Muzzleloader Blacktail Hunts are Better When it’s Wetter

By Gary Lewis

Gary Lewis Books and DVDs

If I could pick one word to describe Western Oregon in November, that word would be ‘wet’. And wet is a good thing. The more rain and snow the better, at least if you’re holding a controlled muzzleloader tag for a November blacktail hunt.

These hunts include the 100M1 North Muzzleloader, 121M South Indigo, 123M Melrose-N. Sixes and the 128M Applegate Unit. By the middle of November most of the leaves have fallen and visibility in the woods is far better than when the archers and center-fire rifle hunters took to the woods. If you want a chance to hunt Oregon blacktails in the rut, this could be your best opportunity.

At this time of year when the days are short and the bucks are intoxicated by the smells emanating from the does, you can put a real trophy in your sights. But since these are either-sex hunts, if you’re looking for fresh winter meat, you’ve got good odds you’ll be bringing it home. Either way, you’re going to want to hunt the does, because in November, the bucks will be where the does are.

Doug Gattis of Southern Oregon Game Busters (541-770-5050) in Medford knows as much about hunting trophy blacktails as anyone in the business. For 13 years, he’s been guiding hunters to the bucks of their dreams. For a chance at a wall-hanger, he likes the muzzleloader hunt best of all.

"In November you will find bucks that you would never see during the summer or the early fall. This is the only time of year you will actually see many of these big bucks," he said. "These big bucks are way more nocturnal than people think."

The fact is that blacktails are just more comfortable in low light. According to Gattis, much of the breeding is done at night. And when he’s planning his hunts, he watches the weather. "I like it really cold. When we have 20 degree mornings and 40 degrees at noon, it keeps the does feeding all day." And that keeps the bucks on the move.

To put his hunters in line for a buck, Gattis hunts the females. "We’re constantly scouting and we pinpoint the does and keep going back to see if a buck has moved in."

Oregon hunters are limited in the effectiveness of the muzzleloaders they can use. It really is a primitive weapons hunt. For this reason, hunters should pay special attention to their gear. That means you must be proficient with the weapon. Practice for a couple of months in advance so that you know exactly what your bullet and powder combination will do at various distances and in different weather conditions. Since fiber-optics are illegal during these hunts, be sure to practice with your open sights at first light or late in the evening to approximate the conditions you’ll encounter in the field.

The weather can affect your load performance. Let your powder get wet and you might as well head back to the truck. When you’re out in the rain, you should protect the powder charge by carrying the rifle with a piece of leather over the nipple. If you use an in-line, protect the breech with a removable cover.

A common cause of misfires is a percussion cap that isn’t fully seated on the nipple. Another thing that new hunters often forget to do is to snap a cap after cleaning their rifle and before loading for the hunt. Burn a cap before you load to ensure the flash hole is clean and dry. 

Take care of your muzzleloader and it will perform even under the worst conditions. Most important, watch the weather forecast and pick a cold mid-November day when the sky is spitting snow or rain. Don’t let a little precipitation keep you indoors, because November’s blacktail hunts are better when it’s wetter.

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