Hunting Iowa's Late Muzzleloader Season

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    Hunting Iowa's Late Muzzleloader Season
     by Tracy Templeton 2000

    There are many advantages you should take note of if you are only considering hunting Iowa's late muzzleloader season. The biggest advantage to late season, in my opinion, is going solo. The woods are nearly devoid of hunters. If you also bowhunt, like I do, you can employ the same tactics used while bowhunting, only your shooting distance is greatly increased. You also know the caliber of bucks that were in the areas you bowhunted, so you have another edge here.  They weren't all taken during the shotgun season or nobody would be taking trophies next year.

    Another plus for late muzzleloader hunting is accessibility to possibly several hunting areas. What land was once off limits before the shotgun season now becomes a realistic goal for you. Landowners are much more receptive to a lone late season hunter. You could gain access to some prime ground. You don't know if you don't ask!

    The 2000-2001 season runs from December 19, 2000 to January 10, 2001. This gives you three weeks in which to tag a deer. Even if you only hunt weekends and holidays, this should give you plenty of time to bring home the venison. If you are a die-hard deer hunting fanatic, like myself (you'll know you have reached this point when your wife starts talking about getting your priorities in order), you can schedule in some of your vacation time from work.

    It is true the deer are extremely wary after the regular shotgun season, however, they usually begin to calm down after approximately a week. Throw in some cold weather and snow on the ground and these same deer become very patternable, including trophy bucks. Feeding and bedding areas are in limited supply and the deer will be more concentrated in these areas. As the season progresses, you can almost set your watch by the timing of the first does to enter a picked crop field.

    As mentioned earlier, feeding and bedding areas become scarce during late season. If there is little to no snow on the ground, search out the best available food sources such as picked corn and bean fields or possibly even a crop field that has not been harvested for one reason or another. An unharvested crop field is like a magnet to deer. When checking other crop fields, such as a picked cornfield, get out there and actually walk off sections of it. If you cannot find any kernels of corn or missed ears of corn, the deer cannot either. Deer will also browse on bean stubble. Another choice is hay ground. During late season, however, corn seems to be the number one choice for deer. Without snow on the ground, deer will travel quite a distance to feed on corn until the supply is depleted.

    When you locate a field the deer are feeding in, start by back tracking. Note entry and exit routes of the field. Also, note direction of travel by tracks. The tracks will tell you in which direction the deer are bedding from the field. Once you locate a likely bedding area, keep your distance. Instead, set up between the suspected bedding area and the field you have chosen. A tree stand isn't necessary for this, just pick as good a vantage point as you can to cover as much area as possible where the deer are traveling to reach the field. If you are not seeing deer during legal shooting time, one-half hour before sunrise and one-half hour after sunset, you need to move closer to the bedding area at this time. This is where good camouflage, maintaining a low profile, and remaining quiet are very important. Use the terrain to your advantage when setting up as deer can literally see you coming a mile away.

    If there is snow on the ground, food becomes even tougher for the deer to find. A couple of exceptions are fields that slope to the south with the sun melting the snow away and the areas that are in the wind blowing the snow away. If the snow is deep and all crop fields covered, the deer will be on a "browse-only" diet. Look for large thickets and timber that has been logged within the past couple of years creating a lot of new browse. Deer are not going far until conditions improve. In this case, you need to be in the thick of it, so to speak. This is where a tree stand is useful. Set up overlooking thick areas where the deer are browsing. The down side is they will catch onto you very quickly so make your first hunt your best attempt. Get on a stand at approximately 10:00 a.m. and stay all day, if possible. The deer will move periodically all day in these areas, especially on sunny days. White camouflage is a must in getting to your stand. Even while in the stand, white works very well, especially when you are sky-lined. The white camo blends into the sky, making you look less conspicuous. Remember, however, a solid blaze orange vest is the ­minimum­ during muzzleloader season required by Iowa hunting regulations.

    Toward the end of the muzzleloader season, if the deer are still hitting crop fields not covered in deep snow, they will begin arriving at the field during legal shooting hours. You may be able to harvest your deer over the crop field at this time. I have watched deer enter fields in this manner late in the season. The first to arrive are the does and yearlings. The bucks arrive later if they are using the same crop field. Bucks will stop just inside the cover and observe the does and yearlings, reading their body language. If the bucks see the does and yearlings are relaxed and feeding with an occasional twitch of the tail, this means the coast is clear and they will begin entering the field, often in single file, with the largest buck in the rear so hold your fire when the first buck arrives. You never know if the buck of a lifetime will shortly thereafter.

    If these tips still fail to produce for you, whether you're after venison or a trophy buck, try these suggestion:

    1. From a distance, glass south facing slopes. You may spot a nice buck that you can stalk close enough to for a shot. You will be trying to stalk with a crosswind, because a trophy buck will almost always bed with the wind at his back. This way he can see what is coming from the front and smell what is behind him. If there are other bucks bedded with this buck, you have a problem. At least one buck will be monitoring the wind, while the others will be watching in different directions. I have seen this many times while hunting bedding areas.

    2. If you have a friend who has an
    unfilled Iowa late muzzleloader tag, hunt together and try this: Local a large thick bedding area. The deer will be very reluctant to leave it. Start at the downwind side. Send one man in first, moving slowly and quietly as if you were still-hunting. The second man should follow the first hunter's path only 75 to 100 yards behind and off to one side so the first man is not in the line of fire depending on cover thickness. It is essential that the hunter bringing up the rear be as quiet as possible. The deer, especially a wise buck, will try to circle downwind of the first hunter in order that he can keep track of the hunter through scent as well as sound. If everything goes according to plan, the deer will cross in front of the second hunter, offering a shot. Wear a lot of blaze orange, not just a vest, and track each other visually at all times. If you have your doubts as to the whereabouts of your hunting partner, do not shoot!!! There is not a buck out there that is worth taking risks.

    3. With snow on the ground and two hunters, walk together in a large bedding area until you jump a buck. If no shot is offered, leave one hunter in the immediate area. The other hunter should begin tracking the deer. If he does not try to circle around you right away, keep tracking, but go slowly. You only want him to try to stay just ahead of you. This is what he will do if you move slowly. You are tracking him, but he is also keeping track of you, as I stated previously. You may be lucky enough to see him ahead of you, watching your movements. If not, sooner or later, there is a very good chance he will circle and end up very close to where you first jumped him offering a shot to the hunter left behind.

    Choosing a Rifle
    Whether you choose the older style side-lock muzzleloader or a newer in-line model, is a matter of personal choice. I have hunted with both, but began using an in-line several years ago when only one company, Modern Muzzleloading, better known today as Knight Rifles, began producing them in Centerville, Iowa. In 1985, Tony Knight developed the first in-line muzzleloader, the MK-85. According to Knight's catalog, the definition of in-line is "unobstructed in-line path to the gunpowder". 
    The new in-line Knight rifle now makes it possible to disassemble your entire rifle and be sure it was clean before heading afield. The cap fits snugly over the nipple preventing any moisture from dampening your powder. I have hunted in all weather conditions with my Knight rifle and it has never let me down, not a single misfire or hang-fire. For those of you not familiar with muzzleloaders, a misfire is the percussion cap not firing which prevents the powder from igniting. A hang-fire is a delayed ignition after the percussion cap fires. This is usually due to damp gunpowder and results in very poor bullet flight.
    The design of the in-line style muzzleloader eliminates these problems.

    I hunt with the stainless steel MK-85 Predator. My daughter took her first deer when she was 12-years old using my MK-85 during Iowa's youth deer season. She made a perfect double lung shot on a doe at 80-yards. My wife also hunts with a muzzleloader and shoots the Knight Wolverine LK-93, which is shorter and lighter.

    Knight offers the Wolverine LK-93 value pack, which includes everything you need to get started, except gunpowder and percussion caps. This is a good investment for a person who wishes to purchase a muzzleloader. Cabela's also offers the Knight USA-K value pack. With each Knight rifle purchase, you also receive a free instructional video, which provides step-by-step information regarding loading, sighting in, and cleaning of your rifle. Knight rifles are accurate. With my scoped MK-85, the rifle is dead on at 100 yards with consistent groups of 1-1/2 inches. I use 90-grains of Pyrodex Select and the new 250-grain hollow point Barnes Red Hot Bullets with sabots. Follow the instructions on the video and you can get the same results.

    There are also other benefits to late Muzzleloading not associated with tagging a deer. Solitude is high on my list. Doing your own thing your own way is another. If you are seeing deer, but nothing you want to put your tag on, take your camera or camcorder along. You will not only have pictures and films to enjoy, but you will learn a lot about deer and their behavior, making you a better hunter. Remember...keep it fun. That is why you are really out there.

    For more information on Knight rifles and accessories contact:

    P.O. Box 130
    234 Airport Road
    Centerville, Iowa 52544
    (641) 856-2626

    You can visit their showroom at the above address from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

    You can also purchase rifles and all accessories there. If you like, you may also take a tour of the factory where the rifles are made and customized.

    Good luck this ate muzzleloader season!

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