Hunting Deer with a Muzzle Loading .50 Caliber Quackenbush Airgun

One of my favorite hunting buddies is Randy Mitchell, but this year we’d not even had the opportunity to do a squirrel hunt. So I was really happy when I got the invite to come down for the muzzle loader season in Kentucky. Not only because we’d get to hunt together again, but also because I’d missed my opportunity on a couple of Indiana bucks and the season was over. If I was going to get a deer this year, it had to happen here.

I had been on business up in Michigan, but hurried home to Carmel, kissed the wife and kid’s hello and goodbye, then took off on the three hour drive to Kentucky. When I’d left Ann Arbor there was a lot of snow on the ground, and a howling blizzard blowing …. However three hundred miles south I’d left the bitter cold and snow behind.

I met up with Randy the following morning at 6: 00 am, it was dark and raining with a temperature in the twenties. We drove out to the clubhouse on his lease and signed in, then drove out to the eastern side of the property where Randy had set up a buddy blind. We hiked a couple hundred yards from the truck to his stand. If you’ve followed the hunting adventures on his website, it is the same spot where he’d taken a doe a few weeks earlier (the story is posted on Bundled up like the Michelin men to ward off the crisp predawn cold, we climbed up into the stand and belted in. I was sitting on the left side with Randy to my right. After about twenty or thirty minutes Randy whispered “ I think I saw a coyote â €¦. No wait it’s a doe …. And another oneâ €�. Watching to see what would happen (we both had doe tags), the deer started down the side of the hill at about seventy yards. Then suddenly, we heard the lead deer snort and they took off at high speed back up the hill. We reckoned they had winded us, and I mentally kicked myself for succumbing to my morning cup of coffee ….. the wind was barely blowing and the rain was drizzling down, but I was sure this is what had blown it. As it turned out, Iâ €™m glad they didn’t come closer or I probably would have shot!

We sat quietly with the rain picking up strength, but still enjoying being in the woods. After about a half hour I felt compelled to slowly glance over my shoulder, only to see a small buck about eighty yards away coming down the hillside. My pulse quickened then my excitement faded as I could count out this was a four pointer and the lease has a six point rule. But then I noticed a bigger buck following him ….. elbowing Randy I whispered “deerâ€� then turned to keep an eye on the two moving along. In a break in the branches I could see the second buck was bigger and at least eight points, but neither showed any indication they were going to slow down. As the second buck momentarily stepped into a clear shooting lane about fifty five yards out, I lined him up in the crosshairs and let out a little squeak. I wasnâ €™t sure if this tactic would draw him up or spook him, and the volume was so low he might not have heard me …. But regardless he stopped at that moment and I squeezed the trigger instantly. The buck was offering a quartering shot and I’d placed the crosshair on his right side just behind the front leg. The two deer both bolted back up the path theyâ €™d been following, as Randy slapped me on the shoulder and said “good shot Jim, man that is a nice animalâ€�. As we watch the lung shot buck move about forty yards up the hill, he paused and shook once, then went over backwards.

We waited about five or ten minutes while unhooking our safety harnesses, then made our way through the dense ground cover towards the downed deer …… but we couldn’t find a blood trail in the wet grass. I was sure it was a good hit, and unless the deer had belly crawled up and over the hill he had to be there. But we could not find blood anywhere! Randy stayed below cutting the trail and I hiked up hill to the right of where I thought the buck had dropped then started to slowly move back towards where I figure he might be. I spotted a nice set of antlers poking up and called down to Randy, who was working up directly to where I was standing anyway …. He was only a minute away from having found the deer as well. My heart was beating hard as I said “look, this is an eight …. No a ten point buck� as he joined me. Randy replied “man Jim, this is a beautiful animal … look again it’s a twelve pointer� as he bent down to examine it.

Now I’ve got to say something about Randy’s character; he had offered to let me take the first deer as he’d already taken one this season, but we were hunting the lease at a spot he’d set up, and I knew he’d have loved to have had the chance to take this buck himself. But there was nothing but a real and genuine joy that I’d had the opportunity to shoot such an animal. He’d put me up at his house, taken me to his hunting grounds, and been a great companion in the field, you have got to like and respect a man like this.

We dragged the buck up to the road (no mean feat, that) and Randy went back to get the truck. We heaved the animal into the bed and drove back to the club house where I gutted and we hung the buck. On examination we found that he weighed 150 pounds and though he had a nice rack there was not a lot of bulk to it. He was young and would have been a truly great buck in a couple years, but I was still thrilled with him! As I pulled his guts out, it was obvious that the soft lead ball had done massive damage to both lungs and took out a rib. The projectile could be palpated and had come to rest under the skin on the left shoulder. I cut through and retrieved the ball which had been scored and partially flattened. The gun had performed just as we had expected, delivering outstanding accuracy and power

A little bit about the gun; it is the .50 caliber Quackenbush rifle that Dennis had built for Randy a couple years ago. It is set up to deliver three full power shots at about 275 fpe, and flings round ball with consistent half inch fifty yard groups. The particular gun is a little unusual with respect to the bolt and loading port. Randy, through diligent effort was able to gain permission to hunt whitetail in Kentucky with the proviso he set the gun up as a muzzle loader. To do this, Dennis built a probe that is screwed in place with the effect that it prevents a projectile from being loaded in the typical fashion. It must therefore be loaded as with any other firearm muzzle loader. I have this set up on my .308 as well, and think it is a good accessory to order along with your Quackenbush rifle.

I drove home reflecting on the hunt, it was picture perfect with everything working just right. We had gone out again that afternoon but hadn’t seen any more deer, but outside of wanting to see Randy tag another one I was more than satisfied with the outcome. The next morning we did a short squirrel hunt then dropped my deer off for processing and I drove home. Next time I am going to have to host Randy to some kind of hunt to repay him for this trip

This was my first whitetail deer with an air rifle. Randy Mitchell has been instrumental in getting approval to use big bore air rifles for deer hunting in Kentucky … with one proviso…. it has to be set up as a front loader.

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