but for me, black powder is a joy because the recoil shoves back rather than slams. The first time I ever shot my Hawken replica, I hit the bull’s-eye.
After a shot, the first reloading safety consideration smacks of logic. Don’t pour powder down the barrel onto a hot spark. A short wait before reloading increases safety and, years ago, Tom Seymour of Waldo taught me to blow air down the barrel before reloading, so moisture from my breath extinguishes sparks. The warm barrel from shooting then dries moisture.
Also, shooters always pour a single black-powder load from a powder measure, and they never dump it into a barrel from a full powder flask. If a spark touched off a pound of powder, it would explode like a grenade.
Once shooters feel certain that no hot spark lurks in the barrel, the powder load must be precise and not rounded off. After the powder goes into the barrel, the shooter sets the projectile on the powder with the ramrod, using the same pressure each time.
Even experienced muzzleloaders occasionally have a misfire or hangfire, usually because condensation in the barrel wets the powder. Naturally, after a misfire the muzzle must be pointed in a safe direction in case it goes off later.
The problem begins like this: In Maine, as long as a muzzleloader removes the percussion cap from the nipple or powder from a flintlock pan, it’s legal to carry powder and projectile in the barrel after shooting time ends or while storing the rifle in a vehicle.
After removing the percussion cap or pan powder, though, a hunter might carry a muzzleloader from the outdoors into a warm vehicle or room, causing condensation in the metal barrel, dampening the powder.
This principle works like wearing glasses when walking from the cold outdoors into a warm room. Glasses fog up from condensation, and with a muzzle-loader, that collection of water droplets wets the powder.
Gun oil in the ignition system or barrel before adding powder may also cause a misfire or hangfire. Dry firing a cap in a percussion rifle or powder in the pan of a flintlock blows oil out and cures that problem.
When folks transport a black-powder rifle, it should be in a hard case in a truck body or trunk, and once home it goes into an unheated, locked garage or shed so, hopefully, condensation doesn’t form.
If a hunter wants to get into muzzle-loading and has an experienced friend, the newcomer can literally learn the basics in an afternoon. I did that years ago on the Sunday before the black-powder season began, and I was safely and confidently hunting on Monday.
Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at: