THERE’S just something about pouring gunpowder into a barrel and seating a lead bullet with a ramrod that intrigues those of us who pursue whitetails with a muzzleloading rifle every fall.

Maybe it’s the legacy of Daniel Boone and the pioneers who tamed this land that creates such a nostalgic attraction to simpler days and more basic weaponry.

The challenge of a single shot where reloading is anything but fast brings an entirely new element to the hunting equation in this day of semi-automatic weapons and modern cartridges.

Or maybe the scribbler is just practical, drawn to the 10-day muzzleloader deer season because I only get opening weekend to hunt in the regular rifle season. That’s when extra opportunity to put some venison in the freezer becomes a big deal.

It’s probably a combination of the two, along with a chance to hit the forests after most people have had their fill of deer camp and the deer herd settles back into more natural patterns in their daily movement.

I had hopes of hunting the North Woods until there was suddenly 16 inches of snow on the ground and very limited deer movement, not to mention the physical challenge of walking or dragging a deer in those conditions.

So I opted to visit a deer camp in central Wisconsin’s farm country, near Marion in Waupaca County, where the ground was covered by just three inches of snow and the deer herd is much healthier.

The plan was to hunt two hours on a Friday afternoon and two hours on Saturday morning before heading northward, just hoping to catch a deer between feeding and bedding.

Not only are there more deer and more “tags” available in farm country, it’s just easier to pattern deer movement with consistent and highly visible food supplies. It was standing corn in this case, right next to the hardwoods.

I asked my buddy why there were thousands of acres of corn still standing this year, as if it was abandoned by the farmers working the land. He said it was simply that snow came too early and that the combines that pick corn don’t work with any kind of snow or moisture, which clogs them up. So the farmers need a thaw and then a drying period before all that corn can come off.

Shortly after my arrival on Friday afternoon, I geared up for a cold sit with a strong west wind. I dumped 90 grains of powder down the barrel of my 50-caliber muzzy, and seated a sabot on top of it.

There were tracks everywhere but when shooting hours came and went, not a deer was spotted in the hardwoods next to that cornfield. 

I got to spend a night at Doug Malueg’s hunting camp on one of the most perfect 80-acre ridges in the state, a wooded property managed for maximum deer habitat. He’s got a couple of small fields, thicket areas for bedding, ponds, and oaks that littered the ground with acorns this fall.

We washed down pan-fried crappies and potatoes with cocktails, beer and soda. It was time to strategize about what stand or what area might be best in the morning, along with watching some old programs on the tube. Remember Hogan’s Heroes, Green Acres and the Carol Burnett Show? 

Hours later, the food settled and the last of the drinks gone, Doug suggested I just put my time in at old faithful — the very stand I sat with a crossbow months earlier on the north edge of his property, a funnel that leads deer to a thick bedding area.

I was in that stand at 5:45 a.m., long before there was any light in the eastern sky. With snow on the ground, deer can be extremely nocturnal and I didn’t want to bump any moving through the hardwoods closer to dawn.

Good thing too, because shortly after 6:30 there were suddenly deer moving in the hardwoods below my stand, tracking pretty much single-file up a trail that skirts some hardwood thickets and heavier cover.

I had mere seconds to assess the three or four I could see, pick out a big doe, and wait for it to reach a little clearing some 70 yards out. When it did, one grunt stopped it and one boom of a smoke-filled shot put it on the ground.

That’s hunting. We wait for hours, patiently, and things can happen so fast that there’s no time to think about it.

Ends up that six or seven other deer crashed down the hill through the hardwoods, headed back to the thickets that surround a little watering hole near the center of the western forty. In the North Woods, we’d call that a herd.

There’s no pretending that my equipment is anything like the flintlock rifles of the pioneer days. My gun features in-line ignition that makes use of a shotgun shell primer, which makes it as quick as a single-shot shotgun. And it is equipped with a scope.

But it’s still a muzzy, a single-shot weapon that takes some time to reload. And that’s the big distinction from modern weaponry.

The good news is that this gun, with a rifled barrel and scope, is more accurate than the smooth-bored shotguns I used in farm country growing up. We just put slugs in our grouse guns and went deer hunting. There weren’t even open sights on most guns, just a bead.

The muzzleloader deer season is one of the best ideas the Department of Natural Resources ever had, adding opportunity that in some years has allowed me to fill a leftover buck tag.

Some of this corn-fed venison will end up at a wild game feed in June, the biggest fundraiser of the year for Three Lakes Fish & Wildlife Improvement Association.

There was no surplus of deer in the North Woods this fall, and many tags went unfilled during a very late nine-day gun season.

I’m blessed to have some good friends in farm country, and anticipation is already building for walking those ridges in April when the turkeys start gobbling.