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
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. …