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Group meets to shoot historical firearms on Piru Range

Projectiles into the past

Posted: August 20, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 20, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Burbank Muzzle Loaders member Ted Costello blows into his rifle to improve accuracy at Wes Thompson's Piru Gun Range on Wednesday.

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On their own two acres of Wes Thompson’s Piru Gun Range, a group of muzzle-loader enthusiasts gathers Wednesdays and Sundays to celebrate the days, and firearms, of yore.

There are no “Rambos” in this group.

Nearly everything about the Burbank Muzzle Loaders harkens back to an earlier time, said club President Tom Trevor.

Even the name is a bit of a relic, describing the locale where the group originally met in 1937 behind a Lockheed lot that’s since been turned into a housing development.

From Burbank, the group moved to the Saugus and Newhall area, before eventually transitioning to Ventura County ranges, according to its website.

For Trevor, as with many of the club’s 50 or so members, it’s not just a fun hobby. It’s a link to America’s past.

“We don’t shoot anything modern. It’s strictly black powder,” said Trevor, 68. “From the first hand cannon to the 1890s, when the army went from the old black powder rifles to the 1890s when troops started using the Krag-Jorgensen.”

Before most American troops switched to the much faster cartridge-firing guns, black-powder guns were the tool that helped Americans realize their Manifest Destiny, he said.

“For good, bad or whatever you think, it’s what opened the West,” Trevor said. “We moved from a few small towns on the Atlantic (Coast) all the way to the Pacific.”

Enthusiasts also appreciate the relative economy of the gathering.

Modern bullets can cost about $25 for a box of 20, and thousands may be fired in a matter of minutes through a high-powered rifle.

With a muzzle-loaded shot, two rounds cost a little more than two bits, he said.

“You use about 60 grains of powder (about a tablespoon), which costs about 13 cents,” he said. The percussion caps, which act as the ignition in the barrel when a trigger is pulled, may be found for a penny or so.

The bullets — or more appropriately, the balls — are collected, melted down and recast after they are fired by members.

For safety purposes, the powder is manually loaded in a separate area away from the guns are fired on the range, according to Kent Burton, 70.

One of the more visceral joys for muzzle-loaders is “the fog of war” — a name Napoleon Bonaparte gave to the black cloud of exploded gunpowder that follows a muzzle-loaded shot, Burton said.

“Black powder make lots and lots of smoke,” he said, explaining the safety precautions.

“I don’t know where I got into it,” said Burton, who also claims an interest in weapons dating back from the Civil War era.

“It’s just I’ve always been interested in firearms,” he said. “I have a replica of a 14th-century hand cannon and a 16th-century wheel-lock gun.”

And while the technology enjoyed by the group may be a bit dated, Trevor notes that it’s still some pretty lethal machinery.

“Sometimes, you’ll hear this sort of contemptuous, ‘Oh, it’s not like a real gun,’” Trevor said. “But it sure is.”



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