The primitive weapons season for hunting deer has opened in Georgia. Hunters using those weapons also may start pursuing bears in north Georgia at that time. This gave hunters using muzzle-loading guns a one week head start prior to the opening of the regular firearms season when modern weapons can be used. Primitive weapons hunters can continue to hunt whitetails through Jan. 8 .
The usual image of a primitive weapons hunter is that of a traditionalist hitting the woods carrying a flintlock rifle and often even dressing the part in buckskin hunting clothes. At one time that was a fairly accurate portrayal of muzzle-loading hunters.
The firearms they used were often slow to load, cumbersome to carry and messy to fire and clean. It was a sport that revolved around the lifestyle more than using the easiest method to bag a deer. Much like archery, muzzleloading required more stealth, because the action was ordinarily at close range. As a result of those limitations, the number of hunters using muzzleloaders was quite small.
Beginning in the 1990s, however, that changed. The introduction of modern in-line muzzle-loading rifles revolutionized the sport. The new firearms did not have the firing mechanism positioned on the side of the rifle, but rather in a straight line with the barrel like a modern gun. The rifles also could be fitted with telescopic sights, used more powerful loads and provided more accuracy at greater ranges.
With all the refinements, these rifles were a match for regular firearms, with the only difference being they used one shot that was loaded into the barrel from the muzzle.
The ease of use began attracting more hunters to the sport, especially after the Department of Natural Resources established the primitive weapons season. This offered hunters an extra week in the woods each year if they used a muzzleloader.
"The primitive weapons season is a great opportunity for an early deer before the pressure of rifle season hits," said Charlie Killmaster, the state deer biologist with the DNR Game Management Section.
After the turn of the 21st century the number of deer hunters using muzzleloaders peaked at around one-quarter of the hunting population, before tailing off a bit. Last season, 45,543 sportsmen took to the woods and fields armed with muzzleloaders in Georgia. Those hunters bagged 10,160 whitetails during the 2015-16 season.
In addition to the statewide muzzle-loading season, the Georgia DNR also provides a number of other opportunities for primitive weapons action. Forty-seven wildlife management areas around the state offer hunts limited to muzzleloaders and archers only. Most of these fall during the state muzzle-loading season, but a few are held at other times.