Muzzleloader Deer Hunting For Mature Bucks | Great Days Outdoors

Muzzleloader Deer Hunting For Mature Bucks

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first muzzleloader deer hunting experience. While there was nothing remarkable about the hunt (I sat in a shooting house on a green field) or the deer (a very typical 80 lb deep south doe) an image of fire spewing out of the barrel while half of the field filled with the fog of war is etched into my synapses. 

It wasn’t my intent to fall in love with muzzleloader deer hunting that day, but it for sure happened. Despite not usually being one for “fiddle factor,” self-imposed limits, or tradition, the ole smoke pole won me over. Shooting a deer should be a big, exciting ordeal, and slamming the hammer down on a 209 primer always tickles my inner child. 

In this article, we’ll talk about the benefits of having a muzzleloader in your gun safe, and talk with Alabama public land legend Michael Perry about how you can use one as a tool to take some really exceptional bucks. 

Muzzleloader Hunting Benefits

The most practical advantage a muzzleloader offers deer hunters is more opportunities at deer. Hunters with a muzzleloader often have  access to the woods on days that centerfire hunters don’t, and they can even have access to entire tracts of public land that are off limits to regular gun hunters. 

Another benefit of a muzzleloader is the ability to easily tinker with your load. Loading your own centerfire cartridges involves a bench full of specialized tools, but every round you shoot through a muzzleloader is one-of-a-kind. It’s easy to experiment with different projectiles, powder types, powder charges, primers, and even how firmly you seat the bullet and compact your powder. If you like to tinker, you can kill an entire day with a pound of powder, a few different bullets, a calculator, a digital scale, and a chronograph. Want a reduced recoil load for kiddo to shoot? Easy. Pour less powder and load a lightweight Powerbelt. Want a magnum load that breaks 3 shoulders (both of his, and possibly one of yours)? Pour a little more powder and ram home one of the many ridiculously heavy solid lead or copper bone smashers. 


Is A Muzzleloader Considered A Firearm?

Another little-realized benefit of a muzzleloader is that you usually don’t have to fill out a Form 4473 to purchase one, since they are typically designated as “antique firearms” by the ATF. The exception to this general rule is muzzleloaders that can be easily converted to fire cartridge ammunition. Most muzzleloaders cannot be converted, but several shotguns or other conventional firearms can be outfitted with muzzleloader barrels and are considered modern firearms even when wearing those barrels. 

Muzzleloader Deer Hunting Tips With Michael Perry

On a recent episode of the Huntin’ Land Podcast, we were able to sit down with legendary big buck killers Michael and Kathy Perry to hear what they have to say about hunting big bucks with a muzzleloader.

muzzleloader deer hunting
Hunters with a muzzleloader often have  access to the woods on days that centerfire hunters don’t.

Michael has achieved significant notoriety for consistently killing above-average bucks year-after-year in Alabama, with his crowning achievement being the 195 6/8’ Black Warrior WMA bruiser that set the Alabama State Record for muzzleloader-harvested deer. While Michael receives more public recognition, his wife, Ms. Kathy, is a seasoned hunter herself and has killed several bucks that would be “once in a lifetime” caliber for many Alabama hunters. 

Deer Hunting Muzzleloader Points To Consider

One of the first things that first time muzzleloaders should be aware of is that, while muzzleloader technology has come a long way, they still can’t match the effective range of centerfire rifles. They are short range weapons. But according to Michael, this doesn’t present much of a problem.

“Any way that we hunt, whether with a rifle, muzzleloader, or bow; it’s very rare that we get even a 100 yard shot. I don’t think I’ve ever had to shoot out to 100 yards with a muzzleloader, and I’ve only had to do it a very few times with a rifle. I really can’t recall shooting a buck past about 50 yards with a muzzleloader. “

“I think my buck was only about 40 yards,” Kathy said, referring to a large 8 she harvested with a muzzleloader that won the AON Big Buck Competition.


“It wasn’t even that,” said Michael. “Closer to 30. Where we hunt, it’s thick, and we make a point to try and set up close to where we think deer will come out at.”

While muzzleloaders may not be long-distance performers, they are extremely lethal at close quarters, provided that shooters use the appropriate bullet.

muzzleloader deer hunting
Hunters should keep in mind that muzzleloaders are for short range hunts.

“I’m a big-caliber fan,” confides Michael. “When I shoot my .30-06, I’m usually shooting 150-180 grain bullets, which is pretty big. But with a .50 caliber muzzleloader, I’m shooting a 245 grain bullet. That bigger bullet punches a bigger hole and makes a better blood trail. And when we’re shooting at bucks, we’re straight-up aiming right at the shoulder. When that big, slow bullet hits that shoulder, it does a tremendous amount of damage and the blood trails that result are just insane.”

While many hunters appreciate that you can reduce the amount of powder in a muzzleloader to make a lighter-recoiling gun for kids, women, and smaller-framed shooters, you may be surprised to learn that Kathy shoots a full 100 grain load.

“It’s really not that bad,” she chuckled in our interview. “I tell people that when you pull the trigger on a big buck, you’re definitely not going to remember that recoil afterwards.”

Another thing to keep in mind is that muzzleloaders are dirtier to operate than conventional firearms. Almost noone shoots true black powder anymore due to it being, among other things, extremely dirty to shoot. Even the “cleaner” modern black powder substitutes are remarkably dirtier than smokeless powder. With that being said, Michael’s cleaning routine is relatively simple.

“At the end of a hunt I’ll go home and spray a foaming cleaner down the barrel and make sure that I get the barrel clean and then dry patch it a bunch of times. And before the season starts or whenever I load it for a hunt, I make sure to dry patch it really well to make sure that there’s no residual oil left anywhere. Some people are big about firing just a cap to make sure the barrel is dry, but I’ve never really felt a need to. Aside from keeping the barrel clean and dry, the only other big issue is to make sure the firing hole in the breech plug is clean and not obstructed.”

Gear Needed For Hunting With A Muzzleloader

Michael and Kathy both prefer to keep their gear simple.

“There are several good companies out there,” says Michael, “but we’re both particular to CVA. It’s what we got comfortable with and once I get comfortable with something I just don’t switch. They’re accurate, and they’re really easy to clean. The new ones; you can just take the breech plug out with your fingers. I shoot their Optima Long range, and Kathy has a Wolf and an Accura. Her Accura has a nitride-coated barrel, and mine is stainless, so they’re both really easy to keep clean.”

CVA Optima


  • 416 Stainless Steel, Fluted, 28″ Barrel
  • Bullet Guiding Muzzle
  • 100% Ambidextrous Stock
  • QRBP – Quick Release Breech Plug
  • Reversible Hammer Spur
  • CrushZone recoil pad
  • DuraSight DEAD-ON One-Piece Scope Mount

CVA Wolf


  • .50 Caliber
  • 1:28″ Twist Rate
  • 6.15 lbs. Total Weight
  • Premium 24″ Barrel in 416 SS with a Bullet Guiding Muzzle
  • QRBP – Quick Release Breech Plug
  • Reversible Cocking Spur
  • DuraSight® DEAD-ON™ One-Piece Scope Mount OR open fiber-optic sights
  • 100% Ambidextrous Stock
  • Adjustable Length of Pull with removable 1″ spacer
  • CrushZone® Recoil Pad
  • Solid Aluminum PalmSaver™ Ramrod

CVA Accura


  • QRBP – Quick Release Breech Plug
  • Cerakote Sniper Grey Barrel and Action
  • 26″ Fluted Premium Stainless Steel Nitride Bergara Barrel
  • Veil Alpine Camo Stock + SoftTouch
  • 1:28 (.50 cal)
  • 3/4×24 (.50 cal)
  • .50 cal
  • .50 cal also available with Williams Rear Peep and Fiber Optic Front Sights PR3223N
  • Carbon Fiber PalmSaver™ Ramrod
  • CrushZone® Recoil Pad
  • Quake Claw Sling
  • 44″ Overall Length
  • 14.5″ Length of Pull
  • 7.8 lbs. Total Weight

“We also shoot Pyrodex pellets for the same reason, they burn pretty clean and we’ve just gotten comfortable with them. And I always shoot the Winchester 209 primers. I feel like once you find something that works, you’re better off sticking with it. You hate to try something new and find out there’s an issue after you’ve pulled the trigger on a big buck!”

Michael and Kathy also both shoot solid-copper Barnes bullets. Solid-copper bullets have become very popular with serious muzzleloaders in recent years because they retain weight and transfer energy very well. If you’re looking to get the most performance possible out of your muzzleloader, the extra cost of a solid-copper bullet is a worthwhile tradeoff. 

Public Land Muzzleloader Hunt Opportunities

In Alabama, muzzleloader season historically comes in a week before centerfire season, giving muzzleloaders a crack at bucks who haven’t been harassed by the entire orange army on opening day. In addition, many properties in Alabama only allow gun hunting with a muzzleloader or a shotgun. I purchased my muzzleloader to be eligible for SOA (Special Opportunity Area) hunts in Dallas County, as well as to be able to hunt Corps of Engineers Land and Forever Wild tracts that do not allow centerfire rifles. One fairly modest purchase granted me access to thousands of acres of habitat scattered throughout the state. That’s a pretty good deal in a time where nothing is a deal anymore!

To highlight how much extra opportunity a muzzleloader can bring to a hunter, I’ll outline my first season hunting with one. As mentioned, I bought it because I had been drawn for a special, muzzleloader-only hunt on an SOA. During the 3 days my father and I were on that hunt, we harvested 7 does. The hunts typically allow each hunter one doe per day of the hunt, but I didn’t have any buck tags left for that hunt and the managing biologist was kind enough to allow me an extra doe since heavy doe harvest is part of that area’s management plan. To say we filled our coolers that weekend is an understatement.

In addition to that extremely memorable hunt, I was able to harvest an additional 2 hogs and 2 does with my muzzleloader that year on a public property that does not allow centerfire weapons. Each year since then, I’ve killed at least 2 extra deer a year that I otherwise wouldn’t have had an opportunity to harvest.

muzzleloader deer hunting book

To learn more about taking deer on public land, check out Michael Perry’s book “Deer Hunting Secrets to taking Mature Bucks on Public Lands.”

Final Thoughts On Muzzleloader Deer Hunting

While inline muzzleloaders lack the mass appeal of centerfire weapons and the glamor of archery tackle, they do have their own charm. There’s something satisfying about measuring out a load of powder, carefully seating a bullet, and watching smoke and fire belch from the end of the muzzle. And, charm aside, they’re just plain practical if your goal is to be able to hunt as many days and as many acres as possible. If you haven’t added a muzzleloader to your gun safe, make this the year that you give muzzleloading a try!

Full Disclosure: This post may include affiliate links. There’s no extra charge to our readers for using these.

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