Changing of the Season - Late Season Muzzleloader Tips

Changing of the Season - Late Season Muzzleloader Tips

By Team Tacticalories Outdoors' Jason Ellsworth

If you’re like me, you probably started hunting with a muzzleloader to extend your season. I remember the first few times I went out with my old man’s Flintlock… all the old guys called them“smoke poles”. I called it a few expletives under my breath. My old man lent me his  Thompson Center Renegade. It was an ode to the original mountain man’s rifle, the 54 cal Hawkin. Think Jeremiah Johnson. It was heavy as hell. It may or may not go off and if your powder got wet, you were doomed.

How any of those Mountain Men ever hit any goddamn animal at all with those confounded things is beyond me. I guess if my life/stomach depended on it I would have tried to get better with it. As a kid though? Forget about it, I probably would’ve been better off hunting with a rock. They certainly weighed about the same.

The Changing of the Season

Fast forward a few years and I bought my first modern-day in-line muzzleloader. A Thompson Center Omega 50 cal. I named it"Mr. Thundermaker" and had it dialed-in in a single afternoon. I was basically hunting with an insanely accurate one-shot rifle and I was hooked! We still call them "smoke poles" today. That’s pretty much the only thing our ancestors’ guns and the ones today have in common.

Today’s in-line muzzleloaders have the capability of outshooting your Granddad’s open-sighted 30-30! Somehow hunting with them still feels like reaching into the past. There’s something poetic about only having one shot and needing to make it count.

The late-season here in Upstate, New York is not for the faint-hearted. The odds of you killing an old smart buck diminishes greatly. The weather can be brutal. The rewards, however, can be plentiful for the folks with a bit of grit in their guts.

Here are a couple of things I’ve picked up over the years that have helped me punch the tag on a late-season whitetail.

Wait for a good snowfall

Cutting a fresh set of tracks on state land can lead to a hell of a hike and an amazing adventure. Some of the guys I know in the Adirondacks pack a tent will stay overnight to stay on the tracks and cut them again in the morning. These are real hunters and seriously badass folks. These are the guys I respect.

Hunt food

Big bucks need nutrition after a long rut. They’ll start showing up earlier in the evening to food sources and if you play your cards right you can get a crack at them.  Evenings and the downwind side of food is where you want to be in late season muzzleloader.

Pack a lunch

Not much beats a couple of PB&J sandwiches, a bag full of cookies, and a hot thermos filled with coffee. It’s amazing how many guys follow their stomachs home. You’ll also need the fuel to stay warm and keep going. Eating and drinking something warm in a sunny spot or just getting down out of the wind is exactly what it takes to recharge your batteries, stay out there and keep your ass going.

Layer up

I won’t sit much beyond the evening during the late season. I’m usually moving and that calls for layers. I dress fairly light. If I stood still for a few minutes outside I’d be cold in what I was wearing. Moving keeps me warm. I do carry everything I might need during the day in my pack. A big down jacket that weighs nothing and packs down to the size of a softball. A weather-proof shell that has a home at the bottom of my pack. Extra socks, fire-starting equipment (a lighter), extra mid-layers, a saw, and a small hatchet.

It all comes down to being out there. Sure, it’s a way to extend the season, but it’s become so much more than that to me. It’s a way to keep old men and their traditions alive. Every time I’m in those woods moving, breathing, and hyper-aware, I hear the voices of the men that taught me. Somewhere on that trail, I feel absolute gratitude to be there. That’s what I am looking for…

... That, and the main ingredient to some kick-ass stew.