I have received an early Christmas gift from lovely wife of many years – Polly Wagner.

A nice, recent photo of my wife Polly and I. Photo courtesy of Lace Work Films.

What is it? Well, it is a brand-new, in-line .50 caliber muzzleloading rifle that is fully scoped for deer hunting.

A blaze orange cap and vest are pictured alongside my new .50 caliber, in-line muzzleloading rifle which was an early Christmas gift from my wife, Polly Wagner. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Thank you so much, Polly! I am thrilled, to say the least!

Here I am excited to hold my new .50 caliber, in-line muzzleloading rifle. Photo by Noah Wagner of Omaha, NE.

For the record, by and large, the federal government doesn’t classify muzzleloaders as firearms and an ATFE Form 4473 (background check) isn’t required. So, a person can purchase a muzzleloading rifle for the deer hunter in the family. However, it is best to check all federal, local and state laws before buying one.

You may recall that I am not new to muzzleloader deer hunting. I have been borrowing Nebraska Conservation Officer Rich Berggren’s muzzleloading rifle to deer hunt here with him here in southeast Nebraska.

On one of his days off in December of 2017, Nebraska Conservation Officer Rich Berggren of Waterloo, shot this nice, mature white-tailed deer buck along the Elkhorn River in the eastern part of the state. Berggren reminds muzzleloader and firearm deer hunters in Nebraska that 400 square inches of blaze orange clothing is required on the head, back and chest when in the field attempting to take deer. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

And, yes, I have experienced success.

I took this adult white-tailed deer buck on the opening afternoon of Nebraska’s 2017 Muzzleloader Deer Hunting Season. Photo by Rich Berggren/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

I am extremely grateful for Rich’s generosity and expertise!

A white-tailed deer buck I harvested on December 23, 2018 along the Elkhorn River in eastern Nebraska. Photo courtesy of Rich Berggren/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

The story of getting my muzzleloader goes something like this: Officer Berggren found quite a sale on good muzzleloaders at a local sporting goods store way back in the off-season, called me and Polly consented to the purchase as an early holiday gift for yours truly. With Rich’s advice, Polly also budgeted for all the accoutrements and accessories needed for a muzzleloader.

Truthfully, much is involved with having, loading, firing, cleaning, transporting and storing one of these “smoke poles” or “boom sticks.” Be sure to read (and I mean READ) the manual that comes with it. Safety is paramount as well. The bottom line: Always be cautious and conscious of what you’re doing and exercise safe firearm handling practices.

The new owner of a muzzleloading rifle must make certain that everything required is acquired. Besides the gun and a case, at a minimum, a ramrod, bullet starter (short), sabots, powder or pellets, primers or percussion caps, patches and a complete muzzleloader cleaning kit will be necessary. Muzzleloaders obviously demand a few more steps to load and fire than just inserting a cartridge into the chamber of a centerfire rifle. The loading process with muzzleloaders is unique and hearkens back in time to the days of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett and Fort Atkinson’s U.S. Army Soldiers.

Living history volunteer army soldiers (including your blogger) holding replicas of traditional, black powder muzzleloaders used at Fort Atkinson during the 1820’s. Photo courtesy of Jo Momsen/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

With most modern muzzleloaders, the time it takes from the moment the trigger releases the sear, to the time the powder charge is ignited and sends the bullet down the barrel, is very slow compared to a modern bolt action rifle. Therefore, technique must be good in the trigger squeeze and follow through action amid the smoke.

Conservation officer Berggren, a certified firearms instructor, says with reference to shooting muzzleloaders: “Once on target, let the muzzle blast surprise you. This will ensure that you don’t pull or jerk your shot.”

Modern in-line muzzleloaders like the version I received are reasonably priced, easy to use and maintain, producers of desired results and fun to shoot. The performance of the muzzleloader is based on consistency with the cleaning, loading and reloading processes. Every muzzleloader is different when it comes down to ballistics and effective range. The keys are to know your ability and the specific capability of the muzzleloader.

If you’re wondering, in-line percussion muzzleloaders are more modern-looking rifles that fog the line between older, traditional black powder rifles and newer, contemporary, smokeless models. They feature a shorter twist rate and are typically more accurate and simpler to load than traditional muzzleloaders and employ a firing cap in the pin.

Even though my in-line is considered a modern muzzleloader, I still enjoy the challenges the muzzleloading rifle offers for deer hunting — the connection to our frontiersmen forefathers, the elemental loading and firing process, one shot and white smoke filling the air.

The most common reason it seems that people acquire a muzzleloading rifle, particularly an in-line, is that it adds another effective tool to a collection of hunting equipment and extends a person’s deer hunting greatly. In Nebraska, our muzzleloader deer hunting season runs the entire month of December – 31 days! Furthermore, Nebraska’s muzzleloader deer hunting season serves as an excellent way to increase your chances of bagging a buck.

This designated season for muzzleloaders also allows hunters to experience a quieter hunt without interruption plus hunt with family or friends around the Christmas holiday period. Muzzleloader deer hunters generally do not encounter much hunting pressure in rural areas and on public land, especially on weekdays in December when conditions for deer hunting are nearly ideal.

A scene from a recent-year December muzzleloader deer hunt with near-perfect conditions on private land along the Elkhorn River in eastern Nebraska. Photo by Greg Wagner/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

A bonus of owning a muzzleloading rifle .44 caliber or larger is that it can be used as a legal means to acquire a deer during any of Nebraska’s firearm deer hunting seasons. Also, because of their more limited range than centerfire rifles, muzzleloaders are part of special deer hunts conducted at various parks, forests and refuges.

There are other reasons that folks love muzzleloaders. The muzzleloader is a nice alternative for a deer hunter who wants more of a challenge than a conventional, centerfire rifle delivers and yet does not have the time or resources to bow hunt. Shooting muzzleloaders also allows you to be free of ammunition shortages. It’s a preferred option for homesteaders and preppers as well as avid deer hunters. And, those of us who have hunted deer with muzzleloaders will tell you that the feel and smell of shooting a muzzleloaded, black powder rifle is unlike anything else and somewhat historic.

The world of muzzleloading though is vast. There is a lot to know about shooting and hunting deer with a muzzleloader. Learn everything you possibly can from someone in your family or friend network who has owned one and hunted with it successfully for some time. I have. Stop by your nearest Nebraska Game and Parks Commission office or shooting range and visit with staff who have expertise with muzzleloading. Perhaps you will attend a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission workshop about muzzleloader deer hunting?

Try muzzleloading, I think you’ll like it!

Volunteer living history army soldiers at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park near Fort Calhoun, NE fire replicas of traditional, black powder muzzleloaders used at the fort during the 1820’s. Note the smoke! Photo courtesy of Jenny Wheatley/NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Happy hunting and happy holidays! GW

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