Two hours before legal shooting time that morning, I had slipped quietly to the base of a large oak tree, moving upwind along the creek. Electing to hunt on the ground, I cleared a spot of all the noisy leaves and twigs I could find and settled in for a long wait. It wouldn't be so bad this time, because the overnight low was only 45 degrees, and the wind was very light. It was the first day of the modern gun season in Kentucky, but I always hunt with a muzzle loader.
Two large fox squirrels and a much smaller grey were my only entertainment that morning. The fox squirrels simply passed through, going to breakfast somewhere else. The grey ran up into an osage orange tree a few yards away and proceeded to feed, I guess, on an orange. He leaned far down and cut the orange loose, attempting to raise it to his level. It was much too heavy, so he wound up franticly holding onto the branch with his back feet and onto the orange with his front. That orange stretched him out until he looked a yard long before, after ten seconds, it tore from his grasp. He scrambled to recover his perch, then gave up in disgust and dashed off through the tree tops. I didn't blame him.
Although no deer had moved in the morning, several shots were fired in the area, so I was back in the same spot an hour before sunset that evening. The woods around me were fairly clear except for an area of really trashy stuff to my left front, upwind. The edge of a pasture was up a steep slope in front of me and about twenty-five yards away.
When I saw a flicker of movement in the trash, my first thought was that it was a squirrel, and I smiled to think of that grey juggling the osage orange. Watching intently, I saw that a deer was making its way toward the pasture, through the trash and up the slope. When it came into a more clear area, I saw that it was a small buck, a button. He minced along slowly, picking his way, and walked into the pasture and out of sight, never having been more than twenty-five yards from me. When I first realized a buck was in front of me, I raised my rifle and followed him along, waiting for a shot. I could never get his chest in my sights, so I let him walk away.
Now my head kicked into high gear, and I began calculating the possibilities. This was not my ordinary deer hunt, because I was carrying a flintlock for the first time, and not just any flintlock. For several years I had been in the market for an early American fowler. About five years ago, I bought what I thought was one at an auction. It seemed to be about 20 gauge, with a barrel of 49 1/2 inches and a very plain, slim profile. When I tried feeding it 20 gauge wads, I found that the bore was coned, and the gun was really a smooth rifle, .55 caliber from the breech to within 8 inches of the muzzle. I found that 28 gauge wads fit perfectly, so I worked up some shot loads and the old gun did very well with from 50-70 gr. FFg and equal volume of #6 and #7 1/2 shot. I do some solo treking on the guise of a Kentucky settler of 1778, so I incorporated the gun into my outfit and carried it for a while, doing only casual shooting, some squirrel and rabbit hunting. Swinging on running rabbits with that long barrel was...interesting.
In the mountains of northeastern Nevada in September, 1994, I took a nice mule deer buck with, as usual, my Ozark Mountain Arms .54 caliber Hawken. While musing with a friend in camp one evening, I became intrigued with the idea of taking a deer with a flintlock. My flintlock rifles are a .30 caliber and a .40 caliber, but I am a firm believer in large roundballs for large game, so when I returned home I began looking for a larger caliber rifle to buy. Then it dawned on me that I already owned a big flintlock, the old smooth rifle. But, could it be made to shoot heavy charges for deer? Could I hit anything with it?
During the few weeks before the deer season opened, I concentrated on working up a load for the gun, and was very pleased with the results. Starting at 80 gr. FFg behind a .540 round ball with a heavy patch, I worked up to a maximum charge of 110 gr. FFG with no apparent problems. All the charges gave acceptable accuracy, but a 100 gr. charge seemed best. One afternoon I shot at a 100 yard muzzle loading target with a 6 inch bull and a 1 inch "X" ring, sitting cross-legged and using the ramrod as a monopod. From 75 yards, I put the first shot absolutely in the "X", without breaking the ring. Considering that the gun has no rear sight and only a very low silver blade front sight, I decided that was all the evidence I needed to use it in the deer season.
Sitting under that tree, I considered the situation. The deer could be just over the rise, in the edge of the pasture. Stalking conditions were good, and there was a fair screen of trees between me and him, so it might be possible to move up the slope enough to get a shot. It wasn't a very big deer, not one I'd usually shoot with my Hawken, but I was hunting with an original flintlock. When would an opportunity such as this present itself, again? Quicker than it takes to tell it, I decided, and started slipping quietly up the slope, every sense alert.
I hadn't moved 15 yards when I became aware of movement through the trees to my right. I froze, then slowly swiveled my head around. The little buck was standing about 50 yards away, looking me in the eye. I stayed still and watched. It was nervous, and curious. Over a period of 5 minutes or so, it first trotted another 50 yards away, then pranced back toward me. In short fits and starts, moving first away, then toward, it moved back very near where it was when I first saw it watching me. Throughout this, it constantly raised and lowered its flag, spreading it out to impressive size.
Every time an opportunity presented itself, I turned a little to my right and raised my gun a little more. Eventually, I was able to get into a steady position with the gun rested on my hand which was holding onto a small tree. I cocked the hammer and put the sight on the chest. The first time the buck turned so that I had a clear shot at the chest area, I squeezed off the shot.
I'm always startled how much noise a large caliber black powder weapon makes, and how large a cloud of smoke appears. Before the scene was blotted out, I saw the buck smashed down onto its side, and it made no attempt to get up. It twitched a couple of times, then lay still. I started reloading, but it was obvious the deer was dead, so I didn't continue.
The shot entered just in front of the left shoulder and exited at the bottom of the ribs on the right, taking all major vessels as it went. That's the way I prefer to kill game, suddenly, with smashing power.
The little deer provided me with many delicious meals over the winter, each one made sweeter by the fact that it had been harvested with black powder, and an original flintlock at that. That was my first with the old gun, but I don't plan for it to be the last.
©1995 B.E. Spencer