The regular firearms deer season is over, and for some it means the end of another hunting season. But many who still haven’t filled their tags will put away the deer rifle and dust off the old smokepole for the two-week muzzleloader season.

Traditionalists might opt for a “hammer gun,” either a caplock or a flintlock.

My first front-end loader was a .56 caliber smoothbore that shot a patched round ball. I later graduated to a .50 caliber Hawken with a rifled barrel, but also picked up a flintlock for a Pennsylvania hunt. These were the first styles available and allowed when primitive weapons seasons were first instituted.

Times have changed, and along with them, guns. Initially, primitive weapons seasons were a way to add recreational opportunity without significantly impacting deer populations. In most states deer populations have soared and the additional hunting pressure is not an issue; so regulations have changed to allow more efficient weapons — and states set seasons and regulations to ensure it doesn’t detract from their management goals.

Tony Knight was a pioneer in the world of modern muzzleloading. His designs were among the first with in-line ignition systems widely available to the muzzleloading community. Today there are dozens of brands, and most hunters prefer the greater reliability and accuracy of in-line muzzleloaders.

Rather than the notoriously unreliable flash in the pan of a flintlock, or the primitive nipple and cap of a caplock, in-lines use 209 shotgun primers. They provide a much hotter and more weatherproof ignition. Some load directly into a breech plug while others mount in a plastic cap that forms an impermeable seal when loaded.

No longer do you need to worry about moisture, at least on the back end.

The rest of your charge — powder and bullet — still goes down the barrel from the muzzle. This leaves the potential for moisture to seep into your powder. But modern saboted bullets not only provide greater accuracy, they also help seal the powder behind them.

Hunters now have an array of bullets to choose from, many are simply fatter versions of the same type loaded into the brass casings of centerfire ammunition — copper jacketed, lead core, hollow-point or ballistic tip bullets. These give greater accuracy and performance with controlled expansion.

As far as powder, hunters can choose between pellets and loose powder. Pellets are a great convenience because they’re premeasured and easy to handle. Simply drop two or three, depending on size and preferred load, down the barrel and put a bullet on top.

Loose powder requires measuring, transport in a moisture-proof container, and slightly more sloppy loading. But it does provide a way for tinkerers to fine-tune their loads. Muzzleloaders can be very finicky, and 10 grains of powder one way or another can make a difference in accuracy.

Pellets also have a tendency to produce a “fire ring” in the barrel. Residue builds up at the base of the bullet, and with each successive shot the next bullet gets seated further ahead of the pellets. It may be only fractions of an inch but does affect accuracy, which is why frequent cleaning is important, especially with pellets.

Speaking of cleaning, it used to be a major hassle, particularly with highly corrosive black powder. You had to take apart your gun and clean it thoroughly with a brass brush and hot soapy water. Thanks to in-lines, you need only remove the breech plug and you have a straight shot down the barrel. And newer powder brands wipe away easily with a little solvent.

With modern guns, powder and bullets, and sufficient time sighting in, muzzleloaders can be as accurate as centerfire rifles, although at shorter ranges. But you still have to load them down the spout, and you only get one shot. So you’d better make it count.

Bob Humphrey is a freelance writer and registered Maine guide who lives in Pownal. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]