The smoke from the old guns was clearly visible from the bluff overlooking the Boulder Rifle & Pistol Club in Boulder City. With each shot, I could see the white smoke from the black powder long before I could hear the shot, and with each puff of smoke I grew a little more eager to walk along the firing line and among the participants at Saturday's Buffalo Shoot.
This long-range shooting match is limited to firearm enthusiasts who enjoy the romance and performance of 1870s-era falling block rifles such as those once used by buffalo hunters. These breech-loading, black powder cartridge rifles carry such names as Remington, Ballard and Sharps; and along the firing line you will find such calibers as the .40-65, .45-70, .45-90 and .45-110. The first two digits refer to the diameter of the bullet and the second group of numbers to the amount of black powder in the cartridge.
Event organizer Dennis Swoope is quick to point out that "These are not reproduction rifles. They are second generation because most of the equipment that Shiloh uses to make these guns is all the original equipment from 1874. They forge all their own barrels, all their own locks and all the iron work that's affiliated with it."
Steel silhouette targets were set at intervals of about 200 yards beginning with an off-hand shot at 200 yards and ranging to a rested shot at 1,034 yards. The only thing that limits Swoope in his choice of target locations is the geography of the range itself, so participants don't know what to expect from year to year.
To put a little perspective on the distance, that farthest target was a buffalo that measured more than 6 feet in length and 5 feet in height, and I had to look through a spotting scope to see it. Participants, however, are limited to iron sights and period scopes with a tube no larger than 1 inch in diameter.
Jim Wooten, from Yucca Valley, Calif., invited me to shoot his Remington Hepburn, an original rifle fitted with a new barrel, and pointed to a bear silhouette placed on the side of a berm 600 yards out. He flipped up the rifle's tang sight and told me to follow through.
This was something I had wanted to do since first watching the movie "Quigley Down Under." Three shots later, I had two near misses and one that went wide to the left, but I didn't care, and the smile on my face probably said as much.
Wooten took one look my direction and chuckled. "I really think you ought to get yourself a rifle and come play," he said.
If I had the money, the time and the space for one more hobby it wouldn't take much to talk me into it. Swoope said you can get everything you need to get started for $6,000.
What amazed me was how long it took for the bullet to reach that target, perhaps as long as two seconds. Frank Dunks, Wooten's shooting partner and spotter for the event, said it takes three to four seconds for the bullet to reach the buffalo at 1,000 yards. That, he said, is why follow-through is so important. Swoope compared the flight of these large-caliber bullets to that of a projectile shot from a howitzer or a mortar. At some distances, the height of the arc in the bullet's flight path will push past 65 feet above the line of sight.
The Buffalo Shoot is held each April and is one of many such matches around the country. Swoope said it's possible to participate in a black powder cartridge shoot on nearly a weekly basis. They come with such fitting names as Golden Spike, The Big Whiskey Shoot, Buffalo Gap Shoot and the Quigley Shoot.
Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His "In the Outdoors" column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.