.50 Cal Rifle & Machine Shoot Spring 2002
By Vic Fogle
Imagine that you want to put on the best possible long-range rifle and machine gun shoot. And let’s say that you’ve somehow found a magic catalog from which you can order the exact features and qualities that you want. Which would you select?
You’d start with a place not too far from the geographic center of the nation, comfortably away from large cities, yet close enough to a major airport that people can fly in and rent cars to get there. Pleasant location in one of our most beautiful states is a plus. It should not be too hot, not too cold, not too rainy and not too dusty. You’d want a lot of distance, too-enough so that it would be genuinely exciting to search way out to a distant target with a .50 caliber rifle or 20mm or light artillery piece. That it would have to be safe, with a controllable firing line, goes without saying.
Having chosen such an ideal physical setting, next you’d search the catalog’s administrative personnel column for the option that offers “people, experienced shooters themselves who have been around and know what it takes for a memorable shoot and who are not afraid of the work involved to make it happen.”
You’d want targets that can be engaged at the better part of a mile, so they must be reactive in nature. Old cars and propane tanks react in various manners and should do nicely. There should be enough dust down range so that bullet impacts are readily apparent.
Two or three days’ duration would be an ideal length for this fun event. These are the features that would make a fine shoot by anybody’s standards. But suppose you were given an unlimited budget to complement your wish list, so that you could extravagantly throw in all the desirable add-on options. Able to go for broke you’d want to be able to shoot tracers and incendiaries and to be able to spot hits from even the small calibers. You’d want 10-foot firing points, a Saturday night shoot, equipment unloading right at the firing line, camping and rest rooms nearby, displayed and operating military vehicles, really good food, easy and widely available gun rental, and unusual pieces such as artillery and blowing ball mortars. In other words, you’d try to put on an RMGO Shoot.
The Rocky Mountain Gun Owners seem to have found such a catalog. They may be keeping it under lock and key, but event attendees were the beneficiaries, for they were able to enjoy all of these blessings at the May 3-5, 2002, .50 Caliber BMG Rifle and Machine Gun Fun Shoot in Morgan County, Colorado. If only the firing line could be expanded further!
Word seemed to get around after last September’s breakthrough presentation that this was a fine gathering that would only get better. So the firing line was expanded to at least 55 firing points and the maximum shooting distance increased from 1,200 to 1,500 yards. Even the expanded firing line completely sold out. It was, in the opinion of most of the attendees, a shoot not to be missed.
I turn off I-25 onto Colorado State Route 52 and head east, secure in the knowledge that I am still “found.” I have gone but a short distance when I see the first sign, proclaiming “.50 cal. 32 mi.” It is brief, to the point, reassuring, and it will probably not frighten any Boulder soccer moms. Making the trip in daylight is definitely better than arriving after dark. I later learn that there are signs anticipating every mistake people could make and guiding them back to the shooting location.
Well away from the mountains, this part of Colorado is grassland tipping rolling sand hills. The saucer shaped shoot site was, I am told, once a reservoir. Targets have been placed on the level bottom. This bottom has been plowed before last September’s shoot, but now it is smooth and will produce more dust that will show bullet impacts. The part of the rough circle closest to the firing line is 200 yards away, while the far side is about 800. The firing line is part way up the saucer toward the rim, with camping and parking farther yet.
When I arrive early Friday afternoon, shooting has yet begun, but the firing line is nevertheless a busy place. Shooters are able to drive right to their firing points with no fences or bench rests to get in their way. The diverse vehicles bear a miscellany of license plates, with some from as far away as New York and Massachusetts. Shooters are busily erecting shad canopies or mesh tents, tying them down, and installing tarps to provide flooring.
Several “junker” cars have been placed as targets, and they have been augmented by scores of decommissioned propane tanks of all sizes. No one knows which, if any, of the tanks contain propane, and during the course of shooting there are occasional fiery explosions or puffs of white smoke. State law requires that propane tanks have a hole punched in them before they can be recycled, and shooters have gathered to do just that. At about 600 yards is a construct known as Osama bin Laden’s airplane, while a couple of hundred yards closer is a wooden building that we are told is his summer place. Several range finders are in use among the better-equipped shooters who are determining exact distances and determining how much elevation to add to their present settings.
Eventually, the Friday shooter meeting is held, with the principal topics being requests not to crossfire across the impact area and letting people know what will be expected of them when there is a cease fire.
Shooting begins as participants continue to arrive in motor homes, trailers, pickups, cars, and vans-even motorcycles. This is definitely a shoot for those intending to camp on the grounds.
There are other ways to characterize it, too. It is obvious that the attendees like to shoot at a distance. Although a few people, mainly on the south end of the line, have brought stand-up steel frames with hanging gongs on them at which they shot with handguns and sub guns, the closest “official” targets are at 200 yards. A fair number of military rifles in 5.56x45mm NATO and .30 calibers are in evidence, principally AR-15s, M-16s, FALs, and M1As. Similarly, there is a good representation of light and medium machine guns, including M1917 and M1919 Brownings, MG42s, MG08s, a Bren gun and M60s.
But any visitor would be struck by the obvious enthusiasm for guns that will be effective beyond short range. There are .50s of all descriptions, including Ma Deuces of both automatic and semi-automatic capabilities. Rifles range from Barretts though Boys military arms to some competition style turn-bolt rifles. One of the latter is built with a large bedding block and weighs 150 pounds. Gun supports range from prone shooters resting their guns on the magazines or on bipods to as-issued and modified machine gun mounts, while others appear with portable bench rests topped with stands of all descriptions.
Some parents have brought their children to see the guns, but most people have come to shoot and want their children to get the experience. Spectators are charged an eminently reasonable $5 per day, and there is no further restriction on whether they can shoot, beyond agreeing with the gun owner on the rental fee. Many family groups take photos or video of each other, as well.
There are a few businesses represented, but most of the commercial activity is from those with guns to rent. The largest renter is Denver Bullets, Inc., whose domain encompasses four firing points. Surprised by the amount of business they did last September, DBI has reputedly brought 70,000 rounds of ammo, along with about 20 guns. They seem to be constantly busy, and frequently the queue of renters extends almost across the access road behind the line. Many of the shooters have not come specifically to rent guns, but most are willing to accommodate attendees and recoup some of their expenses. The rental asked for .50-caliber tracer was frequently $2.50 or $3 per round.
Popular as the .50s were, the real crowds gathered whenever it was announced that one of the bigger attractions would be fired soon. Several of the best-equipped shooters had either Finnish Lahti or Swiss Solothurn anti-tank rifles, both of which were made in 20mm. These models launched their 2,270-grain projectiles down range at approximately 2,625 feet per second. Even larger was the 25mm Hotchkiss artillery piece that had been recently restored to service by a Colorado enthusiast. And appearing once more was an immaculate 37mm Bofors artillery piece, which was the center of much attention.
Not a recognized caliber-although possibly a “16 pounder” of sorts-are the bowling ball mortars. Last September there had been two or three in use; this time there were no fewer than six. One of the most interesting novelty items ever seen on firing lines, these mortars constantly drew attention and good-humored admiration. They are usually made of upended industrial gas cylinders whose bottoms have been cut off and whose former tops have been fitting with a ball to contact a base plate and with an ignition mechanism. Along with the ball in the base plate, two supporting legs allow crude aiming. A surprisingly small charge of cannon powder is loaded from the top and a bowling ball placed over it. Upon firing, accuracy is not great, but height, range and viewer satisfaction are. These are deservedly popular pieces, which add greatly to any fun shoot. At this one, several of the balls had been drilled for tracer cores from fixed ammunition, and so the happy crowd could much more easily follow the trajectory of each tracer-equipped ball, especially in darkness. So high were some of the balls shot, however, that the trace ended before the ball returned to earth!
Late afternoon Friday saw another novelty down range, a car running under its own power with the steering wheel tied to one side so that it would slowly make large circles. Unfortunately, however, it was only about 300 or 350 yards down range, and the larger calibers topped it before it had made a single complete circle.
The evening crowd greatly enjoyed tannerite charges put on top of the target cars and on the tops of posts driven into the ground.
Beginning bright and early Saturday morning, people came pouring into the shoot area. Particularly noticeable were the military vehicles. There were American jeeps, a staff car, a half-track, and large trucks. A lowboy with enormous teeth whimsically added to the top and bottom of the tractor’s grille arrived bearing a scout car and Stuart tank. An entrepreneur in the Denver area has apparently been doing a substantial business importing surplus six-wheeled military trucks from Europe, for there were enough Steyr Puch Pinzgauers to make the middle part of the firing line resemble a staging area (Pinzgauer Park?). Shoot officials had requested that attendees not wear camouflage clothing, and most acceded to this request, but many of those accompanying the vehicles were re-enactors who wore period uniforms, principally American Army World War II, and added vividness to the displays. Some of these people shot truck-mounted guns, and one mentioned on Sunday morning that he and renters had put 3,500 rounds through a semiautomatic M1919 Browning mounted on his jeep. He also expressed mixed feeling about the prospect of driving his jeep the return trip of 250 miles up into Wyoming.
Also on Saturday morning conservative talk show host Johnny Rowland took over the announcing duties for the day. His shows, “The Johnny Rowland Show” and “Thinking Right,” are staples of the American Freedom Network’s station KHNC in Johnstown, Colorado.
With a throng of eager people on hand to cheer them, the shooters loosely separated into two factions for the challenging job of perforating the many propane cylinders. The machine gunners did their best, but some of their mounts allowed the guns to move excessively during bursts, while other gunners had not mastered the finer points of locking their T&E’s before firing for effect. Moreover, the relative flatness of the impact area exaggerated the apparent width of their misses.
It appeared that the riflemen gave a better account of themselves in what must have been a sniper’s paradise. There were numerous two-man teams, with one member shooting and the other spotting. One man described himself as “just a farmer from over by the Kansas line.” But he had discerning taste in picking effective rifles, and he took advantage of the dust to get an idea of how much windage and elevation to add at various distances as he worked over the down range targets. He said he wouldn’t have traded his shooting for any that he saw coming from machine guns. Similarly, one competitive .50 caliber rifleman, who probably prefers to remain anonymous, was seen with a match rifle on the north end of the range lobbing tracer after tracer into a 700-yard target and enjoying himself hugely.
Many of the renters, unfamiliar with tracers, were absolutely fascinated by them. After all, they were seeing bullets in flight, just as one can see arrows, and they wanted to keep shooting so that they could make each shot better than the one before it. One lad, who wasn’t very big, got started with a Boys rifle and seemed to take to it instinctively. He was extremely accurate with it, and his father gladly paid for approximately fifteen shots and declined the opportunity to shoot it himself, so happy was he with his son’s performance. Yet another feature of the shoot were the accuracy matches in which the riflemen could demonstrate their prowess. The course of fire was a single shot at 200 yards. The shooter began a short distance from a bench rest or shooting mat with an empty rifle and a single cartridge in his hand. On the “go” signal he had 15 seconds to move forward to the mat or bench, assume a shooting position, load the rifle and fire the shot at a gallon jug filled with water. In case of a tie, all those on that relay who had hit the target repeated the exercise at 300 yards, etc. This course provided the maximum of speed of operation and spectator appeal and with rows of jugs already placed at 200, 300, 400 and 500 yards, there was no target setting necessary. The winner would get half the total entry fee for that relay, with the other half going to a local needy family. The winners of both the any sight and iron sight matches wound up donating their winnings to the family as well.
The Saturday night shoot consisted partly of dynamite set up down range. Once it had been exploded, however, most shooters succumbed to fatigue, darkness and cold, and the line shut down relatively early.
On Sunday, after the final shooter’s meeting, those with ammo remaining, shot until noon, vowing to return and do it all again. The total number of attendees surpassed 1,500.
This was a very pleasant and satisfying fun shoot, run safely and without major glitches. Without doubt it advanced the shooting sports. First, it helped to popularize sport shooting, especially the long-range variety, in Colorado. Second, it contributed to family bonding in a shared experience. Third, it spread knowledge of recreational shooting as a pleasant activity among those who might have been ignorant of it or prejudiced against it. Fourth, it resulted in a greater appreciation of their own ability to hit distant targets among the riflemen. Fifth, the opportunity to see and shoot a wide variety of guns resulted in an increase of knowledge of and appreciation for the products of generations of arms designers, and sixth, the shoot resulted in a direct gain of 50 members for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
So when is the next one? That’s a good question. Updates on future plans are available from: Bo McBride, 303-934-1915 or E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; James McCutchan, 720-283-2444; Paul Walukewicz, 303-452-1780; RMFCSA, 6585 W. Mississippi Place, Lakewood, CO 80232 or www.frfcsa.org; RMGO, Box 3114, Denver, CO 80201 or 970-842-3006 or E-mail email@example.com or www.rmgo.org
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