In the early 1980s, my mother and I bought my father a Thompson Center Hawken .50 caliber for Christmas, a percussion-cap muzzle-loader that looked like Robert Redford’s rifle in the 1972 movie, Jeremiah Johnson.

Purchasing the gift was mostly my idea, but in my adult life, black-powder shooting held little allure for me, rather astounding. In childhood, I read every book that I could get my hands on about Colonial American settlers and early 19th century mountain men in the Rockies, and the appeal began with firearms of the era.

When my father passed away in 1999, I inherited the Hawken replica, and from the first shot — surprise of surprises — black-powder shooting captured my soul. It didn’t hurt, either, that the first shot hit the bull’s eye.

I was at Tom Seymour’s house in Waldo, where he taught me the finer points of black-powder safety, helpful tips for accuracy loads and best method for cleaning these firearms.

In the precision-shooting category, Seymour showed me how to get a precise powder measurement and the importance of exerting the exact same pressure on the ramrod every time when seating the projectile.

Anyone getting into black-powder shooting should always get a knowledgeable black-powder expert to show them the ropes because a mistake can put out an eye, blow fingers off and worse. Safety tips can make the sport — well — incredibly safe.


Naturally, someone like me with a sense of 18th and 19th traditions would own a replica muzzle-loader, and eventually, I’d like to buy a long-rifle flintlock like the one in the 1992 movie version of The Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis as Natty Bumppo.

Other people just want to hunt more days per season and have no interest in replicas, so they buy inline muzzle-loaders, modern designs that allegedly misfire less.

(However, Seymour had taught me well, so misfires have been no problem with the Thompson Center Hawken.)

For folks who failed to get winter venison in the regular firearms or statewide archery hunts, buying a muzzle-loader for Maine’s late black-powder deer season makes sense.

This year, that muzzle-loader season runs from Monday through Dec. 3 across Maine and Dec. 5 through Dec. 10 in Wildlife Management Districts 12, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 and 29. At that time, cold temperature and snow prove more common — an advantage. Deer move more in freezing weather, and snow aids in visibility and tracking.

Hunters need a muzzle-loader permit in addition to a hunting license, and page 22 of the “State of Maine Hunting and Trapping Laws and Rules” booklet contains a law summary for muzzle-loaders who are hunting deer.


How quickly can someone learn to use black powder safely?

One afternoon, Seymour outlined muzzle-loading basics for me, and the next day, I was confidently hunting.

Although young does still come into estrous this late in the season, the rut has basically ended, but veteran hunters still have a chance for success.

This late in the year, open hardwood ridges with acorns and beechnuts draw foraging deer after dark, so knowledgeable hunters lurk between the nuts and bedding areas, making sure to stand downwind of game trails.

I really like to set up close to where deer bed in meadows with alders, leatherleaf or other shrubs for cover. If a peninsula with thick conifers juts into the wetland, then it’s a hot spot for hunters. Whitetails feel more comfortable moving into peninsula thickets near dark before legal shooting time ends, and they linger longer in the morning after shooting time begins.

When snow falls, I love to hunt in tangles growing along the banks of small streams and brooks. Deer move into these places for shelter and water, and the spots they choose always have nearby forage.


Hunting these two habitats gives black-powder hunters a better chance at a shot in late season when success odds prove tough. By now, hunters have chased deer for two months, so they’re jumpy and more nocturnal.

Before leaving the black-powder topic….

Some folks bad-mouth the inline crowd, and one complaint involves sabots. In a typical rifled muzzle-loader, this plastic jacket around the projecttile creates accuracy at longer distances — say up to 200 yards and longer.

Critics claim that sabots are too modern for the original intent of the muzzle-loader deer season in Maine and elsewhere, which forgets an historical fact. Sabots made of leather shoe tongues go back to the Napoleonic Wars, deadly in rifled barrels of the time — albeit smoothbore barrels were far more common than rifled in the early 19th century.

So much for that criticism about modern sabots….

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