COLUMBIA — The shooter prepares his gun for his next shot. He checks to make sure it’s clean, and gets his gun ready to load.
He pours black gun powder down the barrel of the rifle, takes a round patch of cloth and lays it on top of the barrel. Next he takes the ball, or the bullet, and sets it evenly on top of the patch. From there a short wooden stick called a short starter is used with a rubber mallet to knock the ball into the barrel of the gun. Then the shooter uses a ram rod to shove the ball all the way down the barrel until it is “seeded” and compressed at the bottom where the black powder lays. After all this, he is ready to go to the line and take his shot.
This weekend, about 44 men and women took part in the Show-Me State Games’ muzzle loading competition at Owl Creek Shooting Range west of Columbia. Loud bangs of gun shots and clouds of white smoke fill the shooting range while contestants prepare their guns and take their shots. This old style of shooting might be uncommon to some, yet to the people participating in the Show-Me Games, it is their passion.
Shelby Dunseith, 17, shoots for the 4-H shooting sports program, which teaches children between the ages of 8 and 18 how to shoot anything from air guns to muzzle loaders. Dunseith said she loves muzzle loading and got into it after watching other friends from 4-H shoot.
“I like to hear the big bang and see the smoke,” Dunseith said.
Ben Morris, 17, is also involved in 4-H shooting. He said he has been shooting for three years after his neighbor got him involved.
“My favorite thing about it is meeting new people and getting to see the different tools people have made,” Morris said.
He said he learns more about muzzle loading at each competition.
Donna Bisges from Jefferson City said she grew up shooting with her family and started muzzle loading that way.
“It was kind of our family vacations to go watch friends and family shoot around Missouri,” Bisges said.
Bisges said her favorite thing about muzzle loading is that it is keeping an old tradition, and history, alive. She also likes it because it is an inexpensive sport to participate in.
“You could shoot all day and it would only cost you about $10,” Bisges said.
When Bisges prepares for her shots, she carries all her equipment on her. Around her neck hang two deer horn measures, used to measure out the black powder. Hanging off her shoulder, close to her hip, is a powder horn, which is a cow horn filled with black powder. She also wears a “possibles bag,” much like an over-the-shoulder pouch, which she uses to store her different measures, the balls, the short starter and other tools that she might need.
“We usually don’t have benches to set stuff on, so we carry all the equipment on us,” Bisges said.
Jerry Schulze of Montgomery City says he follows a strict routine with his shots: He waits 3 to 5 seconds after raising his gun so his muscles can relax and stop shaking. He tries to take his shot in the 2 to 3 seconds after that when his muscles have finally relaxed and his eyes are focused. If he waits longer, his eyes will begin to blur and he will have to set his gun down. He focuses on controlling his breathing and keeping his heart rate as slow as possible. He must pull the trigger, both without thinking or moving the rest of his body.
“Ninety percent of this is mental, and a lot of it is timing,” Schulze said.
Schulze said he bought a kit and built his first gun in 1978. He used it to hunt and to target shoot for fun until he was in his mid-30s, when he began to shoot competitively.
Schulze said his favorite thing about muzzle loading is the competition. This is his fourth year competing in the Show-Me Games.
“It’s just another state competition.” Schulze said. “I’m always trying to set records to do the best I can.”
Next month, Schulze will be traveling to Australia as a member of the U.S. International Muzzle Loading Team to compete in the world championship. There are 14 members on his team, and 17 countries competing in the competition. To prepare for it, Schulze said he has been doing a lot of mental imagery and focusing on how he will handle different situations, on top of a lot of shooting practice.
“I’m not an athlete by any means,” Schulze said. “But, I’ve been using a lot of athletic mental preparations just like any other athlete would do.”
Standing at the line, the shooter is ready to take his shot. He pulls the trigger, causing the guns hammer to slam down. The resulting spark goes through the nipple of the gun into the barrel and ignites the powder. The ball explodes from the barrel, and the shooters job is done, until he prepares for his next shot.