by Mark Fike
One of the rallying cries by game and fish, or conservation agencies or groups these days is R3. R3 stands for Recruit, Retain and Reactivate. While there may be varying thoughts as to where to start, youth are invariably one of the biggest focus groups.
Introducing youth to hunting and shooting has been a passion of mine for a number of years. I grew up in the rural woods of eastern Virginia where I could roam without much hindrance for hundreds of acres that were open to me.
These days I am a teacher at a junior high school, a youth outdoor club leader, a hunter education instructor and an outdoor writer. Admittedly, I wear a lot of hats and doing so has opened my eyes to the fact that today’s youth for the most part do not have the opportunities that I had growing up.
My mission as a youth outdoor club leader is to introduce youth and new shooters to hunting. In our area of the country, deer hunting is a big draw for most folks to include kids. Just as it was years ago, being able to show your friends a photo of a deer you harvested puts you at the top of the conversation at lunch, on the school bus, and all over social media in your circle of friends.
To be successful as a youth hunter, you need a firearm and load that will allow you to shoot comfortably and accurately in a consistent manner. If a young person is comfortable shooting and has confidence that they can hit a target or deer accurately, they will not only shoot well, but they will enjoy it so much they will get their friends involved too.
When my outdoor club was invited to an annual youth deer hunt on a gorgeous farm, I realized I was woefully unprepared to actually recruit new youth to hunting because no parent wants to guess what their kid may need and gamble on spending a few hundred dollars for something they make like and keep doing or they may never do again.
I had to have the right equipment and I had only one shot at getting it right. I wanted loaner rifles or shotguns that would be accurate, easy to use, fit a youth shooter and last a long time. I found that recipe with CVA Wolf muzzleloaders.
These muzzleloaders are accurate, easy to use, and come in a compact version from muzzle-loaders.com. You can get a full package deal starting at around $260 that includes a case and a scope.
When combined with PowerBelt bullets (I used the 245 grain PowerBelt AeroTip) and IMR’s White Hots pellets you end up with a tack driver out to 100 yards and I have tested and shot these rifles to 160 yards and dropped a whitetail at that range. 100 grains of pellets is just right, particularly for youth shooters.
I like using White Hots because they are not as dirty as some propellants. The pellets come in easy to remove cylinders that are clear plastic allowing the young shooters to readily view how much powder they have left. Pellets are so much easier to load than measuring and pouring loose powder down a barrel.
For young shooters, ease of loading is critical to success. The pellets simply drop down the barrel with a relative “clunk, clunk”. Then the PowerBelt bullet is very easy to start down the muzzle with a 4-in-1 T-Loader.
A gentle push with the Ramrod with the Palm Saver gets the bullet snug against the pellets at the bottom of the barrel. I was sure to point out the amount of Ramrod left when the rifles are fully loaded so the young people did not leave an air gap. In fact, I got some of my daughter’s bright fingernail polish to mark the Ramrod.
The result of this load configuration was good all the way around. The plastic base on the bullet allows it to slide down the barrel with ease. No more fumbling with a sabot and bullet and trying to cup that duo just right, particularly in a deer stand while loading for any second shots, as the PowerBelt is all one piece.
I tested the loads myself and then I had some of my young shooters come over to test it from their perspective just before a youth deer hunt. The two youth I invited over had no shooting experience at all. This was a great test for the combo set up.
We had a lead sled set up and I gave the two youth a crash course on using a muzzleloader to reinforce what we learned in Hunter Ed class.
As expected, the youth were nervous on the first shot even after being told a few times that the rifle would not kick because of the Lead Sled. Despite being a bit nervous, they easily hit the target with the first shot (thanks to the set-up team at muzzle-loaders.com for bore sighting!) and we adjusted the scope some as I felt very confident that they made clean trigger pulls and shots.
On the second shot, the adjustments were minute and merely personalized the rifles to the youth shooting them. The holes were touching on the target and the pair of youth shooters were totally focused on outshooting the other and having fun.
Shots ten and eleven I had to replace the target because we could not see where the bullet was striking because there was one big hole at 50 yards! The two youth left my range ready to go hunting and they knew how to load and fire the rifles.
In the field, the rifles were all they are advertised to be. The young man I was mentoring took out a deer at 75 yards. The bullet when through the lungs and heart. Talk about accurate!
A few hundred yards away one of my young women shooters had the matching rifle and loads and cracked a 5-point 5.5-year-old deer at 80 yards. It was lights out for that buck!
The rifles and loads work very well. Since that initial test I have loaned these rifles out to two other youth. One young lady who had also never fired a gun until a week before our hunt won 3rd place in a shooting competition at the youth deer hunt. She had a shoot off with a youth that had extensive shooting experience and nearly beat him too!
Another youth borrowed the matching rifle and took his first deer with it and reloaded it easily just in case a second deer offered a shot.
In summary, the loads we used were perfect for our needs. The IMR White Hots are easy to use and the tubes, once empty, make great PowerBelt bullet storage too. I loaded up an empty tube with PowerBelts and used another empty tube of IMR White Hots to store extra primers in. I took both of these items plus three tubes of White Hots and put them in a heavy duty sealable freezer bag that zipped shut and handed them to the youth for potential follow up shots while hunting.
If I had one thing I would change about these set ups it would be upgrading to the stainless steel barrel. The fouling on those barrels is very noticeably less. Everything else about the rifle in the article is great for the price. A great muzzleloader rifle for a great price. Check them out at www.muzzle-loaders.com.