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Black Powder Bunnies

by Chuck Goodall

In the deep recesses of my mind there has been this image of a rabbit hightailing it for cover, with me raising "Ol’ Betsy" a double barrel muzzle-loading shotgun. Ka- Boom I can barely see him tumble through the huge cloud of blue gray smoke. The only problem is I don’t own a smoke pole shotgun (yet that is).

It all started while I was lugging around my 3.5 inch 12 gauge gas operated auto-loader which weighs in at eight and some half pounds. I originally acquired it for waterfowling not rabbit hunting. I began to yearn for a lighter shotgun along the lines of a 20 gauge. I don’t care if I shoot anything or not, so maybe I won’t carry a gun at all, I thought. No that won’t work; the dogs deserve a rabbit shot for them every so often. I believe it necessary to harvest one or two occasionally!

That’s when it hit me, I need a twenty gauge double barrel, muzzle-loading shotgun. It would be much lighter to pack around and would put the challenge back in the hunt. I’m not sure my budget will allow it, after last months expenditure on the new shock collars I just couldn’t live with out.

While planning a hunting trip I made mention of my longing to Herb Paul and he reminded me that he owned a twenty-gauge side by side front loader. Herb and I met over 25 years ago when I purchased my first handgun from him. Over the years, we’ve become good friends; the fact that he is a licensed firearm dealer is just gravy. It didn’t take much prodding to get Herb interested in making a black powder hunt for cottontails. I was very anxious at the prospect of fulfilling my long time dream.

After fighting schedules and obligations, Herb and I finally made it happen. A beautiful day in February found us stomping around in one of my favorite coverts. I only had one dog available at the time of this hunt a little black & tan named Hunter (Huntin’ Fool’s Hunter) an AKC registered dog with a little of Dingess MacRae’s blood running through his veins. My other two females had just had 14 beautiful little pups sired by Hunter.

Now Hunter is a young dog but he lives up to his name, he needed more experience and hunting him by himself has been good for him. Last rabbit season, his first, he was mostly run with three to five older dogs. Plus I didn’t get out as often as would’ve liked to. From now on, I will be spending more time afield with each individual dog (but that’s another story).

I called Hunter and pointed him into a thicket. Where luckily he stuck his nose right in the fluffy part of a big cottontail. Who promptly shot out of the brush not more than ten feet from where I was standing, with Hunter hot on his tail. Not having a clear shot I opted not to shoot on the jump, always a good option for a Beagler and especially when using a muzzleloader. The rabbit made two big circles through a swampy area filled with tree tops, big stumps, and a lot of briar thickets. I caught glimpses of him twice but he was way out of range.

Moving over about 50 yards, I climbed upon a tall oak stump giving me a commanding view of the area. After twenty minutes of melodious hound music, I was presented with a loping 20 yard broadside shot. I was shocked that I missed, recovering just in time to get off a second shot before the rabbit zipped behind cover. I cocked and fired the second barrel rolling Mr. Rabbit just the way I had always envisioned.

I was surprised by the slowness and creep in the old Belgium made muzzle loader’s trigger and lock I didn’t follow through, not having time to familiarize myself with Herb’s gun. Having test fired it only once before the hunt. It was a far cry from my Browning Gold Hunter considered by most to be the latest in scatter-gun technology. I imagined how our forefathers had to hold true their aim with their flintlocks lest their families went hungry, or met a worse fate at the hands of villainous foes. I determined I would hold steadier and follow though on my next shot.

We crossed a farm lane and entered a different world, about a hundred acres of level field with waste high weeds. There was a creek meandering though it like a snake, its bank was full of briar tangles and there were a couple of lanes where they had been driving farm equipment. I said "This looks like a rabbit hunters paradise." "Yeah there ought to be a couple in here that’s for sure," quipped Herb. Hunter disappeared into the weeds and in a few minutes had rabbit number two up and running. This time Herb was carrying "Betsy" and I the Gold Hunter I didn’t mind sharing especially since it was his gun. I really must get one of my own, this is the most fun I’ve had since I hung up my compound bow and went back to traditional archery.

Herb was in a good spot where two lanes intersected, it was inevitable the cottontail would pass by him, or so we thought. About five minutes into the chase the rabbit entered the lane and trotted straight at Herb who’s load of five shot stopped him cold. I heard the shot and held my breath waiting to hear Herb shout, "I got him". "YES" I said out loud being both elated for my friend and glad it was my turn to carry "Betsy."

Before we got the rabbit tucked away and the shotgun reloaded Hunter was driving another one, I moved down the lane trying to better my position. The rascal shot across the lane so quick I never even got "Betsy" cocked before he was out of sight. The second time he tried that move I got off a shot just as he hit the weeds on the other side of the narrow farm lane. The little muzzle loader did the job even through the thick brush.

"Your turn," I yelled to Herb, "Isn’t this a blast," I said with a huge smile on my face. After a lull in the excitement, Hunter struck a track that started as if it was a little cold but in no time he had it lined out and hot. I had the rabbit dead to rights moving slowly along, but I didn’t shoot the 12 gauge at him, some how it just didn’t feel right. He was traveling towards Herb anyway and before long I heard, two shots ring out and then only the distant bellowing of Hunter. "Well did you get him or not?" I hollered to Herb. "Why sure." Herb said calmly. "You didn’t think I’d miss twice did you."

Things couldn’t have worked out any better two bunnies apiece with a muzzle-loading shotgun. A great performance from the dog and the cottontails. Old Herb doesn’t get overly excited about to many things, but I could tell he was really enjoying this hunt for Black Powder Bunnies and so was I!

Additional Information on Muzzleloading

If any of you Beaglers would like to give muzzle loading a try here are a few tips to get you started off right. There are four types of guns to consider side caplock, flintlock, modern inline caplock, and double barrel versions of cap and flintlock.

Most side caplocks are reproductions of guns made in the 1850’s if that is what you like you can choose between single barrel and double barrel guns. The single barrel model will set your budget back far less than double. The double’s advantages are of course an extra shot plus the choice of chokes. In case that rabbit is a little too far for the improved cylinder you simply fire your modified barrel first. Double guns are usually preferred by anyone who can afford them but single barrel (single shot) guns fed millions of Americans and can get the job done.

Flintlocks are not as popular as caplocks with most sportsmen due to the inherent problem of keeping your primer powder dry. Also with a flintlock there’s more flash and bang in your face which distracts the shooter. Now would be an excellent time to stress how important it is to wear shooting glasses when shooting muzzleloaders whether cap or flintlock. Shooting glasses have saved my eyes on more than one occasion from brush while hunting and also from hot gasses escaping from the gun. There are some beautiful flintlocks being made today most are custom built and would really add challenge to your hunting.

This brings us to the modern inline muzzleloaders that are so popular with today’s sportsmen. There are several good inline guns to choose from. Most have synthetic stocks, stainless steel barrel, and lock, and don’t resemble a traditional shotgun at all. They aren’t too expensive and are very practical and effective hunting weapons. Modern screw in choke systems are usually found on them, also. This feature is found in only a few of the reproduction type guns.

You will need a dipper or some thing to measure your shot and powder with. Whether you use black powder or Pyrodex loads are measured by volume rather than by weight. A general rule of thumb is that if a dipper holds the right amount of shot it will hold the right amount of powder. Of course you need to experiment at the range to see what patterns best. Good wadding will help deliver nice even patterns. The good thing about muzzleloading is that there is no appreciable pressure so loading is not as dangerous as smokeless powder reloading.

Some hunters prefer a possible bag to carry all of the equipment needed to keep a frontstuffer up and running. Others opt for a fanny pack of some kind still others just carry everything in pockets. Whatever your choice here’s a few things you may find helpful. A powder horn or flask some come with a measuring device built onto the end. Individual shot holders these are really neat they are about the size of a shotshell. On one end of a tube you store your powder on the other end your shot. Most fit nicely in hunting vest shell loops and makes reloading much simpler. An inline capper of some sort helps keep your percussion caps clean and dry. It also serves as a cap installer making it easier to handle those little percussion caps without fouling them with dirty or damp fingers.

Shotgun, shot, powder, caps, and wadding are all you really need to get started and as my friend Herb said, "We don’t need wads we’ll stuff it with newspaper, cardboard or something." You know what it worked!

Here are the numbers of two good places to shop for muzzle loading equipment.

800-237-4444 800-238-6785

Dixie’s catalog is $5.00 but is money well spent because theirs is the most comprehensive catalog available today!

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).