Want to double your deer hunting seasons? Receive coveted big game tags that rifle hunters wait a lifetime to draw? Muzzleloading is the answer and setting up an accurate, sure-fire system has never been easier. Traditions make a full line of rifles that range from primitive, to satisfy some state regulations, to state-of-the-art rifles that group consistently at 200 yards. Getting Started One of the most satisfying elements of hunting with a muzzleloader is building your own load. Every shot is something that you craft, experiment with and perfect. You choose how much powder, the type of bullet, and its weight. One of my first muzzleloading elk hunts ended as I stood thrilled over a 5×4 bull, The large animal went down with a single shot. As I began the field dressing process, I noticed that the bullet had passed completely through both shoulders. Wow! A .30-06 can’t do that. Two Camps of Hunters Muzzleloading hunters often fall into two camps- those who want to hunt with gear that emulates the great mountain men of the 19th Century and center-fire crossovers who like a front-loading rifle that looks and feels much like their favorite deer rifle. Both are fun, since enjoyment is the foundation of the blackpowder experience. Traditional advocates will want a side lock rifle such as the Hawken. Both the percussion and flint models boast a hooked breech for easy barrel removal, click-adjustable rear hunting sight, double-set triggers in an oversized glove-fitting trigger guard with finger rest and an inletted solid brass patch box. You’ll feel like a fur trapper in the Old West. Crossover hunters should take a close look at the Vortek Series that offers a wide variety of options ideal for the modern hunter. The barrel and scope can come fully wrapped in camouflage which make the rifle practically disappear against your camo. Strikerfire ignition eliminates the need for a hammer and the break-open action and removable breech plug make the rifle easy to load, unload, and clean. Additionally, Vortek models are available with a 30-inch barrel which will burn every ounce of powder and maximize bullet speed and range. Other Traditions Vortek rifles are designed to meet specific hunting circumstances such as lighter weight for mountain and back country hunting. States in the Northwest require a traditional ignition and models are available to meet those specific state requirements as well. Accessories That Become Essential Projectiles- Traditions offers a full line of projectiles from round balls, to lead bullets and sabots, to sabots and Hornady’s best bullets. Inexpensive “plinking bullets allow for economical practice and shooting fun, while serious big game bullets can bring down the largest of game. I’m a fan of copper bullets that open for a large wound channel yet maintain their core intact; almost insuring complete penetration. You won’t retrieve your bullet, as with lead projectiles, yet you’ll follow a short blood trail with a great reward at the end. Shooting and Cleaning Kits In my early days of muzzleloading, I missed an elk in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. Ironically, the bull was confused about the report and only went 50 yards before stopping to search for danger. I rammed another bullet and had the percussion caps in my hand when I dropped the aluminum container. It may as well have been an alarm siren as the bull dashed away. Since that time, I’ve been careful to carry my loading gear in plastic tubes and have them ready for a quick second shot. Flintlock shooters will need flasks for two grades of powder, while percussion users can pre-measure their powder (or pellets) in small red tubes which will fit handily in your pocket or a small possibles bag. Additionally, you’ll need extra flint, a nipple pick, cleaning brush, jag, and patches. Loading tubes are ideal for modern hunters as they will carry bullets, propellant pellets, and/or shot for muzzleloading shotguns. It’s best to have one or two “speed loaders” prepped and ready within easy reach. Cleaning Supplies Rifles can be cleaned in hot soapy water, yet I’ve always felt nervous about using water on rifles. I much prefer buying a cleaning kit that comes with a foam cleaning solution or Blackout 209 Bore Solvent. Pre-saturated cleaning patches are a delight to use as they both clean your bore and lubricate with a protective film. One jar will last several seasons depending upon how much you shoot. The breech plug is the most sensitive part of the Vortex shooting system and it removes easily for cleaning or unloading. You can quickly tell the status of your fire channel by removing the plug and pointing it toward a light. When you see a clear channel, you know the rifle is eager to roar. Every muzzleloading is a primitive weapon and Traditions models range from the historic traditional to the state-of-the-art. Whichever path you choose, you can bet the bottom line will be fun and venison on the table.