Alaska's Memorial Day Machine Gun Shoot
By Chris Mannino
The Alaskan Memorial Day Machine Gun Shoot is held in Anderson about 1 1/2 hours south of Fairbanks on the Parks Highway. The shoot began over 20 years ago on a farm outside of Fairbanks. In 1978 a small group of local gun enthusiasts decided to celebrate Memorial Day with a machinegun shoot and they organized an impromptu “shoot out.” Popular from the start, the Alaskan Memorial Day Machine Gun Shoot has grown each year. Folks in Alaska clearly enjoy celebrating Memorial Day by throwing down brass.
The annual Memorial Day Machine Gun Shoot continued for 6 -7 years at the farm. As Fairbanks’ boundaries grew closer and closer to the shoot, it became clear the Memorial Days Machine Gun festivities had to move to a less populous venue.
Public land was available about 30 miles outside of Fairbanks, off of Old Chena Hot Springs Rd. Access was limited by passing through a parcel of private property, but the owner was happy to help. The Memorial Day Machine Gun Shoot continued at this location until the private property was sold and the new owner limited access to the public lands. During this time, there was at least one article written about the Alaska Memorial Day Machine Gun Shoot in the old Machine Gun News. All the while, the Alaska Memorial Day Machine Gun Shoot continued to grow.
In 1996, the Midnight Sun Emma Gees, an offshoot of the Fairbanks-based Tanana Valley Sportsmen’s Association, started looking for yet another location. Nenana, located about 50 miles South of Fairbanks, was selected for the 1996 Shoot. Nenana is a very small town, yet it proved to be an outstanding location. Participants shot across a small lake at floating targets and there were numerous abandoned cars (targets) in the vicinity. Unfortunately, complaints from adjoining property owners ended Nenana’s venue.
Starting in 1997, the city of Anderson came to the rescue. After several discussions with the mayor, the city graciously welcomed the Alaskan Memorial Day Machine Gun Shoot to its local range. In the process, Anderson also doubled the size of their range to accommodate the crowd.
The city of Anderson is approximately 11/2 hours south of Fairbanks, towards Anchorage on the Parks Highway. They have a large adjoining campground with many camping spaces (some riverside) as well as RV hookups in close proximity to the range. Forest, grassy fields and a river are adjacent to the range.
The shooting lanes are approximately 300 yards long, with high gravel berms across the rear of the range. Half of the shooting line is presently covered, with plans to cover the remainder. The city of Anderson has also been very helpful by hauling away what’s left of the cars and other debris remaining after The Shoot. The city has also pledged to continue its support with: 1. An expansion of the range in 2001; 2. A possible two-story range control tower; 3. Additional picnic tables; and 4. Increased parking.
The Anderson City Public Works has also been generous enough to weld up thick wall steel tubing, which was buried and used as fuel mortars for last year’s pyrotechnics.
1997, the inaugural year for the Anderson location, was also the first year that exploding targets were allowed on the range. This was done with the help of a licensed powderman, a portable explosive magazine, and a couple cases of dynamite.
Targets have included armored cars, multiple vehicles, pepper poppers, pumpkins, concrete blocks, washers/dryers and multiple toilets. Last year, one of the local propane suppliers even began saving “broken” 5 and 10 gallon propane bottles for use as targets. In fact, they were nice enough to put a few gallons of fuel in them. When these tanks were rigged with a detonation cord and a half stick of dynamite, they exploded impressively out at 300 yards.
Annual shoot protocol is consistent and safety focused. Last year targets and explosives were set up, and then there was a 10-minute safety refresher course, taught by the line and range officers. Then our formal “Thanks” was given to the city of Anderson and finally a local Alaska State Trooper opened the Shoot by detonating multiple explosive charges strung together with detonation cord and intermittent fuel mortars.
The 2000 Shoot was outstanding! As soon as the charges went off, it seemed like every belt-fed on the planet cut loose at the same time. Over the din of the gunfire, you could hear explosive charges detonating, see the flashes, and feel the shock. This continued non-stop until all the explosive charges were expended. Then, a line break was called while more explosives where hauled onto the range and the cycle was repeated.
Line breaks last about 30 minutes, depending on the set up time for the explosives. Visiting with friends, admiring adjoining hardware, loading magazines takes all of the available time before the next Mad Minute (this is a very sociable group).
Memorial Day Machine Gun Shoot regulars include “Ron the Pollack” who brings his 3” black powder cannon and always lets kids pull the firing string. A long line of 6 to 12 year olds stand patiently in line , waiting for their turn to shout “FIRE IN THE HOLE!” and pull the string (something for kids of all ages: 6 to 66).
Ron is an accomplished artilleryman who routinely hits vehicles at 300 yards. If you are a 6 year old, this could be the high point of your day. My own 8 year old still tells the story of his turn to “hit the van” 3 years ago, detonating explosive charges set within the target.
Last year’s cannon group also included a 2-inch bore, firing 8-inch by 2-inch airburst firecrackers. Also, a gentleman from Anchorage brought his “Bowling Pin Cannon.”; yes, it shoots bowling pins! Next year he has promised to bring “the Brunswick Express” which reportedly shoots standard bowling balls.
Multiple “Ma deuces” also occupy the line. There was one M3AC, firing 1100 rpm: a sight to behold. It was instantly dubbed “The Car Axe” - chopping range cars to pieces. An 08 Maxim on sled mount with telescopic sight routinely hit explosive charges at 300 yards. These charges turned a VW van into rubble.
Multiple Vickers give new meaning to beauty (and envy) as well as a pair of 1917 A1’s. One 1917A1 is run by my 8 year old son who fires short bursts while running the T&E until he gets on target. Once targeted, he quickly finishes the belt, smiles at me and says “Well, it is water-cooled, Dad”.
1919 A4’s, A6’s with every conceivable mount duel on the line with an ANM 2 and a MG34, a couple Lewis guns, M60’s and BAR’s. There was even a Yugoslavian RPK that was a kick to shoot. Walking down the line, you’ll see every imaginable machine gun. American 180’s, AUGs, M3 grease guns, Swedish Ks, Stens, Sterlings, Stemples, H&K MP5s, MP5Ks, model 53s, 33s, 33Ks, M16s in every size and configuration, AC556s, FNCs, MP40s. There was even a Beretta 38/42 with a fluted barrel, an Owen submachine gun, multiple G3s and a set of H&K51’s.
The H&K51’s were vying for the title of “the Beast”. Also making an appearance were FALs, M14s, M14E2s, BM59s,S&W 76s, Thompsons in every flavor, Uzis by the dozens, and everybody had their Mac10 or Mac11. Ty, from TL Guns came up from Oregon to shoot as well, bringing his AK Krinkoff. Since we had a couple of drums available, it seemed like everybody walking by tried to play “cook the Krink.”
One of my favorite things about the Alaskan Memorial Days Shoot is that a lot of kids, younger kids, get involved. They broadly smile while shooting all flavors of machine guns, while learning gun safety (and safety disciplines) in a controlled environment. And of course, everyone on the line encourages newcomers.
At the end of the day, we gathered the leftover explosives (about 30 sticks of dynamite), cut up and unused det cord, parts and pieces of explosives and targets, putting it all in a box on top of , I think, an Oldsmobile at 100 yards. We all got our rifles ready and yelled down to Gary Brazo to go ahead and fire a shot to declare the line hot, so we could touch off the last of the explosives. Gary responded by whipping out his 1911 government model, firing one shot, off hand, at over 100 yards and detonated all the explosives. The automobile was unrecognizable. It looked like a giant stomped on it from above. Gary just grinned.
The things we are looking forward to next year include Anderson’s gracious offer to consider expanding the size of the range. In addition to increasing the size of the range we’re planning to expand the shoot to a 2-day format. On Saturday, we will open with multiple subgun matches along with a team event, which is proposed as a pistol/rifle/shotgun combo. We also want to host a belt fed match and on Saturday night we’ll have the midnight sun BBQ. Remember, this is interior Alaska . it never gets dark in the summer. On Sunday, there is talk of a 20 mm or bigger match. The day is normally concluded with a rousing game of Alaskan lawn darts, played with a 60 mm mortar. It’s a sight.
If you’re thinking about joining us at next year’s shoot, know that you are welcome. Contact Mike Hawker of the Alaskan Machine Gun Association at (907) 346-2844. Mike is located in Anchorage. In Fairbanks, contact Gary Brazo with the Midnight Sun Emma Gees/Tanana Valley Sportsmen’s Association at (907) 456-8190.
The city of Anderson is about one hour north of Denali National Park. We welcome all out-of-state visitors to our little corner of freedom. For those wishing to travel by air, Alaska Airlines will not allow anyone but law enforcement to travel with automatic weapons. This is Alaska Airlines’ new policy, and if you feel the need, we’d appreciate it if you’d call Alaska Airlines’ customer service (206) 870-6062 and tell them you don’t agree with their new policy. We believe it infringes on your personal rights. You can also e-mail Alaska Airlines via the web at:
Finally, we want to offer special thanks to: Wayne Walters, our man in Nenana; Steve Colboch, Norm Piispanen and Gary Brazo for explosives; John Hume and all the line/range officers as well as the explosives crew.
We hope to see you at next year’s event.
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