2016 Utah Muzzleloader Deer Season — Bucks Galore

 

This blows me away! I am amazed at how #accurate my Accura V2 @cvamuzzleloaders is with AeroLite 300 Gr #powerbeltbullets. These three shots were shot at 100 yards, in breezy conditions and 88 degrees. I shot from sand bags and fired each shot within a couple minutes of one another with a spit patch ran down the barrel between each shot. I also just switched to a BlackHorn loose powder breech plug. #triple7 primer, 120 gr Triple7 FFG loose powder, #velocity 1785, 1803 & 1809 fps. @vortexoptics 4-16x50 Viper HS LR scope, @evolutiongunworks Rail, @burriscompany Signature Zee rings. #cvamuzzleloader #vortexoptics #hunting #evolutiongunworks #elkhunting #muzzyscope #huntutah #utahhunting #getoutside #getoutdoors #deerhunting #outdoors #outdoorlife @muzzleloaders #muzzleloader #muzzleloading #bullets

A photo posted by Brady Smith (@diyhntr) on

This year I have muzzleloader deer and elk tags like last year. I was hopeful to get a muley on the ground and end my mule deer dry spell dating back to 2011.

This year Utah opened up muzzleloaders to have variable power optics. While this is nice option to have, I really would have preferred that a 1x restriction would have stayed in place. Not that I don't like the variable power, just that I know more people will be out hunting with muzzleloaders, something I'm sure the DWR knew would happen, taking a little pressure off the rifle season.

This year I had Dallen come with me on my pack trip in the high country. With heavy amounts of early snow in the high country we had to start hiking a mile further because of impassable snow drifts in the road. With this extra mile and the deep snow to hike through we decided to hunt our way across the mountain for four days instead of just hiking the full six miles in and only hunting in that area.

The night before the opener Dallen and I seen a few deer, a small four and three point were out feeding not far from where we camped. We went to sleep dreaming of big bucks come morning. 

Opening morning we woke and hiked out to a point to glass a basin for deer. We found around ten bucks with a couple four point bucks in the 22 inch wide size. We decided they weren't what I was looking for and picked up camp and Pack Wheeled in another mile to check out some other canyons for the afternoon and evening.

That afternoon we watched a bunch more deer including a beautiful four point buck that tempted me really hard to go after. He again was right around 22 inches wide but had larger very even forks with a very symmetrical frame. We decided to save him for a possible rifle season trip with Dallen and Landen my 12 year old who will be hunting for the first time later in October.

That evening we had a whopper of a lightning storm move in on us. It was pretty intense but just before the storm started dumping on us, the sun was setting with light coming in under the dark storm clouds. It made for some amazing photos that I quickly took of Dallen with his Pack Wheel just before we scrambled to get a tarp out to wrap around us and ride out the lightning storm.

The next morning we hiked up and down some canyons looking for a good buck. All we found were does, so midday we broke camp and started headed further down the trail with our Pack Wheels.

As we were hiking down the trail we crested a ridge line and busted a mature 3x4 buck in a area I never see deer at before. I dropped my Pack Wheel and took off to try and circle the canyon and get a shot at this nice buck. When I got to within about 150 yards of where I last saw the buck I started slipping my way down through jack pines and snow covered ground. As I was slipping, literally slipping in the snow trying to be as quiet as possible I heard something go out the other side where I couldn't see. I figured it was him but I kept sneaking in to see what I might find. As I got to the spot I found two small bucks both young 3x4's. I was able to sneak to within 40 or so yards of them and get some fun photos but they weren't nearly large enough for me to want to shoot.

That evening we finished packing in the full six miles... make that seven miles this year thanks to the snow. 

The next morning we climbed into and glassed a couple basins finding lots of bucks across one canyon all safely located on a CWMU. After glassing this basin for an hour or so I looked down to our side of the canyon and there was a 4 point right below us that must have been bedded and decided to stand up. He wasn't the largest four point. Probably in the 22 inch wide range but he was in a very easy spot to get him boned out and up to a ridge line where we could wheel him off the mountain with my Pack Wheel. With all this in mind Dallen ranged him at 166 yards and a 31 degree downhill cross hill shot. I plugged in the information into Strelok Pro and sent a bullet right over his back. What the heck was that?!? 166 yards was a chip shot with my sub MOA shooting 300 Gr Aerolite bullets, CVA Accura V2 with Vortex 4-16x50 HS LR scope. What just happened?!? I could hit milk jugs out to 310 yards just fine while practicing.

One thing I didn't factor is the lift I would get from the fairly strong wind that was blowing into the steep sidehill. I have learned that shooting across a slope that has a wind blowing against it deflects some of the wind upward creating lift. I had held a little for the crosswind but not thought of any lift at the time of the shot. This alone would account for maybe a couple inches at this range. Second, I obviously may have just pulled the shot, but the shot didn't feel like I pulled it??? And Third, something I have been reading and studying about. If you want to shoot long range with a muzzleloader you need to load it just before you take the shot. Having a load in the barrel over night and various temperature changes must create moisture and something that greatly effects the accuracy. I have read where it is best to discharge your muzzleloader every evening and load a fresh load in the morning. I talked with a guy on the mountain that talked about only loading the muzzleloader after spotting the deer.  More on this third item in a minute.

Oh, one of the things I found from going out and shooting the 300 Gr Aerolite bullets is that the published BC of .222 for this bullet is not what I was getting with respect to actual bullet drops. My calculation from using Strelok Pro was that the BC was somewhere around .195 for this bullet. I later received an email confirming this from PowerBelt Bullets that the .222 published was incorrect and that their data had the BC at .197. Not the greatest BC for this bullet but the accuracy is amazing!

After missing the shot we hiked down to verify that I hadn't just sent the bullet right through him when Dallen spotted the bullet hit the cliffs behind him. Sure enough a clean miss right over his back. I have spent a lot of time running this miss through my head... I wasn't too upset about not getting this buck as he wasn't a huge buck but missing has been driving me crazy. Anyhow back to the hunt.

After missing I wanted to head down into some untouched canyons. We spent most of the day going into some awesome canyons. We found another four point and another 3x4. The four point wasn't wide but had decent mass and forks however he was right on the private property line according to my maps in Back Country Navigator Pro and the KML I downloaded from the DWR of the CWMU boundaries. So I let the buck walk just to be safe.

When we were down in these canyons we bumped a doe that climbed up a few yards and stopped right out in the open a little over 100 yards from us. The strangest thing I have ever seen with a deer's behavior during a hunting season then happened. The doe was right in the path of where we needed to go, to climb out of the canyon, so we just kept hiking towards her and she never moved, in fact she started chewing her cud and browsing on some of the vegetation by her. It was really steep where we were at as we slowly hiked past her. She was probably only 40 yards away as we hiked past her. It was like she was a pet deer in a national park or something. Kind of strange experience for me on this mountain.

Latter that evening we glassed a bunch more bucks with one in particular that I wanted to shoot. The group of bucks was feeding out of the CWMU and onto the public ground at the last light of the day. I felt that it best to wake up extra early the next morning and slip into the area and cut off the route back to the CWMU hoping they would be there the next morning.

Well it sounded like a good plan but the deer had all disappeared except one small buck come morning. It appeared that they moved back into the CWMU long before daylight and were already bedded at daylight. Curses!!!

This was my last day to hunt and hike off the mountain. We stopped and hiked through some nasty thick small quaking aspens trying to check out some different canyons on the way off the mountain but never found a deer.

So yet another year that I come up short getting a mule deer. There's always next year I guess. I've been saying that for a few years now. 

So back to accuracy issues with a load that sits in your muzzleloader for an extended period of time. After the hunt I went shooting some reloads in some rifles and I also needed to empty my muzzleloader. I setup the chronograph and fired the load that had been sitting in my muzzleloader for several days. That shot missed the bullseye by near four inches to the right. I loaded up the muzzleloader and fired again. This fresh load only missed a perfect center shot by only 1/2 inch. The velocities (which I wrote down and can't find now) were both around 20 fps of one another so that wsn't a problem. So what caused the inaccuracy of the sitting charge?

At a minimum I will be discharging my muzzleloader at each day's end on future hunts. If I can get a quick system to load my muzzleloader I may hunt with an unloaded gun in the future. I also wonder if I ran a spit batch down the bore on top of a sitting charge just before taking a shot would bring the accuracy back to where it should be. It's kind of hard to do a lot of field testing on this. Load a gun leave it outside for a few days the shoot it and then repeat... This could take forever to get good data on what is going on.

Next up Landen's first elk hunt

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