Okay ... Let's say you have a "buck" tag in your pocket ... and it is good for EITHER a whitetail ... OR ... a mule deer buck. And on the sizable piece of property you are hunting ... you have already seen a 5x5 whitetail buck every bit as good as the buck shown above left ... and a mule deer buck that is also equally as good as the buck shown above right. And in the state you hunt ... you are allowed to harvest just one buck per year. Which of these two deer would you concentrate on most - the heavy horned 22-24 inch wide "ten point" whitetail ... or the 27-28 inch wide "4x4" mulie buck?
That's the quandary that I'm now faced with. As I write this (the morning of October 26th), I got home just the evening before from hunting the first five days of the Montana general deer and elk season. Mostly, I hit the season this early for one primary reason - and that's to "take inventory" of the quality of the deer on the 20,000 acre ranch I hunt every year in the southern reaches of the Missouri Breaks. Still, I do take a rifle with me anytime I leave camp ... just in case something really nice gives me an opportunity.
And ... I did have a couple of such opportunities while taking this year's buck inventory.
These two photos show the Musselshell River bottom cover I hunt for whitetails. The first afternoon of this year's hunt/scoutng trip, I sat on the top of a high 80 to 100 foot drop off, allowing me to look down on a deer hunting stage. From my position I can shoot out to 200+ yards with confidence ... which allows me to practically cover 80- to 90-percent of the whitetail movement - as deer move from one patch of thick cedars to the next. Just before dark, a dandy 5x5 whitetail buck showed up just inside the closest cedar stand ... 140 yards away ... but would not step into the open. But, from my lofty perch, I definitely got to study the deer's rack ... and my feeling is that the deer will easily score in the mid 160's.
For whitetails on this first trip, I had packed our newest test rifle, the Thompson/Center .50 caliber Pro Hunter FX shown above, topped with one of the Hi-Lux Optics 3-9x40mm M40 Tactical Hunter scopes on top. The rig had been sighted to print about 2-inches high at 100 yards, with 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and a Harvester Muzzleloading saboted .451" diameter Scorpion PT Gold bullet.
Earlier that morning, I had hunted for mule deer in the broken ridges within 4 or 5 miles of camp, where shots out to 200+ yards are the norm. For that hunting, I had carried our CVA .50 caliber Accura V2 LR - shown directly above. This rifle is topped with one of the Hi-Lux Optics 2-10x Pentalux TAC-V model scopes ... and was also sighted to print the Cutting Edge Bullets .430" diameter all copper MAXIMUS 250-grain all-copper spitzer hollow point and 120-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 about 2 inches high at 100 yards. This rifle absolutely loves that bullet.
Within an hour of leaving camp, two nice 4x4 mule deer bucks sauntered past a juniper bush they had no idea I was hiding behind. Both were very good 24-inch wide bucks ... but just were not what I was looking for in a mule deer. The distance of the shot would have been just 80 yards ... and I hope I don't live to regret not taking the nicer of the two. But ... I just did not feel like filling my one and only Montana "Buck Tag" so early on opening day of the 2017 season.
Using either of these rifles, scopes and loads, or for that matter just about any of the modern .50 caliber in-line rifles I shoot and hunt with, the rifles tend to print where they are sighted at 100 yards ... about 2 to 3 inches higher at 50 yards ... and about 2 to 3 inches below point of aim at 150 yards. In other words ... if the "right deer" steps out at between 30 and 150 yards ... a quick "dead on" hold center of the chest cavity will put the bullet through the 8- to 9-inch "kill zone". Then, out at 200 yards, holding at the top of the back ... directly above where I want the bullet to go ... will put the shot through "near" the center of the chest cavity. For those "in between" 170 to 180 yard shots, I simply hold half way between the center of the chest cavity and the top of the back. It's not rocket science ... it's just keeping a level head and knowing the range.
The nice 6x6 whitetail buck shown here is the deer I took on the very same ranch last year .... with a 223-yard shot. My .50 Cooper Model 22 ML was loaded with 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and a 300-grain Scorpion PT Gold. When I squeezed off the shot ... the crosshairs of the Hi-Lux Optics green M40 USMC scope were right at 5 inches above the top of the buck's back ... and the poly-tipped spire-point centered both shoulders ... and both lungs. The deer dropped on the spot. For more on that hunt, go to -
Now ... Getting back to this year's hunt. What are my plans ... which of the two bucks will I concentrate on most? Well, I do have a plan. In the mornings, I will hunt for that awesome mule deer buck. If the deer is in the same area, I know the sage flats where the mule deer often spend the night to feed ... and I know the main draws leading back up into the juniper covered ridges where the mule deer like to bed. If I can spot the deer down low, and make a good guess on which draw it will use to head for higher bedding, I just might be able to stay ahead of it and intercept its course.
If not, I'll then spend late afternoons and early evenings overlooking the cedar thickets below my high 90-foot packed dirt bluff ... and maybe, just maybe, that big ol' ten-point whitetail will step out from the heavy cover and offer a shot. My hunting partner and I plan to hunt that entire last week of season, the week of Thanksgiving. The rut will be in full swing ... and there will surely be new bucks showing up. If there's one thing I've learned about when going after deer, whitetails or mule deer, with a muzzleloader ... it is to remain flexible!
So, which of the two bucks would you make your priority? - Toby Bridges
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Earlier this summer, I shared with all of you my plans to make the move to the eastern side of Montana ... once the house in Missoula sold. I now have an entirely new plan. I really don't like the idea of "owning" a small parcel of land ... to which I devote my entire life. Sure, that has always been my dream as well ... to have my own shooting range ... on a piece of property with game ... and a productive tree stand within sight of the house.
Well, there's absolutely nothing wrong with such a plan. It's most hunters' dream. As I worked to fix up my late wife's home for sale, to give it the facelift she and I always wanted to give it, I had plenty of time to think about how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. And the more I thought about it ... staying in one place sounded less and less appealing ... so ... I now have a new, entirely different plan!
NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING is now going mobile!
Oh, Montana will always be home for me for the rest of my life. But ... I have truly missed hunting in the Midwest ... Southeast ... Midsouth ... and the Southwest as well. As I write this, I have been shopping for a good used 4x4 pickup with lots of miles left on it ... and a 25 to 27 foot travel trailer that's efficient, but still has some room in it. My goal for 2018 will be to "Follow the Seasons". That will start with some late winter coyote hunting here in Montana, followed by some turkey hunting in April ... and some black bear hunting in May.
Then, during the summer, I want to get in some shooting for ground squirrels and prairie dogs. My first "out of state" hunt next year will be for, of all things, fox squirrels and gray squirrels back in Illinois and Missouri - something I have truly missed since making the move to Montana in December 2007. I want to traipse through some of the same hardwoods I hunted as a kid ... who was always dreaming about living somewhere like Montana. I'll probably plan this one for September, when the hickory nuts are ripe ... and when dove season is open as well. I want to give my Pedersoli side-by-side 10 gauge a good work out!
If I can draw a tag this next summer, I might even swing through Wyoming on the way home to muzzleload for a pronghorn ... then head up to eastern Montana to do the same. And if I didn't get my bear in the spring, Montana's fall bear season opens mid September as well ... and I know where I'll head. Then, It's also fall turkey season and grouse season ...plus in October waterfowl hunting begins. Later that month, deer and elk season get underway ... and I hope to be right over on the old Musselshell River once again.
I Would Love To Hunt With You!
Got some great muzzleloader hunting you would like to share?
I truly love meeting and spending time with other muzzleloading hunters. The NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING web magazine was established to give all muzzleloading hunters, modern or traditional, a place to learn from one another ... a place to share muzzleloader hunting adventures and helpful "how to" information.
I'm always looking for new places to hunt ... and to write about. If you would like for your favorite muzzleloading hunting camp to be spotlighted here on NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING, just send me an invite ... and all the details. If you are an outfitter, or have a good friend who is, here's a great way to get an article on that operation in front of right at a half-million regular followers ... who collectively use this web magazine some 5,000,000 times each year. - Toby Bridges
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The NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING rolling office will be equipped with mobile internet service, and we will be writing and building pages as we go ... as well as keeping up with e-mails. There will be times when we are likely away from satellite service for a week or so ... but we'll catch up quickly when we do indeed have a signal.
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Above Featured Muzzleloader - Thompson Center .50 Pro Hunter FX
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