May 2009
Happy Hunting Ground

Happy Hunting Ground

The guys and I were talking the other day about any and all subjects related to hunting.

We discussed this last deer season, our successes and our failures. The topics ran from how the weather affected the deer hunting to which deer, in some trail cam photos, needed to be culled from the herd. (Let me add this entire discussion took place while watching sheets of rain falling during the prime days of turkey season.)

We actually avoided the subject of turkey hunting because none of us knew whether or not we could take it. We had been waiting out several days of heavy rain and being unable to hunt in that mess when you had waited all year for a six-week event was taking its toll. Every day lost to the rain is precious when you are looking at a mere 45 days (plus or minus) of a season. Add in the fact today’s turkey hunter has to make a living, which further constricts the opportunities to hunt, just adds fuel to the fire.

Finally someone took the chance and brought up turkey hunting. With a rush, the conversation picked up speed and excitement as we speculated when the rain would stop, how many nests had been washed away, how many gobblers we had heard the few mornings when it wasn’t raining, so on and so forth.

As the conversation played out and we all were exhausted, having vented our frustration, the last topic was an open discussion of primitive weapons. The term "primitive" weapon only applies when you consider what time period you are in. As I told the guys, at one time a bow and arrow was high tech.

Of course, being a bunch of gun hunters, our opinion of a primitive weapon is an inline muzzleloader with a 3x9 scope shooting an improved-precision bullet propelled by black powder substitute pellets ignited either by electronic ignition or, at least, M209 shotgun primers, not a muzzle-loading, hammer-cocking, double-set trigger percussion or flintlock rifle using a round ball about as accurate past 50 yards as throwing the gun at a deer.

I really admire the mountain man re-enactors who do everything the old-fashioned way. I would love to go to one of their rendezvous since they look like great fun. I really admire the real mountain men of the 1800s. As a matter of fact, when I was a kid and was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my answer was either a cowboy or a mountain man.

I am almost positive our modern day mountain men absolutely hate the inline muzzleloader with its highly accurate scopes, bullets and powders; I can see their point.

If you want to hunt with a primitive weapon, do it right and get a true smoke pole. Use round balls, mattress ticking and grease. Use open sights and fire thousands of rounds at a target in order to find the one load that suits the rifle. Adjust your sights with a file, not a screwdriver. Get yourself a real powder horn, pour grains of powder down the front-end and unload it with either a piece of flint or a No. 11 primer.

Be dang sure you can hit what you are aiming at because you will not get another shot!

Personally, I look at it not from the mountain man re-enactor standpoint, but from the real mountain man side of things. I would be willing to wager some serious money on the fact that, if an inline muzzleloader had been available, Jim Bridger would have used it. I would be willing to bet (and I will admit I am a little fuzzy on firearms history and chronology) ‘Ol Jim swapped his flintlock for a percussion rifle as soon as he got the chance. I’ll bet during more than one occasion when he was fighting off some hostile Blackfoot warriors, he was wishing for a muzzleloader a little more accurate further out or at least a rifle that would load a little faster. I’ll go one step more and say, if he were still alive when the cartridge rifle was invented, he probably would have gotten one of them as well. These guys, I would imagine, were always on the lookout for anything to help them bag one more elk or deer for the winter, slay a grizzly just a little quicker and knock a hostile Native American off his horse a little farther and faster.

I look at the modern muzzle-loader and see where some of my boyhood heroes would have given a whole bale of beaver hides for one. Look at Eli Whitney for example. Long before he invented the cotton gin, he invented interchangeable parts for rifles. His brother was killed in battle because his rifle had broken, was repaired and then broke again since the part needed had to be handmade not replaced with another one just like it. At least that is the gospel according to the True Life Adventure Biography I read in the third grade. Eli saw the advantage of modernizing the firearm industry; he didn’t sit back and say we can’t do that because it’s not "authentic" or "traditional."

One last thought on primitive weapons and I’ll shut up and let you get back to turkey hunting. The ultimate user of primitive weapons, our Native American brothers, had been using the bow and arrow for thousands of years. But as soon as the world caught up with them, name me one who didn’t drop his bow and pick up a rifle the first chance he had.

I don’t mean to offend those who prefer to hunt with a bow and arrow or with a traditional muzzleloader. If that’s what you want to use, I’m just glad you are out in the woods using it. I’m just trying to stick up for those of us who use a modern muzzleloader or a cross bow as our primitive weapon; we are the ones between the mountain man and the modern world. We are the ones who traded a stone knife for a steel blade, decided to put some buffalo hide on our feet instead of going barefoot, thought it would make sense to stick some moss inside that buffalo hide when it was cold, thought we might kill more deer if we climbed a tree and got off the ground…I could go on and on.

Now remember this comes from the guy who asked the question, "Have we gotten too high tech in our hunting?" and complained about GPS units, game cameras and such. You see, I told you I could see both sides of the coin.

C’mon Jim, let’s go get them beavers!

Ralph Ricks is the manager of Quality Cooperative, Inc. in Greenville.