Ohio hunters gearing up for ‘October Thunder’

Jim Freeman Special to OVP

August 25, 2013

It doesn’t seem possible, but Ohio’s hunting season gets underway in just a few short days with squirrel and early migratory game bird seasons starting next Sunday.

For the majority of Ohio’s hunters the biggest change in this year’s seasons is the antlerless deer muzzleloader season the weekend of Oct. 12-13. A season I call “October Thunder.”

Now I can understand that some archery hunters aren’t too cracked up about sharing “their” woods with other deer hunters that early in the season, but the fact is that Ohio’s archery hunters have many other weekends and several months to bag their bucks – from Sept. 28 to Feb. 2, 2014 to be exact, and the woods belong to everyone. On the other hand, if I could tweak the rules I would allow archery hunters to take a buck that weekend.

The biggest complaint I have heard is that hunters in the woods will mess up the bucks’ travel patterns, but studies from states with similar seasons show that not to be the case, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Wildlife.

Personally I am kind of excited by the prospects of being out in the woods with my muzzleloader in mid-October. It is probably the most beautiful time of year to be in the woods; it isn’t too hot or too cold, and there is still plenty of daylight left for people to hunt in the afternoon. As an extra treat the leaves in southeastern Ohio are almost at peak color during that time.

I think anything that gets people off of their couches and into the woods is a good thing. If someone wants to disagree with me, I’m fine with that, but if you just don’t want to share the woods (or deer) with other hunters, then save your breath.

Ohio deer hunters generally have a little time to get their muzzleloaders ready for deer season, either for the deer gun season in late November-early December, or for the muzzleloader season in early January. If your muzzleloader hasn’t been out of the cabinet since last deer season, break it out and run a patch or two down the barrel - this serves the dual functions of cleaning your bore and making sure there are no obstructions. Fire a few shots to make sure your sights (or your eyes) haven’t changed over the past year; this applies even if you use a traditional cap-and-ball sort of rifle with traditional open sights or a more modern, scoped inline muzzleloading rifle.

During that two-day season, deer hunters can take antlerless deer only (deer without antlers or with antlers less than three inches in length). Hunters can use a muzzleloading rifle .38 caliber or larger, a muzzleloading shotgun 10 gauge or smaller using one ball per barrel. Hunters can also use archery equipment during this season.

Hunting hours are one half hour before sunrise to one half hour after sunset for all deer seasons in Ohio.

Although this particular season isn’t geared towards young hunters, there are several factors that make it an ideal opportunity to introduce youngsters to the woods. For one, like I mentioned before, mid-October is a great time to be afield. Second, it is on a weekend when youngsters can be out in the woods in lieu of the classroom.

Furthermore, muzzleloading rifle loads can easily be tailored for younger shooters and many manufacturers make youth models especially made for smaller stature shooters.

While most modern .50-caliber muzzleloading rifles can easily handle up to 150 grains of black powder, it really isn’t necessary to use such punishing loads. After the first 100 grains of powder it takes a lot more to achieve even a small gain in muzzle velocity.

The standard loading these days for a .50-caliber muzzleloader is 100 grains of “powder” in the form of two 50-grain pellets. This is too much for most kids or smaller shooters, and demonstrates a problem with pellets: one pellet (50 grains) doesn’t offer enough velocity for bullet expansion or sabot separation and (for most shooters) three pellets (150 grains equivalent) is too punishing on the shoulder, so you are limited to two pellets or 100 grains.

For serious shooters, loose powder is the way to go, offering you the ability to “tune” your rifle for optimum accuracy. With my .50-caliber rifle I get good results with 80 grains and a 240-grain, saboted .44-caliber pistol bullet. That particular load is deadly accurate, and we all know that shot placement is what really counts. On the other hand, if you want your gun to kick harder, then go ahead and load it up, but it isn’t going to make a deer any deader.

It is said that Buffalo Bill Cody killed literally thousands of bison using a .45-70 Government Springfield shooting a 470-grain bullet pushed by “only” 70 grains of black powder; a load not too dissimilar from many muzzleloading rifles. While not necessarily a role-model of conservation, he showed it took marksmanship and not bullet velocity to bag game.

No matter how much powder you use and how fast you try to push a projectile, a muzzleloader should still be considered a 150-yard gun for deer. That is, unless you are Buffalo Bill Cody.

Jim Freeman is wildlife specialist for the Meigs Soil and Water Conservation District and a long-time contributor to the Sunday Times-Sentinel. He can be contacted weekdays at 740-992-4282 or at