Though deer rifle season has come and gone in Pennsylvania, some die-hard hunters still have another chance at hitting the woods in hopes of harvesting a trophy buck.
The state’s annual flintlock season begins this Saturday, Dec. 26, allowing local outdoorsmen and women to take a step back in time and head into the wild.
A flintlock rifle, for those unfamiliar, is an older-style muzzleloader that uses a flint-striking ignition. When the trigger is pulled after the gun is cocked, a piece of flint strikes a frizzen, and in the process opens the priming pan and exposes the priming powder. The sparks generated from the strike ignite the exposed gunpowder in the flashpan, which then passes through a small hole in the barrel and leads to the combustion chamber where it ignites the powder charge.
For Pennsylvania’s season, the firearm must be an original or reproduction of a gun used prior to 1800, which is a .44 caliber or larger weapon with open “V” or notched sights.
Plenty can go wrong during this stretch, which is part of why many hunters seek the challenge out.
“It’s a major challenge from traditional rifles,” said Ed DiFonzo, a Smethport resident who has taken part in flintlock season for about 25 years now. “There are a lot of things that can go wrong, especially with the powder in the pan and the flint. If you don’t get a good spark, you won’t get a good fire to go through the barrel and ignite the charge.”
In his 25 years of flintlock hunting, DiFonzo says he has yet to kill a deer himself. Instead, he shares the season with his family and friends.
In fact, his favorite memory is when his son, Tony, harvested his first deer with a flintlock when he was 12 years old.
Beyond that, though, DiFonzo says it’s just a pleasant time to be in the woods. With one deer tag left this year, he’s likely taking part again.
“I love to hunt, be it squirrel, deer or whatever. If there’s a season, I’ll go, and we’re pretty privileged to be able to do that around here,” he said.
He added, “It’s a really nice time to be out. Nobody else is really out, so if I want, I can go out and go for a walk, and if I see a deer, I’ll shoot. It’s just a very relaxing time to be out.”
For others, the season is as much about being able to step back in time as it is anything else.
Such is the case with Charlie Burchfield, an outdoors columnist at The Era who hunts in Potter County.
“I’ve done it for years,” Burchfield said. “It’s about the spirit of the hunt; it really is. You’re one-on-one with a seemingly primitive firearm, and you’re out there after the regular (rifle) seasons. It’s a challenging hunt, but it puts the hunt back into hunting.”
In addition to the older-style gun, flintlock hunters can’t use telescopic sights light scopes to aid them. Between that and only getting one shot a vast majority of the time, hunters have to be selective in their chances.
“Range is an important factor. You have to use the open sights and most hunters won’t rush the shot,” Burchfield said. “They’ll only get one opportunity when that trigger is pulled and the rifle goes off… It puts more hunt back into hunting.”
Burchfield opted to build his own flintlock rifle when the special season first began in 1974.
“We didn’t have a lot of guns manufactured to the 1800s style, and I didn’t want to use an antique gun,” Burchfield said. “They came as kits, and all I needed to do was some finish work. I had to finish the barrel.
“I custom built my own rifle, as did a lot of other people in that era. Manufacturing started picking up after that and it’s more commercially-available off-shelf guns became available. The season just grew and grew after that.”
And now, its 46th rendition is set to begin. Pennsylvania’s flintlock season runs until Jan. 18, 2021. One antlered deer is permitted per hunting license per year, or one antlerless deer and an additional antlerless deer with each required antlerless license or permit.