Living History Comes To Rim Country

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The smell of wood smoke and the sight of teepees, buck skinners, powder horns and muzzleloaders took visitors back to simpler times.

Ken Pollard, a first time visitor from the Valley, said the scene appeared to be straight out of the 1972 movie "Jeremiah Johnson."

It was the Mazatzal Mountain Muzzleloaders' 18th Annual Rendezvous held Nov. 9 to 13 in the high desert 15 miles south of Payson.

There, members of the Mesa-based MMM gathered to participate in a few days of living American history.

In recreating the Revolutionary War era, some members lived in teepees and vintage tents, dressed in buckskin period attire and carried muzzleloaders, knives and tomahawks.

Others chose a less rugged lifestyle, bringing along their fifth-wheels and motor homes equipped with microwaves, televisions and king-size beds.

Members say their purpose was to experience the days when men and women struggled to build a new nation and relive the challenges and charm of early American frontier life.

"I do it for the history, the education about the past," longtime MMM president Pete Waichulaitis said.

During the MMM's stay south of Payson, the group encountered some of the same challenges their predecessors might have experienced, when torrential downpours drenched their camp Saturday afternoon.

"It came down good for a short while," Waichulaitis said. "We had to take cover."

Among the events the members competed in over the course of the camp were silhouette trail walks, paper punches, mountain man runs, hawks and knifes and squirrel shoots.

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Loading and firing a muzzleloader rifle can be a complicated and time-consuming process, depending on the skill and experience of the rifleman.

The vernacular of the shooting competition rules was strange to those unfamiliar with muzzleloaders -- "open sights only, no optics, peeps, scopes or spotters" and "patched round ball only, no minies, poly patches or sabots."

In layman's terms, the rules meant competitors must adhere to National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association guidelines, which for years have governed black powder shooting.

Firing a muzzleloader is a complex process that requires hours of practice.

Those using flintlocks began by pulling the hammers open and cleaning the frizzen or metal arm that sparks when struck by a flint -- and the flint.

After snapping a couple of caps to clear the vent, the shooters poured powdered charges from their horns into the rifle's barrels. Then, moistened patches were set over the bore and a ball placed on the patch.

With the heel of their hands, shooters rammed the balls deeper into the barrels with a ball starter. A ramrod was then used to seat the ball against the powder charge.

After the ramrod was removed it was carefully stored under the barrel.

Then the frizzen was closed and the hammer brought to full cock.

All that was then left to do was -- ready, aim, fire and begin the process all over again.

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Cooking in Dutch ovens is one of the skills the Mazatzal Mountain Muzzleloaders performed during their 18th Annual Rendezvous held south of Payson.

Today's loading and firing process has not changed from what it was hundreds of years ago when rifles were used in battle to keep America free.

Watching the shooters, it was obvious that all skill levels were represented.

Some struggled with the cumbersome musket-loading process, while others skillfully loaded, fired and reloaded quickly.

"The best can fire, reload and fire again in about 17 seconds," Waichulaitis said.

When not shooting or competing in mountain man events, MMM members took the opportunity to mingle among the buckskinned traders, seeing what treasures of yesteryear's craftsmanship they could buy or trade for.

The MMM is just one of hundreds of chartered black powder organizations that exist around the country.

Each weekend of the year, the organizations host muzzleloader shoots at ranges in rural, remote areas.

Most charters, including the MMM, operate under the auspices of the NMLRA, which has as a mission statement "to promote our nation's rich historical heritage in the sport of muzzle loading through recreational, education, historical and cultural venues...."

For more information about MMM, call Waichulatis at (480) 833-2788.

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