I haven't participated in the muzzleloader deer hunt in a couple of years, but I've got a secret spot all staked out for next Saturday's opening morning. The hunt will continue through Jan. 1.
This is a particularly popular hunt in Carroll County. Last year 225 whitetails were bagged by buckskinners here.
That may seem like a small number compared to the bow kill, but bear in mind that while the bow hunt stretches from September to January, the front-loader hunters are limited to two weeks following the biggest deer hunt of the year (the modern firearms hunt) and spaced around holidays and periods of really nasty weather.
Speaking of nasty weather, the buckskin gang may get a long overdue break this year because of the deflated modern firearms bag due to less-than-ideal hunting conditions two out of the three Saturdays of the season. If the weather cooperates, don't be surprised to see a muzzleloader tally in excess of 450.
Just because I haven't participated in the muzzleloader hunt in a while doesn't mean that I'm a stranger to the front-loaders.
Bradley Vosburg, Maryland's guru of muzzleloading and TC hometown boy, got me interested in burning black powder years ago. I shoot my .50-caliber Thompson/Center cap lock regularly, though informally, throughout the year.
I've asked a handful of experienced local muzzleloaders for some advice to pass along for the coming hunt. They said:
* Before you load, be sure to clean and dry the nipple area completely of any oil or other fluids. Then, pop a couple of caps before you load.
* Most misfires are due to damp caps, not wet powder. If you have to hunt in wet or damp weather, change the caps a couple of times during the day. Also, as added insurance against a wet-induced misfire, use a balloon-type muzzle cover.
* If you do get a misfire when pulling the trigger on a deer, sit perfectly still. The deer probably will only run a few yards and then go back to its routine. Slip another cap on when it turns away and make your shot count.
* The most accurate load is usually someplace less than the full maximum charge. In the popular .50 caliber, this is usually someplace between 90 and 100 grains of black powder.
* Seat your ball or maxi-ball with the same pressure from the ramrod for dependable accuracy, and when using a conical bullet, be sure to guide it squarely into the bore before ramming it home.
* Have a quick loader ready for a follow-up shot, if needed. The standard reloading time all muzzleloaders should master involves three aimed shots in one minute.
To participate in this hunt, your rifle must be at least .40 caliber and use not less than 60 grains of black powder or an equivalent amount of Pyrodex.
Unless you have a documented eye problem, only iron sights may be used -- no scopes.
You can use a single shot or revolver for this hunt, but it must be a black-powder arm, at least .40 caliber, use no less than 40 grains of black powder and have at least a 6-inch barrel.
You are required to wear the normal amounts of blaze orange for personal safety.
New rules at reservoirs
Thanks almost solely to the efforts of the Maryland Aquatic Resource Coalition, an organization composed of thousands of state sportsmen, regulations permitting live bait fishing at Liberty, Prettyboy and Loch Raven reservoirs will take effect Feb. 14.
The regulation involves a simple live bait certification furnished by local bait dealers and is necessary due to the zebra mussel panic instigated by Baltimore City officials two years ago.
That move, based on the existence of a zebra mussel infestation of some upper New York state waters, brought about a shutdown of recreational fishing at the city-owned reservoirs, which affected thousands of area anglers.
Liberty, which separates Baltimore and Carroll counties, always has been an extremely popular local fishing hole, as is, to a slightly lesser extent, Prettyboy.