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Mid America Buckskinners Info Page

Beginner's Corner

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Rugged Individualists, Unite!
by
Phil Jose

We're going to cover in this article some organizations the are important for any prospective "skinner" (hopefully, that's you) to join. First we'll cover your local black powder gun club, and then a national one.

Did I just hear a howl of protest? "Organizations?" you beller, "I wanna celebrate the life of the lone wolf and he wants me to join organizations! I don't need no stinkin' organizations!"

Oh yeah you do. Let's start with the local black powder club.

First of all, it's a place to shoot regularly. Besides honing your dead-eye aim to razor sharpness, it's amazing how even the lonest of wolves looks forward to a monthly shoot. If you're new to black powder shooting, be ready for some surprising targets. The Creed of the Black Powder Shooter states simply, "Paper punching is boring." You'll be shooting at different sized skillets. (They make quite a sound when you wound 'em.) You'll be shooting at playing cards. You'll be shooting at strings with the ends hidden behind hay bales. Tied to the end of each string is a prize-- maybe a tobacco pouch, maybe a rubber spider-- you won't know until you shoot the string down. And if you ever get the chance to snipe at rotten tomatoes, I'll personally vouch for the joy you'll know when a solid hit vaporizes one.

Keep in mind that a black powder shoot is an event in itself. It takes way longer to load a black powder firearm that it does a contemporary one, and it has to be reloaded after every shot. The result is that each participant spends a lot of time behind the firing line not only reloading, but also involved in the highly technical process of gabbin'.

There is no better way to spend an afternoon than to be out on the range with a bunch of likeminded folks enjoying themselves at a shoot. Ninety nine percent of the shooters you'll meet remember that they're not there to qualify for the Olympics, but are there for the fun and friendship. And that other one percent is mighty fun to heckle.

Somewhere I've mentioned that you won't get far in this hobby without help from others. Always keep that in mind. A local club is a fine place to start making friends and, hopefully, find at least one mentor. Any skinner worth his mocs doesn't mind helping a pilgrim get started.

The more your get to know the folks in that club the more your eyes will be opened to some interesting aspects of this hobby that you probably didn't expect. There are things like "trekking" (hikes and/or canoe trips all done period-proper), weekend workshops for historical reenactors, and weekends spent set up at various historcal sites. (I'll go further into these in future articles.) It's particularly good to learn this after you've put in a lot of work getting started, and you're willing to let things slide for a while. Knowing that there are other aspects to explore will keep you motivated and active.

The next time you go to an event, take a look around at the shoot and the rest of the rendezvous. Who do you think puts these things on? Yep. Pick up a couple of flyers for upcoming events. You're going to find the name of a black powder club after the words "sponsored by." Believe me, there's plenty to do in putting on an event, and another pair of willing hands are always welcome. This isn't as hard a thing as you might think; there will come a time when you're going to want to give back a little of what you've gained in this way of life. Helping at rendezvous is a great way to start.

Finding a black powder club can be tricky since about the only place you'll see them mentioned is at the events. There's a few ways you can get in contact with them, though.

First of all, are you getting involved with black powder through a friend? If so, see if they'll point you in the right direction for joining their club. This is the best way; since you won't be a total stranger to everyone, you'll feel more like attending the meetings and getting involved with club activities.

Is there a particular rendezvous near you that you especially enjoy? Find out which club is putting it on, and ask around for club members. If you see anyone wearing a bright red sash or arm tie, stop 'em and ask. They're "dog soldiers" (camp rules enforcement), who are members of the club. They can point you in the right direction to club officers who can in turn give you the lowdown about membership.

If you've strayed a little farther from home, keep your eyes peeled for flyers advertising upcoming events. There's alway a sponsoring club and contact people listed-- if they didn't want to be called, they wouldn't have their number there. See if there's any for a club near your area and give the contact person a call. They can point you in the right direction. (Besides, you'll want those flyers anyway to plan your upcoming social season.)

When you're exploring the wilds of Cyberland, try hitting "black powder" or "rendezvous" on your favorite search engine and be prepared to follow a lot of links. You may get lucky and find a page for a club within a reasonable driving distance. If so, drop the webmaster a line. If you find events listed with names of contact people, give 'em a call.

The next time you're at your favorite historic site, have a talk with the staff members. They're going to have a handle on any black powder clubs based around it. (Here's a little secret: a lot of times when you let it slip that you that you're interested in reenacting, the conversations with historic site staff can get a little more in-depth than one with just J.Q. Public. It's an added bonus to wearing funny clothes in your spare time.)

Have you started hanging around any of your local black powder shops yet? If you have, ask the owner if he knows of any black powder clubs in the area and how to get in touch with them. If not, here's one more darn good reason to start.

When you find a club that looks right for you, make sure that you know beforehand what the rules for membership are. They vary from club to club. A lot of clubs will accept enthusiastic flatlanders even if they don't have proper clothing and firearms, providing that the new member agrees to be properly clothed and armed within a given time. For dues, plan to spend about ten to thirty dollars a year, but in a lot of clubs that covers the entire family. Some clubs require sponsorship. That's usually not a problem since most clubs are looking for folks to be an active part of their outfit. Another thing clubs look for are folks who are members of the NMLRA.

"NMLRA" is the shortened and nearly unpronouncable version of the "National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association." It is a national organization and is to muzzloading firearms what the NRA is to modern ones. Local clubs like NMLRA members because club events and shoots can be readily insured by them when ten or more club members also belong to the NMLRA.

From the individual's point of view, there are more reasons to join. Since NMLRA is nationwide, they set the standards for their approved shoots. Members get discounts on targets and books. There's black powder related educational programs to take advantage of. Their monthly magazine, "Muzzle Blasts," has articles covering all aspects of muzzleloading firearms. It alone is worth the thirty dollars in annual dues. Check out their website at http://www.nmlra.org or give them a call at 800-745-1493.

I'd like to leave you with a few parting thoughts. First of all, I urge you to start looking for your local club as soon as you can, and join the NMLRA. (You can do that now, since the NMLRA isn't going to make you promise to buy clothing or even a gun!) When you find your club, you're going to find fun and fellowship, and more. You'll find a sense of accomplishment when you help put on that good shoot or that memorable rendezvous. You'll find a contentment at the club Christmas party potluck that has nothing to do with a full belly. It may never put a nickel in your pocket, but it's a satisfaction too often missing in our Monday through Friday lives.

And remember, even a lone wolf needs a lair.


Copyright 1999, Philip Jose.

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