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Primitive Firearm Deer Hunting Season Begins In Massachusetts

A muzzleloader sits on a yellow cloth surrounded by tools, bullets and powder containers
Troy Gipps

Today marks the beginning of primitive firearms deer hunting season in Massachusetts. But before you grab your muzzleloader or bow, WAMC has this interview with MassWildlife Western District Supervisor Andrew Madden to give you a primer on the season — which runs until the 31st — from how to track deer based on their food sources to why you’ve got to keep your powder dry.

MADDEN: It's usually a colder time of year, usually there’s snow on the ground. So those of us in the Northeast and Massachusetts who like to be out in the cold weather enjoy that season more than some of the other seasons. It's also, you know, it's a challenge to use muzzleloaders. You have a single shot before you have to reload, adding the powder, adding the projectile down the muzzle of the gun. So it's a little more thought to it, you have to be a little more careful in choosing shots. And all of that factors into what makes it a little bit different than the other seasons.

WAMC: What are the prime spots in Berkshire County for this kind of hunting?

Well, we have a lot of great lands in Berkshire County. We're very fortunate to have so many public lands that are available for hunting and all sorts of recreation. So really, it's about spending the time looking at maps, doing some scouting in advance and determining where you might want to explore for muzzleloader hunting. There's really a lot of options.

What distinguishes Berkshire County from the rest of Massachusetts as a place to hunt?

Well, when you're hunting out in the Berkshires and all of the rural parts of Western Massachusetts, you have much more space for hunting than you do in some of the eastern parts of the state, and so there is a distinction there. Out here you can be by yourself, you can get further back into the woods and have a little bit of solitude which appeals to a lot of people, especially during the muzzleloader season. So that's a little bit different for our region. And it's a great advantage for us to have all those lands protected in perpetuity like that.

Andrew, can you explain the importance of keeping your powder dry when it comes to using a muzzle-loaded rifle?

Well, the muzzle loading season is originally was based on the really primitive type firearms that I'm sure people have seen with, you know, reenactors or that type of thing. And so now, the firearms have become more modern in many senses. But the in order for the gun to function, the powder has to ignite, and so if powder gets wet, when it gets the- depending on the mechanism or the system that you have- when it ignites it sends a projectile out through the muzzle of the gun. So in order to make sure that works properly, it has to be kept dry.

This season also includes bow hunting. Is that correct Andrew?

Sure. You can hunt with a bow during the muzzleloader season. In order to hunt during the muzzleloader season in Massachusetts, you need a stamp which qualifies you to hunt during the season. But archery is also a technique that you can use during that time. You still have to follow the rules of the muzzleloader deer season, but people can use archery at this time too.

Do you have a sense of how many people engage in this particular form of hunting?

Well, we don't have real numbers on that because a lot of people have different seasons using different techniques, so there's a lot of overlap there. But muzzleloader has become more popular in recent years. Once the changes went into effect to allow the more modern-type muzzleloader systems, it grew in popularity, and so it's less popular than archery and shotgun season is typically in Massachusetts, but there's still a lot of people who like to do it.

A crucial part of tracking and hunting deer is knowing where their food sources are. Andrew, what's the best way to tell where you're going to find a deer if you're looking for one based on their diet?

For deer hunting this time of year, especially as winter starts to set in and snow starts to accumulate on the ground, those deer are often found near those food sources. They need to feed frequently. And so nutritious food sources like acorns, where there on the ground, they've fallen off the oak trees and now they're on the ground, sometimes under a thin layer of snow, is a really good place to look. It depends from year to year, which food sources are available. In some years, beech nuts are particularly abundant, and so that might be a good place to look during those years. But finding those food sources and scouting ahead and looking for those areas where you might find deer is a really good way to do it this time of year.

Andrew, is there anything else we should know about primitive firearms hunting season here in Massachusetts?

Any deer that's harvested in Massachusetts has to be checked within 48 hours and that's done this year online almost exclusively.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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