Get a jump on muzzleloader season

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RALPH BARTHOLDT/Press Brandon Kron of Black Sheep displays a .50-caliber muzzleloader, the kind legal to use in muzzleloader elk hunts in Idaho. Muzzleloader hunts for elk begin this month for Idaho A-tag hunters.

Sabots and 209 primers are a couple terms that prick the ears of Idaho muzzleloader hunters.

The terms are reserved for bullets and shotgun type primers that don’t fly in the Gem State.

“We’re pretty primitive,” Brandon Kron, of Black Sheep Sporting Goods, said.

That means when it comes to shooting muzzleloaders, the Idaho game commission, which sets the rules, thinks the less frills and accoutrements the better.

“We can’t use sabots, or jacketed bullets, we have to shoot loose powder, no pellets … and an open breach, so elements can get inside,” said Kron, a southeast Idaho native.

For novice muzzleloaders who want to take advantage of the extended elk season that begins this month, a review of Idaho’s muzzleloader rules is a must.

Sabots are a type of modern muzzleloader bullet that use a plastic boot around the bullet to fill the space between the bore and the projectile. This will increase pressure and velocity, and aid bullet stabilization, essentially giving a hunter an advantage, and making the killing of quarry more reliable, some say.

It doesn’t matter for Idaho hunters, though, because, despite being legal in many states, using sabots is against the law here.

Weather-resistant primers used in a muzzleloader with a closed ignition system, such as 209 type shotgun primers, are also against the law in Idaho.

Closed ignition systems, the kind that keep the weather away from the things that go boom, aren’t allowed here either.

The state’s rules on muzzleloader hunting are pretty old-school, said Charles Johnson of Black Sheep.

“It’s kind of like what your forefathers and foremothers did in the past to survive,” Johnson said.

Regional hunters who drag a muzzleloader into the woods this month — and in December — looking for elk, do it with a sense of foreboding because the rain and snow can make a potentially fine shot disappear in a puff of smoke, or without any puff at all.

“You have to be sensitive to the weather,” Kron said.

Panhandle muzzleloader hunters will have a shot at elk beginning Nov. 20 for A-tag hunters in some Panhandle units, and starting in December for B-tag hunters (check Idaho Fish and Game regulations).

Using a smoke pole isn’t as easy as buying one off the shelf, though. A lot of muzzleloaders sell for between $200 to $500, but a shooter needs a few things on the side, in addition to bullets and powder. Quick loaders are useful if a hunter needs to take a fast second shot. Bullet starters help to get a bullet down the barrel faster than a conventional ram rod, and because black powder — even synthetic powder — leaves residue, a muzzleloader needs a faithful cleaning, fairly often.

“There’s quite a bit to it,” Kron said.

That doesn’t mean it has no advantages.

With fewer people in the woods, muzzleloader hunting can be a soliloquy compared to the general season elk hunt.

“It’s up close and personal,” Johnson said.

And for many hunters, that’s the draw. It’s often why archers also prefer to hunt with muzzleloaders.

“It’s just the experience.” Kron said. “Some of the best hunts I’ve had, I didn’t harvest an animal.”

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