MUZZLELOADING AFIELD/Al Raychard-Maine
We’re taking break from our normal hunting-related topic this month and addressing an issue that seems to have spawned some controversy within the NMLRA. A great deal has been said about in-lines in these pages recently, and as a supporter of the NMLRA, contributor to this magazine for nearly three decades, and as an in-line user since they arrived on the scene back in the early 1980s, I thought I would add my two cents.
Not everyone will agree with what I have to say, but hopefully it will provide some food for serious thought because, as the saying goes, a house divided cannot stand, which seems to be where we’re headed, and as Editor Larkin has recently written, this association could pass out of existence unless membership numbers change. If you don’t believe that, perhaps you remember the total membership back in the late 1970s. I don’t recall the exact number but I’m willing to bet my last dollar it was much, much higher than what it is now. That in itself should give us all reason for pause and some concern. It is not that interest in muzzleloading has declined in recent years, in fact it has never been more popular, but rather the interest of today’s younger muzzleloader enthusiasts has changed, particularly when it comes to hunting.
Keep in mind, I speak here as a hunter, but I am typical of that change. I punch paper maybe once or twice each fall before hitting the woods just to make sure my rifle is sighted in. Although I love the history of muzzleloading on this continent I don’t participate in reenactments or rendezvous or participate in shoots or matches. I don’t have any issues with these passions and events, in fact I have all the respect in the world for those who partake and keep that history alive but they are not my cup of tea. Indeed, like I dare say the majority of muzzleloader enthusiasts today there are several reasons why I own and hunt with a muzzleloader and they all boil down to increased hunting opportunity and putting meat on the table.
While the overall number of U.S. hunters has been declining over the past decade, declining by 5- to 6 percent in some states, as has been pointed out in these pages the average age of our membership is about 70 years young. Unless we attract a younger generation, a generation that overwhelmingly owns, shoots and hunts with in-lines, and in general prefers an in-line over a more traditional design membership will continue to decline. There is no other way to replace those lost. The question is, do we let the ship go down, or do we do what is necessary to save it even though we may not like it?
The interesting thing is, as overall hunting numbers in this country have been on the decline the past decade or so the number of hunters using muzzleloaders has grown during the same time period and hunting with a muzzleloader is one of the few bright spots within the industry.
According to several references there are some four million hunters in this country that hunt with a muzzleloader, and those same references indicate about 90 percent of them hunt with an in-line. Whether factually correct or not, when it comes to hunting game the vast majority of hunters these days, young as well as old, choose to carry an in-line. And when hunters new to the fold shop for a muzzleloader, when given a choice between a percussion, a flintlock or in-line, the vast majority will opt for the in-line. We could discuss the various reasons for this all day long, but the reasons don’t really matter. Facts are facts. Whether we want to accept or admit it or not the younger generation of muzzleloader enthusiasts this organization needs to survive have a different mindset, a different interpretation of what muzzleloading is, and it overwhelmingly includes the in-line. We may not like it but we can accept them and grow, or stick to our guns, reject them and fade into history like the mountain men of old.
Among the reasons I hunt with an in-line is the opportunity to extend my hunting season. In the late 1970s and early 80s few states offered a specific muzzleloader season despite the fact that muzzleloaders had been around for generations. It wasn’t until the mid-1980s and especially in the 90s when in-lines were selling like hot cakes when state after state put a season restricted to muzzleloaders in place. Today, forty-nine states offer at least one muzzleloader season, generally for deer, but in some jurisdictions for elk and other game as well. Montana remains the only holdout and there are calls for a muzzleloader season there. And it’s all thanks to the in-line, which is recognized in those forty-nine states as a muzzleloader.
So when you head to the woods this fall during muzzleloader season regardless of the ignition system your rifle has just remember odds are that special time and added opportunity wouldn’t be available were it not for the modern muzzleloader. And overall, the interest in muzzleloader hunting wouldn’t be as popular as it is without the in-line. This doesn’t mean you have to like in-lines or use one, but it is a reminder of where the primary interest in muzzleloading rests today and that interest has given more than it has taken.
The bottom line is, whether in-line users are welcome into this organization isn’t necessarily about change or forgetting our past, but more about acceptance. There is room for all and we can welcome all and still hold onto muzzleloading’s rich history. My premise is rather simple. If it loads from the muzzle and ignites with a #11 cap, flint or 209 primer it is a muzzleloader. Bottom line, the choice, and future of this organization is in our hands, but one thing is certain. The in-line muzzleloader is here to stay. Hopefully the NMLRA is as well.
#2140-The author has carried an in-line since they first arrived back in the early 1980s and will continue to do so.
#030-Like them or hate them the in-line muzzleloader is here to stay.
#2488-Forty-nine state now offer muzzleloader-specific hunting season, an opportunity that didn’t exist before the arrival of the in-line.