Some of the top deer hunting states in America don't allow rifle hunting for deer, including monster buck hotspots like Iowa, Illinois and Ohio. If you want to hunt one of these whitetail meccas and you are strictly a gun hunter, your only options are a shotgun or a muzzleloader. Other states and Canadian provinces do allow rifle hunting, but also offer special seasons and areas just for these more primitive weapons, especially near large urban centers. There are many good reasons to get into muzzleloaderhunting, but does that mean that a shotgun isn't a viable alternative? Not at all. Here's a look at the pros and cons of each.
Shotgun Pros & Cons for Hunting Deer
- The biggest advantage to be gained from hunting with a shotgun rather than a muzzleloader is the extra firepower. While a muzzleloader limits you to a single shot, a shotgun gives you two or three, depending upon the type of shotgun. There's no question that there are times when the luxury of a follow-up shot or two can come in handy.
- Shotguns are also a bit more versatile in that, where legal, you have the option of choosing between the long-range capabilities of rifled slugs, and the brush-busting benefits of buckshot for hitting moving targets in close quarters and dense cover.
- While muzzleloaders can be finicky at times in terms of misfires for reasons such as moisture getting into your powder or primers, shotguns and the ammo they use are pretty no-nonsense and can take a lot of abuse under harsh weather conditions. They are also very simple to clean afterward, which is not always true of all muzzleloaders.
- The big puff of smoke that comes with using a muzzleloader can take a bit of getting used to, and can make it difficult to see your target's reaction to your shot. These are non-issues with shotguns.
- Slug or deer barrels are available for most popular models of shotguns, so you may only need to invest in a new barrel for a shotgun that you already own rather than a whole new gun in order to enjoy the additional opportunities offered by these shotgun/muzzleloader-only hunts.
Muzzleloader Pros & Cons for Hunting Deer
- The biggest advantage that a muzzleloader has over a shotgun shooting slugs or buckshot is increased range. Buckshot is most effective at ranges out to about 50 yards, while a scoped shotgun shooting slugs through a rifled barrel can be effective out to 125 yards or so. Scoped muzzleloaders shooting modern muzzleloader bullets are routinely accurate and effective to beyond 150 yards, with certain custom, semi-custom and smokeless muzzleloaders having effective ranges well beyond that.
- Muzzleloaders also tend to be a bit more accurate than slug shotguns at comparative distances. Although it can take some time and effort to develop a bullet, powder and primer combination that your muzzleloader likes, once you do, accuracy equal to that of many production centerfire rifles is not unusual.
- If you like to tinker, muzzleloading offers near endless opportunities and versatility with regard to loads as a result of the myriad powders, bullets and primers available. Many hunters opt for the convenience and ease of pre-formed powder pellets, but switching to loose powder allows custom loads to be developed and fine-tuned for maximum accuracy. You can also custom tailor your loads based on your particular needs at the time, such as a lighter load for shooters who may be a bit sensitive to recoil (and many slug shotguns/loads tend to have a rather healthy kick), on up to a hotter load for long range shooting or pursuing bigger game such as bears, elk or moose.