The spirit of Daniel Boone ascended on American Legion Post 510 in Black Walnut on Saturday at the Endless Mountains Winter Rifle Frolic.
Muzzle-loading enthusiasts recaptured the frontier spirit of 200 years ago, with the day continually punctuated by the sharp crack of rifle fire.
Instead of firing cartridges, participants carefully loaded their rifles with round lead balls and patches, while priming and charging them with black powder.
Participants had five chances to hit paper targets on a firing range. The black powder charged weapons continually exploded in a volley of smoke and sometimes flame, as shooters attempted to outscore their opponents.
The event was sponsored by the Endless Mountains Primitive Outdoorsmen.
President Robin Robinson of Jenningsville explained that the group meets every Monday at the American Legion.
“We promote primitive lifestyle by primitive shooting,” Robinson said.
The purpose of the event is to promote interest in muzzle loader shooting, he said.
“You can tell the way people are dressed that there is a lot of interest,” Robinson added.
Many of the participants sport coonskin caps, buckskin shirts, powder horns, and other paraphernalia along with their rifles, looking as if they just stepped out of a novel by James Fenimore Cooper.
It’s evident that this is more than just play acting for them, as they expertly handle their rifles when loading and cleaning them.
What Robinson and other muzzle-loading enthusiasts find so attractive about the sport is the challenge of loading and aiming such a rifle, as opposed to a modern gun.
“Anybody can shoot a gun,” said explained, but it’s a real challenge to use a muzzle loader.”
“The challenge is not looking down through a scope,” Roxy Wells of New Albany, who serves as the group’s treasurer said. “The challenge is looking down an iron barrel.”
In addition to firing at paper targets on a range, shooters could also participate in a woods walk, in which participants were taken into the woods and hiked to targets placed throughout the area. Another activity was a tomahawk throw, where people attempted to split a playing card with a small hatchet.
Prizes were awarded at the frolic, with $50 for first place in each shooting event, $25 for second place, $15 for third, and $10 for fourth place.
A raffle was held for a 50 caliber Tennessee Valley Arms muzzle loader.
One participant was Nick Rohs of Factoryville, who said he’s been shooting a muzzle loader since 2009.
“I find it a meditative style of relaxation,” Rohs said about the sport. “Muzzle loading requires several more steps (compared with shooting a regular rifle). It produces a calm state of mind while you are shooting.”
Nick Superko of Laceyville is the secretary for the Endless Mountains Primitive Outdoorsmen.
“When I saw Robin put on a demonstration at ‘The Oldest House’ (in Laceyville), I was hooked,” he said. “I like the click and the bang (of muzzle loading). And everyone here is so nice.”
In addition to shooting old fashioned rifles, Hank Rahm of Meshoppen also builds them, working from kits.
He explained that he usually buys everything pre-made.
“You have to fit everything together,” Rahm said. “Not everything fits the way it should. You have to make certain it fits properly.”
Sometimes he has a barrel and stock created to specs, but for the most part he orders what he needs to put a muzzle loader together.
It takes about 40 hours to create one rifle, Rahm said. He’s created several muzzle loaders, with one going to a friend, and the rest staying with family members.
“I’ve made guns for my three grandchildren,” he said. “As well as my son and his wife. We all shoot.”
The holy grail for muzzle loaders is to have a rifle created from scratch by a gunsmith. David Williams of Vernon can fulfill such a dream.
Williams, who has 42 years experience as a gunsmith, said he creates everything except the barrel and the lock, which he purchases separately.
Every other part of his rifles Williams builds himself, even using period tools instead of modern ones.
“You get a better balance,” Williams said about the advantage of having a gun created for you. “It’s nicer shooting.”
Williams said he uses curly maple to create his stocks.
“It’s pretty wood with stripes on it,” he added. “Most old guns used curly maple.”
It takes him about 200 hours to make a muzzle loader, Williams said, with the starting price between $3,000 to $4,000.
Robinson expressed his appreciation to members of American Legion Post 510 for all the support they provided during the shoot - providing soup, coffee, donuts, and sandwiches, as well as helping out.
“I also want to thank all the people who showed up,” he said, adding that at as of noon, about 45 people had signed up to participate in the target shooting. “Our organization has 60 members, and we’re having a membership drive, so we’re hoping people will join us.”