Muzzle-Loaders Find Sport's No Flash in Pan

By From the Missouri Dept. of Conservation | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 1, 1995 | Go to article overview

Muzzle-Loaders Find Sport's No Flash in Pan


From the Missouri Dept. of Conservation, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Jim Keefe remembers the time when he finally managed to call a big wild turkey gobbler within range of his muzzle-loading shotgun. He took aim and pulled the trigger, which produced a shower of sparks and puff of smoke. The brief silence that followed was broken by the sound of startled turkeys fleeing.

As he watched his turkey dinner depart on foot, Keefe realized with dismay that the priming charge in his flintlock's flash-pan had failed to ignite the main charge. He had always known that "a flash in the pan" meant "a disappointment." But on that day the expression from pioneer days took on a new depth of meaning.

Keefe, who lives in Jefferson City, is one of 15,000 or so Missourians who have traded the sure efficiency of modern firearms for the colorful past. Their rifles and shotguns must be loaded from the front end. The black powder used in muzzle-loading firearms produces clouds of white smoke. But muzzleloading enthusiasts willingly accept the handicaps inherent in their sport.

These historic firearms don't have as long a range as modern guns. They only fire once, and reloading takes time. And, of course, the hunter who fails to "keep his powder dry" can experience a misfire, forfeiting the opportunity to make a kill.

Nevertheless, black-powder hunters believe that what they give up in game-killing convenience they more than recoup in other ways.

For Butch Hilkemeyer, Freeburg, part of the allure of muzzle-loading lies in getting a taste of what his pioneer forebears experienced. "I like getting out there and hunting like they did 150 years ago," he says.

A century and a half ago, hunters had to make their own hunting gear, and so does Hilkemeyer. He has made his own powder horn, knife, ball starter and capper. He wears hunting clothes made of wool instead of high-tech fabrics, and he fashioned his "capote" hunting coat out of a wool blanket the way mountain men did.

Butch's father, Norb, got him and his two brothers started in black- powder hunting 15 or 20 years ago, by buying each of them a .54-caliber percussion rifle for Christmas. "It was something new in this area back then," says Butch. "For a long time we just shot target with them. I first hunted deer with my muzzleloader eight or 10 years ago, before there was a special deer season for muzzleloaders."

Missouri's special muzzle-loader deer season is another reward that hunters who use muzzle-loading firearms get in return for the handicaps they accept. They are allowed to hunt deer during the 11-day modern gun season, plus a nine-day muzzle-loaders-only season in December. This year muzzle-loader season runs from Saturday through Dec. 10.

The opportunity to spend more time afield is a welcome bonus for Hilkemeyer, who was moving toward less technological hunting methods before he got a muzzleloader.

"I went from a scoped .30-30 to iron sights looking for more of a challenge," he says. "Muzzle-loading was just the next step. It's kind of hard to explain. I could take my Weatherby .270 and kill a deer at 400 yards. But with a muzzle-loader, I have to be a better hunter. I have to be patient and get closer. …

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