One local event that has not been cancelled by the COVID-19 pandemic is the seventh annual Black Powder Desert Rendezvous, which takes place this weekend. Hosted by the South Cariboo Sportsmen Association, the event will be held at the gun club south of Cache Creek, and play host to more than two dozen participants who will re-create a bygone era and put their marksmanship skills to the test.
“Black powder” refers to the fact that participants use weapons that were current in the early- to mid-nineteenth century. They also dress accordingly, donning the costumes of fur traders and mountain men and women. Some even go so far as to sleep under canvas at the events they attend, called rendezvous.
The Desert Rendezvous began in 2013, and has only been cancelled once: in 2017, when many of the gun club’s facilities were destroyed by the Elephant Hill wildfire. However, gun club president and event organizer Ken Brown says that his interest in black powder goes back many years.
“It was the Robert Redford movie Jeremiah Johnson that got me involved with black powder,” he explains. The 1972 film stars Redford as the legendary mountain man John Jeremiah “Liver-Eating” Johnson (1824–1900), a larger-than-life character about whom rumours and legends abound.
“I had coffee with Redford when he was doing a movie here [An Unfinished Life in 2002],” says Brown. “Johnson shoots black powder, and I told Redford how I got a bison in northern B.C. with a black powder rifle, a .50-caliber Hawken, which is what Johnson shoots.
“I explained to him how I got involved with black powder; I’m an outdoorsman, and I enjoy shooting. That’s how the black powder event came to Ashcroft.”
So far there are people from all over B.C. and as far away as Alberta registered for this year’s event. “Hatchet Jack”, who comes from the Kootenays, will be dressed in full mountain man garb, and Taylor Sapergia from Prince George — who crafts replica period firearms — will be back.
“People are coming from all over, and it’s fantastic that it’s spreading out,” says Brown. “Last year we had someone from Ontario who came to our shoot. People hear about it through the network. We’re the only one going this year; the others have been cancelled because of COVID-19. We’re hoping to have a few more roll in, and we’re going to have a fun time.”
The event kicks off with a literal shotgun start on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 10, with participants heading off to start with whatever event they choose. Brown explains that with no set start times or schedules, everyone is free to do as they please, with scoring on the honour system. The rendezvous concludes on Oct. 11, when the top Mountain Man and Mountain Woman awards are handed out.
The rifle trail is open to three classes of firearms: percussion, smooth bore, and flintlock. There is a black powder pistol event, the hawk and knife event (tomahawk and throwing knife), and a black powder shotgun event: firearms must have exposed hammers, and participants must use fibre wads (not plastic) and black powder.
The Quigley cartridge shoot features black powder and lead bullets, shooting at a distance of 200 yards. There is also a black powder muzzle loader Quigley shoot for men and women over 100 yards for percussion, smooth bore, or flintlock firearms, and an archery event. “They have to use wooden bows and arrows,” says Brown. “The arrows have to be feathered, and they can’t use compound or laminated bows.”
Firearms need to be “primitive”; that is, pre-1870-ish, although Brown says he has seen people use replicas of firearms dating as far back as the 16th century.
The cost to take part is a flat $35, with participants doing as many or as few events as they want. The cost for juniors (age 17 and under) is $5, and all events are open to them as long as they are supervised by a parent while using a firearm.
Most of the facilities that were destroyed in 2017 have been rebuilt, although the scenery has changed a lot since the fire. Work is continuing on rebuilding the rifle range, and Brown says the hope is to have phase one completed this fall.
“We have a Seacan, and have windows in one side, although we’ve only opened four so far this year because of physical distancing. It gives protection from the elements, and we use hearing and eye protection. Phase two will see it insulated and made more quiet.”
The Sportsmen Association is selling raffle tickets for a prize draw to raise money for the project, and Brown says sales are going very well. The tickets are $10 each, and first prize is a Sako A7 Roughtech 30-06 Bolt-Action rifle worth more than $2,300, with second prize a Benelli Nova Max 12-Gauge Pump-Action shotgun and third prize a Traditions Vortek StrikerFire .50 calibre black powder rifle, both worth almost $1,000. Fourth prize is a $250 gift certificate from Eagle Industries, a full service gun store in Vernon.
Tickets are available at a number of local venues, including Home Hardware, Quality Glass, the HUB, NGN Sales and Service, Fields, and Interior Savings Insurance in Ashcroft, and the draw will be held on Dec. 15. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the South Cariboo Sportsmen Association Facebook page.
Two of the black powder events will be held at the rifle range, and Brown says that members of the public are welcome to come up during the rendezvous.
“We’ll try to explain everything, but it’s not really a spectator sport. People don’t want to be interrupted while they’re shooting, and it would be pretty boring to go around and watch people shoot targets without participating. If people come up I’d suggest the hawk and knife event or the black powder shooting at the trap range, which is quite entertaining.
“Everyone has a really good time. The camaraderie is incredible among black powder shooters.”