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A deer hunter hopes to end the season with a bang
I watched from the vantage point of my tree stand as the big buck walked through a swampy thicket. The animal moved cautiously, disappeared behind a cluster of holly trees, and did not reappear again that afternoon.
I had caught sight of him once earlier during the six-week archery season. Three does had walked near my tree near the end of shooting time. But with three pairs of nervous eyes and ears within 15 yards of my stand I did not want to risk drawing back my bow.
So I just watched as the light and legal shooting time expired. The does moved. And in the waning light I saw the dark silhouette of a very large deer standing by a holly tree.
There are only two days left in the deer hunting season and my thoughts are focused on that big buck and the flintlock Pennsylvania long rifle I have decided to use in place of my Omega and hope will not fail me, should we meet.
Of course, should the flint fail to send enough sparks into the pan to ignite the main powder charge and send a round lead ball out of the muzzle at a speed of 1,838 feet per second; or should I flinch enough to skew my aim during the brief moment the flint strikes the metal plate known as the frizzen, I will have another hunting story to tell but no deer.
The consequences for me seem small when I think of the men who once depended on similar weaponry in much more dire circumstances. When one shot meant the difference between life and death, a steady aim balanced on steady nerves commanded respect.
Most recently I read "Mayflower," the book by Nantucket author Nathaniel Philbrick about the voyage of the Mayflower, the settlement of Plymouth Colony, and the savage conflict known as King Philip's War.
Mr. Philbrick provides vivid accounts of warfare in that era. The flintlock rifle provided a technological advantage for the colonists that the Native Americans were quick to grasp and utilize.
The advice to "keep your powder dry" had practical meaning for men sleeping on the damp ground with the expectation of an attack in the dampness of first light.
With a forecast of cool dry weather, I am moderately confident in my Pennsylvania long rifle. Several practice rounds at the Martha's Vineyard Rod and Gun club range, where I was able to steady the flintlock on a rest and hit a target set at 50 yards with some degree of accuracy, also helped my confidence.
But buck fever has been known to strike down even the most experienced hunter. Just what will happen should I get the opportunity to put the rifle's iron front and rear open sights on the big deer remains unanswered.
Because generations of Americans once shared the hunting experience, hunting references were a part of the common culture. Although the sport is on the decline, hunting remains embedded in our language.
A recent story by Jeff Zeleny published in The New York Times about, what else, the political fortunes of Senator Barack Obama and the 2008 presidential race included the following quote: "He's so incredibly skilled, but he's also had a lot of luck," said Abner Mikva, a White House chief counsel in the Clinton administration and a longtime friend of Mr. Obama's. "Hopefully people don't think the media just puffed him up and he's a flash in the pan."
I don't know Abner Mikva. Maybe this native of Milwaukee, former Illinois state rep, retired Congressman and judge hunts in his spare time, but I doubt it. I would even be willing to bet that the only time he experienced a flash in the pan had to do with a flambé dish in a restaurant, not a flintlock not firing.
Initially, Massachusetts created the primitive weapon season to provide an opportunity for hunters to experience what it was like to hunt deer with antique-era black powder weapons. From flintlock to cap lock, the one defining element was that a hunter had only one shot.
There is nothing primitive about my Thompson Center Omega. A shotgun primer that is protected from the elements by a sealed breech ignites the pre-measured powder pellets.
The bullet travels down a rifled barrel. Mounted with a scope the Omega and similar muzzle loading rifles are deadly accurate well past 100 yards.
For many years rifles with features like the Omega were not allowed. Instead hunters struggled with flints, or the more "modern" Civil-war era percussion caps.
The growth of the state's deer herd coupled with pressure from hunters to be able to use more reliable muzzleloaders led to a relaxation of the regulations and a lengthening of the black powder season from three days to one week and to the current three weeks.
According to local deer Island checking stations, as of Wednesday morning approximately 23 deer had been taken by Island hunters, well below last year's number at this time. Warm weather, the increase in the shotgun season from one week to two, a scarcity of deer in some areas and hunters with less time are all thought to be the cause of the decline.
The six-week archery season began on Oct.16, followed by a two-week shotgun season and a three-week primitive firearms season - 11 weeks in total.
Most non-hunters (and I should add hunters' wives) think that is more than enough time to allot to any rationale human being to hunt deer. They are probably right, but with only two days left it seems all too short.
There is no sense of purity in my decision to leave the Omega at home and carry a flintlock into the woods. I simply like the challenge and the thought of ending my deer hunting season by taking a deer with a flintlock, something I have tried in the past but have yet to do.