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BRAD DOKKEN: Despite no deer, muzzleloader hunt offers more fun than frustration

He had the buck in his sights—"dead to rights," as he put it later—and everything was lining up for a perfect shot.

The deer was standing broadside no more than 50 yards away, and the moment deer hunters wait for was at hand.

He pulled the trigger.

Click. ...

And that was it.

No loud boom.

No cloud of smoke.

No deer.

We weren't there to witness this incident firsthand, but we could envision the cry of anguish that likely interrupted the silence of a northern Minnesota evening.

Such is the misfortune muzzleloader hunters sometimes endure despite the best-laid plans.

It wasn't the first, and it definitely won't be the last.

In this particular encounter, which took place in the waning minutes of a recent afternoon hunt during Minnesota's muzzleloader season, the primer on a friend's muzzleloader for some reason failed to deliver the charge that ignites the powder and in turn propels the bullet from the barrel.

The primer had been punched, just like it was supposed to be, my friend said later in recalling the story, but apparently it hadn't been punched enough to trigger the sequence of events that was supposed to end with a buck on the ground.

Nothing comes easy, it seems, when it comes to muzzleloader hunting.

Not in my experience, at least.

Two friends and I heard this tale of woe last weekend when we spent two days muzzleloader hunting in northwest Minnesota.

Long story short, we'll be eating Tag Soup instead of venison this year.

I'm relatively new to this muzzleloader thing, but this year, I fired two shots: Once to test the gun for accuracy—it was fine—and once at the end of the hunt when I pulled the trigger to clear the barrel.

Whether that's better than having a buck in your sights and hearing a click, I can't say because I never had the chance to find out.

Not this year, at least. Maybe next year, as the old saying goes.

For the second time in as many years, I saw maybe five deer during the two weekends of muzzleloader season I hunted. Stands that produced a half-dozen whitetails during the youth and regular rifle seasons, followed by reliable reports of numerous sightings between rifle and muzzleloader seasons, offered barely a glimpse of a deer when the time came for me to hunt.

I'm beginning to take this personally.

The odds weren't in our favor the morning of Saturday, Dec. 2, when the fog was so thick we could barely see the tips of our noses as we walked to our stands before dawn.

The fog showed no sign of subsiding when we headed back to camp about 9:30 a.m. for coffee and some breakfast. It didn't lift until midafternoon.

When the fog finally lifted, we decided to take advantage of the nice weather that emerged to walk a few ruffed grouse trails with our muzzleloaders before heading back to our stands for the evening hunt.

The odds of getting close enough to a deer as we trudged across the crunchy snow weren't in our favor, but one never knows. After all, it's not unusual to see more deer than grouse when walking the trails with shotguns.

On this afternoon—you guessed it—all we saw were grouse as we walked with our muzzleloaders. Bird numbers might not be as high as preseason forecasts predicted, but there were plenty of them in the woods last Saturday afternoon.

As one of my friends often says, "It's like they know."

Late Sunday afternoon, as the end of legal shooting hours approached, it looked as if luck finally was going to shine down on the youngest member of our crew when a deer walked within range of his stand.

He'd shot the .45 caliber earlier in the day to confirm it was sighted-in properly—it was—and he rarely misses. So, we expected the best as we watched from another stand about 300 yards away.

Loud boom. Check.

Cloud of smoke. Check.

But then ... no deer.

He'd missed the deer. An unfortunate outcome, to be sure, but far better than wounding a deer.

The next day, it was discovered that a screw on the rear sight of his muzzleloader had broken off, causing him to shoot several inches high.

It hadn't been broken when he shot the gun just hours earlier.

Such is the misfortune muzzleloader hunters sometimes endure despite the best-laid plans.

Our trip might have ended without a deer, but that didn't detract from the fun the three of us had last weekend.

Like everything else in life, a hunting trip is only as good as the people you're with.

We swapped stories by a raging bonfire, watched hockey, ate well, drank well and laughed about as much as three friends can laugh in a weekend.

Best of all, everyone made it home safely the next day just as the first blizzard of the season was roaring into the region.

We're already making plans for next year.

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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