Hunters shift their sights to black powder

It's a quieter, more laid-back affair than the regular firearms deer season, and for muzzleloader enthusiasts, that's exactly the point. With another rifle season in the books, Minnesota muzzleloader enthusiasts can go afield beginning today; sea...

It's a quieter, more laid-back affair than the regular firearms deer season, and for muzzleloader enthusiasts, that's exactly the point.

With another rifle season in the books, Minnesota muzzleloader enthusiasts can go afield beginning today; season continues through Dec. 9.

North Dakota muzzleloader enthusiasts will have to wait a week; rifle season is open through Sunday, and black powder season west of the Red opens at noon Friday and closes Dec. 16.

According to Lou Cornicelli, big game program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in St. Paul, muzzleloader hunting has gained popularity the past five years, in large part because of the all-season deer license, which allows hunters to take a deer in either the archery, firearm or muzzleloader seasons.

The Minnesota Legislature created the all-season license in 2000.


"It's grown by leaps and bounds," Cornicelli said of muzzleloading. "We've gone from 10,000 to almost 40,000 (muzzleloader hunters), and that's a direct response to the all-season license. Without a doubt, the ability to hunt both the firearm and muzzleloader seasons has led to more hunters, and that's good.

"It gives people a chance to get back out and deer hunt."

An avid black-powder hunter, Cornicelli took up the muzzleloader in 1989.

"It's certainly more relaxed," he said. "There's not nearly as many people out. You can do three- to five-person deer drives pretty effectively without bumping into other parties."

Despite the limitations of the muzzleloader - which again is part of the attraction for many enthusiasts - Minnesota hunters typically kill 14,000 to 15,000 deer during the black powder season, Cornicelli said. That's about a 40 percent success rate, a number that's on par with the regular rifle season.

N.D. perspective

While Minnesota hunters can buy muzzleloader tags over the counter, North Dakota takes a different approach.

According to Bill Jensen, big game biologist for the state Game and Fish Department in Bismarck, the number of available muzzleloader tags is set at 2 percent of total whitetail licenses available for the regular rifle season, and no more than half of those can be bucks.


This year, Game and Fish offered 1,402 antlered muzzleloader tags and 1,402 antlerless muzzleloader tags by lottery.

There's been expanded opportunity in recent years, though, because of the abundance of doe tags available in many parts of the state for the regular gun season. As a result, hunters who buy antlerless gun season tags after the two lotteries have been held also can use the tags during black powder season.

The only restrictions: They must use a muzzleloader and hunt in the unit for which the tag was assigned. These "concurrent" tags also can be used throughout the archery season as long as hunters follow the same equipment and unit restrictions.

According to Jensen, the number of concurrent doe tags has reduced the demand for antlerless muzzleloader tags, but the demand for black powder buck tags remains as high as ever.

"The only real advantage is you can go anywhere with that (muzzleloader) doe tag," he said, "vs. you're confined to the unit with that concurrent (gun) tag."

Fewer people

Like the DNR's Cornicelli, Jensen says he enjoys muzzleloader hunting because there's fewer people afield.

"It's kind of a small fraternity of people that are avid muzzleloader hunters," Jensen said. "I like it just because when you're out there, you've pretty much got the world to yourself. I don't mind the cold, and I like to sit, so I just find it a lot more appealing."


North Dakota offered its first muzzleloader season in 1987, and state law mandates that it occurs after the regular gun season. That's an important consideration, Jensen says, because Game and Fish often hears from hunters who want the muzzleloader season before the rifle season.

"The muzzleloader season was established through state Century Code, and both the timing and how many tags are to be issued are set in that legislation," he said.

Muzzleloader success typically ranges from 45 percent to 50 percent, Jensen says; in 2006, the success rate was 44 percent.

The harvest represents just a fraction of the total deer kill. Last year, for example, North Dakota hunters shot about 100,000 deer during the regular gun season, a tally that climbed to about 110,000 when combined with the archery, muzzleloader and youth seasons.

The key to success, Jensen says, is practice.

"The notion that you can buy a muzzleloader on Thursday and go hunting on Friday, you're doomed to failure," he said.

It's not easy, in other words.

And for avid muzzleloader hunters, that's exactly the point.


-- On the Web:

Minnesota DNR: .

North Dakota Game and Fish: .

Reach Dokken at 780-1148, (800) 477-6572 ext. 148, or .

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