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E-Bikes and FireSticks: Latest Tech Adds New Twist to Old-Fashioned Muzzleloader Hunt

A hunter on a QuietKat e-bikeThe author rides a QuietKat Apex e-bike during the hunt; (photo/Ryan Spinks)
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I haven’t hunted whitetails in 25 years. But with an invite to pedal bikes into storied Illinois deer country with a modernized muzzleloader, childhood memories came flooding back.

A teenage boy rides a bike along a freshly blacktopped two-lane road through a forest of soaring pine and leaf-bare oak trees. An October chill strikes his face as he pedals a 1980s GT mountain bike awkwardly, a cased bow hanging off his right hand.

He wears full camouflage head-to-toe, old army-issue cotton clothing purchased at a surplus store. He veers off the road into a singletrack trail and aims for a deer stand he placed in the woods a few days ago, rocks and leaves crunching under the tires as he rolls quickly through the dark forest.

That boy was me. It might sound weird in 2022, but in rural 1980s Wisconsin, folks didn’t look twice at an armed youth headed into the woods for a morning or afternoon deer hunt. And before I turned 16, well, if I wanted to go hunting or fishing — or to school for that matter — it was usually the two wheels of a bicycle that bought my freedom.

QuietKat e-bike light lighting road red at sunrise
The author pedals into the farm on a QuietKat e-bike with an impressive red headlamp; (photo/Sean McCoy)

Of course, life moved on. I went to college, moved around the world, and ultimately landed in Colorado more than 20 years later. My transportation got more grand. I flew to the tropics, sailed across the Caribbean Sea, rode trains around Europe and Japan, and drove hundreds of thousands of miles in cars, trucks, and motorcycles.

But still, few things have matched the feeling of freedom I found as a teenager on two wheels.

Fast forward to 2022 and an invitation to ride e-bikes on a deer hunt while carrying a modernized version of the muzzleloader. I perked up as I learned about the hunt.

Did I want to ride electric QuietKat mountain bikes into deer stands in Boone and Crockett-caliber deer country in Illinois’ Golden Triangle? And did I want to use a modernized muzzleloader dubbed a “FireStick” in the hunt? Darn right, I did!

An Evolution of Gear

Bicycles and muzzleloaders have been around for a very long time. But both e-bikes and FireSticks are relatively new additions to the hunting toolbox.

E-bikes — including the QuietKat Apex I rode during the hunt — are great tools for whitetail hunting. They can easily match the speed and utility of a noisy, stinky ATV.

They do so with zero scent emission and very little sound. Sure, the QuietKat might be slightly less capable of carrying loads than an ATV, but for dragging a deer or hauling a trailer, it’ll do the job. And for whisking a hunter silently through the woods and to a deer stand, I can’t think of a better device.

QuietKat Apex e-mountain bike against sky
(Photo/Sean McCoy)

Muzzleloaders are similarly adept at their job. But even most modern muzzleloaders require a steep learning curve. You have to measure out powder charges, manage primers, and do a fair amount of math to figure out ballistics.

The FireStick system — I used it in a Traditions rifle called the Vortek StrikerFire — makes muzzleloading very, very simple. Just ram a bullet down the muzzle, drop a preloaded gunpowder charge into the rear, add a primer, and you’re ready to shoot.

Traditions muzzleloader seen from a treestand over a field
(Photo/Sean McCoy)

It’s easy enough that the FireStick is not legal to use in many states during strict muzzleloader seasons. But it is legal in Illinois, so I was happy to put it to use.

HuntStand App
Stands, food plots, trails, and more are visible on the HuntStand app; (image/HuntStand)

Quick QuietKat Around the Farm

In my hunting life, I’ve rarely had the privilege of private land. And from the first light of my first morning, I knew this hunt would be special. Over 4 days, I watched deer filter past a variety of pre-placed deer stands and blinds.

But this was no canned shoot. Indeed, this was a fair chase hunt to the core. My guide at Performance Outdoors provided advice on stand selection and directions using the HuntStand app. This app allows you to navigate unfamiliar terrain easily.

Each day began with a stand selection based on wind direction and our expected deer activity. Then, I was more or less on my own.

I drove to the farm, parked, dressed, and then set up the QuietKat bike and navigated to my stand each morning. In the afternoon, I changed stands based on wind direction.

Meat in the Freezer

My first day of hunting was remarkable for the number of does that walked past my stand. I counted more than 30 does the first morning, but just one small buck.

Then, in the afternoon, I sat at a food plot where I saw another dozen does and several nice bucks.

Hunter in blaze orange with a muzzleloader
The author walking through the farm; (photo/Ryan Spinks)

But Performance Outdoors, the host and guide of this private land hunt, aims for the harvest of mature bucks. The eight-pointer I saw was young — probably a 2-year-old. So I let him walk away as the first day closed.

My second day was quiet, as I only saw one small buck during the day. But day three ramped back up with colder weather. I watched another half-dozen does and small bucks in the morning.

Then I switched stands to a food plot in the afternoon.

Whitetail buck
(Photo/Sean McCoy)

Around 2:30 p.m., two nice does walked into the field about 130 yards out. I watched them for a few minutes before taking a shot at the larger of the two when it stopped broadside.

The FireStick worked flawlessly, connecting my shot with the heart. I found the deer 40 yards from the edge of the field and rejoiced in the fact that my freezer would not be empty this winter.

I never connected with a mature buck, although I did see a few more nice animals. But ultimately, the experience that drew me, riding bikes and hunting with a muzzleloader, made the hunt a complete success.

Deer permit and fur
(Photo/Sean McCoy)

Riding Home

Nostalgia flooded my mind as I packed up the e-bike on a 1Up bike rack for my final trip back to the lodge.

It had been more than 25 years since I’d hunted whitetail deer, and at least that long since I did so using a bicycle.

Technology has certainly changed. E-bikes make riding up hills and over rough terrain much easier, especially while wearing heavy hunting clothes and boots. With the QuietKat, I just sat and pushed the throttle.

But the feeling of freedom, of moving through the woods like a secretive whisper, remains. As my bike whisked me back to the truck, I smiled at the darkening sky. I felt thankful for the deer I’d bring home and the cold air on my face. But more than anything, I felt the tug of childhood again, of being a little unsure of my place, but of getting there quickly and quietly on two wheels.

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