Muzzleloader wraps up a long, three-phase deer season

Oak Duke's weekly Outdoors column

By Oak Duke
Big eight-point buck stands on its hind legs to better scent-mark and access the zip-tied overhanging branch at a scrape.

For many of us, deer hunting is a whitetail trilogy and it is chronicled by our choice of weaponry, our gear, and the changing seasons.

When we take our muzzleloaders afield, it signals to many of us the end to a long, marathon whitetail season; one that starts with balmy temps, green leaves, t-shirts, and mosquitoes. And it winds up with arctic fronts, white, snow-covered forest floors, insulated boots, and hand warmer packets.

The whitetail deer season here in New York state's Southern Zone is wonderful because it allows the working man, the student, and the old retiree time to get afield after whitetails.

If one considers the necessary pre-season scouting, which most of us enjoy almost as much as actual hunting, then the whitetail season spans a solid three months, from mid-September to mid-December.

We hunt deer for a quarter of the entire year.

Deer season was not always this way.

Back in the old days, when deer hunting first started here in Western NY (1939 was the first deer season here.) It was only a week long, and it was shotguns only. The first deer take in Allegany County was a total of 50 deer. Other counties followed as the deer herd expanded. Now the average Southern Zone kill each year is around 100,00 bucks and 100,000 does. We are certainly living in the good old days of whitetail hunting.

Slowly, as the deer herd expanded and the population increased in exponential numbers to today, the deer seasons increased and allowed the average working guy or gal a chance to get out in the woods after deer.

OAK DUKE

We start with our archery equipment.

Bow season runs from mid-September until mid-November, because we practice shooting and scout, tune our tree stands for at the bare minimum two weeks before the October 1, opener.

Then, six weeks later as the regular season...what we call "the gun season" dawns, the bows and arrows are stowed, and out come the centerfire rifles and shotguns. The various camouflage patterns that we used with our bows and arrows are exchanged for blaze orange when we pick up the rifles in mid-November.

And finally, the major regular season ends (this year December 13 in the New York State’s Southern Zone,) the centerfire rifles are cleaned and locked away as the regular season closes. Then, starting December 14 and running through December 22, we gear up with our warmest hunting clothes and tote our black powder guns (or get out the archery equipment) for the third and final part to the deer season (which used to be called “The primative arms season”.)

The long deer season allows us the time to choose not only when we can hunt, but the type of weapon and season we prefer to put some venison in the freezer.

Some deer hunters only enjoy the early archery season. They like hunting with a bow and arrow and the mild temperatures, a beautiful time to be in the woods.

Others of us hunt only during the most popular regular season. That is when deer hunting is the most efficient and the best chances for a hunter to fill a tag and a corner of the freezer.

And finally, this relatively short muzzleloader season at the end allows those of us who enjoy our soot belchers a chance at taking a more primitive weapon afield in the final days.

Black powder guns or muzzleloaders have come a long way since I built my first one back in the mid-1970s. Back then, it was either a flintlock or a percussion gun. I still have the .54 caliber flintlock that I put together and carried for many seasons.

But mostly now, I tote my .50 caliber modern, scoped inline, especially when it's snowing.

The old flintlock was problematical when it was snowing. In other words, it didn’t fire. And any flintlock toter that has hunted deer has stories of misfires and hangfires. Snow on the barrel can melt or get in the pan, on the frizzen (metal part on the flintlock where the flint strikes to create a spark that falls in the pan and ignites the charge.)

The modern inline muzzleloaders have their issues too, but it would not be black powder season if there were not challenges in keeping the powder dry - and remembering to put the charge in first before putting in the sabot or patched ball. (Not that I have ever done that!)

But in this long deer season...there is still time.

Oak Duke writes a weekly column appearing Sunday on the Outdoors page.