He knelt onto the muddy, bloodied field – desperately searching for his pouch of black powder. In his other hand, the soldier held his gun, the business end pointing toward the sun. Ripping open the pouch with his gritty teeth, he hastily poured gun powder down the barrel, followed by a large ball of molten lead. The sound of metal against metal pierced the air while removing the cumbersome ram rod from its holder as he attempted to pack down the concoction with the hopes of getting off one good shot. THAT is the image I once imagined when I heard the word muzzleloader. A bit overdramatic, maybe even a tad Hollywood I know, but still the truth. I had never seen one in person or used a muzzleloader, for that matter.
Sponsored by Thompson/Center Firearms
That was until I met Danielle Sanville, who works for Thompson Center. We met in 2015 at a women’s antelope hunt in Wyoming where we had time to chat about today’s modern day muzzleloader. No clumsy powder, rather pre-compacted powder pellets and easy to use primers and spire point bullets. What I thought was complicated was really just my lack of knowhow and understanding. Like compact bows and long range rifles, muzzleloaders had come a long way from the old flintlock and musket days.
Nowadays there are many manufacturers of muzzleloaders, each having their own unique designs and capabilities, some more reliable than others. I wanted to find one that was easy to use in the field, dependable and accurate enough for spot-and-stalk-style hunting, which often results in shots that are typically farther than tree stand hunting distances. I found all of that in the Thompson Center Encore Pro Hunter muzzleloader.
Thompson Center (T/C) has been in the business of making muzzleloaders since 1970, and has modernized its designs, creating extreme accuracy for longer distances and making it much easy to clean than ever before. And trust me when I say this: clean muzzleloader is a happy muzzleloader. Because of the loose powder or pellet driven design, it is a must to clean after every use. With the T/C Pro Hunter Encore, cleaning is a piece of cake. The gun has a “speed breech” plug system and a rotating extractor for convenience in unloading and cleaning.
The closer we came to our first muzzleloader hunt, the more excited we got. Jim and I, my boyfriend and producer of our show – “Skull Bound TV,” which airs on The Sportsman Channel – both had tags for mule deer in the beautiful state of Utah. We booked a high mountain hunt just outside of the town of Morgan, with R&K Hunting Company. We had hunted this area before with the same outfitter, but for elk. Yes, we knew we would be spending a lot of time hiking the steep hillsides, climbing the boulder fields and most likely, taking longer, cross-canyon shots. But, we felt ready.
We spent the first day behind Vortex glass, scouting for bucks who often bed up high among the giant boulders that littered the mountains in this area. We spotted and filmed a few nice bucks in the early morning making their way from one small patch of pines to another, feeding in the sunshine. From our vantage point below, we knew the big boys would most likely be far from any 4-wheeler trail or road.
The second day started long before the sun came up. We headed down the dusty 4- wheeler trail, and slowly climbed switchbacks in the dark until we were at our glassing point just as the mountains began to appear in the early morning light. We had spotted a nice buck the evening before, but didn’t have enough light for the long climb up. All 3 of us scanned the ridge … hoping that buck hadn’t gone far. Jim glassed through Vortex binoculars while Red, our R&K guide, and I used spotting scopes to peel apart every crevice. We saw a half dozen does feeding along the upper hills and suddenly we spotted 2 nice bucks way up high among the sharp, jagged boulders. “Let’s make a move,” Jim said, as he scurried back to the 4-wheeler to grab his backpack.
We maneuvered through thick scrub brush until the landscape slowly turned into a steep incline, again, littered with huge boulders. An hour later we knelt, perched on top of a outcropping, but 250 yards below the patch of pines where we last saw the 2 bucks. Peeling apart the mountain, we all sat and glassed … debating on their most likely move. “They could have moved over that ridge in the last hour,” Red commented, pointing up high. “They could also be somewhere up in that patch of trees. We might as well wait it out up here today after that climb.”
Two hours later, I suddenly noticed movement in the tree patch above. “I’ve got one of them!” I whispered with excitement! “It’s the big three!” Bedded there all along, the buck stood up to stretch and feed in the late morning sunshine. After a few minutes, we watched him bed back down and we made a move among the jagged ledges to get within 200 yards of the trees.
I situated the muzzleloader on my backpack and decided to get in a comfortable standing position, since the incline wasn’t conducive for a prone shot. I loaded the primer and Jim got cut-away shots he needed to tell the story. Red and I both kept our eyes on the trees while the camera captured the anticipation, the terrain and the wait.
“I see him!” Jim said and he zoomed in the camera lens to film the buck as he stood 200 yards above us. My heart rate began to increase as I watched the buck through my scope. Standing there behind the muzzleloader, I felt comfortable and solid as I steadied my breathing for the shot. Unlike a rifle hunt, you don’t get a quick follow up shot. You’ve got to be sure of the distance, read the wind and make the first shot count. Waiting for the buck to pop out in a small gap in the trees, Jim ranged his exact location: “180 yards to that opening.”
“Are you on him?” I whispered to Jim as the buck presented a clean shot. “Rolling,” he responded, right before the resounding shot rang out, the white smoke wafting right to left in the breeze. We heard the familiar thwack of the report from the bullet finding its mark and we watched the buck run out of the trees and tip over in the wide open.
The camera panned back from the buck and over to Red and I as we hugged with excitement. “That was awesome!” Red exclaimed as we sat there for a moment recapping the events of the day. I had just done a first in my life. I just got my first muzzleloader muley. My first muzzleloader ANYTHING for that matter. It was a proud and exhilarating day. I had been hunting for 3 decades with either a shotgun, a compound bow or a rifle and now I can add muzzleloader to my repertoire. I knew at that moment, standing there in a Utah boulder field, that I had just expanded my hunting horizons for the rest of my life.
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