By Tom Mayer
The 8th Annual Machine Gun Shoot and Military Vehicle Display was held on May 12-14, 2006, near Cheyenne Wells, Colorado, 186 miles southeast of Denver. The shoot is commonly known as “The Rocky Mountain Machine Gun Shoot” and informally as “The Colorado Shoot” or simply “Cheyenne Wells”. The shoot is hosted by the Cheyenne Wells Volunteer Fire Department and the Rocky Mountain Fifty Caliber Shooting Association, Inc. (RMFCSA) to benefit the Cheyenne Wells Volunteer Fire Department.
The firing line, stretching over one-third of a mile, is located on a half-section (320 acres) of farmland owned and operated by local businessman Sam Mitchek and his family. The firing line runs north-south and faces east across terrain that rises gently across thousands of acres of open farmland. County roads adjacent to or crossing the area are closed and monitored to provide participants with a flat shooting range of up to five miles stretching east of the firing points. The flat terrain afforded shooters the opportunity to shoot targets from close to extreme ranges.
The 2006 Rocky Mountain Machine Gun Shoot hosted 209 registered participants positioned at one hundred fifty-five 10x10-foot assigned shooting positions and more than 2,400 spectators from Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri Nebraska, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Five local food vendors offered full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menus throughout the event. Several vendors offered firearm-related items including ammunition, parts, accessories, militaria, and souvenirs. Amenities included ample parking, camping, bleacher seating for spectators, trash and brass dumpsters, portable toilets, and a public address system.
Firearm sales were prohibited on the property. However, fifty caliber rifle and machine gun rentals were permitted and shooters were encouraged to educate spectators and promote safe handling and operation of historic and modern bolt action rifles, semiautomatic handguns and rifles, fifty caliber rifles, and machine guns.
Bob McBride, President of the Rocky Mountain Fifty Caliber Shooters Association, stresses the need for experienced shooters to demystify shooting sports, recreational shooting, and machine guns. “Education is a key element of this shoot,” said McBride. “We advertised this shoot in the Denver newspaper, firearm and military vehicle publications, and on the radio, and put out fifteen thousand flyers to attract people who don’t normally go to gun shows or military vehicle displays. We need spectators, woman and young people especially, to come out here and experience this for themselves.”
The number and variety of firearms at the shoot was impressive. Bolt action and semiautomatic rifles, fifty-caliber rifles, suppressed pistols, subguns old and new, M16 variants, AKs, HKs and FALs were present in abundance. The Browning .30 caliber 1917 and 1919 were well represented as was the venerable M2HB fifty caliber heavy machine gun, with one position hosting a pair of M2HBs on a standup mount and another with a water-cooled fifty on an M3 “Tora Tora” mount. Other interesting examples included Maxim and Vickers water-cooled belt-feds, several BARs, the Mark II Bren, RPD, MG34, twin MG42s, M60 GPMG, PKM, M240B, M249 SAW, an HMMWV sporting a minigun, an HMMWV with M2HB, and a second minigun. 20mm antitank weapons present were the Solothurn S18-1000 and Lahti L-39. Field artillery was represented by a Swedish Bofors 37mm, American M3 37mm, an American 57mm with French 90mm barrel sleeved for 40mm Bofors and an American 75mm Pack Howitzer. The largest piece was a Navy 3 inch 50 caliber deck gun operated by Damage, LLC.
Static targets were set at known distances from the firing line: Propane bottles at 100 yards and concrete Jersey barriers, steel dumpsters, and 55-gallon drums at 200 yards facilitated rifle, pistol and submachine gun shooting. A variety of scrap heavy equipment such as loader buckets, oilfield treaters, and oil pump counter-weights donated by local oil companies placed at 400, 600, 800, and 1,000 yards provided excellent targets and a satisfying metallic report when struck by high power rifle caliber and anti-tank projectiles. A very large steel tank dubbed “the submarine” was set one mile from the firing line. Shooters were permitted to place private targets such cardboard silhouettes 15 yards or hard targets 100 yards in front of their shooting positions.
Reactive targets were placed on stakes and marked with paint for daytime shooting. Most were detonated soon after the start of each shooting session. McBride plans to place more reactive targets and to add illuminated reactive targets to the night shoots.
Twenty-three radio-controlled airplanes proved challenging, but not impossible, targets for shooters. After a downed airplane was recovered during a break in the action, it was returned to service as quickly as the ground crews of Williams Brothers Aviation could make repairs. By the end of the shoot all twenty-three airplanes were severely damaged or destroyed.
The hallmarks of the Rocky Mountain Machine Gun Shoot are the numerous explosions of highly flammable drip gas that produce enormous, hot, blazing fireballs and plumes of thick, black smoke. The targets are replenished frequently with one thousand gallons of drip gas donated by a local oilfield service company and placed in locations known only to the target setters. When struck these targets produce thunderous explosions and enormous balls of orange fire sending pressure and heat waves through the firing line.
Shooters were also treated to moving automotive targets. On Friday, a small car was set into motion several hundred yards downrange, turning in endless circles. Shooters delighted in targeting an explosives-packed moving vehicle until it exploded into a ball of fire. On Saturday, shooters were presented with another runaway car, this time circling a recreational vehicle - both packed with explosives and detonated by enthusiastic shooters. Another crowd pleaser was the spectacular “Mobile Home” event, in which a gutted mobile home was loaded with a combination of ANFO (AmmoniumNitrate-Fuel Oil) and dynamite prepared and placed by Roger Crawford, a Federally-licensed explosives handler. When the signal was given, shooters opened fire and detonated the mobile home into yet another enormous fireball and billowing plume of thick black smoke. Following the Friday dinner break, the line went hot with a roaring drip gas explosion at 600 yards triggered by fifteen sticks of dynamite and detonating cord and an eleven-hundred round burst from a minigun. As evening fell many shooters took advantage of the moonlit sky and nearly unlimited horizon to let loose with a few thousand rounds of tracer ammunition.
Fire and Safety
All of the explosions and fires were conducted under the watchful eyes of the Cheyenne Wells Volunteer Fire Department, which maintain two fire trucks and a minimum of thirty volunteers on site throughout the shoot to serve as Line Safety Officers and to contain the scheduled pyrotechnic events and the unplanned, but not unexpected, fires caused by tracer and incendiary projectiles. Some fires were allowed to harmlessly burn out. But when wind drove fire across the field or when fire threatened an abandoned farm house, the only structure still standing on the property, Senior Range Safety Office Bill Black would call a cease fire and the Cheyenne Wells Volunteer Fire Department sped into action. When asked if the firefighters had any reservations about putting out grass fires and protecting an old farmhouse, a senior volunteer responded, “Heck, they love doing this. Its great training and they’re having fun.”
On Saturday afternoon shooters and spectators gathered at centerline for a suppressor demonstration. Suppressed weapons included in the demonstration were a Glock 19/AWC Abraxas; Beretta M9/ Gemtech Trinity, USP 45/Gemtech SOS- 45; Ruger 10-22 and 77-22/SRT Arms; Remington 700/Gemtech TPRS; HK Cobb FA50(T)/John’s Gun .50BMG Suppressor.
Saturday Night Shoot
Many shooters were frantically loading magazines and belts during the Saturday dinner break when Senior RSO Black announced, “Shooters ready, two minutes!” but dropped everything when Black announced, “Twenty seconds! Get ready!” The sound of top covers closing, charging handles being drawn, and bolts slamming into battery could be heard up and down the line. “Five seconds!” There was a split second of silence as everyone took a breath. With the blast of the air horn hundreds of machine guns opened fire. Three drip fuel targets erupted into bright orange fireballs. Then another, massive ANFO explosion several hundred yards downrange sent a huge fireball into the sky and heat waves across the line. People gasped, cheered, laughed, and applauded. Bright streaks of red, green, and white tracer filled the air, skipped off the ground, and ricocheted wildly off of steel targets, sending showers of sparks into the night while fires burned and smoke billowed. Belt-feds and automatic rifles poured thousands of rounds downrange, hammering steel and concrete targets in a riot of muzzle flashes, colorful traces, and sparks. Above, the full moon glowed as fireworks exploded in the Colorado sky.
The success of the shoot is the result of careful planning and execution by the RMFCSA and the Cheyenne Wells Volunteer Fire Department. Together with cooperation from Cheyenne County officials and participation by area business, what began as an informal fifty caliber rifle shoot with eleven participants on Sam Mitchek’s property has evolved into a major fund raising event with economic benefits to the community of Cheyenne Wells.
Cheyenne Country Sheriff Virgil Drescher was asked about a fifty caliber shoot near Firstview, Colorado while attending a conference in Washington D.C. “It’s nothing but a wide spot in the road,” said Drescher. “But I checked with the Sheriff at Fort Morgan about the fifty-caliber shoots (operated by RMFSCA), and he said that these are good people, they’re safe, and they put a lot of money into the local economy.”
Sheriff Drescher, County Commissioner Butch Hapes, Volunteer Fire Department Chief Mike Smith, and Cheyenne Wells community and business leaders agreed to have McBride’s RMFCSA run the firingline while Chief Smith and the Cheyenne Wells Volunteer Fire Department took responsibility for pulling together the resources necessary to make the shoot a success.
Under Chief Smith’s leadership, the Cheyenne Wells Volunteer Fire Department solicited equipment, materials, and participation from area businesses, with thirty-six businesses and churches listed in the brochure welcoming registered shooters to Cheyenne Wells. From the County, the Volunteers obtained picnic tables, public sanitation, and safety services. With assistance from the RMFCSA, the Volunteers promoted the shoot by distributing fifteen thousand flyers and advertising in Small Arms Review, Shotgun News, military vehicle publications, regional newspapers and on “farm radio” station talk shows. The Volunteers prepared the shoot site, placed the heavy steel and concrete targets, directed traffic, collected spectator entry fees, provided Line Officers and Fire Fighters, kept the dust under control, and then cleaned up after the shoot. All proceeds from spectator entry fees, camping permits, and vendor fees are donated to the Volunteer Fire Department to be used in community programs and student scholarships.
“If not for the Volunteer Fire Department and Mike Smith, this wouldn’t be possible,” said property owner Sam Mitchek. “These guys work very hard to make it the success that it is.”
For information about The Rocky Mountain Machine Gun Shoot and other RMFCSA events visit their website (www.rmfcsa.org). The 9th Annual Machine Gun Shoot and Military Vehicle Display will be held May 4-6, 2007.
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