03 Oct Gearing Up for a Backcountry Muzzleloader Hunt (Muzzleloader Accessories, MREs, and More)
Muzzleloaders are only getting better as time goes on, and more and more states are adopting more liberal seasons.
This opens up opportunities for muzzleloader hunters to chase whitetails, mule deer, elk, even speed goats in ways that were previously inadmissible.
But muzzleloading is a different game. Moreover, taking a several-day backcountry trip is not like putting the rifle in the trunk, driving down to the local WMA, and sitting in a stand for a few hours before packing up and heading home.
It is much more ambitious. Be better prepared this season with these tips to ensure you’re ready, are carrying the right muzzleloader accessories, and can put the shot where it needs to be, when the opportunity presents itself.
This has to be the most important tip of all. Do not wait till the season opens, and don’t walk into the field blind.
Know the land for which you’re permitted, and be familiar with its boundaries. Then, hone it. Set up trail cameras and watch. Better, get out there, but try not to make too much noise doing it.
Find the food plots, find the water. Look for trails that are used frequently and track them to see what game is using them – predators may share these trails, which will add pressure, and a challenge, for you.
Scout, scout, and scout. We cannot emphasize this enough.
Get in Shape
The second most important tip we have is that you need to be ready for what a multi-day backcountry muzzleloader hunt entails.
If you’re hunting whitetails, you might glass them 1000 yards (or more) off and have to sneak within range. Chasing elk may have you covering 10 to 20 miles per day. Trying to get the jump on pronghorn? You might have to close that last 300 yards crawling through waist-high grass.
This is a physical sport you’ve chosen, and you will fall flat if you aren’t ready for the rigors of the season. Consider hitting the gym and working with an in-shape friend, a guide, or even a trainer to help you build the stamina and cardio you need to hoof it.
Most importantly – don’t let this advice glance off you. This is a serious suggestion and not a trifle. Trust this: if you are not in shape come the first day of the season, by sundown you will feel it, and the next day will not be easier.
Choose Comfortable Footwear and Break in Your Boots
Recognizing the fact that you could be in the field for several days without true respite, make sure you take care of your feet. Comfortable boots that are supportive and waterproof, as well as properly rated according to the temperature and conditions you expect, are absolutely necessary.
Also, don’t buy a brand new pair and wait till the day you leave to wear them. Put some miles in them first, break in the stiff bits, and let them conform to your feet a little.
Practice; Dial in Your Loads (and Don’t Gamble When the Shot Counts)
With a muzzleloader, you often don’t get a second chance. Moreover, very slight variations in your loading procedure can produce surprisingly different results.
Pick a powder and stick with it, and don’t vary your loads. If you shoot patched round balls, shoot patched round balls. If you shoot Thor .50 caliber bullets, shoot those and only those.
Shoot a few groups at the range, and once you find a load that works, stick with it to the grain. Variations of just a grain or two one way or the other can have disturbing effects on accuracy.
When you take a shot, reload immediately. You may just need that second shot.
Choose Camo Wisely
It’s easy to fall into a routine and wear standard gear season after season. You expect conditions to be roughly the same in the same area of the world every September to December, right?
Well, in general, this may be true, but remember also that seasonal conditions affect the lay of the land, as well as the prevailing colors. A long, hot summer might leave the backdrop drier and browner than usual – and a wet summer might keep things green through September or even later.
Which you won’t know unless you scout. So determine the condition of the area you’ll be in, then pick a camouflage pattern that works for it.
Mark Your Muzzleloader Ramrod
An incorrectly loaded gun, or worse yet, a double-loaded gun, can be a downright dangerous thing, and if you’re out for several days at a time, you might just forget whether you loaded it or not.
Take away the element of surprise by marking your muzzleloader ramrod so you can spring it and see (and know, for sure) if the gun is loaded or not.
You Need a Waterproof Possibles Bag
Obviously you need a possibles bag to keep all your muzzleloader accessories right where you need them, but you’d better make it a waterproof possibles bag.
Sure, fall might be the driest season of the year (in general) but morning dews can still soak you to the bone as you move through scrubland (conditions depending).
And while wet gear is an annoyance at other times, wet muzzleloader accessories are a disaster. Good luck bringing back wet caps and powder. There’s only one solution: keep them dry in the first place.
Watch the Wind
This should go without saying, but moving generally downwind for several days at a time is a recipe for failure. Anything within miles will smell you and then swing wide of you or be far away, long before you get there.
That’s if you’re lucky. Pushing downwind is likely to have you coming up empty-handed. Watch the wind, determine its origin, and check and recheck multiple times throughout the day. If you start pushing upwind in the morning, by the end of the day it could have wheeled around on you, putting you in an unfavorable situation.
Take a Lesson from Bowhunters
These days, rifle hunters are pushing the limits of what’s reasonable. As a muzzleloader hunter, you should think twice.
If you shoot at 300 yards and miss (or worse, place a bad shot) it will be so much harder for you to make things right. Centerfire hunters aren’t working with the same obstacles.
Take a page from the bowhunter’s playbook. Play it safe, and play it close. The closer the better. Sure, you can put down most large game in the country with a well-placed shot at 100 yards, but why do that when you can get closer?
Plus, sneaking closer will make you a better hunter, too.
Carry the Necessary Muzzleloader Accessories
If you don’t carry the requisite muzzleloader accessories, you are quite plainly setting yourself up for failure. The following are either must-haves or very useful to have. Consider carrying them all.
- Powder, bullets (balls), patches/sabots (if necessary) and primers: Always carry spare powder and bullets, as well as patches or sabots if you are not shooting full-bore bullets that don’t need them. Spare primers are also a must and should be carried in a dedicated container. Again, carry these essentials in a waterproof possibles bag.
- A muzzleloader bullet starter: A muzzleloader bullet starter is necessary for consistently starting muzzleloader bullets, especially spitzer bullets, without throwing the bullet’s nose out of alignment with the centerline axis of the barrel’s bore.
- A muzzleloader speed loader: This little thing, which holds powder and bullets in sequence and ready to load, can put you back in the action with a second shot, faster than if you do it the old-fashioned way. A muzzleloader speed loader is definitely worth it.
- An unbreakable muzzleloader ramrod (link above): Yes, they’re not traditional like wood, but if you are on a three-day trip and your ramrod breaks day one, what will you do then? Get an unbreakable muzzleloader ramrod like our aluminum 3-piece model.
- Muzzleloader cleaning accessories: Carry either a bore snake OR a set of cleaning jags, brushes, a breech scraper, a patch puller, and a ball puller. You should also consider carrying a vent pick, a breech/cone wrench, and a silent ball discharger.
These are the absolute essentials, but there are other useful muzzleloader accessories to have, including but not limited to muzzleloader muzzle brakes and powder funnels.
Be Ready with MREs (Peak Refuel Meals Are Great)
If you’re out for more than a day, and in some of these seasons, you might be, you also need to think about fueling your body.
This isn’t traditional camping or even backpacking. You probably won’t have the time or ability to pitch a conventional camp and cook on a fire. You won’t want to, anyway. Everything you’ll be carrying will be light (as it should be) and that’s somewhat limiting.
MREs, which you can eat with minimal preparation or cook over an ultralight camp stove like a Jetboil, can be a lifesaver.
Don’t pay more than you need to. Consider an alternative to standard options like Peak Refuel meals, which are similar to Mountain House. The only difference is, since Peak Refuel meals are made in Idaho, we get them at great prices that we can pass along to you.
Check out our full collection of backcountry meals where we sell Peak Refuel at very affordable prices, in some cases less than $10. They’re a steal at these prices, and they’re pretty good, too.
Be Ready to Reload Right Away
One final suggestion before we part. After you shoot, be ready to reload. Keep at least one spare reload in your muzzleloader speed loader ready to go and after you take a shot, reload as soon as possible.
That second shot may be what it takes to punch your tag and you’d better not dally getting it ready to fire.
Good luck and be safe.