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Chasing "Spiders"


'Over the log' shooting possesses a rich, deep-seated history



Chasing
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Preserving the old traditions, competitors fire one shot from the prone position at an x-center target 60 yards away. The rifle's muzzle rests on a log or wood chunk. Shaders ensure uniform light on the open sights. Wild Rivertree photo
August 01, 2009
"We've got our first spider," Roger Morgan announced, stepping through the cabin doorway. Kelly Alexander, Connie Schultz and Eric Lau stopped their conversation as Morgan laid the sixth-relay targets on the scoring table; he held up one target in particular.

"Oh, my," Alexander said.

"It looks close," Lau added as he pulled down his blue-gray OptiVisor® magnifier, placed the frayed hole over a white backing paper and positioned the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association's official scoring overlay. Twice Lau grasped the digital caliper and twice he put it down. The cabin filled with reverent silence.

"Roger, look at this."

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Still standing, Morgan leaned over the scoring table and watched as Lau, dressed in clean blue bibs, a crisp white shirt and a flower-patterned green tie, measured the bullet hole's diameter with a machinists ruler, then measured the thin black circle on the scoring overlay.

"You try it. I think it's dead center," Lau said.

Morgan had already started to position the clear plastic overlay, moving it around several times before settling on a final location. "What's that measure?"

Lau peered through the magnifier and thumbed the caliper; the jaw didn't seem to move. He read the digital readout aloud: "Point zero zero zero zero."

"That's the first one we've ever had. Wow!" Alexander exclaimed as Lau started the scoring process again. "I'm not sure the software can score that. What's the competitor's number?"

"Seven, Kelly," Morgan said. "He's shootin' good today."

As Alexander scrolled left on the laptop's window Lau read the same measurement. "John Konkle," she answered.

After measuring for a third time, Lau marked the score on the target's label and leaned back in his chair. "That's the first perfect spider I've ever scored; they're rare," he added with a broad smile.

The heavy guns fell silent outside the one-room log cabin, and the range officer declared the shooting line closed. The pent-up enthusiasm shared by the scoring volunteers bubbled over to the competitors chasing spiders at the first of three "over the log" shoots scheduled at the Broken Lock Muzzleloaders' home range (1266 N. Ely Highway, south of Alma).

Over the log shooting, also known as chunk gun, x-center, or match shooting, possesses a rich, deep-seated history. In 1933, when the modern muzzleloading revival began and the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association was born, over the log shoots were still popular in the Appalachian hills.

Walter M. Cline, the NMLRA's second president, described the traditions of match shooting in detail. In the midst of the Great Depression, the entry fee was a dollar and the prize was meat. Participants charred the face of "their board" so the aiming point, or spotter, "of white cardboard shows up clear and sharp on the black surface." The match distance was 60 yards and shooters shot from the prone position with elbows grounded and the rifle's muzzle resting over a log or wood chunk.

Each competitor was allowed two practice shots, "he then makes his 'cross,' which consists of two knife cuts in the black board, crossing each other…he is then ready to shoot for 'meat,' and has 5 shots for counters-one shot for each choice: two fore quarters, two hind quarters, and the hide and tallow…the measurement is taken from the center of the bullet to the center of the cross lines." The shot nearest the cross' center, called the "four-point center," won first choice, and so on (The Muzzle-Loading Rifle…Then and Now, Cline, Walter M., Wolfe Publishing Co., Prescott, AZ, 1993, pp. 17 - 22).

"We try to adhere to the old traditions," Eric Lau said, explaining the over the log "uniform" of bib overalls, pressed shirt and tie. "The men came from church to the shoot and this is how they dressed. The women prepared a meal. It was a big social event.

"In Sergeant York's area, in Pall Mall, Tennessee, it was always a beef shoot. They led the cow to the match, tied it up, and shot for the quarters. Lots of times Sergeant York led the beef home, because he won all quarters and the hide," Lau said.

Alvin C. York, referred to as "Sergeant York" by chunk gun enthusiasts, was a decorated World War I hero, winning the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery, courage and marksmanship in France's Argonne Forest in 1918. Today, the Alvin York Memorial Match, held in a hayfield at the family homestead, a pistol shot from Sgt. York's grave, is the biggest over the log shoot in the country.

The modern over the log target is paper. A white, four-inch circle with two crossed lines is printed on a black background to simulate yesteryear's charred shingles. The Broken Lock matches are one shot with the relay length determined by the slowest shooter. A shot that cuts both lines is termed a "four-legged spider."

Shooters provide their own spotter, which can be any shape, size or color. They aim at the spotter, and after obtaining a consistent group, the paper target is slipped behind the spotter with the practice group's holes over the target's center. "In theory, you keep the same aiming point and you should place the shot in the center of the target," Lau said with a chuckle that betrayed his personal experiences.

As black powder sport shooting evolved from subsistence hunting, the over the log gun's rifled barrel became longer and heavier for increased accuracy. With bore sizes ranging from .45 to .72 caliber, the custom-made percussion or flintlock rifles often weigh over 50 pounds. A resting block attached to the muzzle's underside adds stability, and "shaders," tunnel-like, bent sheet metal sunshades that grip the barrel flats, provide uniform light on the open sights.

"There's side bets, too. The top shooter wins the 'quarter pot,'" Lau explained. "We shoot 15 relays. You put a quarter in a cup for each relay, and whoever has the best "X" for that relay wins the quarter pot."

"And just before we break for lunch," Lau added, "we shoot the 'blind shingle.' The target is turned over and the competitor marks an "X" on the back with a pen or pencil. The target is turned back and shot. You shoot blind; you can't see your mark."

In the blind shingle event, twenty-five thousandths of an inch separated the top four shooters. Amanda Miller won using her .50 caliber, percussion rifle, a muzzleloader her husband Matt described as "a regular offhand target rifle, a 'do-it-all' rifle with open iron sights."

"It's my first time shooting over the log," Amanda Miller said. "I enjoy it. It's fun. Matt tells me to win quarters and I come away with dollars. I think that's funny."

And after pulling his blind shingle, John Konkle reflected on his perfect spider and the camaraderie that exists in the black powder shooting sports: "The nice thing about that target is I'll get 30 or more calls from all over the country congratulating me, and that's the way it is. Of course, then they'll ask who I paid off."

"This is our second year for the over the log shoots," Gary Schultz, president of the Broken Lock Muzzleloaders, said. "For some reason the club that had it couldn't continue, so Eric Lau said we should have it here. We tried it and everyone enjoys it.

"We have a woodswalk blanket shoot scheduled for Saturday July 25th and the second over the log match is July 26th. And we'll hold the Over the Log State Championship Matches August 22nd & 23rd. Our big, three day shoot is October 9th to 11th, [2009]," Schultz added.

For more information about these matches or over the log shooting, contact Eric Lau at 989-235-3724.

Give the black powder shooting sports a try, be safe, and may God bless you.

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