Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Black Powder, White Smoke

This past weekend the Sgt. Alvin C. York Historic Park held its 21st. annual black powder shoot. Fans of the 1941 film starring Gary Cooper will remember Sgt. York entering a shooting match to win "a beef critter," which he could then parlay into the money he needs to buy a piece of land. This annual shoot memorializes that contest.

The weather was what we've been having of late; damp, overcast, and threatening rain. The thermometer told us it was 50 degrees F, but it obviously was lying. The contestants were shooting "over the log," in a prone position on the ground and using wooden blocks to raise and steady their rifles. Although they each had a ground cloth, enough cold had to seep through to be a distraction.

One interesting aspect of the shoot was the apparent absence of spectators. Everyone seemed to be either a participant or a worker. There were no signs to lead us there, we had to stop at the park's museum store to ask directions. Once there we found a crowd milling around, again with no signage and no loud speakers to announce rounds or give results. The participants and workers seemed to all be going about their own business.

The black-powder rifles are muzzle loaders, so participants were busy adding powder and balls into the muzzles of their rifles and tamping them down.

This fellow may have been a novice, since he seemed to be getting lots of attention from the workers. His first shot misfired, and one of the range officers handed him another cap for his rifle. This time it fired.

Then without apparent announcement or directions, shooters came forward and filled all of the positions. No one seemed to be in a hurry, each shooter taking all the time needed to feel comfortable with their shot. When each had finished, a range officer declared the range closed and safe, and the participants all walked across the range to claim their targets.

After watching for half an hour and getting a few photos it was apparent why there were few spectators. The excitement certainly belongs to the participants. Unlike some other esoteric competitive events, there was no way of knowing how contestants were doing or who was ahead in points. Golf has its leader board and sheepdog trials usually have a similar board. One of the participants I spoke with had two of his grandchildren with him, and they ran out to check targets each time the range opened. Otherwise, spectators are pretty much limited to enjoying the noise and puffs of white smoke.


  1. Looks like a fine day, shooter or not.

  2. It’s probably more fun to ‘do’ than to watch.
    I love these country pursuits. Here, there’s clay pigeon shooting.

  3. It's amazing how many different hobbies there are. We had a friend into quick draw competitions.