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PRIMITIVE PREFERENCE

Darrel Plank of La Grandehandles one of his muzzleloaders. He enjoys hunting with primitive equipment. He believes that allowing the use of modern gear, such as scopes and closed ignition, would make muzzleloader seasons too much like regular rifle hunting seasons. (Observer photos/DICK MASON).
Darrel Plank of La Grandehandles one of his muzzleloaders. He enjoys hunting with primitive equipment. He believes that allowing the use of modern gear, such as scopes and closed ignition, would make muzzleloader seasons too much like regular rifle hunting seasons. (Observer photos/DICK MASON).

- Dick Mason

- The Observer

These are the best of times or the worst of times for muzzleloaders in Oregon.

It depends on which magazine you agree with.

The Web magazine High Performance Muzzleloading has given Oregon its 2006 Limber Ramrod Award for "the Nation's Worst Muzzleloading Regulations.'' The magazine criticizes the state for having and enforcing the "most outdated muzzleloader hunting regulations in the nation.'' It cites the state's prohibition of modern aids that allow muzzleloader hunters to shoot more accurately, reload faster and fire further.

Field & Stream magazine is on the other end of the spectrum. The magazine, in a recent issue, lauds Oregon for offering some of the best opportunities for muzzleloaders in the nation. Field & Stream said that limits on range and effectiveness allow the state to offer longer and more varied seasons.

Many Union County muzzleloaders are happy with the current situation. According to interviews conducted by The Observer, they want the state's restrictions to remain in place to keep muzzleloading hunting primitive.

One reason is that restrictions on muzzleloaders give hunters an opportunity to better gauge their abilities.

Plank said that allowing the use of modern gear such as scopes and closed ignition would make muzzleloader seasons more like regular rifle hunting seasons.

Union and Wallowa counties offer several seasons for muzzleloaders. One of the oldest is a white-tailed deer season, which runs Nov. 13-26 throughout Union County. The season has been in place for more than 15 years.

Seasons like this would be jeopardized if muzzleloaders were allowed to use modern devices, said Ron Sixberry of Union. He explained that hunters would be so successful the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife would have to cut back such seasons to maintain deer population levels.

Sixberry said that some states have reduced muzzleloader restrictions because of pressure from companies that make modern firearm equipment. He believes it is unlikely this will occur in Oregon because it has fewer people than the states muzzleloader companies have targeted and changes here would be less lucrative.

The muzzleloader restrictions lifted in other states allow for things such as:

• pelletized powder, which helps the muzzleloader to reload faster.

• closed ignition systems, which stay drier in wet weather.

• the use of scopes on muzzleloaders.

La Grande ODFW Biologist Leonard Erickson has not been pressured for less stringent regulations. He has experienced the opposite — people encouraging him to work to get a season with even greater muzzleloader restrictions.

Several years ago Erickson helped develop plans for a muzzleloader elk hunt in Union County that would have limited hunters to flintlocks. That rifle is more primitive than the cap percussion type of muzzleloader hunters can also use in Oregon. The flintlock elk season never was added, though, because of declining elk calf survival rates.

Any changes in muzzleloader seasons or regulations would have to be approved by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The ODFW's Bruce Eddy, manager of the Grande Ronde Watershed, said that he has never been at a commission meeting in which people proposed making regulations less stringent. Eddy said he likes the rules in place now in part because "they give the animal an advantage over the hunter.''

Several Union County muzzleloaders who support primitive hunts note that those who want to use improved muzzleloaders are free to do so during regular center-fire hunts.

The 2006 edition of the ODFW big-game regulations states that hunters can use almost any muzzleloader during center-fire firearm hunts. A portion of the regulations, on page 17, state that hunters can use "any muzzleloader with any ignition type, except matchlock, any legal sight, any propellant, or any bullet type during center-fire firearm seasons, provided the weapon meets caliber restriction for the species.''

Plank, who makes his own muzzleloaders, would never be tempted to use modern muzzleloading equipment even if Oregon restrictions are someday reduced. Nothing beats hunting with a primitive weapon, he said.

"It puts the hunt back into it. It makes it more fun.''

 
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