By Jon Lewis
Photo by Brett Faulknor
The North State’s Louderback’s Black Powder Club
It’s rendezvous time for the muzzle-loading aficionados who belong to Louderback’s Black Powder Club, so Wade Bellinger and the 50-odd others in the club are busy oiling patches, measuring out powder and stocking up on lead balls.
When this group gets together, technology goes out the window and America’s frontier history—think mountain man types like Daniel Boone and Jim Bridger from the mid-1800s—takes center stage.
The 36th annual Rendezvous, to be held April 11-13 at Hooker Creek Campground near Red Bluff, is patterned after the yearly get-togethers of the past when trappers and traders would gather at a set location to exchange pelts and furs for supplies, socialize and engage in friendly competitions. The Rocky Mountain Rendezvous on the upper Green River in Wyoming is a good example.
The Louderback’s group, however, has toned down the bawdy partying that marked the original Rendezvous and focused instead on the competitions, camaraderie and old-fashioned camping. “It’s not a wild affair like it was in the mountain man era. When the competition is over, we have a potluck and that’s always a lot of fun. Everybody gets together and has a real nice meal,” says Sandy Winters, who has been a member of Louderback’s for 37 years along with her husband, Don.
“We’ll have traders, shooting competitions for rifles, pistols and shotguns, frying pan competitions and kids’ games,” says Bellinger, president of the club. Competitions will be open to adults, juniors and the peewee set (ages 6 to 11) who are under adult supervision.
“All my kids started shooting when they were 6 or 7 years old. It teaches kids how to handle firearms safely and appreciate history along the way,” Bellinger says.
His introduction to the world of black powder guns started in the 1960s when he would huddle in front of the TV and watch Fess Parker in his iconic role as Daniel Boone. In the 1970s, he befriended Bill Louderback, a retired machinist who had started building replica Hawken muzzle-loading rifles.
Louderback and a half-dozen like-minded buddies would take their rifles out to the Record Range in west Redding and blast away. By 1979, Louderback’s Black Powder Club was formally established and the Rendezvous tradition was started.
While the rifles, which are replicas of classic firearms made anywhere from the late 1700s up to 1864, are the stars of the show, the Louderback’s members celebrate the whole mountain man era, from flintlock and percussion cap pistols to buckskin clothing, primitive shelters, tomahawks (“hawks” as they are referred to by people in the know) and knives.
An avid outdoorsman, Terry Scott says he felt he had “done everything I could with high-powered weapons” so the idea of turning to centuries-old technology appealed to him. Bill Louderback built him a left-handed muzzle-loading rifle and he joined the club when it formed.
Scott, 75, got into the swing of mountain man things with a passion and soon began traveling the western United States with a 16-foot tipi and taking part in dozens of Rendezvous with his wife, Janis. “It’s a family sport and there’s something everybody can do, even the kids. It’s not very expensive and there’re a lot of good people. It gets in your blood.”
Scott and other Louderback’s members in the past have staged history days at North State schools, dressing in their period attire and exhibiting mountain man lifestyle tricks like starting a fire with flint and steel and throwing a hawk.
Primitive camping will be encouraged at this month’s Rendezvous, Bellinger says, “to emulate and get the feel of how it was to live in that time, without the comforts of Coleman lanterns and stoves.” Only items that were available before 1840 are allowed in the primitive camp area.
“I enjoy the camping out, the Rendezvous, the camaraderie and the history,” says Sandy Winters, who will again be competing this year with her .54-caliber Hawken rifle. She also enjoys shooting a muzzle-loading pistol and competing on the “hawk and knife trail.”
Is she a good shot? “I don’t want to brag, but I’ve got some awards. I’ll put it that way.”
One of the highlights of the Rendezvous is the awards ceremony, where competition winners are invited to select prizes laid out on a blanket. The prizes are provided by the contestants themselves and have to be something homemade from the mountain men era, including shirts, pants, belts, moccasins, powder, balls or leather “possible” bags.
Scott estimates he’s been to every elementary school in the Redding area to give mountain man demonstrations, but now he worries that mounting restrictions are depriving children of a bit of the country’s heritage.
“It used to be you just needed an OK from the principal to bring a black powder weapon on the grounds. Now I don’t think you can do that. Children won’t get the actual history. They can’t get it off the Internet and they can’t get it on their phones.”
36th Annual Louderback’s Black Powder Club Rendezvous
April 11-13 at Hooker Creek Campground
For more information, visit www.subarama.com/louderback