Jim Casada

Hunting with traditional weapons

For many experienced hunters, venturing afield with primitive weapons is sport at its finest. The use of a muzzleloading gun or a bow and arrow places a premium on woodsmanship and understanding of one's quarry. These are challenges which veteran sportsmen welcome. This is especially the case with deer, and in this part of the state the Department of Natural Resources sets aside special seasons for both blackpowder and archery hunting. With these seasons lying just around the corner (see calendar for details), a bit closer look seems appropriate.

The word "primitive" as applied to many traditional weapons in use today is to some degree a misnomer. For example, in-line muzzleloaders of the type first designed and popularized by gunsmithing genius Tony Knight are highly efficient, effective, and accurate. Sure they are ponderous to ready for firing, but once fitted with a scope and loaded with Pyrodex powder and sabot-type bullets, such guns offer remarkably high levels of performance. A well-made muzzleloader in the hands of a capable marksman offers realistic expectations of taking deer at distances of 150 yards or even a bit more.

Modern archery equipment also makes matters appreciably easier for the stick-and-string enthusiast than was once the case. Carefully crafted compound bows, aerodynamically efficient arrows with well-designed broadheads, special sight systems, easily operated releases, and a whole list of other helpful accessories make pinpoint accuracy a reasonable expectation for any archer willing to invest money in the right equipment and time in practice. In fact, I just got a new outfit from Hoyt, and I'm frankly amazed at what I can do with it -- and I'm anything but an expert archer.

What then, one might reasonably ask, sets so-called primitive hunting weapons apart? One key consideration, and it is true for muzzleloader hunters and archers alike, is the premium placed on accuracy. As Dave Meredith, a longtime friend and expert in the blackpowder field puts it: "You only have one shot, and you must make it count." Additionally, for the archer, there is the matter of dealing with one's prey "up close and personal."

Most experts suggest that any shot much beyond 30 yards is stretching matters for the average bowhunter, and certainly the turtle-like pace of even the fastest arrows (when compared with that of bullets) make it likely that longer shots will result in a whitetail instinctively ducking or jumping. Even with muzzleloaders, accurate though the best of them undeniably are, it takes a great deal of precision with one's powder charge, as well as a real "feel" for the gun, to achieve killing accuracy at the sort of ranges -- 200 to 300 yards which within reasonable performance expectations for modern guns.

Of course the true traditionalists --those who relish the utmost challenge -- can always use percussion flintlocks or recurve bows. No matter what your preference in primitive weapons may be though, one of their most appealing facets is the opportunity they afford to lengthen the hunting season.

Obviously, the sportsman who uses traditional weapons can add not days but weeks to his fall hunting. Since whitetails of either sex are legal for archers, and given the fact that with muzzleloaders there's an either sex day, those who enjoy fine venison on the table have yet another reason to consider these hunting alternatives.

Primitive weapons require more patience and practice than modern ones, and they are undeniably less effective if success is measured solely on the basis of meat on the table. But they offer the chance to hunt more, establish meaningful links with our sporting past, and improve skills as a woodsman and marksman. Those are reasons aplenty to develop a passion for the primitive, and they explain why each year more hunters take to the fall woods armed with a smoke pole or archery equipment.