Back to Traditions: Modern Muzzleloaders Help Fill Tags

Modern inline blackpowder guns are accurate, dependable and relatively easy to operate. For a modest price, you can greatly extend your time in the woods and overall odds of success.

Back to Traditions: Modern Muzzleloaders Help Fill Tags

Traditions Muzzleloader takes shooters and hunters back to the olden days but offers updated technology in all aspects of the rifle. Photo: Luke Laggis

There are plenty of passionate deer hunters where I live, but by the time the blackpowder season opens, few are left in the woods.

I do most of my hunting in northern Wisconsin. Deer hunting is a big deal around here. It’s not unusual for kids to get out of school for the nine-day gun deer season. People schedule their vacations around it. For nine glorious days, in cabins and shacks across the state’s vast Northwoods, they move into deer camp.  

The deer hunting opportunities here are plentiful — the archery season runs continuously from mid-September into January — but so many people only hunt the gun season. People who identify as hunters, specifically deer hunters, limit their entire pursuit to nine days. 

So, if you're not a bowhunter, why not consider another way to spend more time in the woods?

Muzzleloader hunting isn’t a trend. It doesn’t mirror the swell of crossbow hunters. It’s been around since before the centerfire rifle existed. But modern inline blackpowder guns are accurate, dependable and relatively easy to operate, so for a modest price, you can greatly extend your time in the woods and overall odds of success. 

I hunted with a muzzleloader for the first time last year, after threatening to get into it for at least a few years. I borrowed a gun from a friend, a Thompson Center with open sights. It was a nice gun, but I felt limited in range by the lack of optics. Nonetheless, I was immediately hooked.

I hunt with a bow and crossbow, but I put more effort into gun hunting. I love the later season, and I enjoy carrying a gun, so blackpowder hunting was a step that was long overdue. It stretched my gun hunting from nine days to 17, and gave me opportunities to hunt when everyone’s back at work and the pressure is off.

The biggest thing that kept me from getting into it sooner was simply the unknown. I didn’t know anything about blackpowder guns. I knew the inline guns were much easier to handle and operate than the guns of old, but I didn’t know much else. Most of the people I know fall into the same category, and therein lies opportunity.

“Customers are hungry for knowledge and Traditions has worked hard to make sure this is available,” says Alison Hall, marketing manager for Traditions Firearms. “We’ve created a how-to video series that can be found on www.traditionsfirearms.com and on Traditions' YouTube channel. They want to know what gun they should use, what load to use, what cleaning products, etc. Our video series addresses many of these questions."

Pursuit G4 Ultralight

This year, Traditions supplied me with a new .50-caliber Pursuit G4 Ultralight topped with a Traditions 3-9x40 scope for testing. Straight out of the box I was impressed by its size and weight. It was smaller and lighter than the gun I used last year, and in fact, smaller and lighter than my 30.06.

The Pursuit series is a mid-level gun in Traditions’ lineup, and at $461 for a complete package with gun, scope and case, the G4 Ultralight is a pretty affordable entry point. Mine had a synthetic stock and forend in Realtree Xtra with a 26-inch nitride-coated chromoly barrel and LT-1 alloy frame.

The Pursuit series is a mid-level gun in Traditions’ lineup, and at $461 for a complete package with gun, scope and case, the G4 Ultralight is a pretty affordable entry point.
The Pursuit series is a mid-level gun in Traditions’ lineup, and at $461 for a complete package with gun, scope and case, the G4 Ultralight is a pretty affordable entry point.

For anyone with experience shooting hunting rifles, this gun will feel comfortable and natural in hand. When it comes to blackpowder, the biggest difference is the process of loading and cleaning these guns. 

I’ve been hunting for a long time. I don’t need to read a manual to know how to properly operate a bolt-action rifle. If I’m looking for a rifle, I want my local gunshop owner to be able to explain and compare the features of the guns I’m looking at. But for those looking to buy their first muzzleloader, make sure your ask staff at your local gun shop to explain proper care and operation, and the tips and tricks to be effective and efficient with the gun. This will go a long way in making a hunter new to muzzleloaders feel much more comfortable.  will go a long way in making customers comfortable.

“Knowing about Traditions Firearms, the best loads to use in our guns and so forth are key to what dealers should know about selling our firearms,” Hall says. “Our advice on getting customers interested would be to have all of that information that can be passed on to their customer. Brand-new customers are going to feel more comfortable if they have a source to go to for this and they may feel more comfortable talking to someone in person.

Getting Acquainted

I gained some experience with the borrowed gun last year, but there was still a bit of a learning curve with the new gun. Washing a new gun with hot soapy water, per the manual, was new to me — and I made a few mistakes. The first time I took it out to shoot, I fired the gun five times before I cleaned it, and the fouling was so heavy I got the cleaning rod stuck in the barrel. Lesson learned. After that I quickly developed a process and the more I shot and cleaned, the more seasoned the barrel became and the easier it was to both clean and load. Accuracy seemed to improve as well.

I read through the manual multiple times, and watched Youtube videos before I used the gun for the first time, and aside from that initial cleaning snafu, I quickly became more comfortable and efficient. But for those completely new to the blackpowder world, a knowledgeable dealer can make sure new shooters don’t run into any issues. Still, I was pretty well dialed in after only nine shots from a bench at a 100-yard target using two Hodgdon 50-grain-equivalent pellets and Traditions polymer-tipped 250-grain Smackdown bullets.

The first time I took the Pursuit out hunting I forgot a sling; I only realized once I was dressed and ready to walk out of the cabin, but since the gun is small and light, I decided to head out without it. My rifles all have slings, but unless I’m walking into or out of a stand, I usually don’t have my gun slung over my shoulder anyway.

The Hunt

My plan was to slowly pick my way though a familiar piece of ground, hoping to find a deer bedded or cut a set of fresh tracks, and end up on a ridge where I missed a nice buck with my borrowed gun last year. From there I’d circle back to the cabin in the dark on an old logging road.

Conditions were good for walking, with a little snow on the ground and a decent breeze in my face to hide my scent and cover my sound. It was immediately evident how nice the Pursuit is to carry. It’s light and nimble. The forend is comfortable and provides a good grip. The gun shoulders well, and while the scope isn’t the nicest optic I’ve ever used, it serves the gun very well.

I covered about two and a half miles on that first hunt, most of it public land that’s heavily hunted earlier in the year. I put a sling on the gun before heading back out into the woods the next day and immediately regretted it. The gun is so nice to carry that it was just something extra in my way. I spent one more good day with the gun (unslung) but never had a shot at a deer. Aside from stopping at a few vantage points and ducking into a ground blind for last light on one of the days, I spent all my time with the Pursuit on foot and enjoyed every minute of it.

That’s one of the beauties of the black powder season in my area: the regular gun season is over, most of the archery hunters have hung up their bows for the season, and the woods are all mine. I walked through areas I wouldn’t consider sneaking into during the gun season, and even though I didn’t see a deer, it’s a great time of year to be in the woods with the opportunity to fill some unused tags. That’s what the black powder season affords. 

Good Opportunity

Hall says the black powder market has remained steady, and there is a lot of interest in black powder firearms.

“We are focusing on creating new technology that will make time in the field easier and more enjoyable and we are also focused on increasing awareness of black powder shooting and hunting,” she says. “For many, this is another opportunity to obtain a tag and put more food in their freezer. For others, it is truly a one shot challenge.

“We continue to focus on promoting black powder on our social media, in print/digital platforms and with our TV partners. Our sidelock rifles and Build It Yourself Kits are also gaining more interest as people become interested in the traditional aspects of black powder.”

Hall says many people are realizing how accurate Traditions Firearms are and how much easier they are to clean than in the past.



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