This is why it's so important to sight in your muzzle loader.
Previous Post
Next Post

By Jack Billington

“You missed,” my friend Nick said, holding his rifle. But I knew I’d seen the puff of smoke right at the base of the big mule deer’s shoulder. “I can’t believe that,” I whispered. “I held dead-on, I squeezed the trigger smoothly, I didn’t jerk it – well, I can’t believe I missed that deer.” “Forget it,” Nick explained. “Reload, and take a second shot.”

The mule deer hadn’t budged. Because he was on one side of a canyon and we were on the other, he didn’t know from where the report of my CVA muzzleloader had come. Using a CVA speed loader, I quickly reloaded with Pyrodex pellets and a powerbelt bullet, rammed the charge home, put on another primer and readied for another shot.

“Aim about 3-inches above the deer’s back, right on top of the shoulder,” Nick suggested. “The deer’s at 150 yards, the gun’s sighted-in for 150 yards. I’m sure you’ll get him this time.” I took my time, I had a steady rest and I was sure of my aim. I squeezed the trigger, but the big mule deer never moved.

“Reload,” Nick told me and asked, “How many speed loaders did you bring?” This time he was frowning more than smiling. Once again, I quickly used another speed loader, rammed the charge home and readied for the shot. “Aim about 6-inches over his back this time,” Nick coached. I thought to myself, “Six inches over the deer’s back is Never-Never Land. How do you know what 6-inches really is at distance of 150 yards?”

But I sighted-in on the deer’s shoulder, moved my reticle six inches above his back and fired again. The deer went down.

“You’ve got him,” Nick announced. “But, go ahead, reload, give me your gun, and start walking out. When you reach the truck, the keys are behind the back front wheel. Drive to camp, get your gear packed-up, and be ready to go to the airport. Once you’ve got your gear and the other hunters’ gear loaded in the truck, come pick me up. I’ll have your deer out of the mountains and waiting beside the road.” Embarrassed at missing the deer twice, I simply answered, “Okay,” and followed Nick’s instructions.

I couldn’t understand how I’d missed so badly. The first thing you think about is hunter error, but I was confident I hadn’t made any mistakes. The second thing you think about is, “I’ll blame it on the gun.” But I couldn’t do that either, because this was Ken Coul’s personal CVA rifle that he’d loaned me for the hunt. Coul had sighted it in, and I had shot it and knew that it would drive tacks out to 200 yards.

I was embarrassed and frustrated over my poor shooting performance. However, a week later, I got a call from Coul, who said “Well, we figured out why you missed that mule deer twice. The gun was 12 inches low at 150 yards. Apparently, the scope got jostled, either when y’all were riding around in the truck looking for a mule deer to hunt, or when you were walking and climbing. But we re-sighted the rifle in, and it’s shooting just as good as it did before you took it hunting.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d missed a deer due to the scope’s moving between the time I sighted it and when I took the shot. On another hunt, several years earlier, I had two back-to-back hunts. On the first one, I dropped a deer within 10 yards of where he stood with my CVA muzzleloader. After the hunt, I cleaned the gun, put it in my case, drove home, took the gun out of the case and put it in my gun safe.

That weekend, I packed up and went on a second hunt. The gun had been dead-on during that first hunt. So, on the second hunt, I didn’t bother to sight it in. My guide said, “If your gun was on last week, it should be okay now. We’ll sight it in tomorrow to make sure. We’ve got to get you in a stand quickly.”

I climbed right into the stand…and I missed the white-tailed buck of a lifetime.

The moral of the story: regardless of how accurately your blackpowder gun has shot in the past, sight it in before every hunt. And one tip I’ve learned that’s critically important — almost as critically important as sighting in before each hunt — is to sight your rifle in after the hunt. Many times your scope can be off after you’ve made the shot, because you’ve climbed down out of a tree or come out of a ground blind, gone to your downed deer, loaded the deer up, put your gun in the vehicle and ridden back to camp.

From these lessons, I’ve learned to never assume that my gun will be as accurate as it can be until I sight it in just before the hunt and just after the hunt. Even then, something can happen, but at least you’ve done everything you know to do to make sure that you can shoot as accurately as possible. If you hunt long enough, sooner or later you will miss, either from operator error, equipment failure or the deer doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do when he’s supposed to do it. Misses happen – they’re part of hunting. Our job as ethical hunters is to try to keep them to a minimum.

Jack Billington is a former Army officer. After the service, he went to work as a home security counselor. He devotes his free time to conducting shooting courses with firearms. He also writes a blog featuring home and self-defense training tips.


Previous Post
Next Post


  1. It’s probably a good idea to verify your zero before hunting season. However, I would think that buying a quality scope and mount along with using thread locker on all of the screws would ensure that these types of problems are minimized. With today’s scopes I’m wondering why the author is having so many problems.

    • Sight in a rifle in Jacksonville NC, few flights and delays to Alaska, then sight it in again. There are so many variables that affect accuracy. From time, humidity, elevation, time of month, propellant, ignition, rifle components and materials made from. Not mentioning the possible issues/failures that are commonly called operator error. Then nature and acts of God as the cherry on top. There are so many things that can make or break a hunt. Uncountable.

      • So… never ever trust that a gun is properly sighted in unless you literally just finished dialing in the zero? That hardly seems realistic….

  2. Muzzleloader tip: Its not the Revolutionary War anymore, go ahead and get a gun that uses cartridges. If 1 shot at a time is all you feel comfortable with, look at the Ruger No. 1, its rather good.

    • Yeah, right! And those darn bow hunters should realize they are no injuns and get proper gun too! If you are not doing it my way you are doing it wrong, grumble, mumble. 😁

      • bow hunting is for pretty boys makin “country” TV shows. Rifle huntin puts meat on the table!

        And thus the new gun forum war was started.

        • I don’t hunt for fun or antlers, so I don’t see the point of making it more of a chore than it already is, unless you don’t have the time to hunt during rifle season. I’m fine with muzzleloaders though, I just don’t need a big .50 or whatever.

    • I use a muzzle loader (side-hammer percussion) and a bow (recurve and longbow).
      When asked why, I reply that I do not use old technology to give my prey an advantage- God has given them all the survival advantages they need – I use them to give ME a disadvantage.
      My worst muzzle loading morning was three successive ignition failures when I loaded my rifle before I had thoroughly dried the chamber. Lesson learned.

      • you know at this point some antihunter would say you still have THE advantage and that unless you’re takin on Bambi hand to hand you are still outclassing the poor critter simply because you are using a tool. Those people don’t think like us, they think that because you’re using tools to take your quarry and that you even hunt when food is just a short drive to McDonald’s away it is still inhumane because apparently being mauled to death by a predator, dying from disease, and death by starvation is more humane for the animals we hunt.

    • You obviously have never enjoyed shooting muzzldeloaders.
      Don’t nock it [archery pun] ’til you’ve tried it

  3. Ya dropped well over 100 whitetails with 12 ga, ML and rilles , of course I shoot them before the season , well year round . Never had one loose zero, don’t transport in a case or baby them in any way .

    How the hell do I sight it in before every hunt ???

    I hunt most mornings and afternoons , so,I gotta go to,the range twice a day ? And like at 4:30 AM ?!

    Who writes this stuff

    • And a muzzleloader with optics? I freely admit I’m a stupid SOB, but if you’re committed to muzzleloaders, iron sights seem like a must. “I will restrict myself for fair chase, ignore that 3-9. ” seems counter intuitive to say the least.

      • DrewN,

        Among the rifles I use is a beautiful flintlock .50cal. I don’t have a scope on that rifle, just some really great fiber-optic sights. Why would you imagine that using black powder, or any modern alternative muzzleloader propellant, would mean a shooter should have to use antiquated tech?

        I also have a .58cal rifled musket with a copy of the original iron sights almost identical to the iron “sniper” sights on my Springfield Model 1903 that was built in 1940 for the USMC. The .58cal Enfield Model 1853 (modern reproduction) can put a Minie’ ball through a baseball at 300 yards. It is far more accurate than many “modern” rifles. Plus, I can reload and put sights on a target in about 20 seconds, if I am in a hurry!

        What weapons others CHOOSE to use at the range or out hunting is a personal choice, not determined by your low opinion of a group of very capable firearms.

      • Drew, I use a muzzleloader because I can hunt during muzzleloader season then. I use a crossbow because I can hunt during archery season and also the parkland a mile from my house is archery only. If it was all rifle season in all locations, I’d use a rifle always.

        I had used ghost ring sights for a couple of years with good success. I missed a big 6-point this year, largely because I was using open sights. So I shrugged, said screw it and slapped the 1-4×32 shotgun scope I had on it. Taking it out scoped for the late season in a few days.

        I can only say I’ve been hunting a few years now. I’ve yet to have a rifle lose zero between hunts, or range sessions or whatnot. Now, maybe zero has been knocked off a little, but the most I see is a couple of inch shift at 100yds and I can usually attribute that to shooting a rifle in 30F temps when I zeroed it 3 months earlier when it was 85F out. I certainly try to re-zero if I’ll be hunting it very different temperatures. If I were taking a trip somewhere I’d probably also try to ensure I could zero it just to make sure.

  4. Dont think too many people hunt here judging from the comments. Many people muzzleload and bow hunt because there are seperate seasons or easier to get the tags than modern rifle season. Sure some are bow or muzzle purests, but most people i know use whatever is legal for if they draw a tag or can get out during the season.

    • exactly. more time in the woods since bow/muzzy seasons greatly extend the hunting season (earlier and later). very curious comments on this one. and why put optics on a muzzleloader? umm…modern inline muzzleloaders is a thing and folks want to maximize performance despite being constrained by local requirements defining muzzleloaders. why do folks put optics on rifles? same reason. jeez crazy ignorance on this comment section.

    • Not to mention there are states (like Illinois) where there is no season for honest-to-God cartridge rifles. But you can use a muzzleloader, shotgun or handgun during firearm season.

    • I agree, this is one of the most embarrassing comment threads I have read on TTAG. I’m not even much of an hunter and I know about the bow and black powder seasons thing.

      I had always assumed that TTAG readers were some of the most knowledgeable gun hobbyists out there. Guess that’s not a rule.

    • “Dont think too many people hunt here judging from the comments.”
      While this was being written and commented on I took 5 white tail deer. Two with a silenced AR, one with a Henry .45-70 levergun, one with a silenced .45ACP PCC, one of them with a 190+ year old flintlock rifle.

      Sometimes it’s better to just let stupid comments marinate so everyone can see them.

  5. You obviously have never enjoyed shooting muzzleloaders.
    Don’t nock it [archery pun] ’til you’ve tried it. Take the time and get yourself a proper watch
    have a look Here here

Comments are closed.