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RECREATION : POWDER HOUNDS : Muzzleloading Enthusiasts Continue a Frontier Tradition as They Roll Out the Barrels at a Lake Piru Shooting Range

August 18, 1989|RALPH NICHOLS | Times Staff Writer

Skip Stokes, decked out in buckskin britches and a floppy hat, dresses like Daniel Boone and shoots like Annie Oakley.

Next to Stokes is a burly, bearded man wearing a coonskin cap and a string of grizzly bear claws around his neck. Both men look like they either just stepped out of a "Jeremiah Johnson" movie or got lost on their way to a Davy Crockett look-alike contest.

As a member of the Burbank Muzzleloaders, Stokes derives great pleasure from dressing up in authentic-looking frontiersman garb and cradling a musket against his shoulder.

For more than 65 years, members of the Burbank Muzzleloaders have worked to keep alive the tradition of the American frontiersman. They use muskets--or black-powder rifles and pistols-- to pursue a sport that is widely considered to be America's first form of recreation--shooting.

"Long before there was basketball or baseball, there was shooting," Raymond Glazner of Simi Valley said.

Glazner, a former New Jersey state champion muzzleloader, shuns the modern automatic and semiautomatic guns. He enjoys the mental and physical challenges of pouring his own gunpowder down the barrel of a rifle.

"There's a whole mystique and attitude involved that I'm actually doing something that Daniel Boone did. Maybe not as well, but I'm doing it," Glazner said.

"I'm a historian by trade, so this sport allows me to go out and actually recreate what I read about."

Muzzleloading is a simple enough process. Gunpowder, the quantity of which can vary depending on the distance of a shot, is poured down the barrel, then packed with a rod. A steel ball follows and the firearm is now ready to be discharged. Unlike guns today, there is no rifling--spiral grooves on the inside of the barrel that facilitate accuracy and distance--in muskets. However, these weapons of yore are accurate up to 500 yards.

Glazner, 48, has been involved with black-powder guns for more than 35 years. He joined the Burbank Muzzleloaders, now about 50 strong, after moving to Simi Valley from New Jersey last November.

As Glazner quickly discovered, the Burbank Muzzleloaders is not based in Burbank. The club relocated to the Lake Piru area two years ago after losing its Newhall-based range to developers.

Club secretary Stokes said he hopes that the club has found a permanent home at Wes Thompson's Rifle Range, located three miles south of Lake Piru.

"It gives us a chance to get out in the country, and we don't have to listen to high-powered shooters right next to us," Stokes said.

The Burbank Muzzleloaders set up their new range in one of the dozens of secluded canyons on Thompson's 1,500 acres. The club stages weekly, daylong shoots during which members can don their buckskin and coonskin caps and put their muzzleloaders into action.

Tom Trevor of Granada Hills has been coming to the weekly shoots for the past 25 years. He likes to socialize with other members when he's not squeezing off a round from his authentic 1882 Springfield rifle.

"This is a very relaxed form of shooting," Trevor said. "It's not high-pressured compared to other shooting sports."

Like most members of the Burbank Muzzleloaders, Trevor could teach history if he so desired. He can recite the history of weaponry in the United States from the time of the Pilgrims to the present.

The club also attracts fad shooters, however--those who join after watching too many "Daniel Boone" reruns on TV.

"Every time a movie like 'Jeremiah Johnson' comes out, some people rush out to buy a musket and then show up here for three or four weeks," Trevor said. "Then they go home and realize that they have to clean this thing, and we don't see them anymore."

Most muzzleloading enthusiasts stay with the sport for a lifetime, however, according to Maxine Moss, public relations chairwoman for the National Muzzleloading Rifle Assn., in Friendship, Ind.

"Once you get involved in muzzleloading, you never want to get out of it," Moss said.

Moss said that the NMRA has more than 27,000 members throughout the United States and in 14 other countries.

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