TOPTON According to Dave Ehrig, just the challenge of taking a deer – or any game animal – with a muzzleloader rifle makes it a trophy.

That is especially so for those who hunt during Pennsylvania's flintlock deer season, which opens statewide Monday through Saturday, Jan. 15, and remains open in Wildlife Management Unit 5C through Saturday, Jan. 29.

Ehrig has been hunting with all forms and types of muzzleloaders for more than 40 years and currently serves as chairman of The Longhunter Society, the North American big game records program of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association.

Using the Boone and Crockett scoring system, the LHS has lower minimum standards for its records, but it also recognizes all hunters who take an animal by fair chase.

"We believe that all game taken with a muzzleloader should be honored, and for that distinction, we have a pin/certificate program for non-trophy entries," Ehrig said during a recent practice session at the range on his Berks County farm.

"To participate, a photo of the hunter and game taken with the muzzleloader used should be submitted with $10 to NMLRA/LHS Pin Program, Box 67, Friendship, Ind. 47021.

"In addition to including your name and address, we would like a short description of the hunt. We publish photos in the "trophy room" link of our website at www.nmlra.org [1], and they are inspiring, but also watch for the gallery in "Muzzle Blasts" magazine, as we picture successful non-trophy entries four times a year."

When the NMLRA was considering a name for its big game program, which began in 1988, "longhunter" was a natural. It was selected because the term "longhunter" was used to denote the length of time away from home early pioneers spent in order to harvest game.

"While our parent organization, the NMLRA was founded in 1933 by a group of muzzleloaders who celebrated this single shot sport in all of its myriad and inspiring forms, we too accept hunting trophies taken with all forms of muzzleloading guns," Ehrig said. "Acceptable trophies include animals harvested with rifles, smoothbores and pistols; any matchlock, wheel lock, flintlock and percussions ignition systems in all forms.

"Sights can range from open iron, through aperture, fiber optic and telescopic and illuminated LEDs and are all accepted as long as the gun is loaded from the muzzle. If a state game agency allows the use of the muzzleloader and legally sanctions its ignition and sighting apparatus, and if the game animal was taken through fair chance, then we accept the trophy as a legal entry."

While Pennsylvania remains the only state that has a special season for flintlock muzzleloaders, approximately 3.6 million muzzleloader hunters enjoy the sport with a myriad of ignition forms. That is why the LHS accepts any record quality North American animal to honor the game animal, the state wildlife agencies conservation efforts and the skills of the hunter that put them into a shooting position to harvest the game.

In 1992, the first "Longhunter Muzzleloading Big Game Record Book" was published and the fifth edition of the book is now available. This hardcover book is comprised of thousands of entries and scores of photos for 32 types of big game animals.

Membership in the NMLRA is not a requirement for submitting a trophy for the record book or pin/certificate program, but certain other requirements must be met. By including the location where every trophy animal was taken, the book serves as a tool to identify hot spots for hunting trophy animals.

"There have been many changes to the Longhunter Society in the past few years, but thanks to the far sightedness of the NMLRA board, officers and LHS committee, we have been encouraged to rededicate our efforts to accomplish the original mission and vision of the founders," Ehrig said. "Whitetail deer, the original game animal in the program, has been restored as our symbol, and it has approximately 1,500 entries far more than most all of the others combined.

"It doesn't matter if a hunter takes a big-rack buck or a "trophy" doe, if they take it with a muzzleloader, they should be proud of the accomplishment. I still have my back tag, so I'm looking forward to having five more weeks of "buck" season in WMU 5C."

For additional information on the LHS, contact Dave Ehrig at DEhrig@aol.com [2]. For information about the NMLRA, access the website at www.nmlra.org [1] .