Making Sense of Oregon’s Muzzleloader Regulations
By Gary Lewis
When I became the owner of a new muzzleloader late last year, I was proud to show it off to everyone who'd take the time to look.
"Isn't that illegal in Oregon?" was the first question everyone asked. Then they'd heft it and put it to their shoulder and sight down the octagonal barrel through the fiber optic sights at some imaginary mule deer buck.
"No, it's not illegal," I'd tell them. "I can use it to hunt during most big game seasons, but I will have to change a few things to make it work if I use it on a muzzleloader-only hunt. Before I do that, I'm going to Africa."
My rifle is an Austin & Halleck bolt-action muzzleloader that weighs about nine pounds when equipped with its curly maple stock, a scope and sling. Fitted with a match-grade trigger that breaks at 3.5 pounds, the gun is capable of punching one-inch groups at 100 yards. The 26-inch match-grade half-round/half octagonal barrel has a 1:28 twist, perfect for shooting conical or saboted bullets. The weight of the barrel tames recoil and contributes to stability and consistency, no matter the weather, from the Oregon coast to the Kalahari.
Preparing for my safari, I installed Warne removable scope mounts and a Bushnell Elite Firefly scope. A 3-2-1 reticle that steps down not once, but twice, makes target acquisition a snap. Shine a flashlight into the ocular lens for a few minutes and the crosshair glows for up to two hours in low light.
I chose a Winchester 209 shotgun primer to ignite the Hodgdon Triple Seven blackpowder, which would propel a sabot, carrying a 45-caliber Nosler 260-grain Partition HG bullet.
After my first session at the range, I was pleased with how fast the Hodgdon powder cleaned up. I've hunted with, and shot sidelock rifles with blackpowder for years. This new Hodgdon product cleaned up with tap water. No hot water and soap. No stinky solvents, just plain old tap water.
Cleaning the barrel with a dry patch after each shot gave me the consistency I needed to sight the rifle in. Shooting from a rest, I was able to keep two shots within a two-inch group at 100 yards.
What I found was that the technology extended my effective range with the blackpowder rifle from 100 yards to 175 yards. But no amount of technical innovation will ever make this the firearm one with which to attempt running shots or take shots at marginal angles. With a muzzleloader in hand, I want a broadside shot or nothing.
Sighting in, to hit the target three inches high at 100 yards, the gun printed four inches high at 50 yards and three inches low at 150. My last modification was in the form of a ballistics "cheat sheet" I taped to the stock.
In Namibia, on safari with Kalahari Trophies, my rifle accounted for an elk-size kudu, two hartebeest, and a blesbok. I took the kudu at 68 yards, the hartebeest were shot at 78 yards and at 118 yards. The blesbok stopped to look back, giving me a broadside opportunity at 160 yards. Not only did the rifle help put meat on the table, it earned a place in my heart and my gun cabinet.
Now I'm contemplating my next opportunity to take the muzzleloader afield. I'll probably hunt pronghorns next year. I've got the preference points. But to be legal during Oregon's muzzleloader hunt, I'll have to make a few changes.
OREGON'S MUZZLELOADER RULES
In any hunt series with a season designation ending in "M" and certain 600 series hunts, the firearm must conform to the following standard as described in the Oregon Big Game Regulations:
"Muzzleloader" is any single-barreled (double-barreled shotguns are permissible) long gun meant to be fired from the shoulder and loaded from the muzzle with an open ignition system (cap or flint exposed to the elements) and open or peep sights. Open ignition in-line percussion, sidelock, under-hammer, top-hammer, mule ear percussion, flintlock and wheellock guns are allowed.
During any hunt series with a season designation ending in "M" and certain 600 series hunts, the following rules apply to muzzleloader ammunition and loading:
It is illegal to hunt with jacketed bullets, sabots and bullets with plastic or synthetic bases. It is illegal to hunt with pelletized powders. It is illegal to hunt with centerfire primers as the ignition source. It is illegal to use scopes, fiber optic sights and other sights that use artificial light or enhance and gather or concentrate natural light.
CONVERTING TO THE OREGON STANDARD
Before my hunt in Oregon, I'll remove the scope and reinstall open sights. A little black paint will nullify the light-gathering capability of the optic fibers.
I'll switch to granulated (loose) Triple Seven powder. The Austin & Halleck came with extra percussion nipples that will allow me to convert to a percussion cap. In Oregon, I'll use a No. 11.
In Oregon's muzzleloader seasons, no plastic is allowed on the bullet, so I'll ram 50-caliber CVA Buckslayer 300-grain conicals down on top of the Triple Seven. It'll take a little time at the range to work out the best load combination, but I've grown fond of this rifle.
When the sun comes up on opening day, I'll likely be watching a waterhole or set up at a natural crossing, waiting for a pronghorn to move into view. With open sights, I'll limit my shots to under 100 yards. When I see the buck I'm after, I'll wait for him to turn broadside, then my faithful muzzleloader will make meat again in the Oregon desert.