I had rifle hunted. I had bowhunted. But it wasn't until last year that I walked through the woods with a muzzleloader in my hands. I knew I liked shooting blackpowder rifles but I had no idea that I was going to get sucked into hunting with a muzzleloader like I did. It is a very neat type of hunt. You have to mix your techniques. It is like 50/50 split between bow and rifle hunting. You can still take moving shots and your range is doubled over that of archery equipment but you are using an unscoped rifle with only one shot.
I would be hunting the same area that I had gotten within 80 yards of a 200 inch mulie, only to have my brother walk over the hill and stumble into my set up. We hadn't seen that same deer since but there were still big deer in the area. We scouted all summer and had a pretty good idea of what ridges and trails the deer liked to use. My brother-in-law was hunting with a smokepole for the first time as well and my brother would also be chasing deer but with his stick and string. He had been going at it for the week and a half prior to the opening of muzzleloader season with no success.
The night before opening morning was hard. I couldn't seem to get the vision of that monster deer from a couple years before out of my head. I wanted to believe that he was still out there and just might stroll in front of my stand in the morning. There is nothing quite like the night before opening day. It takes you right back to being a kid on Christmas Eve.
The next morning I suited up and sprayed down with scent killer. I made the drive out to where I would be leaving the truck and was hiking to my spot right on time. Right as a crested the top of the ridge that I planned on sitting on all morning, I heard a deer stotting down the slope. It was still too dark to make out what I had jumped though so I just sat down and waited for the sun to illuminate the folds in the land. A half hour after sunrise, a deer silhouetted itself on the adjacent ridge. I had the wind right and it had no idea I was there. I slowly brought up my binoculars and noticed that it was a buck; and not a bad one at that! He looked like a wide 3x3. I decided that if he would give me a shot, I would be taking it. Over the next hour he fed down the ridge in my direction. Everything was going according to plan until a coyote spoke up from the valley below. The deer's lazy demeanor vanished and he instantly got put on edge. I was kind of surprised how worried a coyote had made the big buck. Another minute and the deer had made it back up the ridge from which it came. I was bummed but was eager to get back to camp and see if anyone else had gotten lucky.
They hadn't and after eating lunch and playing some horseshoes, I decided that I would give an afternoon hunt a go. I returned to the same area that I had hunted that morning and still hunted my way down the spine of a near by ridge. I hadn't made it a 100 yards when deja vu struck. There was a deer stotting away just out of sight. I jumped up on top of a rock outcropping in order to possibly get a look at what I had spooked.
As soon as I peered around a thick douglas fir I saw him... and he saw me. It was the SAME wide 3x3 from that morning! He was standing broadside at just over a hundred yards and was ready to put serious ground between us at any moment. I swung my rifle up, cocked the hammer and lined the sights up on his brisket in one fluid motion. The front bead floated behind his shoulder and I fired. He disappeared in a cloud of white smoke. I dropped to a knee and started the reloading process. Reloading a muzzleloader at the range is a pretty straight forward process. While doing the same mundane task after taking a shot at a big buck, it seems like your fine motor skills have left on vacation. I slowly made my way over to the spot that he had been standing and sure enough... he was lying dead beneath a ponderosa. The 295 grain Powerbelt had performed flawlessly. He wasn't the buck that still haunts my dreams but he is a decent 25 inch wide 3x3. It wouldn't have mattered if he was a little forkie however because I had just obtained my first taste of blackpowder success!