KEMPTON - In the mind of Greg Dixon, his choice of firearms for a Western Plains mule deer hunt in Montana was a no-brainer.
From his earliest days afield, Dixon has always appreciated the history behind the firearms he chose for a hunt. And some of his earliest hunting memories are of taking deer in the mountains of Pennsylvania with a rifle that could have been used some 300 years ago by another Berks Countian -- Daniel Boone.
Dixon cut his hunting teeth using flintlock muzzleloader rifles, including a few originals, but most that had been built by his father, Chuck, or himself. That is not a surprise, considering the father-and-son team have built their Dixon Muzzleloader Shop near Kempton into the largest walk-in blackpowder and muzzleloader gun shop in the nation.
Located less than five minutes north of the Lenhartsville exit of Interstate 78, Dixon's is much more than just a retail outlet. Over the years, Dixon and his father have build a private collection of historical firearms, spanning the Colonial Era through World War II, that is on display in the store and rivals those of some museums.
Being able to work every day in such an environment, it is understandable why Dixon gets the most satisfaction when hunting by using original antique or reproduction firearms. So, when it came time for his hunt on the Great Plains, he decided it would be done with blackpowder cartridge rifles.
Today, finding a sound, reliable antique rifle designed to shoot blackpowder loads is as easy as attending gun shows that feature antique firearms like those held by the Forks of the Delaware Historical Arms Society. Its final show of the year will be Saturday, Dec. 5, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 6, from 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m., at the Allentown Fairgrounds.
According to Ed Kennedy of Ed's Sports Shop, Tamaqua, it is surprising how often people discover antique blackpowder cartridge rifles, especially Springfield trapdoor models, that had belonged to a relative. In most cases, these rifles are brought into guns shops to be sold on consignment.
Because of the increasing interest in hunting big game with single-shot rifles, several manufactures are now producing replicas of antique models. These antique rifles and modern replicas are especially popular with those who appreciate their historical significance.
That was the case with Dixon, who booked his hunt with Powder River Outfitters, near Broadus, Montana. Located in the southeast portion of the state, the region is as rich in history as it is big game.
Into the early 1900s, cowboys still used their Winchesters in the area to protect themselves and livestock, but Dixon went with the choice of the buffalo hunters -- a Sharps rifle chambered in .45-70. In addition, two other black powder cartridge firearms accompanied him on the hunt.
A living history re-enactor, Dixon also took an original Springfield trapdoor rifle in .45-70, which were used by the U.S. Calvary. As a sidearm, he chose a reproduction Smith and Wesson American model Schofield revolver in .45 Colt, which was the favorite handgun of Jesse James.
All three firearms earned notches on the hunt, with the Springfield taking a doe mule deer and the Schofield a prairie dog. It was the Sharps, however, that took the real trophy – a 5x5 buck mule deer with matching "sticker" points on each side.
"Without a scoped, high-power rifle, I was looking for opportunity more than a specific size," said Dixon, who hunted an area near the opening campaign of the 1876 Indian War, which is best known for the Battle of the Little Bighorn. "Also, I was shooting hand-loaded, blackpowder cartridges, which meant taking a shot no farther than 200 yards.
"You just hope for the best, and luck was with me because we saw my buck the first morning of the hunt. I hit it square in the shoulder at 170 yards, and when it turned to walk off, it just dropped over."
While luck plays a role in every hunt, the performance of reproduction and quality original blackpowder cartridge rifles in .45-70 is impressive when an opportunity such as Dixon's presents itself. For that reason, these rifles are a viable way for hunters to expand their blackpowder hunting experience and make some history of their own.
For more information on blackpowder cartridge firearms, contact the Dixon Muzzleloader Shop at 610-756-6271, or visit on the Web at www.dixonmuzzleloading.com.