Gary Clancy: Be ready for a second shot with your muzzleloader

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How quickly can you reload your muzzleloader in the field? Author Gary Clancy says that once you've pulled the trigger on a deer, you should reload as quickly as possible, preferably in 30 seconds or less.

The late muzzleloader hunt, which in Minnesota starts today, is the most difficult of our three firearm hunts. Some of this is because you are hunting with a weapon with a limited range. But an even bigger reason is that the deer you are hunting have been hunted for weeks. By now, even this year's fawns are well-versed in the methods of hunters and antics a whitetail can use to stay out of our gun sights. Accept the fact that it is going to be a tough hunt and you are halfway home.

If you have your heart set on a big buck, then I wish you good luck. Unless you have your own land which you manage for big deer, or have a honey-hole where you are the only one to hunt all fall, the odds are against you taking a mature buck. Most muzzleloader hunters are completely satisfied with any legal buck or antlerless deer.

And that, as I see it anyway, is the way it should be. I know that I have always felt well-rewarded when I have been able to make a good shot and put my tag on a legal buck or a fine doe during the muzzleloader season.

As you know if you follow my columns, I am a proponent of taking the first good shot that a game animal offers you. This is especially important when dealing with an animal that possesses the uncanny instincts for making a left or right turn or an about face just a second before he or she offers you that perfect shot you have been waiting for. Take the first good shot.

"But Clancy," you are saying to yourself, "this is a muzzleloader. I only get one shot, so I've got to wait until everything is just right."


Don't miss out

And I am here to tell you from painful personal experiences (yes, that's plural), that if you wait for perfect, you are going to miss out on some very doable shots. Most muzzleloading hunters consider the muzzleloader to be a "one-shot wonder." I prefer to think about my muzzleloader as just a darn slow repeater.

Over my many years of muzzleloading, I have trained myself to reload quickly. When I go to the range to sight-in or to practice, I always reload as quickly as I can each time and reload from quick loads, just as I would when hunting. That way, it is just second-nature for me to load as fast as I can each time I get a shot at a deer in the woods.

It does not matter if I am sure I made a good shot on the deer or if I think I missed the deer clean — I reload quickly. Being able to get powder, projectile and primer in place in under 30 seconds has saved me two deer over the years, one a very big buck.

In both cases, my first shot nicked the spine or came very close to it, and the shock caused the deer to crumple in its tracks. In each case the deer lay there completely stunned and to all appearances "dead-as-nails" for less than a minute before jumping up and running off as if they had never been touched.

In both cases, because I had trained myself to reload quickly, I managed to put the deer down with a second shot. The same thing happened to me on a bull elk in Colorado's Flat Tops. I would never have recovered any of those animals if I had not been able to load quickly and shoot them again.

If the mountain men had taken as much time to reload their muzzleloaders as I have seen many hunters take, they would never have made it to rendezvous!

Good luck this muzzleloader season. Hope you get a chance to "make some smoke."

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