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One-shot wonders

Muzzleloaders follow in their forefathers' footsteps, using an old-fashioned technique that

By TERRY TOMALIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 15, 2000


Natty Bumpo may not be a household name in the Age of Nintendo, but 100 years ago, this man of the wilderness was America's first super hero.

Long, lean and with the eye of a raptor, Bumpo, a k a "Hawkeye," lived by his own code of honor as he fought his way across the frontier in James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales, the most famous of which is The Last of the Mohicans.

Hawkeye respected his forest home and all its inhabitants, hunting only what he needed to survive. And when it came time to fire his trusty flintlock, he lived by the rule, "One shot, one kill."

Today's black powder hunters live by the same creed, following in our forefathers' footsteps, and use replicas of the firearms that Bumpo, Chingachcook and other heroes of the frontier used to make a home in the wilderness.

But black powder muzzleloaders aren't just for history buffs and Civil War reenactments anymore. These traditional, single-shot firearms are ideal for the young and old, as well as veterans and newcomers to the sports of hunting and target shooting.

You can purchase a muzzleloader for about $250, or buy a kit for less than $100 and build one yourself. Many parents find this the best way to teach a child about the safety and mechanics of firearms.

Before you buy, do a little research. Most states have minimum caliber laws. Fifty (.50) caliber is the most popular for hunting. In Florida, black powder users must use .40 caliber or greater.

Today's muzzleloaders fire round lead balls or conical bullets called miniballs. A skilled hunter can easily take a deer with a .50 caliber round ball, but many hunters choose a bullet because of better performance.

The ignition system is another factor to consider. The traditional, or flintlock system, produces a spark that ignites a pan of powder that fires the main charge. These guns are popular with traditionalists but can be difficult to use, especially in the woods.

The percussion lock system uses a small cap that contains an explosive charge that is set off by the blow of a falling hammer. These guns were developed at the beginning of the 19th century and remained popular through most of the frontier era.

The best way to learn about the sport is to talk with somebody who knows what they are doing. The Wyoming Antelope Club in Pinellas Park has regular black powder shoots. Call (727) 573-3006 for information.

Or you can contact:

The National Muzzleloading Rifle Association, P.O. Box 67 Friendship, IN 47021, (812) 667-5131.

The International Blackpowder Hunting Association, P.O. Box 1180, Glenrock, WY 82637, (307) 436-9817.

Looking ahead

WHAT: Special muzzleloading gun season.

WHEN: Feb. 15-25.

WHERE: Northwest Zone only (Florida Panhandle).

PERMITS: A muzzleloading gun permit is required, in addition to a hunting license, for participating in any special or regular muzzleloading gun season.

LEGAL TO TAKE: (a) deer having one or more antlers at least 5 inches in length visible above the hairline; (b) wild hogs having a shoulder height of 15 inches or more in areas where hogs are legal game; (c) gray squirrel; (d) quail; (e) rabbit, raccoon, opossum, coyote, nutria, skunk and beaver.

SHOOTING HOURS: one-half hour before sunrise until one-half hour after sunset.

DAILY BAG AND POSSESSION LIMITS: There is a daily limit of two and a possession limit of four for antlered deer. Bag and possession limits for other game legal to take during the special muzzleloading gun season are described under "bag limits" in the Florida Hunters handbook.

- For information, go to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) web site at http://www.state.fl.us/gfc/

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