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Valley muzzleloaders stay on target

April 08, 2002|By RICHARD MYERS

Sports Editor

A slight breeze blew in from the south Sunday morning.

Most people would not even feel it, especially after enduring the strong wind that whipped through the Valley on Saturday.

But a hearty group of men who gathered in the desert Sunday southwest of El Centro felt the breeze. They felt every slight wind shift, every change in the wind's direction without glancing at wind socks or weather vanes.

That's because they were firing a little round metal ball at targets up to 200 yards away and having a hard time keeping that little ball on line.

"The wind makes it hard," conceded Fernando Velasquez, a founding member of the Signal Mountain Muzzleloaders, a group of men dedicated to preserving the history of the famous firearms.


Velasquez was trying to explain why he kept missing the target. Before him, 100 yards down the range, sat the silhouette of a several small groundhogs in a row. The object was to knock down the silhouettes, but Velasquez was having a hard time.

"Sometimes you have to aim maybe three (targets) over from what you are shooting at," he said.

"Looks like we won't be the ones doing the eating next time," Bill Dato said. "We'll be doing the cooking."

Dato and Velasquez are members of the "old-timers" team, which was taking on the "newcomers" at the club's monthly shoot. Because they all belong to the same Signal Mountain Muzzleloaders club, there is a friendly camaraderie among the men. But there also is a serious competitive side. The "old-timers" and "newcomers" battle to see which team has to buy and cook lunch at the next competition.

Sunday the "old-timers" were going to be treated to a meal after the shoot, but the next time they gathered it looked like the "newcomers" might be the ones feasting.

"This is serious business," Dato said. "It gets pretty expensive having to buy and make lunch."

In the match, shooters take five shots at each of five sets of targets. Silhouettes of chickens are 50 yards out, followed by groundhogs at 100 yards, buffaloes at 150, turkeys at 175 and bears at 200. The "old-timers" were struggling to knock down the closest targets.

"Just wait until the afternoon when the wind starts blowing more," said Eli Granillo, another member of the "old-timers" team.

Granillo and Dato were among more than two dozen members of the Signal Mountain Muzzleloaders who enjoyed a successful outing at the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association's western national shoot in Phoenix in February.

Granillo figured experience would win out over youth Sunday, particularly when the wind picked up.

"We'll make up ground on the turkeys when the wind is really blowing," he told his teammates.

Things looked grim, though, for the "old-timers." After the first set of chickens was knocked over and members of the "youngsters" walked onto the range to reset the targets, Granillo yelled, "Just put up one for us. That's all we seem to hitting."

The "old-timers" also struggled shooting the groundhog silhouettes.

"They're the hardest to hit," Dato said, explaining the groundhogs are narrow and don't offer much room for error

"You don't get much play," he said. "Not like the buffalo, which is a wide target."

Bill Polkinhorn, another member of the "old-timers," struggled to knock down some of the targets.

"The wind must be holding them up right now," he joked.

And that was just at the close targets.

"Wait until we get to the end," Velasquez said. "The ball loses a lot of velocity the farther it travels. And the wind can really affect it. It's going to be even harder."

Looking down the range, the bear silhouettes didn't really appear that far.

"Just wait until you're looking down the barrel of your rifle," Granillo said. "Then they will appear real, real far away."

Practicing Sunday morning before their friendly match, both teams had trouble trying to "dial in" their sights, compensating for the various wind shifts.

"Where did I miss that?" one shooter asked.

"I think you missed it high," one responded.

"No, you missed it right," Dato said.

"I thought you went underneath," another said with a laugh.

While they struggled Sunday, that was not the case at the western national shoot.

More than 350 of the best shooters from around the world gathered for six days of competition, and the Signal Mountain. Muzzleloaders returned with 20 gold medals, 11 silver and two bronze. They competed in rifle and pistol, with rifle shooters aiming at silhouettes and pistol marksmen shooting at paper targets.

Granillo competed in the highest class, the masters division, in the pistol shoot. The El Centro resident won five gold and two silver medals and the overall title in the masters division for the third year in a row.

Dato, who lives in La Quinta, won eight gold medals in the sharpshooters pistol competition. Imperial's Ed Lynch won four golds and two silvers in the pistol marksmen division.

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