When Michigan’s regular firearm deer hunting season finally came, you ventured out into the vast woods with visions of a bruiser buck driving you along. Opening morning came and you found your spot. At the end of the day, you sat; slightly dejected that he didn’t show. All those shots you heard made you worry that someone else took your buck. There was always the next day. You kept telling yourself that all the way through the season. Then, as the last light of the last day of the season slowly retreated like a wave, washing away your dream of putting your tag on that buck, you saw him. He appeared like a ghost. You pulled your gun to your shoulder and tried desperately to find him in the crosshairs. But as quickly as he was there, he was gone. The season ends with no venison in your freezer.
The bitterness of not filling a tag during firearm season is quickly replaced by hope. Starting just a few days after the beginning of December is Michigan’s muzzleloader season; the season in which history and technology meet. Now when the ghost appears, you can make him drop with a puff of smoke and a big chunk of copper and lead.
The second season
Michigan regulates the smokepole season by zone. Zone One includes the Upper Peninsula. Zone Two is the northern half of the Lower Peninsula, and Zone Three is the lower half. The muzzleloader season for 2014 starts on December 5 and runs through December 14 for Zones One and Two. Zone Three hunters can hunt from December 5 through December 21. That’s a pretty decent chunk of time to have for filling tags.
The great thing about muzzleloaders is the diversity of the rifles available. You can find everything from a traditional replica of the flintlocks used by pioneers, or a modern in-line rifle with accuracy and range rivaling some centerfire guns. There is a bit of a divide between muzzleloader hunters. Some feel that the newest in-lines are “cheating.” The truth is they are all fun and great tools for extending your Michigan deer hunting season.
One of the great things about Michigan, and there are many, is that there are few restrictions on muzzleloaders used during the December hunting season. Some states require loose powder, open sights, or even deeper restrictions. Michigan only requires that hunters use firearms that use black powder or a black powder substitute like Pryrodex of Triple 7.
Unlike a centerfire rifle, rimfire rifle, or shotgun, a muzzleloader is considered unloaded and safe for travel if the ignition cap or system is removed. For Michigan hunters traveling, or using an ATV to get back into where they are hunting, simply removing the ignition cap makes the firearm safe and legal to transport. I would recommend a good case if you’re going to leave a muzzleloader in your truck, or routinely carry it in and out of a warm house. Moisture can find its way into the powder sometimes and not ignite when you need it to. Old flintlock rifles used to allow moisture into the powder charge and then not ignite when the spark lit the ignition powder in the pan, leaving the rifleman holding a useless firearm. That’s where we get the term “a flash in the pan.” We usually use it to refer to someone who didn’t perform up to expectations. Of course, if you’re in battle back in the time of flintlocks and you had a flash in the pan, you usually didn’t live up to expectations, either—or much longer.
Bagging a muzzleloader buck
That story at the beginning of this article isn’t made up. It happened to yours truly this very season. I have never felt as dejected as I did when that buck appeared and vanished just as quick. Furthermore, he’s hanging out in an area that I can’t bowhunt. There’s just no way to get close enough with a bow to get at him. But I don’t have to hunt him with just my bow.
I think after the craziness of the firearm season, the deer go into an almost-panic. To have success during the muzzleloader season, find those areas the deer retreated to. Yes, they will start moving back into a more regular pattern, but remember that winter is almost here. That will change things up, too. If you can locate a food source close to cover, that’s a good place to start looking. A good layer of snow can help you track movements too.
My muzzleloading rig this season is a new Traditions Vortek StrikerFire. I’m using a Traditions Smackdown 250-grain sabot bullet, 100 grains of Triple 7 pellet powder, and a Triple 7 209 ignition primer. I have my zero set at 125 yards and I’m 1.25 inches high at 100. I’m not going to take a 200-yard shot, but I could with this set-up. Instead of a possibles bag, or something similar, I like to wear an upland game vest. The pockets carry everything I need for a long Michigan hunt, and the game bag pocket in the back is a great place to carry extra gloves, hats, etc. I’ll admit that this setup is about as modern as I can get and still be a muzzleloader. It’s still not even close to my regular deer rifle. I’ve used very simple smokepoles before, including an authentic Hawken. I think if Jerimiah Johnson could have had the choice, he’d go for the Vortek too.
The best part
I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The best part of hunting Michigan’s muzzleloaderdDeer season isn’t the deer or the guns—it’s the season. When archery season rolls around, we get to enjoy the woods as the leaves change and explode with color. During the firearm season, we’re usually dealing with bare trees, grey skies, and temperatures that fluxuate rapidly. But hunting in December often gets us out into the woods when the snow is falling, creating vast scenic landscapes that inspired painting after painting. It’s a truly magical time to be in the woods in Michigan.
This article was produced in partnership with Pure Michigan.
Images courtesy Derrek Sigler