One of the most common mistakes I see in the whitetail woods by muzzleloader hunters who are also archery hunter, is they often hunt with a front stuffer out of the same sets they bow hunted from a month prior.
Does it work occasionally? You bet. But after you spent days hunting your core archery areas, mature bucks will pick up on your presence and avoid your hotspots like the plague.
As the season progresses, muzzleloader tactics must be adjusted is in order to utilize your muzzleloader to its full advantage.
With today's modern muzzleloading equipment, you should take advantage of their extended range. Back off of key travel corridors and destinations by 75 to 100 yards. It will keep the approaching deer more comfortable. It's less likely they'll pick you off.
While archery hunting, bowmen like to sit in the throat of a heavily used trail in a funnel or on the interior fringe of bedding areas. This is a great way to catch a big buck as he approaches the food. But with a smoky rifle, back off. If you are hunting the edge of a destination food source, move your stand back far enough that the deer are able to comfortably enter the food source and begin feeding.
Next, position yourself off the food source and hunt the travel corridor or transition and staging areas leading from bedding to the destination food. This could be a stellar alternative if your target buck is notorious for showing up a few minutes past legal shooting light. Under these conditions, I like to find a tree that is about 100 yards from the main trail. This is a very do-able range for a modern inline muzzleloader. You will have the confidence to make the shot.
Hunt high. You're back in the timber where visibility is much more obstructed, and you'll have a weapon that can reach out much farther than your bow. Be on your game -- chances come and go with little notice.
Some hunters prefer to hunt on the ground for an option of mobility at a moment's notice. But the risk of getting busted is much higher. If you're after a specific animal, the last thing you want are aggravated does retreating back into the bedding area. Stay elevated and your perspective will keep you in control.
Regardless of your specific situation, get these spots set during the preseason and stay out of them until the conditions are perfect.
During the early and late season, focus on the bed-to-feed pattern. Hunt destination food sources. It's usually your best plan this part of the season. Be aware of spooking does and fawns, which are the first to show up. Mature, trophy-caliber deer are typically the last to enter a food source. Keep the existing deer comfortable. Know that the boss is back in the woods evaluating the situation. He didn't get that big on accident.
We all practice shooting our bow before season. We should do the same with our muzzleloaders.
Take time to know and maximize your comfortable range. Many of today's muzzleloaders are capable of effectively shooting out to 250 yards. But that kind of accuracy takes time at the bench, mixing and matching the right bullet and charge, and ample practice pulling the trigger.