The first rut was late this year. Perhaps it was the warm weather or just the vagaries of love. But it doesn’t really matter why. What matters is that the second rut has begun.

What a second rut means for the deer is that the does are in heat again, the ones that didn’t find a mate the first time around or the young does who weren’t ready yet last month.

What a second rut means for the hunter is that the bucks will be on the prowl again. And like many a young male looking for love, odds are they will be distracted and not as careful as they should be.

This is good news for black powder hunters because this week marked the beginning of their turn behind the trigger.

The black powder season is almost three weeks long and comes on the heels of the shotgun season. Black powder hunters fall into two categories: primitive and modern. Both are a throwback to an earlier time.

The Thompson Hawken flintlock gun, of the primitive variety, is a thing of true beauty. It has a walnut stock, brass or stainless steel fittings and an interchangeable black barrel depending on the conditions or ammo preferred. It also has an open sighting. There is no scope or any other modern convenience.

To load the gun is to shake hands with Daniel Boone or share a bourbon with Davy Crockett. You pour gunpowder down the barrel and tamp it down with a ramrod. Then you drop in the ammunition. Some of the bullets look like smooth round rocks, not much different really than those used up the way at Lexington and Concord. The final step is laying down a percussion cap to make the spark when the trigger is pulled and the hammer slams down.

Depending on one’s skill and the weather, cold hands make it hard to pour the powder, it can take anywhere from 15 seconds to a few minutes to reload. But even the fastest reloader rarely gets a chance at a second shot out in the woods.

Rick Carlson readies his Thompson flintlock. — Ray Ewing

Rick Carlson owns a Thompson flintlock gun and last Sunday he was out at the Rod and Gun Club in Edgartown participating in the black powder shoot. This is an opportunity for hunters to test their firearms before the hunting season begins. It is also a chance for hunters to enjoy the company of one another while competing for top gun honors.

But it was a wet and cold afternoon with the wind blowing hard off Sengekontacket Pond. A lot of the club members stayed home, most likely tucked under blankets, nursing cups of herbal tea or warm milk and cuddled up to romance novels.

“We have some sunshine patriots,” Bob DeLisle, the club president, said with a smile, perhaps remembering the good old days when hunters shot naked no matter the weather, and ate their venison raw like sushi.

But for the men who did participate (there were no women), the weather did not blow away any of their enthusiasm.

The competition on Sunday included a timed shot. For this event the contestants fired two shots, added up the score at the target and then subtracted the time taken to reload.

The primitive class shoot took place in the morning. Mr. Carlson stood at about number two when he was called away to an emergency that knocked him out of the running. Philip Jordan won top honors, and a ham, in the primitive category.

After lunch the modern-style black powder contest began. Mr. Carlson is too nice a man to actually say anything directly against the modernization of black powder guns. But his facial expression, a slight wince, gives up the goods when asked how he feels about primitive firearms with sighting scopes and gunpowder that comes in the form of hard pellets rather than the dry dust of yore.

But even with the fancier accoutrements, a modern-style black powder gun still needs to be reloaded after every shot. The guns still employ a ramrod to tamp down the ammunition and a percussion cap needs to be set in place before each shot.

Phil Hughes takes aim. — Ray Ewing

Many of the men had already worked their way through the bow and shotgun seasons. “It drives my wife crazy,” Michael Ferry, winner of the modern black powder shoot, said. “I have a gun or weapon in my hands for 76 days.”

Brian Welch and Brian Athearn, who often hunt together, have already had fine seasons too.

“It’s been my best year in terms of both animals killed and fun had,” Mr. Welch noted.

In one week, working with a group of men, Mr. Welch bagged nine deer. When working together, usually during shotgun season, the men divide up into teams of sitters and drivers. The sitters position themselves at possible deer escape routes. The drivers walk through the woods essentially pushing the deer toward the sitters. Bragging rights, of course, go to the one who bags the most deer. Cue Mr. Welch. But when working together, every man, even one who doesn’t get a shot off, goes home with meat.

Carlson Hughes
Mr. Carlson and Mr. Hughes at Rod and Gun Club. — Ray Ewing

Black powder season is usually more of a solitary experience. Whereas with a group of men working together deer can be rousted out of their hiding places, when alone a hunter must rely on a tree blind or, if it snows, stealthy tracking. Hunting is only allowed during the daylight hours; one half hour before sunup until one half hour after sundown. But deer move about at night. Therefore, a solitary hunter’s small window of opportunity is usually limited to when a deer is headed home to bed in the early morning or out to feed in the early evening.

Add to that a gun which allows you only one shot and you begin to understand the stripped-down allure of the black powder season. It takes a true craftsman to make a kill.

Black powder season extends the hunting season. It adds a new layer of difficulty to the proceedings, although almost every hunter will tell you that a black powder gun is an extremely accurate gun. It is also a tradition passed down through the generations.

That’s why they call it gunpowder. — Allen Green

“My family’s been here [the Vineyard] so long, I decided to keep up some of the history,” Mr. Athearn said. Earlier in the day he had taken home second place honors in the primitive shoot.

Back by the clubhouse one of his boys played with one of Mr. Welch’s boys. On this day, both boys wielded light sabers. The thrill of galactic combat outshining, for the moment, the hunt. But not for long.


The results of last Sunday’s black powder shoot were as follows: Steve Jordan, first place primitive division with runner-up Brian Athearn; Michael Ferry, first place modern division with runner-up Steve Jordan. Winner of the Bill Nicholson outstanding participant award presented each year in memory of the Civil War and primitive firearm enthusiast was Tom O’Hanlon.