Maine’s statewide muzzleloader season for deer begins Monday and runs through Saturday. In Wildlife Management Districts (WMDs) 12, 13, 15-18, 20-26 and 29, basically the bottom third of the state, black-powder deer hunting continues from Dec. 9-14, a generous two-week season in the South Country. Please check the hunting booklet for details.

That 12-day time frame in southern, central and mid-coast Maine ranks as quite a bonus for folks who didn’t tag a deer in the archery or regular firearms seasons, and the way the calendar falls this year, muzzleloaders have the latest day possible to hunt Maine whitetails legally.

…And talk about solitude. Within 12 to 20 miles of Augusta during the black-powder season, I have never run into a deer hunter. We’re usually alone in this hunt, but it’s nice to have hunters in the woods to push deer.

In comparison to the November regular firearms season, December deer hunters have colder weather. In the bottom part of the state, November’s high and low temperatures average 43 and 26 degrees Fahrenheit, while December drops to 30 and 12 degrees respectively — a double-digit plummet.

December deer move more in cold, too, and a moving target is a vulnerable target. Hunters are also more apt to have tracking snow, and in addition, a white background makes the quarry more visible.

Well before the muzzle-loading season, hunters should spend lots of time on a shooting range. Lots of preseason shooting helps polish reloading skills, so hunters can load without a mistake — even in the predawn dark.

(Most of us have “scouted” plenty, while hunting in November, important for success after 170,000 hunters in the same month have scoured the woods with modern rifles.)

Target practice also improves marksmanship, but for me, black powder is a joy to shoot, because the recoil shoves back rather than slams. The first time I ever shot my Hawken replica, I hit the bull’s-eye.

After a shot, the first reloading safety consideration smacks of logic. Don’t pour powder down the barrel onto a hot spark. A short wait before reloading increases safety, and years ago, Tom Seymour of Waldo taught me to blow air down the barrel before reloading, so moisture from my breath extinguishes sparks. The warm barrel from shooting then dries moisture.

Also, shooters always pour a single black-powder load from a powder measure, and they never dump it into a barrel from a full powder flask. If a spark touched off a pound of powder, it would explode like a hand grenade.

Once shooters feel certain that no hot spark lurks in the barrel, the powder load must be precise in the measure and not rounded over or a tad scant — an accuracy consideration. After the powder goes into the barrel, the shooter sets the projectile on the powder with the ramrod, using the exact same amount of pressure each time.

Even experienced muzzleloaders occasionally have a misfire or hangfire, usually because condensation in the barrel wets the powder. This event spooks muzzleloaders on the trigger squeeze — a loud click instead of boom. Naturally, after a misfire, the muzzle must be pointed in a safe direction in case it goes off later.

The problem begins like this: In Maine, as long as a muzzleloader removes the percussion cap from the nipple or powder from a flintlock pan, it’s legal to carry powder and projectile in the barrel after shooting time ends or while storing the rifle in a vehicle.

After removing the percussion cap or pan powder, though, a hunter might carry a muzzleloader from the cold outdoors into a warm vehicle or room, causing condensation in the metal barrel, dampening the powder.

This principle works like wearing glasses when walking from the cold outdoors into a warm room. Glasses immediately fog up from condensation, and with a muzzle-loader, that collection of water droplets wets the powder.

Gun oil in the ignition system or barrel before adding powder may cause a misfire or hangfire, too. Dry firing a cap in a percussion rifle or powder in the pan of a flintlock blows oil out and cures that problem.

When folks transport a black-powder rifle, it should be in a hard case in a truck body or trunk, and once home, the rifle goes into an unheated, locked garage or shed, so hopefully, condensation doesn’t form.

If a hunter wants to get into muzzle-loading and has an experienced friend who knows the ins and outs of shooting these ancient tools, the new-comer can literally learn the proper basics in an afternoon. I did that many years ago on the Sunday before the black-powder season for deer began, and I was safely and confidently hunting on Monday.

Ken Allen, of Belgrade Lakes, a writer, editor and photographer, may be reached at [email protected]

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