Black Powder, White Ground

I have been hunting with muzzleloaders and black powder for over two decades. I started by building my first muzzleloader from a kit. I recall the time it took to properly brown the hexagon barrel of that Thompson/Center .50-caliber Hawken.

I also remember the pride of accomplishment I felt as that first buck fell on the other side of a cloud of smoke.

For the past several years I have done the vast majority of my deer hunting with a muzzleloader. My Black Diamond performed flawlessly for many seasons. Last season, however, I made the move to another T/C offering, the Encore. This is, without doubt, the finest front-stuffer I have ever fired.

I must admit though, black powder rifles have come a long way since I assembled that kit in the early 80s. This in-line style, break-open action and #209 primer of the Encore has propelled muzzleloader shooting into the 21st Century. Sabot projectiles and Pyrodex pellets also have been very useful advancements in the evolution of muzzleloader technology.

Drawn In December
One December, I was lucky enough to have been drawn for a Kansas, non-resident deer hunting permit. I had my Encore scoped and sighted-in. Shooting from a bench, a 4-inch, 150-yard, three-shot group was much easier to achieve then with any other such rifle I have used. My first tight group came within the first 20 shots out of the gun.

The weather before my hunt had been warm and dry for several weeks. That didn’t matter because my experience has been to be prepared for anything in December. The thought of over packing did cross my mind as I loaded my truck for the eight-hour drive to southeast Kansas. As it turned out, I was very glad I packed everything that I did.

I drove all afternoon on Friday before opening day, arriving in camp just before dark. This Kansas camp was arranged by Brad Harris of Lohman Game Calls. We were to have four hunters and four cameramen, in an attempt to get some good hunts on film for an upcoming Lohman deer hunting video.

At 10 p.m. on Friday, night freezing rain turned into serious sleet. The forecast was calling for 8 inches to 12 inches of snow, on top of the ice, for Saturday and Saturday night. Unfortunately, the forecasters were right. When I stepped outside at 4 a.m., it was a “white-out” blizzard. It was, at the very least, disheartening.

But we were there to deer hunt, so my cameraman, Doug Musick, and I bundled-up and headed-out to a stand of thick timber. Our thoughts were that deer movement during the storm would be seriously curtailed. If they did move, it would most likely be within the cover of timber.

Terrible Hunting Conditions
It was a miserable morning with bitter cold — as miserable as I have ever experienced in the field. The temperature was in the low teens, and the wind was in the high 20s. And it snowed over 5 inches on us in the few hours we spent in the stand that morning. At noon we had to come in to warm up. We were numb.

During lunch one of the other hunters asked me about using a muzzleloader in such harsh conditions. I was the only one in camp shooting a muzzle-loading rifle. I assured him that the gun was capable of withstanding more and performing better in the current conditions than its owner.

“I’m not worried about the Encore,” I told him. “I just hope I’m not shaking too bad if I do get a shot.”

That afternoon the storm passed, leaving about 10 inches of cold, white powder on the ground. The good news was we had blue skies and the deer started moving. Musick and I saw several does and a couple of young bucks before sunset. We were once again frozen, but we also were now encouraged.

It was great news to learn that one of the other hunters had taken a nice 10-pointer on film at about 4 p.m. He was not a huge buck, but on a day like this he was plenty good.

Sunday morning was just as cold, but at least all the snow was now on the ground, instead of blowing in our faces. We decided to hunt a different stand that allowed us to see and cover more territory. Musick climbed into a stand just above my ladder stand. We were set just before sunrise.

It was midmorning before we saw any movement besides coyotes. A young 8-pointer stepped-out and walked across a clear-cut natural gas line. He was never aware of our presence as he passed 10 yards from our stand. “That was great video,” Musick said. “I just wish he had been bigger.”

A Quick Thaw, Lunch
At 11:30 a.m. we went to the truck to thaw-out and grab a snack. Musick and I decided we needed to get back to the stand as quickly as possible. We were anticipating some mid-day movement — especially since there had been none the day before.

Taking a buck with a Thompson Center Encore in the snow was a real thrill for the author. (Photos by Doug Musick)

I should mention, at this point, that when you are filming a hunt, it is a team effort. Both the hunter and the cameraman must participate in the plan and the execution of that plan. Both members have a job to do and neither aspect of the project can operate separately.

The bright sun on the deep snow made me wish for sunglasses as we once again climbed the frozen tree. I could hear Musick open some hand-warmers once the camera was set on the tree-pod.

It was just before 3 p.m. when I caught some movement across the clearing. With binoculars, I could see it was a buck, but could not see the antlers clearly. I alerted Musick and heard the video camera turn on. “I got him,” he whispered. By this time I had my Encore up and was watching the deer through my scope.

“He’s an 8-pointer,” I said quietly, “about 17 inches wide.” The buck was about 150 yards away, moving slowly through the snow-packed timber. I grunted to him with a Lohman Grunt Tube. He stopped and threw his head up.

A Shooter
“What do you think?” Musick asked. “I wish he was bigger,” I replied. “But if he steps out in the open for good film, I’ll take him. You call the shot.”

Mike Roux’s .50-caliber Encore proved itself in the toughest possible conditions for a muzzleloader.

For about five minutes we watched the deer meander around across the gas line. I grunted again. Now he turned, taking roughly the same path as the smaller buck did that morning. Ten yards into the clearing Musick whispered, “any time.” The buck was about 75 yards out, so I waited until he presented a broadside shot.

The smoke from the Encore spoiled my view of the hit, but Musick got it all. The buck crossed the gas line, disappearing into the timber on our side. “Looked like a good hit,” my cameraman said. “Let’s shoot some “B-roll” and then go get him,” he added.

Between the tracks in the snow and the blood on top of it, following the buck a mere 70 yards was no big deal. The Encore performed like a champ even in the severe conditions.

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