Originally published in The Weekly Packet, July 17, 2014
Blue Hill rifle club hosts a day at the range
Historic firearms featured at open house
Instructors Michael Poisson and Dan Koch, above, discuss gun safety, at the Blue Hill Rifle and Pistol Club’s open house on June 21, 2014 in Blue Hill, Maine.
by Tevlin Schuetz
On a warm, sunny afternoon the odor of sulfur wafted through the air as the occasional boom of a rifle enlivened a group of spectators.
Members of the Blue Hill Rifle and Pistol Club held a Black Powder Open House on June 21 at the Wilbur Ricker Range in Blue Hill showcasing black powder rifles.
The firearms featured were from the period following the Civil War to the turn of the 20th century, in which black powder reigned and before smokeless gunpowder became the norm.
Around 60 people of all ages attended, including a mixture of Peninsula residents and visitors from places such as Ellsworth, Hancock and Holden. It was an afternoon of informality, with club members sharing brownies and welcoming guests.
Participants delighted in the opportunity to take shots at a buffalo gong, a buffalo-shaped steel target placed at a distance of 50 yards, while perched in the shade of the covered shooting bench area. Club members monitored the scene carefully and provided instruction to new shooters.
Enthusiasts brought an array of historic rifles to share with the public, and the collection assembled spanned two tables. On display were a “Hunter’s Pet” or “Bicycle Rifle,” a .32 caliber short Colt rifle; a Winchester Model 73, first produced in 1873; a Winchester Model 92; the Larsen “Tennstempel” model from the 1870s; and many more.
A rifle that proved especially exciting for shooters was the .50-70 caliber Remington Rolling Block rifle, which was originally manufactured for the militia in New York state after the end of the Civil War. The report from this rifle was quite loud and was accompanied by a large plume of smoke due to the caliber and greater amount of gunpowder in the cartridge.
The importance of safety at the firing line was emphasized, for the shooter as well as for spectators. Loading was performed by experienced members of the club, and the rifles were always kept pointing down range. There were multiple pairs of protective earmuffs and impact-resistant eye glasses at the range. Those who wanted to shoot were strongly encouraged to use them. “Hearing loss is cumulative,” a club member cautioned a novice who had at first been reluctant to wear earmuffs.
History comes to life
Club member Dick Noble demonstrated the Winchester Model, also known as the “yellow boy” due to the shiny brass used in its construction. “These were the rifles the Indians had at Custer’s last stand,” he informed onlookers. “That’s why Custer didn’t have a good day.”
Attendees discussed history, talking about the American Revolution, the Civil War and the 20th Maine regiment’s heroic deeds at the battle of Gettysburg, westward expansion and how firearms technology affected these and other events.
History seemed just a little closer to reality at the open house, with enthusiasts donning western gear and clothing to get into character for the quick-draw pistol shooting event, called the “Cowboy Fast Draw,” which took place earlier that morning.
Function, form and artistry mingle in the designs of these antique firearms. Decorative engravings can be found on gun barrels, receivers and other mechanical components. Even the metals themselves, as in the case of the yellow boy’s bright, almost glowing brass, can be visually stunning, especially when set off against the darkly stained woods used in guns of that era. “They are beautiful objects,” commented Alexandria Kay of Penobscot.
Continuing a tradition
The Black Powder Open House was organized to celebrate the history of firearms and innovations in technology during that period. Many designs have withstood the test of time. Dr. Groves “Eckley” Herrick, a collector of antique rifles, said he participated in the open house to “show people you can still shoot black powder rifles. They are safe to shoot.” He made the point that having an experienced gunsmith inspect them for safety purposes is an important step to take first.
By sharing some of the items in his collection, Herrick hoped to “get more people interested in black powder shooting,” he said.
“A lot of people own older black powder rifles but don’t know they can still get ammunition for them,” Herrick observed. There are die sets available to properly size the soft lead projectiles used in ammunition cartridges as well as reloading components for early calibers.
With many of the organizers of club functions getting older, it is hoped that involvement of younger enthusiasts will help to keep traditions alive.
The Blue Hill Rifle and Pistol Club was founded in 1946 by returning World War II veterans and their families. The original shooting facility was located on Tenney Hill until 1969 when members built a new facility at the current location on Range Road. Members welcome new applicants and they dedicate their organization to firearms education and training to allow for the safe enjoyment of shooting sports.
The club has regular monthly meetings and shooting events on different weekends during the season, including trap shooting, cowboy action shooting and gong shoots, among others. Members trained and certified by the NRA and 4-H oversee activities and provide instruction for beginners.
Coming events include a Ladies’ Cowboy Action shoot on July 12. Anyone interested in the club or its facilities and activities should contact club president Dan Koch at 667-3586 or vice president Steve Montminy at 288-9920 or visit bluehillrpc.org.