Editor’s Note: On Fridays we reach back into the Safari Magazine archives and dig out a gem from past issues. This week, we follow a hunter who is after moose in the Yukon with a flintlock muzzleloader. Despite a guide who has concerns about the efficiency of the hunter’s choice of firearm, he proves that the old ways are still effective. This story originally appeared in the July/August 1986 issue of Safari Magazine.
I was belly down in the cold snow of the Yukon, looking down the long barrel of a 1790-period flintlock rifle at three bedded-down bull moose. Even the cow calls from my guide did not arouse them or draw a glance. An hour and a half had passed, my neck had cramps. My right side was numb. The cold had my entire body shivering. About 8:30 that morning, we had focus-sed our glasses on what my guide, Dan, and his brother, believed were a 70-inch set of antlers. We had followed the bull over the mountain to a third valley. Dan had broken the trail through knee-high snow and I followed, falling often. My coveralls had been removed to re-duce the noise of going through the buck brush and willows. My shirts, vest and coat were open because I had been heavily perspiring while we followed the bull. Now, though, my moustache and jeans were frozen in the minus-10-degree temperature. I buttoned the shirts, but kept the vest and coat open because of the noise of the snapping and zipping. We were well over 250 yards from a dream come true. That would not be too far for all the other hunters Dan had guided. But I was a front-end stuffer who had been meeting a new challenge in an old way for the past 19 years, and a closer stalk was essential.
Our outfitter was aware of our self-inflicted handicap and had agreed to take Brad and me, knowing that we were muzzleloaders and needed close shooting. Two weeks before we left, we received a letter suggesting that we bring modern guns because he doubted we would be able to get close enough. The average shot was 300 yards, the letter said. When we arrived, the outfitter asked if we had brought other guns and we laughingly said, “No.”
His hospitality towards us was cooler than the Klondike River when frozen. He would answer direct questions, but otherwise we were excluded from any conversation. We were good ol’ Southern boys and this was discourteous. Wherever I had hunted with my long-rifle, people were gracious enough to admire the fine workmanship of the iron, brass, silver and wood. The superb engraving of the metal, the magnificent relief and incised carving of the hard, curly maple stock was enough to excite even a furniture collector who had no appreciation of antique arms. Our outfitter’s concern was for the moose. His sons, our guides, had been convinced by their dad that we probably would wound a lot of animals and would not get any. As the shining dark bulls arose, my shivering body was aroused by the pulsating flow of adrenalin. We were hoping that they would come towards us and close the distance. Their heads were lowered as they stared at each other, and then the crash of horns echoed to the top of the mountain peak. The most powerful bodies prevailed as the three shoved, pushed and twisted. It was not the same two against one. They just flaunted their 1,300 pounds of strength, then they started up the pass. I sighed heavily. It was a mile to the top of the ridge where they were headed, and it now was 3:00p.m. My opportunjty was slipping away. My old-time smokepole was not new for me. I knew its limitations and how it could perform. I had experimented and found the optimum powder charge was 120 grains of FF Dupont black powder. This created the best crack, a sound produced by the bullet leaving the rifle exceeding the velocity of sound, which is 1,100 feet per second. With a .535 round ball, I had tried various thicknesses of pillow ticking and finally settled on a .020 cotton patch. The patch was greased with a combination of mutton tallow and beeswax, with a squirt of Hoppes No.9.
Using a chronograph. I averaged the velocity from the 44-inch barrel. The round ball had a projectile speed of 1900.5 fps in a clean bore and 1779.8 when very dirty; while the conical-shaped maxi-ball had a muzzle velocity of 1246.5 fps when clean and 988.3 when fouled. The kinetic-motion figures of energy foot pounds really didn’t establish in my mind the killing power, so I continued to experiment with the use of Baltimore City telephone directories for penetration. The .535 round ball weighs 220.96 grains and the .54 caliber maxi-ball has a weight of 398.92 grains; while the round balls are more constant, varying only . 74 grains.
Eventually, I decided on the .535 patched, round ball which had a shorter flight time and less drop at greater distances. Tests with telephone books showed a round ball does not penetrate as well as the heavier maxi-ball, but I had taken 15 whitetail deer and three mule deer with it and none of those balls had been recovered. I knew my rifle could do it if I hit it right. In retrospect, while lying in the snow, at such a distance, I would not have had the desired penetration and the slow ignition of a flintlock meant the slightest movement might have caused me to miss the mark. Had I blown my once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take such a tremendous moose?
Suddenly the quietness was broken by the sound of moose horns slashing against the brush. The big bull stopped and looked towards the draw, and several more slashings sent it trotting to the challenge. Dan said, “He is going down there to take on that little bull, and we might have one more chance. We’ve got to put it in gear and get over there quickly.” To which I replied, “Well, I’ve had it in overdrive all day.” We were moving as fast as possible, considering that my jeans were frozen as stiff as boards. We only stopped once for Dan to say, “You’ve got to keep your legs apart.” Now this pilgrim moose hunter was making the snow fly by waddling like a bow-legged duck. The little moose was driven off the hill as the big bull started down. I was down in the snow again, cocking my hammer as it came into my sights at about 120 yards. Trotting with its bell swinging was the largest animal I could ever hope to draw down on. The double-set trigger was squeezed and a touch of the front trigger sent the flint striking the frizzen, showering sparks into the pan and sending a puff of fire up by my face. The bark of the barrel was followed by the lovely smack that every muzzleloader hears when a ball strikes meat and bone. The big bull turned and walked back about 40 yards and lay down. I was reloading while Dan was sputtering, “Reload, you hit him good right behind the shoulder, reload, reload, reload!” Before we could get up to it, its big head went reeling back. The antlers on my moose were not quite 70 inches, but my 64-inch longrifle fit neatly inside its horns. You really don’t need a relief-carved, silver-inlaid rifle costing several thousand dollars. As it turned out, my hunting buddy and I both scored that morning with our smokepoles, and we each needed only one shot. Brad used a plain Tennessee mountain-style rifle from Dixie Gun Works that costs less than $250.
There is no doubt that primitive hunters must pass up a lot of opportunities, but the final reward is extremely satisfying. If you truly want to be gratified in your hunting, why not try a new challenge the old way?–Daniel D. Hartzler