Muzzleloader Rifle Hunt for Deer and Pigs

   11.06.18

After a long summer without big-game hunting, I’m always itching to get into the deer woods. Opening weekend of Georgia’s 2018 archery season was my first opportunity to scratch that itch, and although predictably sweaty and unproductive, I enjoyed some peaceful time in the woods. My next chance to slip away came on Monday of muzzleloader week, so I saddled the mule and headed for the hills.

That afternoon, I used my new Crawler game cart to deliver a swivel chair to a box stand and haul supplemental feed to the woods. The cart worked well and although assembly was a bit quirky, I recommend it for transporting game or other heavy stuff over uneven terrain. I spent the evening in another stand and although I didn’t see deer, it just felt right to get back into a tree stand with my hands wrapped around a rifle stock.

It was an old Thompson/Center Seneca traditional .45-caliber muzzleloader, a graduation gift from my father more than 30 years earlier. Although I’d long ago modernized my muzzleloading with a Savage 10MLII, nostalgia made me carry the old Seneca. After all, it had killed half of our only deer double-header; I got a buck in the morning, and Dad got one in the afternoon.

Thompson/Center Seneca muzzleloading rifle.
Thompson/Center Seneca muzzleloading rifle.
(Photo © Russ Chastain)

Tuesday was more of the same: heat, mosquitoes, and lack of deer. I heard some buck grunts and roars, but couldn’t lay eyes on one. Wednesday was a road trip to look at food plot equipment for the club, and an evening hunt at a friend’s place where wild hogs had become a nuisance.

Our job was to thin the herd, so I carried the 7mm Spanish Mauser I’d built a few years earlier. Even before I could get to my stand, 6-8 pigs appeared in the wide trail ahead. Using the sling to steady my aim, I shouldered the rifle and picked a porker. My shot laid it down, and I was happy I’d made that standing offhand shot at 137 yards.

A nice little eating-size pig.
A nice little eating-size pig.
(Photo © Russ Chastain)

Less than an hour later, I had another swine to feed our host’s pork-loving friend. We came up empty the next morning and I headed back to hunt deer. Afternoon brought some deer sightings, but nothing I wanted to take home. Friday was more of the same, and dusk brought a close to my 2018 muzzleloader season.

Saturday was opening day of gun season, but the property wasn’t crowded. All four hunters saw deer, but none were taken. Young bucks were chasing does — apparently pushing them fairly hard, because most does I saw were hungry, with sunken guts and visible ribs. That afternoon, I passed up a nice 8-point buck. It was just a little too young.

Sunrise from a deer stand.
Sunrise from a deer stand.
(Photo © Russ Chastain)

Sunday brought an amazing amount of deer movement. Despite inhospitable weather, they were moving and hungry.

The does were mostly small, although one was huge. She crossed at only 90 yards, and looked me in the eye as soon as she stepped out. She was wise to the tripod stand, although she didn’t fear it. I let her walk in hopes that a good buck would show up. By 1:30 I’d seen 17 deer and was about to starve, so I slipped out of the woods to grab some lunch.

A pair of whitetail bucks in a Georgia food plot.
A pair of whitetail bucks in a Georgia food plot.
(Photo © Russ Chastain)

By 3:00 I was back and looking at a doe. Does, fawns, and small bucks kept coming, and when I saw movement all the way down at 300+ yards, I figured it was another deer. The scope revealed a large coyote, so I slipped off the safety, steadied up, and squoze the trigger of the Savage Sierra Model 10 308, which has served me so well for so long.

To my surprise, the coyote spun and ran into the woods, seemingly unharmed. Hmmm. I decided there was no point in hiking down there; it was either dead or it wasn’t.

Towards evening, a doe spotted me move in the stand, got suspicious, and went nuts blowing at me, stomping her foot, bobbing her head, and doing all the things deer do when they think something’s up but they’re not sure what. Ultimately, a 6-point buck got into the act and both ended up in the woods nearby, blowing to beat the band. All other deer had departed and my trip was almost over, so I decided I’d take that troublesome doe if I could.

Right about then, the trophy doe returned. Remember the big one that had eyeballed me? Well, she stepped out and did the same thing, even walking towards me. I laid the crosshairs on her and thought, “If you blow at me, I will kill you.”

She promptly blew at me.

I thumbed the safety off and settled my aim. At only 90-100 yards, I felt perfectly comfortable taking a neck shot on an unmoving mature whitetail. She stood facing me and I laid the crosshairs on the white throat patch and killed her.

Except she simply loped off into the woods, apparently unharmed. I found no blood, no hair, no sign of a hit. Dusk had arrived, and I decided to look more in the morning. I went to the rifle range and fired a pair of shots using headlights on the target. Although a tad high, they hit about 1″ apart and should have killed that deer.

A thorough search the next morning utterly failed to produce any sign of a hit and no deer. I also searched for the coyote and found no evidence of a hit. I was forced to conclude that I’d missed both shots.

Now I’m not perfect, but I’ve been at this hunting game a long time and I don’t miss often. This rifle had been true to me… but the brand-new scope apparently had not.

On my way out of the property, I stopped at the range to fire my rifle. The bullet hit in an entirely new location. I’d been hosed by a defective scope or mount.

Ah well. At least it wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime buck that I’d missed.

My new scope arrived this morning, and I’m looking forward to trying it in the woods soon.

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