Move over Buffalo Bill, make room for Lee Bumbalow, Wayne Liezeit and Smokey Slaughter.
The trio of Payson marksmen can now be mentioned in the same breath with the colorful figure of the American West because they shot their way to gold medal finishes in the Arizona Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette Championship matches held Nov. 20 to Nov. 22 at Ben Avery Shooting Range near Phoenix.
All three Payson men are members of the Tonto Rim Sports Club and practice their skills at the Jim Jones Shooting Range south of Payson.
In the state championships, Bumbalow won the Class AA Scope title, Liezeit claimed the Class B Scope crown and Slaughter claimed the Class A Iron Sights championship.
In black powder cartridge competition, shooters are classified according to the skill level, in one of four divisions — B through AAA. Class B includes mostly beginners and AAA includes masters, or the sport’s finest marksmen.
For the events, each shooter is allowed a “spotter” to assist them.
“The spotter is a very important part of the team,” said Slaughter. “He has to be able to read the wind and mirage through a spotting scope.”
Spotters also report where the bullets strike, be it a hit or a miss.
In the sport, there is the well-worn motto — “Behind every good black powder shooter is a good spotter.”
For the state championships, Pat Taylor spotted for Bumbalow, Slaughter spotted for Liezeit and Doug Hart handled the chores for Slaughter.
“We work together to help each other shoot the best score,” Slaughter said.
In the black powder competition, the entrants shot animal silhouettes at distances ranging from 100 to 500 meters.
At 200 meters, the targets were chickens and entrants had to shoot from a standing or “off hand” position, which makes them the most difficult to hit.
At 300 meters, the targets were javelina and shooters could choose a sitting or prone position as they could at the longer distances.
Most chose the prone position, which is considered steadier than sitting.
The targets at 385 meters were turkeys and at 500 meters they were rams.
At those distance, shooters could opt for “cross sticks” or wooden-like braces to steady the rifle barrels.
In order to count for a score, the targets must be knocked off their feet.
For each bank of five targets, the competitors were allowed 2 to 2-1/2 minutes to get off their five shots.
For the competition, Bumbalow used a Remington Rolling black powder rifle originally manufactured in 1867.
“It is a historic rifle, but with a new barrel and new wood,” Bumbalow said.
Other shooters used Ballard, Sharps, Stevens or Winchester model rifles.
Most shoot .40, .45, .40-65, 45-70 or .45-90 caliber vintage or reproduction rifles — types that were originally used for buffalo hunting and long range target shooting in the late 1800s.
The most used calibers are .40 and .45, but the .45-70 is considered a perfect mid-range (600 yards) black powder cartridge.
The two types of sights allowed, iron and scopes, must be typical of what was available during the era.
Metallic sights are traditional front sights with tang-mounted vernier sights. Scopes must have external, non-click adjustment and conform to vintage styles.
Bumbalow says shooting accuracy is much more difficult with the vintage rifles because the velocity is very slow, about 1,350 feet per second, and the bullets are large, about 540 grains.
“We also cast our own bullets and load them one at a time,” he said.
Black Powder Cartridge Rifle Silhouette, or BPCRS became an official NRA competition in 1985 when the first National Championships were held near Raton, N.M.
Next up for the Payson shooters is a regional competition to be held in March 2010 in the Valley.
Between now and the event, the local marksmen will spend much of their free time at the local range.
“The key to (success) is time and practice to refine your skills,” Bumbalow said.