I suppose that the title to this article probably did a decent job of catching your attention, didn’t it? I mean, who shoots (let alone hunts with) muzzleloading shotguns in the year 2018? I’ll admit that the number of us that do isn’t astronomical. However, there is a small, dedicated, and hopefully growing group of us. It is entirely fair to call it the path less traveled.
First off, let’s look at why this particular path is not exactly trodden by the many feet of the masses.
- No muzzleloader shotgun specific seasons.
No seasons mean smaller market and thus fewer manufactured
- Lower production, as well as most being of a double barrel design, mean that prices are often higher.
- Intimidation; the management of such arms is more complex than the use of modern shotguns.
The lack of special hunting seasons is very likely the main reason for the obscurity of the practice of hunting with such arms. Like rifles, there are very few originals around that are in good enough condition to actively hunt with. There are some pristine or high-grade examples that are far too valuable to be treated to rough field use. So I’ll just say those are outside the scope of this article. There are certainly newly manufactured examples of muzzleloading shotguns available in traditional as well as modern inlines. They are not overly common and can be somewhat more expensive than their rifled counterparts.
At this juncture, I think it’s fitting to discuss why someone would want to take a stroll down this sparsely traveled trail we call muzzleloader shotgunning. I believe that we can glean some inspiration from the archers of the world regarding this. There is something to be said about trying to connect with the past. Even if the equipment is less than traditional in design. The compound bow and the inline muzzleloader have more in common than it would seem.
What is it like? Well, I’m very glad you asked. There was something very special about the first time that I loaded a black powder shotgun and sat in a ground blind in a carefully scouted location. The early morning calm and quiet shattered by the sudden (and a bit unexpected) gobble of a big Merriam’s Tom turkey. Followed with the flapping of wings and crashing of the flock as they descended from their nightly roost. I still remember the excitement of seeing his tail fan materializing out of the early morning fog weaving towards me through the pines. It is really something that you will never forget.
Anyone who has seriously hunted turkeys can relate to the last paragraph, to be sure. However, this is where the difference ends. I was using a muzzleloading shotgun that was made in the 1850’s. Imagine what was racing through my head! Would the fog and dampness cause a misfire? Will the cap on the nipple ignite the main charge as it was supposed to? Would the cylinder bore barrel keep the pattern tight enough to do the job? Could I call the bird in close enough to do the deed? Were the “speedloaders” in my possibles bag going to allow me to be quick enough for a second shot if I needed it? I had shot the old piece twice before to check its pattern. Though, I was also not certain how many times it would hold up to a full load as it was not in the best condition.
To say that all of this added up to be an exciting morning would be a gross understatement. Alas, success did not come that morning or on several other mornings. I later filled my turkey tag with a modern 12-gauge shotgun. BUT…I was determined to master the art of hunting the grand birds with a muzzleloading shotgun!
Like my interest in muzzleloading rifles, my interest in muzzleloading shotguns does not center around only the traditional. I am an equal opportunity muzzleloading enthusiast in that I shoot and hunt with them all. Enter the Knight Rifles TK2000 shotgun.
After retiring my antique shotgun due to safety concerns, I decided to try the big Knight shotgun out. Using an inline ignition with Knight’s “full plastic jacket” on a #209 primer, the fog and dampness wouldn’t be as much of a concern. The adjustable fiber optic rifle sights were certainly a blessing in the dim of the first few minutes of shooting light. The Green Mountain brand barrel on the shotgun is also interesting in that it utilizes a “jug choke” inside the barrel as well as an external choke that threads onto the muzzle. All of this makes for a wonderful muzzleloading shotgun indeed. However, I should stress, it is still NOT a modern shotgun with extra full choke tube with a tubular magazine holding multiple modern turkey shells.
My first few mornings out with the TK2000 were very similar to my outings with the antique percussion shotgun. My first encounter with a turkey was actually a success only in that I learned a valuable lesson from it. Knight firearms have a “second safety” on the rear of their striker assembly. There is a captured nut that can be unscrewed thus showing a red stripe that means “fire”. When this nut is screwed in, it blocks forward movement of the striker and thus acts as a safety. I had the nut unscrewed far enough to see the red stripe though it was not ALL the way to the rear. When I squeezed the trigger on that big bird, a loud CLICK and a bird who was hell-bent for the horizon were all I got for my troubles. LESSON LEARNED.
After that first debacle of a hunt, I later mastered the TK2000 and honestly grew to love it. Believe it or not even more than my modern shotguns. I have taken several turkeys with it, for some of which I was accompanied by my young son. I have also used it to harvest small game such as squirrels and mountain grouse.
On the second trip out with the TK2000 (after mastering the secondary safety), I made it to a little piece of heaven in western Montana where I suspected a flock of Merriam’s turkeys may pass through. The fall season in Montana is quite long, running from September through the new year, so it can pay to be patient. In the fall, either sex is fair game and you can even use a rifle or handgun to hunt them. While I’m not opposed to any legal method of hunting, I was going to be using a muzzleloading shotgun or nothing. The only real downside can be the unpredictable weather at that time of year.
However, on this day the stars all seemed to be lining up quite nicely. Shooting light was coming on strong and the birds were right where I had hoped they would be. The only flaw in my plan was a small draw that separated me from them. I suspected they would not cross it. This was going to increase the range of my shot considerably and may have even cost me my shot completely. BUT, at this point, I was committed and was determined to follow it through to whatever end. As a hunter, what else can you really do?
So, I stayed the course, and by “stayed the course” I actually mean that I stayed put on my side of the small draw. It may as well have been the Grand Canyon as far as the turkeys were concerned. The birds played their part in this little drama to perfection while I muddled my way through mine. It wasn’t long until a curious bird made his way to the edge of the draw. After all, who wouldn’t want to look into the Grand Canyon? I knew the range was at my limit but I was sure it was doable. I lined those big beautiful sights up on that bird’s big beautiful head and slowly began to squeeze the trigger.
While that little draw may have been the Grand Canyon to those birds, the infinitesimally small distance the trigger had to travel before cleanly breaking was mine! But break it did! Had the shot flown true? Was the bird down? I couldn’t tell because of the billowing cloud of smoke from the Goex FFG real black powder that was hanging in the air. I’ll tell you this, seeing that bird down for the count through the dissipating smoke was one of the most satisfying things my eyes have ever beheld!
The more traditionally styled guns are also an attractive option. I frequently use a contemporary percussion double 12 bore that was made in Italy fairly recently and imported by Navy Arms. Though I have not yet hunted turkeys with this gun, I have used it for grouse, squirrels, and other misc. small game. This pursuit provides a seemingly endless amount of fun and challenge to my life.
There is a hellishly steep slab of forested rock in Northwest Montana that is known as “Glenn’s Grouse Mountain”. I was recently on this mountain hunting mountain grouse. I was traversing an old overgrown logging road that had been cut into the side of a steep portion of the mountain. There were pine limbs near my eye level though the trees they were attached to were actually growing over 30 ft below me. The slope itself was covered in loose, wet shale and continued on down out of sight and into the thick fog. God only knows how far that slope goes down because I damn sure don’t.
While walking the old road I came upon a grouse perched on a limb at nearly eye level with me. I froze and ever so slowly cocked my right-side hammer to the full cock position as quietly as I could. If you have ever done anything like this, then you know how exciting it can be to hope the small “click” doesn’t spook the game. My shot was true and the grouse tumbled off his perch. Much to my dismay, he kept on tumbling right on out of sight down the slope and into the fog. I had found myself right smack dab in the middle of a moral dilemma.
However, there was only one real answer; a recovery effort MUST be made. So, over the slope, I went…and went…and went. The entire time I was sliding ever more downward on that wet shale I was thinking that this is how someone ends up a statistic. But not long after sliding to a stop, I found my prize. The climb back up that slope was one of the most grueling climbs I have ever endured and it took what seemed like forever. I seriously question whether anyone else has ever sweated so much for such a small prize! But a prize it was and I was very proud of it.
It tasted wonderful though its tumble had pretty much ruined it for any good photography opportunities. It just goes to show you that there is more than one way to judge what you consider to be a real trophy. That small bird meant as much to me as any set of antlers I’ve ever hung on my wall.
I sincerely hope that this humble piece of wordsmithing has opened your mind up enough to consider broadening your horizons in the hunting fields. There’s an entire world of adventure waiting out there if you’re willing to be open minded and give it a shot. (pun intended) Thanks to the internet and sites like EHUNTR, technical (as well as moral) support are always at your fingertips.