On-range research necessary for lucky ones to draw tags

The deadline for submitting big-game tag applications was 5 p.m. Monday, and I’m hopeful that you made the deadline. Of course, there are always a few who manage to miss the deadline.

My guess is that in most cases it has to do with procrastination. There is something to be said about the adrenaline rush that comes with racing the clock and frantically punching computer keys as the deadline approaches.

My heart can’t take such excitement anymore, so this year I gave myself plenty of lead time and submitted my family’s applications late the night before.

That’s probably a good thing, because the last time I raced the clock my daughter drew an archery antelope tag by mistake. When she asked why I put her in for an archery tag when she doesn’t shoot a bow, I thought long and hard for a couple of seconds and said, “Surprise!” But that response didn’t have the intended effect.

Perhaps the excitement that comes with procrastination is why some hunters wait until the day before their hunt starts to sight-in their rifle or to fling a few arrows just to get the dust off their bow.

I suppose they enjoy the frantic feeling that comes when your get-ready-to-go-hunting-to-do list isn’t getting any shorter, but the day is and you still have hundreds of miles to drive before you have the opportunity of setting up camp well after dark.

My son hates that part.

One year a gentleman stopped by the office and placed a long flat box on the counter. Inside was a beautiful, new Thompson Center Hawken in .50 caliber. After giving me a minute to admire the firearm, the man said he had just purchased the gun because he drew a muzzleloader deer tag and asked if I would teach him how to shoot it.

It was mid-morning on Friday. His season opened the next day. Anyone who shoots muzzleloading firearms knows what he was up against.

All I could do was explain the process involved with loading a smoke pole. The rest was up to him. Somehow I don’t think he filled his tag that year.

Sighting in a traditional muzzleloader is a process that involves numerous shooting sessions with a variety of patch, ball and powder combinations to achieve optimum accuracy.

Every gun has its own personality.

My favorite muzzleloader is most accurate when loaded with 65 grains of Triple Seven powder and a .490 round ball seated on a .018 thick pillow ticking patch.

I can kick that load up to 90 grains and maintain the gun’s hunting accuracy, but with a heavier powder charge my accuracy quickly diminishes. It took much more than an afternoon or two of shooting to figure this out.

Though the process might not be quite so time-consuming with today’s modern muzzleloaders, the necessary steps are still the same. The shooter needs to test a variety of powder loads with an equal variety of bullets to determine which combination will shoot best in his particular firearm.

This is true even for rifles that are produced back-to-back in the same factory.

My friend and I have similar in-line muzzleloaders made by the same company. His shoots well with 300-grain SSTs loaded over three 50 grain pellets. Mine does not.

In fact, I’m still testing bullets, so the jury is still out on the load I’ll use.

The bottom line is that sighting in a muzzleloader is an involved process that requires shooting a variety of projectiles with a variety of powder loads before one can achieve the accuracy needed to produce a clean, quick kill on a deer-sized game animal.

Those who are new to muzzleloading, and are lucky enough to draw a tag this year, should plan on doing some on-the-range research long before heading afield this fall. Now is a good time to start.

CATCH A $50,000 FISH — Echo Canyon and Eagle Valley state parks will host their annual tagged fishing event May 2 and 3. Catch the right fish and you could go home with $50,000. Forty other tagged fish will be worth $100 each.

Participants must register for the event at the Eagle Valley Resort in Ursine. The registration fee is $30. Call 775-962-5293 for more information.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at doug@takinitoutside.com.

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