The Blindman Valley Rod and Gun Club brought a whisper of the 1800s back to life with a black powder shoot they opened to the intrigued public.
On July 27, the club hosted a black powder shoot for members and the public. In attendance were enthusiasts ranging from well-seasoned seniors to children as young as four.
The atmosphere, while smoky, was one of safety and ease. A range safety officer manned each gun station and everyone present was equipped with protective eye and ear wear.
Those who attended the shoot had the opportunity to fire revolvers, six-shooters and rifles. “All of those are actual replicas of the rifles that would have been used in the 1800s,” said organizer Neil Handford.
Handford has been shooting since he was nine years old but only came into the idea of hosting black powder shoots four years ago. “It was a dream.”
“Two guys got me started on this about four years ago. We just decided to put it together,” he added.
While there are clubs using black powder guns, Handford says it’s a rare occasion when the public is given the opportunity to attend the range as guests for a fully supervised, hands on experience.
When it comes to shooting Civil War era guns safety and fun go hand in hand.
Although the day was organized for fun and play — to introduce newcomers to the sport — and allow those already interested a chance to pass on their knowledge, the responsibility of the guns haven’t been brandished lightly.
Almost every shooter, including the youths, saw and was walked through how the guns are loaded. Powder was measured — less than what would normally be used to minimize kick and power — patches were cut and lubricated, then inserted along with the bullet. The bullet was pushed partially down the barrel and a ramrod finished the process.
The youths were treated to the pre- and post-processes to firing the guns to not only pique their interest but also make them responsible shooters.
“All those kids, that’s the future of our shooting sport,” said Handford. He believes once seniors reach a certain age they won’t care about their guns and it’ll be up to younger generations to keep the sport alive and positive.
“That’s something we’re trying to portray to the public. Yes, firearms can be very dangerous but if it’s handled correctly, it’s a good sport,” said Handford, who wanted the shoot to act as a public awareness message.
Britney Reithmayer attended the shoot with the Koening family and shot a gun for her third time.
“It’s a good experience. It’s something different,” said Reithmayer, who liked how the supervisors were always around to answer any questions and helped her learn to load and clean the guns.
Her favorite part was hearing that sweet little ‘ding’ when a bullet hits its intended mark. “I didn’t think I’d actually be able to hit a target.”
A variety of targets, ranging from playing cards turned sideways to larger animal-shaped models, were used to test shooters’ skills. “None of them are at the marksmen level, we just play” said Handford.
Range safety officer Ryan Nichol agrees hearing the “ding at the other end” is the best part of the sport.
“I think marksmanship goes back a long way, so I think it’s an important skill,” he added.
Using guns responsibly is a “way of life” and like many families who pass down hunting traditions, Nichol’s granddad, father and uncles, who were shooters and trappers, all encouraged his interests.
Nichol’s been shooting for the past 27 years, since he was three years old, and he also served in the reserves in 2005. “I guess that’s the other side. Marksmanship goes into a lot of areas.”
Within the last five to 10 years shooting sports have exploded in Alberta as people become more and more interested. “Maybe some of it’s Hollywood. You see guns on TV and it looks cool. I think there’s a natural attraction to smoke and fire,” said Nichol.
Parents and grandparents reliving of a past lifestyle are also bringing the sport to younger generations.
Nichol says more people could “feel there’s value in the current geopolitical environment, to marksmanship.”
“I wonder if people don’t think in the back of their mind whether or not they should be able to shoot a gun,” he added.
With increased popularity and more people using firearms, safety needs to be prevalent. “I think a big one to underline is how to safely handle a firearm,” said Nichol.
As more people are introduced to the sport, consumer demand will also expand the market within Alberta.
Bass Pro Shop is working on its third Canadian location, the second for Ontario, with the other near Balzac and Airdrie. Also, Alberta has two Cabela’s locations; one open in the south Edmonton and another set for the north end.
“Those are big, outdoor sport stores,” said Nichol. “We had trouble getting things (products) up here.”
“It’s just about getting the public involved in shooting and developing a positive image in the public eye,” he added.