It's been a long time coming, but I finally managed to get a deer with a muzzleloading pistol.
In my efforts to increase my effective range during muzzleloader season, I traded off my factory 50x209 Encore barrel and ordered a custom MatchGradeMachine 45x209 barrel back at the end of the summer. It arrived about a month ago, but work and home obligations have meant I haven't had much time to develop loads with it. I'm very pleased with the craftsmanship, as always, and I was definitely interested in trying out their new smoke brake after feeling the recoil from 100 grain powder charges in the Optima and previous Encore configuration.
My intention was, and still is, to attempt to try out some 357 Magnum projectiles with the proper sabot, but bullets of all types are getting harder to find. What I did manage to find was a few packs of 225 grain 45 caliber Powerbelt Aerotip bullets, which shot quite accurately out of my Encore. Pushed along with a 100 grain charge of Blackhorn 209, the Powerbelts averaged around 1850 fps even out of the short barrel. Running the ballistics, I felt confident that I finally had my 200 yard muzzleloader handgun, especially with the degree of accuracy I managed to get.
This year's muzzleloader season began on the 7th, and it's been pretty much a bust. While it seems like all of my family and friends have been seeing plenty of movement, all I'd seen was a single doe on opening morning. It's been unseasonably hot the first week of season, but a cold front finally put an end to that.
Which leads us to this morning. Due to Covid, we're not meeting in person at work this week and next, so hunting these much cooler mornings was a given. I almost missed my alarm, but daybreak saw me in the blind overlooking my western food plot. Despite the increased deer movement these past few days, I didn't see a single thing this morning in the plot. As I trekked through the woods on my way out of the plot, I spotted movement in the field ahead. Two does trotted out from behind a hill about 250-300 yards away, chased by a large buck. As the trio moved out of sight, I crept through the fallen leaves and emerged into the field.
I've referenced this field before. My sister and I affectionately call it the killing field, because we tend to be pretty successful when hunting in it. In it, I've put together a "hay bale blind" - a cluster of 5 large round hay bales pushed together with an opening in the middle - located at the top of a hill overlooking the mostly flat 14 acre field. As quickly as I could, I crested the hill and entered the blind. The buck and the two does had vanished, but I decided to wait.
Not a minute later, the buck reemerged from my right, trotting across at about 200 yards away. I couldn't help but notice he was limping badly as he did so. Unfortunately, since I had planned on hunting in the smaller food plot, I didn't bring my rangefinder to get an exact measurement for my ballistic reticle. After blowing a few grunts on my grunt tube and playing a doe bleat, the buck curved my direction and vanished behind the smaller hill in front of me. I set the Encore up on the hay bale, waiting for him to emerge on the hilltop, which I knew to be almost exactly 100 yards away.
Shortly afterward, the buck appeared over the hill and continued half trotting, half limping my way. I was content to let him get as close as possible, and as he approached, I counted at least 8 points. He stopped in the valley below, panting from his futile doe chase. As he turned broadside, I pulled back the hammer and in my excitement settled the crosshairs a little further back than I should have. At only 52 yards, the Encore's muzzle blast echoed through the countryside.
When the smoke cleared, I saw the buck hobble up the hill and disappear down the other side. He didn't reemerge even in the time it took me to reload, so I quietly followed up. Cresting that second hill myself, I saw him laying on the ground at the base. I approached carefully to within just a few yards, but he appeared to not be moving.
That is, until he started to stand up.
I don't know who was more startled, me or him, but before he could get completely up and run, I unholstered my Optima and fired into this shoulder from a mere 12-15 feet away. He fell back down and thrashed a bit as I put some distance between us. Thankfully, that was the end of it.
The buck turned out to be a 9 point, having a small brow tine just above the antler base on his right side. Not quite as wide as I initially thought, but his mass more than made up for it. I'm just happy to have broken my buck drought. It's been almost 5 years since my last one.
He was in pretty rough shape, easily the worst out of all the deer I've ever killed. The reason for his strange gait was quickly apparent: his front left leg was broken about a third of the way up from his joint. I don't know how, but the lack of a wound or scar rules out a poor hit from a bullet. He also had an old wound on his lower right eyelid, as well as a thick white cataract on his right eye that must have really impaired his vision on that side.
Upon closer inspection, I confirmed that I hit him further back than I wanted. It wasn't a gut shot, but I only clipped his lungs and liver with the Powerbelt. Despite the potent load, it didn't exit the deer, but I didn't manage to find it while field dressing him. The shot from the Optima, a 200 grain XPB pushed along at about 1,550 fps, entered just behind his right shoulder and lodged under the hide of his left leg. While I don't currently have a picture of it, I did recover the XPB.
Despite having a few more opportunities to hunt before gun season opens, I think I'll take a bit of a break from hunting until then. I'm still dying to try out that 460 S&W barrel I ordered back last year, and I've got one more buck tag left.