By JIM ABRAMS

As an amateur student of history (something that would surely surprise a few of my old teachers), I’ve always liked reading about fine firearms and the stories of the people who used them.

That was first touched off when I fired an Ohio-built snail-lock that had been converted from flint. “Small” was gracefully etched on a barrel flat, giving credit to its builder. The gentle nudge of the 30-odd caliber, the puff of smoke, the graceful lines and the ghost of its creator planted a seed that’s never stopped growing.

That first exposure taught me to appreciate the careful art and discerning eye that played out in designing those once-daily tools. Their watchful skill to detail opened my eyes to a world of firearms that many today seem to ignore in preference for the more sterile domain of plastics. If you had followed me to the little town of Friendship, Indiana, during the weekend of May 17, you may have been bitten by the same bug that got me many years ago.

The legendary Sharps, Winchester, Remington, Ballard and Stevens single-shot rifles took to the line to compete in the 2019 National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association Regional Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette Championship.

Shooters pitted their skills against metal falling targets ranging from 200 to 500 yards while fine-tuning Vernier tang sights and judging the wind direction of the notoriously unpredictable conditions on the historic Walter Cline Range. Some rifles sported period Malcolm design optics donning exterior adjustments, which need similar attention and talent.

This was my first time shooting at such a match, and the skills I saw rivaled any discipline I’ve ever tried. With its blend of history, walnut and steel along with the instant gratification of knocking down distant steel targets, I was in love.

At the command that unleashed the first volleys, my imagination conjured the image of a 19th century skirmish line. Gray smoke, drawn down by morning dew, hung on the range before slowly drifting into the ether. Over 6,000 rounds of vintage black powder-driven cartridges boomed their presence during the two-day championship, and the satisfying clanging of hits rang the hillside.

While many of the participants sported a little gray under their hats, younger shooters with their youthful eyes were deep in the mix as they vied for their right to win a place on the scoreboard.

The national leaders of the NMLRA were on site to ensure that everyone’s needs were met and that the Black Powder Cartridge Rifle matches went smoothly. I have never been to any match in any venue that was run better. I am certain that NMLRA intends to host the Regional Black Powder Cartridge Silhouette Championship next year … and I’ll be back.

Founded in 1933, the NMLRA exists to promote, support, nurture and preserve our nation’s rich historical heritage in the sport of muzzleloading through recreational, educational, historical and cultural venues, such as match competition, hunting, gunmaking and safety, historical re-enactments, exhibits, museums, libraries and other related programs. Over recent years, they have also added inline and black powder cartridge shooting events to their schedule.

The NMLRA has strong Ohio roots, with many of its founding members and competitors originating from the Buckeye State. The first match was fired on Saturday, Feb. 21, 1931, and was sponsored by the Norfolk and Western Railroad YMCA Rifle and Revolver Club in Portsmouth, Ohio. William “Bill” Large, famed barrel maker from the Ironton area, was there to fire some of the first shots.

In 1933, plans were formulated for the establishment of a national organization of the muzzleloading rifle users to promote muzzleloading matches throughout the country. The aptly named town of Friendship was chosen as their home.

You can learn more about the NMLRA and its many activities at https://nmlra.org and get ready to burn some powder and explore our national heritage. You might want to even join or gift a membership; their Muzzle Blasts magazine is well worth the price. The organization can also be found on Facebook.

Along the way:

We’ve all visited the farm market or grocery store and bought that fruit with the good intentions of improving our diet. Sometimes we buy too much, the kids ignore it or we just hold onto it for too long and it begins to get overripe.

We toss it in the trash and think, “What a waste.” Hold on a minute! That isn’t waste you’re tossing into the trash: That could be dinner! Butterflies and moths love to eat rotting fruit.

Choose ripe, juicy fruits (berries, watermelon, bananas, etc.) that are easier for the butterflies to eat. You should try to change the fruit daily and not leave it out overnight if you want to avoid scavenging raccoons, though they will also certainly appreciate the meal.

It’s also no secret that orioles enjoy a halved orange as a treat. A simple nail driven into a post or a board hanging from a tree makes a perfect way to offer the treat.

Field guides are an invaluable tool for novice naturalists or seasoned wildlife watchers. They will help identify your visitors as they stop for a meal. These guides are available at local bookstores and online.

Step outside:

• Through the Community Wildfire Risk Reduction grant program, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry approved grant funding for 25 projects totaling $52,106 for fire departments in rural areas of eastern and southern Ohio, focusing on supporting wildfire hazard mitigation, public education and firefighter training.

• Thursday to Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.

• June 23: Mixed target archery shoot, registration opens at 8 a.m., Field and Stream Bowhunters, 11400 Allen Township 109, Findlay. Contact Harold Spence at 419-423-9861.

• July 21: Amateur Trap Association Registered Competition, 10 a.m., Fostoria United Sportsmen’s Club, 1324 U.S. 23 N, Fostoria. Breakfast and lunch will be available.

Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at jimsfieldnotes@aol.com

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