Blacked Out in Iowa

Everything seemed to line up like ducks in a row. I’d spent five years attempting to draw an Iowa late-season muzzleloader tag. Plus, it landed on a year that I set aside for my biggest hunting year to date.

The year of 2019 boasted trips to Canada, Wyoming, and Iowa. Each were successful in their own way, but Iowa posed a problem. The Iowa whitetail hunt snuck up on me quicker than expected, which made for a wild ride.

I use this as a cautionary tale for all looking to do a "big year" of hunting across the country. At first, it seems like a good idea, but in the end, if you don't bust your tail to prepare the year before, you'll be in a world of heartache.

Before the trip north, I'd shot the muzzleloader once on the range. Look, if you plan on taking a once in five-year journey, shoot the dang gun more than once. It's just pressing the trigger, and a great rifle can overcome bad habits, right?    

I selected the Thompson Center Impact SB as my firearm for the late-season muzzleloader hunt. This isn’t the most expensive black powder rifle on the market, but it sure is an accurate one. Sighted in at 100 yards, I used 110 grains of iowaBlackhorn 209 with a 290 grain Barnes Spit-Fire T-EZ bullet.

Strike One
My first strike was, perhaps, the most painful. I’ve spent years chasing deer, and the buck that stepped out was one of the largest whitetails I’d ever seen on the hoof. At 135 yards, light fading quickly, the buck stepped out, and I awkwardly nestled into position. Once the shot presented itself, my gun rested on a bow hanger that I had screwed into the tree. Replaying the shot in my mind, there was no reason for a miss. I rushed the shot, something I should have prepared for before the season.

Before the buck stepped into the field, nine does and a half-rack trophy spent a couple hours alerting every deer in the county of my presence. They wouldn't leave. Each cautiously approached my location and would get downwind and bust me. It wasn't my movement but my wind they would cut. Just before the buck stepped out, the most annoying of the gang sounded the alarm and retreated…for the 19th time. Once the scene died down, I scanned the area and pinpointed the target. It was over before my mind fully encompassed what had happened, a clean miss.

I beat myself up for not taking the time to anticipate a quick shot. Here's how my practice goes for rushed shots. Using a shot timer, begin seated or kneeling with the gun in your lap. When the beep sounds take a well-placed shot at varying distances. I keep it under five seconds. This is a relatively new practice that I began a few years ago because I found myself rushing too many shots. However, if you don't practice, you lose it. Shooting is a perishable skill. I learned that from one of our trainers, Greg Lapin.

Strike Two
I take it all back. The second strike sucked the worst. It came on the final night of the hunt. The plan was to start the drive back after the last hunt. As night began to fall, deer moved behind me. I was all set for them to approach directly in front of me, but this was not how it happened.

As the herd moved behind me, I entered predator mode. The stalk was executed to perfection, the rest was decent, and the shot was fumbled like only I could do. The 100-yard shot was a layup. Like the first miss, the buck made his way to the field under cover of fading light.

I stood looking down the Leupold VX-3 optic with the buck's top half exposed. I thought I had it all planned—aim low accounting for the steep angle and the buck would drop where he stood. Pressed the shot, and he took off like his tail was on fire. I'd aimed too low and impacted the edge of the cover, which swallowed the sabot and my dreams of an Iowa trophy.

Strike Three
The final strike came on the drive home. I spent the entire 18 hours attempting to diagnose what went wrong and how I could have changed my luck. I came to a few conclusions.

Muzzleloaders are fickle creatures. I spend maybe an hour each year preparing for a muzzleloader hunt. On the other hand, I spend countless hours dialing in and knowing each rifle I have for a hunt. This was a new muzzleloader for me and isn't like my others. What works for one doesn't necessarily work for another.

The folks I hunted with were dialed in and intimately knew their guns. They knew what bullets shot the best and what powders optimized performance. I lacked the time behind the gun to understand the T/C Impact. I should have spent more time finding what works best, and more time on the range is always a good thing.

Lesson learned. Hopefully, next time I won’t black out in Iowa. ~ KJ

Kevin Jarnagin
Kevin Jarnagin (KJ) hails from Oklahoma but quickly established Louisiana roots after joining the Gun Talk team. KJ grew up as a big game hunter and often finds himself in a bass boat. Whether it’s making his way to British Columbia for elk or training with pistols, Jarnagin always seems to find a gun in his hands and adventure on his mind.