The orange sign with the green 4H clover was propped on the rural mail box marking the turn to Lapp’s farm. After a long cold winter the snow was melting and the road to the farm-house was muddy. As we passed the white farmhouse, I noticed that it looked empty and said that it looked like a nice place to live. Barely a moment went by when I changed my mind and said that I didn’t think I would like having all of the cars and trucks passing in front of the house on Sundays.
Driving past the familiar out buildings with all of the old tools, farm implements, and junk strewn about had a comforting feel to it. Little had changed since last year, and it felt like a rite of spring, a ritual of sorts, that was now being undertaken for the 3rd spring in a row. I watched the chickens strut about their yard as we rounded the bend to the narrow, steep, one-lane road leading to the range. From atop the hill, I could see cows grazing in the meadow below, and that the pond was still frozen. The road was sloppy and we drove slowly around the curves to the bottom where we looked for a spot to park where we wouldn’t get stuck in the mud.
I got out of the truck and made a quick survey of the ground and saw that ice-covered much of the trails. It was slippery under foot as we made our way through the woods to the familiar faces standing around a warm fire. We filled out the required paperwork and paid our fees, after which the shooting and hawk throwing began.
Sunshine earlier in the week gave me hope that muzzle-loading practice might have fair weather, but by the time Sunday arrived, gray skies were back. I wore my ice grips that day which gave me added confidence on walking on the lingering ice along the trails. I was still nursing a sprained wrist from a spill I had taken while ice skating on New Year’s Eve, and the thought of slipping on the ice scared me.
It was at this practice that I began entertaining the thought that the collective conscience of our muzzle-loading group has decided that muzzle-loading season be uncomfortably cold, or it simply wouldn’t be muzzle-loading. Weather is often the topic of conversation as we stand shivering in the rain, shaking our heads at falling snow, or agreeing that graupel is better than rain. When the sun finally comes out, we move ourselves from under the trees and away from the fire to a sunny spot to soak in its warmth and continue with our animated conversations.
Perhaps I am romanticizing, but I like to think that we are hardier souls for enduring the unpredictability of a Montana spring to participate in the sport of muzzle-loading. It does, after all, afford us with a smidgen of the reality of what it must have been like for the mountain men and women of the 1830’s.They were the brave souls – the true pioneers who endured the elements in all manner of weather.
At this meeting, Mallory and Eileen were reminded to join the Flathead Valley Muzzle-Loaders on St. Patrick’s Day to participate in the annual holiday parade.
The third week of muzzle-loading practice brought with it the opportunity for club members to shoot black powder pistols. Instructors kept a close eye giving pointers to the shooters.
One of the dads joined in the fun and got in some target practice – boom, ding – an excellent shot!
Back at the campfire, David and I enjoyed the company of the parents, including some people that we hadn’t seen in a long time.
After gun cleaning was done, an instructor gave a fire starting demonstration using flint and steel. The wide-eyed expression on this kids face when his material burst into flames was priceless.
Everyone ignored the passing snow shower that day.
The spring equinox had passed weeks earlier, but it was definitely looking like winter a couple of days before the 4th muzzle-loading practice.
It was our turn to bring snacks to the practice and Mallory and Eileen brought their ooey-gooey-delicious chocolate caramel brownies. After cleaning the guns, everyone snacked on grapes, cheese sticks, and, of course, the brownies.
One of the things we dread about the narrow one-lane road to the muzzle-loading range is the thought of having to pass another vehicle. There is little to no room to pull over, and depending on the circumstance, one of the vehicles may have to back up. This happened one time as we were going down and one of the moms was going up. She had to back down the road until we could find a spot to safely drive by.
Going home on week 4 of this muzzle-loading season, had me on the edge of my seat as we rounded a curve and saw a tractor coming straight towards us. The tractor driver obviously knew the road quite well. He motioned to us, then pulled over to the edge of the hill. The road was still muddy, and one mistake on his part, and he and that tractor would have rolled down the hill. David drove past him hugging the hillside to the right while the tractor driver gave us a solemn look. It was a memorable way to end the day.
I’ve come to really appreciate the out-buildings that we pass each Sunday during muzzle-loading season. They are rich with history and I wonder what stories they have to tell. What appears as junk, perhaps isn’t. If it doesn’t have a purpose now, it did at some time in the past. It is part of the tapestry of life at Lapp’s farm.
It was April 6th, and as we drove down to the range, I noticed there was still ice on the pond.
It was a couple of weeks before Easter and the group shot at peep targets. Eighteen thirties mountain men and women would be clueless about peeps, but I think they would love them. Don’t you?
The beauty of Palm Sunday’s muzzle-loading practice was that the sun was shining.
The shooting instructors reminded everyone that they would be out-of-town the weekend of the Black Powder Shoot. Anyone that would be going to the rendezvous, should make sure that they had the necessary guns, powder, patches, and balls.
Easter Sunday. No muzzle-loading practice.
We attended the David Thompson Black Powder Shoot in Eureka, Montana.