“The deer’s at 330 yards. Take your pack off, and get ready to take the shot,” my guide and friend Chris Denham told me many years ago when we hunted Coues deer in Arizona. No, I wasn’t shooting with a muzzleloader, but the lesson I learned at that hunt has helped me to have more success with my blackpowder gun since then. I looked at Denham and said, “I’m a better hunter than that.” He frowned and said, “What does that mean?” I explained, “In Alabama, where I hunt, we’ll slip-up on a deer like that and get within 50 or 100 yards before we take the shot.” Denham smiled and said, “You’re not in Alabama. It’ll take us at least 1-1/2-hours to reach where that deer is. Dark’s coming in 30 minutes. This is the only buck that we’ve seen in 5 days of hunting. Can you follow instructions?” I smiled and answered, “Oh yeah, I can follow instructions.” Denham talked me through the shot, and I bagged my Coues deer of a lifetime. No, he wasn’t a monster trophy, but he was the biggest and only Coues deer I’d ever taken.
The lesson I learned there has served me well for many years. As a hunter, especially in the East, most of my shots are 100 yards or less, and I’ve really never felt the need to learn how to shoot at distances of more than 100 yards. I’ve relied more on my hunting skills through the years than I have my shooting skills. However, from that one hunt many years ago, I’ve learned that you can’t always pre-determine at what distance you’ll have to take a shot at a buck of a lifetime. Therefore, there’s great value in learning how to shoot further than you’ve ever told yourself you will, especially with a muzzleloader. I’ve been muzzleloader hunting for about 35 years, and I’ve always prided myself on my woodsmanship and my ability to get close to the deer I want to take. However, when you have a chance to take a buck of a lifetime at ranges that exceed 100 yards, you want to be able to shoot at those longer ranges.
Forest management has changed in the last 10-20 years, and today many opportunities exist to take deer at more than 100 yards, especially when you’re hunting young clear cuts. I’ve found that usually most muzzleloader hunters are like me. We want to take our deer at 100 yards or less. However, if you’re hunting clear cuts less than 5-years old, you may want to sit on the edges of those clear cuts to take a deer late in the afternoon that comes out of the woods to feed on that young vegetation in the clear cut. Often, you may have an opportunity to take a really-big buck, if you can shoot accurately out past 100 yards. Here are some secrets to shooting more accurately at longer ranges, even if you’ve made up your mind, like I have many years ago, that I’m not going to try to take a buck at more than 100 yards with my CVA muzzleloader.
1) Take your muzzleloader to the range with plenty of bullets, powder, targets and a solid rest. Shoot your muzzleloader rifle at distances of 150 or 200 yards to see how your gun performs, how much bullet drop you have, and what’s the best powder charge and bullet to deliver the knockdown power you want at those longer ranges.
2) Continue with shooting at 150 to 200 yards at the range until you feel confident that you can make shots at those distances.
3) Carry a range finder with you. Then if you have an opportunity to take the buck of a lifetime at more than 100 yards, you can determine the distance you are from the buck before you prepare to shoot.
4) Make sure you have a solid rest any time you’ll be taking a shot of 100 yards or more. You may be able to use a tree limb, a day pack or the side of a tree to insure you have a solid rest. But you’ll probably have more success by carrying some type of shooting sticks with you when you deer hunt to make sure that regardless of where you are, you’ve got a solid, steady rest for shooting.
5) Practice your long-range shooting at does with your blackpowder rifle, if you hunt in a state that has a liberal unantlered deer season. If you can take a doe at 150 to 200 yards, you’ll build the confidence you need to take a buck at that distance with your CVA gun, if the circumstances dictate that you have to take a shot at more than 100 yards.
Don’t get me wrong. I still feel that the most-efficient way to consistently take the bucks you want to take is to use your woodsmanship and your hunting skills to get within 100 yards or less of the deer you want to take. However, I’ve learned in life and in hunting that we don’t always get what we want. Therefore, prepare for the unexpected of having to take a nice buck at more than 100 yards, rather than not being prepared for this type of hunting and shooting.