Recovering a Part of Montana’s Hunting Heritage

Recovering a Part of Montana’s Hunting Heritage

Six good hunters of the party fired at a Brown or Yellow Bear Several times before they killed him, & indeed he had like to have defeated the whole party, he pursued them Seperately as they fired on him, and was near Catching Several of them one he pursued into the river, this bear was large & fat would way about 500 wt

~William Clark, May 15, 1805

Reaching into the throes of history to hunt much in the same way Lewis and Clark with the Corps of Discovery did two hundred years ago, gives you an appreciation for their efforts and makes us wonder how we would fare with the same equipment. The Montana Muzzleloader Heritage Season does that, but with a bit less of the flair of the dramatic. For nine days, hunters who choose to limit their weapons technology will be able to recapture that experience in many of the same places those explorers hunted themselves. 

Photo courtesy of CVA Instagram:
For those just picking up a traditional muzzleloader a hearty welcome and a healthy warning.  The allure of simpler times and simpler ways can be overwhelming.  You will likely find a new passion that will open other hunting opportunities across the west.  (This past season I drew an antelope muzzleloader license for Idaho, where the same restrictions require primitive rifles.)  But, proficiency with a traditional muzzleloader rifle will require an investment of your time and patience to hone your skills and develop a load.  You will also begin to see the limits of your own ability and that of the rifle.  Myself, I limit shots to under 100 yards, preferring that my targets be half again closer. 

If you have yet to pick up a muzzleloader, you will find the supply is experiencing similar constraints as rifles and ammunition.  I purchased my Lyman Great Plains Hunter .50 caliber from a small store in Missouri after a three-month search.  I waited a further seven months before I was able to track down a peep sight and only after bartering a few elk waypoints.  Powder and percussion caps can also be difficult to find.  What that means is if your plans are to participate in this new muzzleloader season, you have some work to do.  Finding everything you need will only be the beginning.  

"...this new season is an excellent time to join another hunter and experience hunting as it was 200 years ago."

I recommend finding a mentor to help you enter muzzleloading to prevent bad habits and unfortunate experiences.  A mentor will advise you on what gear (known as your “possibles bag”) you need to get started.  They will also shorten the learning curve on care, loading, and firing of a muzzleloader.  If they are generous, they may even share their powder and caps along with the recipes they have found to be effective for their rifles. Local reenactment groups, mountain men organizations, and traditional muzzleloader associations are eager to find new participants to pass on the rich heritage.  And while it might be too late for a greenhorn traditional muzzleloader hunter to be fully prepared, this new season is an excellent time to join another hunter and experience hunting as it was 200 years ago.

For those of us already familiar with the primitive methods of hunting, you have likely already sighted in your rifle and recently greased barrel. However, if your muzzleloader has been of the modern variety you will want to make sure that you are aware of restrictions to the Montana late muzzleloader season. First, only traditional muzzleloaders with open ignition systems are allowed. That means if you have an inline muzzleloader it's time to add a rifle to the cabinet.  Open ignition systems can be percussion cap, flintlock, or if you really want to reach back, matchlock. When you examine your load your powder and bullet also have limitations. Pelletized powder will need to be replaced with loose powder and bullets can only be lead with no plastic belts or tips. Conical bullets that are pure lead are allowed for the Montana muzzleloader heritage season and increase the accuracy of your traditional muzzleloader while still maintaining the spirit of the hunt. The .45 caliber minimum will be effective on both deer and elk, but moving into an .50 or .54 caliber can help stop an elk in its tracks. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has put out a flyer to help hunter’s better understand the traditional muzzleloader definition. The Montana Heritage Muzzleloader Season 2021 season begins on December 11 and is open until the the 19th. There isn’t a stamp required to hunt with a traditional muzzleloader and any deer or elk license that was good on the last day of the general season will be valid during the nine-day hunt.