The pheasant hunting for this old ground pounder is about over for another year.  Thinking back on my almost 60 year career of chasing the Chinese chicken there are a lot of very fond memories. 

The first pheasant I ever saw was exploding out of a patch of prairie grass on my grandmother’s farm and I was about five years of age.  The whir of his wings and the shout of my uncle “rooster” startled and excited me at the same time. 

There is something about the cackle of a pheasant that gets the juices flowing.  After being introduced to black power hunting by Joe Arterbern from Cabela’s, I embarked upon years of shooting them with primitive weapons.  It is a way to maintain contact with the old way of hunting in our modern high tech world. 

Using any type of weapon, shotgun, bow or black powder, I prefer to hunt over dogs that work close.  At the approach of danger, pheasants can drop their head and tail to the ground and sneak off.  They disappear even in the thinnest of cover.  Pressured by a dog that works far out the birds can be seen zipping down a fence row like a road runner.  Or worse yet, they will flush way out of gun range. 

In addition to hunting close to the dogs, it is advisable to work slowly and stop often.  Pheasants are nervous birds.  If I stop they seem to think they have been spotted.  These kings of the prairie just can not stand to sit tight if they think they have been spotted. 

An advantage of hunting pheasants with a muzzle loader is the lack of recoil.  Due to the relatively slow burning of the black powder or Pyrodex, the recoil is significantly reduced.  It is a feature that greatly appeals to me since I am prone to not mounting my gun properly to the shoulder.  The result is an increase in recoil that really smarts. 

Problems can appear when hunting black powder with other partners.  There is the rub about the amount of time it takes to reload, even though it is just a matter of minutes.  Using speed loaders, one can reload quickly.  It is still not as fast as with shotgun shells. 

Another problem is the amount of smoke emitted.  Like most hunters I like to see if I hit the bird and where he lands.  On a windy day smoke disperses quickly.  On quiet days it can be a nuisance.  On windy days I find that shooting into the wind demands keeping my mouth shut.  The smoke tastes terrible. 

Modern muzzle loaders add a new dimension to pheasant hunting.  Hunting pheasants with my Cabela=s 10 gauge double-barrel muzzle loader is great fun.  The factory installed choke tubes work well on all kinds of small game hunting.  Finding the right shot pattern and load for a black powder weapon is not difficult.  It just takes a little time. 

The three chokes that come with the gun are: Extra-full, Modified, and Improved Cylinder.  Other chokes are available.  Having various chokes means I have to develop a different load for each choke.  Each choke presents a different pattern with the same load. 

Patterning a shotgun goes a long way toward hunting success.  It allows me to know where the shot is going to hit.  Patterning is a simple and inexpensive way to make sure that the gun is shooting where I aim.

What I use in addition to the gun, powder and shot, is a sheet of plywood, some large target faces, safety glasses, and hearing protection.  A bench rest or sand bags help in being consistent from one shot to another.  My target faces are about 3 foot square so as to help see where all the shot is going. 

The mix of pellets from different sizes and different chokes quickly become apparent.  If I aim at the center of the target and the bulk of the shot is consistently hitting off to the side, then perhaps the fit of the gun is off.  A gunsmith can fix that problem. 

If the bulk of the shot is just a little off from center, then I adjust my point of aim to compensate.  Although a few pellets can kill a pheasant, the goal is to deliver the bulk of the shot in a pattern that will humanely down the bird. 

By experimenting with the various chokes I see which choke delivers a pattern I desire.  For example, an Extra-full choke works very well when hunting turkeys.  But, it is not as effective on pheasants.  Extra-full chokes have a .040 constriction of the barrel and is good for 55 yard shots.  Improved-modified has a .015 constriction and is most effective at 30 yards.  The Improved cylinder has a .010 constriction and is for shots less than 25 yards frequently encountered in hunting upland birds. 

A good combination for the double-barrel shotgun shooting could be the Improved cylinder in the first barrel and Extra-full choke in the second.  In that way, the close shot can be taken at the rising pheasant and more time can be taken in aiming for the second shot at a greater distance. 

I pattern the barrel with my chosen choke at the distance I expect.  Each choke/barrel combination can be shot with varying loads of powder and shot.  Every gun comes with charts of recommended loads of shot and powder in a range.  There are differences between black powder and Pyrodex data.  For instance the 10 gauge with Pyrodex might be recommended with 1 2 ounces of lead or steel shot and 88 grains of powder.  The same gun using black powder and the same amount of shot might require 110 grains of powder. 

My muzzle loaders are percussion guns.  The ignition of the powder is achieved by the hammer coming down on a percussion cap mounted on a nipple.  The resulting fire passes through the nipple into the barrel of the gun causing the powder to ignite.  The resulting explosion forces the shot up the barrel and out the muzzle.  I have a slight problem with the cap on the second barrel often falling off the nipple by the recoil of the first shot.  I solve this by slightly squeezing the caps before mounting them on the nipples.  The slightly tighter fit helps keep the cap in place. 

Modern muzzle loading shotguns allow me to take birds for the table and still enjoy the romance and challenge of using a weapon from the past.



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  1. I have begun hunting pheasants with a muzzle loader this last year. I hunted deer with an inline for many years previously and wanted to try upland game hunting. I use an antique Springfield contract musket shortened after the “war” to a fowler length by a few inches. It only has a killing radius of 25-30 yards maximum. This one is still .58 and I am anxious to try for turkey if I can relplace the old nipple another one bored out to 20 gauge. This last December, 2012, I dropped the first 2 pheasants I shot at, on the fly. It was more fun than a guy could ask for! I load about an ounce of #6 with 70 grains of FF black powder. In patterning it I found this antique likes this load the best. It isn’t fast when it comes to reloading. At 15 degrees above zero it took my frozen fingers almost 7 minutes to reload, but what fun!

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