EDITOR’S NOTE: Stephen Williamson, the husband of a Spirit freelance writer Bonnie Williamson, has been a range safety officer for three years at 340 Defense Training and Shooting Range near Rippon. The range’s assistant manager and fellow range safety officer Pete Semak refers to Stephen as “the black powder guy.” Here’s why.
I am a bit of an anachronism. I’m a smoker. I don’t smoke cigarettes or cigars, but I choose to smoke a pipe. I do not use my cell phone to tell time, but carry an analogue, wind-up pocket watch. I am even writing this little essay in cursive longhand using a fountain pen. I enjoy target shooting, but I eschew the modern sporting rifles like the AR-15 semi-automatic. I much prefer shooting traditional black powder muzzle-loading rifles.
There are several reasons why I opt to shoot black powder rifles.
The first reason has to do with the ritual involved. Much like pipe smoking where I load tobacco, apply a match, tamp and then relight, with black powder I must load powder, put a lubed patch over the muzzle, center a round ball over the patch, seat the ball with a short starter then ram the patched ball onto the powder with the wiping stick (ramrod). I then either place a percussion cap on the nipple (for percussion rifles) or prime the pan, close the frizzen (for flintlock rifles) and then put the cock on full cock before taking aim and firing.
The second reason I enjoy black powder shooting is its touch of history. I can smell history when I fire a black powder rifle. I am using the same gun powder that was used during the Civil War, the Revolution and the French and Indian War. I am shooting a rifle very much like the ones carried by the early settlers of this land.
The final reason I shoot black powder is its connection to my family. My father’s ancestors settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in 1733. They pushed on to Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, but were driven back by Indian attacks.
My fourth- and fifth-great-grandfathers fought in both the French and Indian War and the Revolution. They took part in and were honored for their part in the Battle of Point Pleasant in West Virginia. They were also some of the first settlers in the Ohio Valley of West Virginia.
Three of my great-greatgrandfathers enlisted in the 14th West Virginia Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War.
When I am shooting black powder rifles, I am feeling the same recoil that my ancestors felt. I am smelling the same aroma of smoke that they smelled. The act of shooting brings me just a bit closer to my kin.
Yes. I am a bit out of step with this modern world, but I am experiencing the past in a way that can never be taught in history books.