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Muzzleloader hunters have many options

No matter what the appearance of the rifle, Pennsylvania's antlerless muzzleloader deer season provides a unique one-shot challenge for hunters.

This year's eight-day antlerless muzzleloader season opens Saturday, Oct. 18, and continues through Saturday, Oct. 25.In addition to having a muzzleloader stamp, an antlerless license for the wildlife management unit or a Deer Management Assistance Permit are required for the area being hunted, but there are no restrictions on the type of rifle being used, as is the case during the post-Christmas flintlock season.Most hunters who have participated in the flintlock season for decades will chose to use these rifles - which provide the ultimate one-shot challenge - in the antlerless season.Others who are less familiar or less confident with flintlock ignitions will opt to use side-hammer percussion rifles that have been popular since the late 1830s.Others, especially those who hunt in states where there are no restrictions on muzzleloader ignitions, will use a rifle with an inline ignition.These are often referred to as "modern" muzzleloaders, and when equipped with optics and the optimum load are capable of making shots of 200 yards or more - which are usually not encountered in the Pennsylvania woods of October.A .50-caliber percussion muzzleloader loaded with sabots, no matter if a side hammer or inline, can match the performance of a .30-30 cartridge for woods hunting. When the same rifle is loaded with a heavier conical bullet it is capable of matching the performance of the .45-70 Government cartridge.Almost all flintlock muzzleloaders are designed to give the best performance when loaded with the same patched roundball loads that were used more than 250 years ago. Pennsylvania Game Commission regulations require rifles.45 caliber and larger must be used for deer hunting, but most of these historic reproduction muzzleloaders, no matter if flintlock or percussion, are manufactured in .50 caliber and some rifles in .54 caliber are available.Because inline muzzleloaders are designed to shoot bullets instead of roundballs and can be charged with more powerful propellants that traditional blackpowder almost all are .50 caliber.When using an inline there is no need to experiment with the right load because the manufactures list how many grains of loose propellant is needed or how many pellets are needed for specific distances.When using a historic reproduction muzzleloader it is still best to find how many grains of blackpowder is needed in a flintlock or how many grains of powder or reproduction propellant is needed for maximum performance.A rule of thumb is to begin with as many gains as the caliber of the rifle to sighting-in at 25 yards and then increase the charge for more power without affecting the point of impact.Traditional muzzleloaders loaded with roundballs should have the same point of impact at 25 yards as they do at 100 yards as the ball is still on the rise at 25 yards and dropping at 100 yards. After sighting-in the rifle at 25 yards practice at 50 yards, as one can expect shots between 50-70 yards in the woods.Yes, the appearance and performance of muzzleloader rifles have undergone some dramatic changes since the days of the Jamestown Colony. What has remained the same is the challenge of taking a deer with one shot.

Hunters participating in the antlerless muzzleloader season have the option of using rifles, from left, with inline, traditional percussion or flintlock ignitions and a variety of projectiles and synthetic or traditional blackpowder.