The Freezarse Rendezvous, held Friday, Jan. 11, to Sunday, Jan. 13, is an annual event at the shooting range on Airport Way along the San Joaquin River east of Tracy.
Aaron Ewing of Tracy, a Manteca Sportsmen board member and chairman of the club’s high-powered rifle events, set aside his modern firearms for a flintlock muzzle-loader for the rendezvous.
He was one of about 25 people to get an early start at the event Friday — about 100 more gathered Saturday to shoot off all types of black powder-powered firearms.
The competition gives marksmen points for each target hit along a course at the shooting range. Extra points go to those who dress in buckskins or other attire typical of early American hunters and trappers.
Ewing finished the weekend in first place in the rifle competition, scoring 39.8 out of a possible 42 points.
While not an antique, his rifle is the same model of firearm frontiersmen carried in the early 1800s as Americans ventured west of the Mississippi River. The model stayed in use through the Civil War.
“They’re surprisingly accurate,” Ewing said.
A time apart
That doesn’t mean the muzzle-loader is easy to use.
“It’s harder to shoot these, because you have to focus on your front sight and … see a flash in front of your face at the same time you’re trying to concentrate on the front sight,” Ewing said. “It takes a while to get used to these.”
Joe Kroeze, a Modesto resident and 35-year member of Manteca Sportsmen, organizes the club’s black powder shoots on the second Saturday of each month.
Kroeze loves the classic rifles for their simplicity, a basic design that a craftsman can reproduce in a home workshop.
“You can buy a gun for $300 or $400, but when you build your own, it’s kind of like a trusty car,” Kroeze said.
They can also be versatile. He explained that smooth-bore muzzle-loaders can be used as shotguns simply by loading bird shot instead of a lead ball.
“Back then, people couldn’t carry around two or three guns, so one gun served multiple purposes,” Kroeze said.
Lynn Benbrook of Lodi admitted to being a “history nut” who builds rifles and pistols in the style of classic firearms, but with unique touches and ornamentation.
“I couldn’t afford to buy the guns I wanted, so I build them,” he said.
Another difference from most competitive shooting is the ritual of preparing to shoot an old-fashioned rifle or pistol.
“There’s a lot of camaraderie,” Ewing said. “It takes a long time to load one of these, and while you’re loading you sit and chat with your buddies who you don’t see all the time.”
The Tracy resident uses a hollowed-out deer antler to measure black gunpowder from a polished cow horn.
He pours the powder into the barrel, then wraps a lead ball in a scrap of fabric and uses a ramrod to push it to the back of the 42-inch barrel.
He sets the trigger so the slightest touch will release the hammer, causing the flint to spark the explosion that sends the .45-caliber ball to its target.
Many opt for more reliable percussion caps, which came into use in the 1820s, instead of the flint.
Dan Golling of Modesto said the event has a relaxed environment. Most people who attend are as interested in the history of firearms as they are in hitting their targets.
“The nice thing about this is you meet a whole new class of people,” Golling said. “Everybody is on the same page. Everybody is watching everybody else and helping one another.”
Sportsmen shooting safety
Black powder events are one way Manteca Sportsmen promotes shooting sports and firearm safety. Kroeze said he teaches young people in 4-H Club, Civil Air Patrol and Boy Scouts to shoot black powder rifles.
On the first Saturday and fourth Sunday of each month, the club also hosts cowboy action shoots, where participants are timed as they move through the shooting range.
Other events feature trap shooting, pistol shooting and firing World War II rifles on a 100-yard range.
Michael Maciel, Tracy’s mayor pro tem and retired police captain, is a regular at the cowboy action shoots and also helps teach firearm safety classes.
Women’s courses offered at Manteca Sportsmen continue to grow, he said.
“We used to have a beginners class with maybe 20 shooters, then it got to be 60, and the last time we were pushing 80,” Maciel said. “It almost taxes our capacity.”
• Contact Bob Brownne at 830-4227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.