HELENA — Montana’s newest hunting season is about to start, but to participate, hunters will have to turn to older firearm technology.
The state’s first muzzleloader heritage season opens on Dec. 11 and continues through Dec. 19. The new season was established by House Bill 242, passed by the Montana legislature during the 2021 session.
According to the legislation, House Bill 242 hunters must use “plain lead projectiles” shot from a flintlock, wheel lock, matchlock or percussion muzzleloading rifle “charged with loose black power, loose pyrodex, or an equivalent loose black powder substitute.” Muzzleloaders must be at least .45 caliber, and cannot have a scope.
Dave Tobel runs the gun counter at Capital Sports in Helena, he said the rifles for the upcoming muzzleloader heritage season are designed like ones used back in the 1700s and 1800s.
“The flintlocks were the earliest guns,” Tobel said. “About the 1820s, 1830s, the percussion guns became extremely popular.”
Tobel said he’s hunted with muzzleloaders for years, and he’s not alone—the classic gun has fans throughout the state.
“Think about David Thompson—you’re using the same type of rifle he would have used—Jim Bridger, Lewis and Clark,” Alex Vissotzky said. “We’re in that area, so even more than the rest of the country, you’re stepping back in time.”
Vissotzky lives in northwest Montana and is part of the Flathead Valley Muzzleloaders, but before that, he grew up shooting the traditional rifles with his dad.
“You really need to follow through, squeeze the trigger evenly, have good sight picture,” Vissotzky said. “Just every little bit matters so much more.”
Hunting with a muzzleloader can be a little more challenging than using a modern rifle. Since scopes are not allowed and traditional muzzleloaders are not as accurate at long distances as more modern rifles, Tobel says hunters have to get closer to their targets.
Getting a muzzleloader ready to shoot requires a few more steps, like measuring and during gunpowder and pushing a single shot into the muzzle.
“You have one chance, so you better be sure of your shot,” Tobel said.
As the new muzzleloader season approaches, both Tobel and Vissotzky said they have seen interest in the traditional guns going up. Vissotzky helps run the Flathead Valley Muzzleloaders social media pages, he said a lot of questions have been coming in through those channels.
“(They’re) asking where to get supplies and how do you do stuff,” Vissotzky said. “A lot more interest.”
Tobel said they have seen more people buying muzzleloader supplies and people coming to the gun counter asking about muzzleloaders. “There’s definitely been more interest in it,” Tobel said.
According to the regulations from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), hunters can harvest deer or elk with any unused license or permit valid at the end of general deer and elk season.
Tobel said he’s happy to see people excited for the traditional muzzleloader season, and hope hunters enjoy the new season, "it puts the hunting back into hunting."
To see Montana FWP’s flyer about muzzleloader season, click here.