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What is muzzle loaded hunting? A Pictou County hunter explains

James Agnew, front, and his father Fraser Agnew fire muzzle loaded guns at a rifle range in Pictou County.
James Agnew, front, and his father Fraser Agnew fire muzzle loaded guns at a rifle range in Pictou County. - Adam MacInnis
NEW GLASGOW, N.S. —

For three seconds after you pull the trigger you see nothing. Suspense is all you feel.

It's the biggest thrill of it all, says James Agnew.

For the last five years Agnew has been deer hunting with a muzzle loaded rifle almost exclusively

"With a traditional rifle you can see when you're shooting if it's going down," he said. "With these, you've got like three seconds of smoke. You can't see. It's nothing but pure smoke in front of you."

If you were to look at it practically, muzzle loaded hunting has few tactical advantages to offer – they don't shoot as far as more modern rifles and you don't get second chances if you miss.

But still this primitive styled rifle is making a resurgence in Nova Scotia. According to stats from the Nova Scotia Department of  Natural Resources, the number of people buying stamps to hunt with bows and muzzle loaded rifles has more than doubled in the last five years from 6,354 issued in 2014 to 13,493 issued in 2018. (DNR staff were unable to provide a breakdown of what percentage was muzzle loaded and what was bow hunting.)

While slightly more modern in design than the muskets that early settlers would have used in Nova Scotia, the concept of these rifles is much the same.  Agnew explains that there are three main components. You have the projectile, powder (which now can be purchased in a pellet form) and a primer which is used to ignite the powder. All are carefully packed into the barrel of the gun using a ramrod.

"Anybody who just grabs this gun and thinks they're going to go shoot a deer -- good luck. You need some time on the range."

Agnew's father had hunted with a traditional musket many years ago and about five years ago Agnew, his father and brother all decided to try it again.
In Nova Scotia muzzle loaded hunting season typically starts two weeks prior to regular rifle season. It also offers hunters like Agnew the chance to get two deer stamps- one with a muzzle loaded stamp and one with a general stamp.

Otherwise the rules are the same as traditional hunting. You have to have a Nova Scotia Wildlife Resources Client Card, a valid Nova Scotia Hunting Licence and a Wildlife Habitat Stamp. 
Because of the style of the gun and the nature of hunting with one, everything about muzzle loaded hunting is precise. 

A muzzle loaded gun has to be kept immaculately clean and can't have any oil in the barrel. The guns are actually washed with soapy water and carefully dried.
The amount of powder or pellets has to be carefully measured as well to ensure that there isn't too much in the barrel that could cause it to explode.  Most hunters put a mark on their ramrod at the point it should be when then gun is properly loaded. After the powder is in the barrel the hunters have to make sure that it doesn't get any moisture.

Agnew said it's important to practise with one before hunting.

"Anybody who just grabs this gun and thinks they're going to go shoot a deer -- good luck. You need some time on the range."

James Agnew, shows some of the equipment he uses when hunting. He enjoys using a muzzle loaded gun. ADAM MACINNIS/THE NEWS
James Agnew, shows some of the equipment he uses when hunting. He enjoys using a muzzle loaded gun. ADAM MACINNIS/THE NEWS

 

When he first started shooting, Agnew said he would try to keep one eye open and one on the sights to see if he could see the deer fall, but he said it's impossible.

That's why hunters using muzzle loaded guns must make sure that the deer is within range and that they have a clear shot. Agnew recommends hunters set up in a location where the clearing is no more than the distance of their gun. That way they won't accidentally shoot at a deer that's too far away. 

The muzzle loaded gun he uses is sighted in for 100 yards and he said can safely be used to shoot a deer between 100 and 125 yards away. Once he shot one that was 150 yards away and it dropped instantly, but he doesn't recommend pushing the limits that much.

"You only get one shot. The deer's not going to stand waiting for you," he said, pointing out that it takes about 45 seconds to a minute to reload.

Agnew has already got one deer this year and is hoping to get a second with his general season license. He plans to use his muzzle loaded rifle for that as well.

"I'm not saying I'll never use a rifle again, but I enjoy this more than anything," he said.

He believes hunting is a nice way to get out in nature and can also help address an overpopulation of deer in certain dangerous areas.

"If you're seeing dead deer in the same spot continuously, you know there's deer in there," he said. "Go up and stop them from getting hit by cars."

Start up costs for muzzle loaded hunting can be as low as $700, Agnew said. The supplies and rifles can be purchased at most hunting supply stores.

"A lot of people are probably nervous about getting into it but once they did it and fired it I think anyone would enjoy it."

DID YOU KNOW?

Food banks will accept deer meat donations as long as it's been processed by a certified butcher.

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