Shootist [shoo-tist] noun 1. a marksman with a pistol or rifle. 2. a gunfighter, as in the Old West.
I‘ve had a replica of an 1874 Sharps for more than a decade, but have put fewer than 50 rounds through it. It was a gift, and while it intrigues me, I just never seem to have the time to really wring it out. When I received an invitation to attend the Shootist’s Holiday at the NRA Whittington Center in Raton, N.M., a few months ago, it was the first gun I decided to bring with me.
The Shootist’s is a group of super-dedicated gunnies who get together annually to shoot, talk, shoot some more and shoot a little more. Attendance at the Shootist’s Holiday is by invitation only, as is membership in the organization. The people I met at this year’s Holiday were as diverse as one might see at the NRA Annual Meetings. There were a few “industry” people—those who work for or represent product manufacturers or, like me, write about guns. But the vast majority of attendees come from regular backgrounds. There was a potter from Atlanta, Ga., while another works at a grainery in Kansas. There was a firearms training officer from Arizona, and a retired firefighter from California. The knowledge of firearms each of these folks have boggles the mind.
Founded in 1985 by author John Taffin and 11 other noted pistoleros, The Shootist’s has been from the beginning an exclusive group with this website description: The Shootists are a group of professional people from all walks of life who have similar interests in firearms. We are made up of people who are lawyers, clergy, teachers, businessmen, farmers, ranchers, law enforcement personnel, judges, writers, artists, computer programmers, and those in the firearms industry to name a few. We look for people of integrity, who have character and conviction and whose word can be trusted. Those who would “stand in the gap” or who could be described as someone you could “ride the river with.”
After shooting for a little more than an hour on the first day on the Hunter’s Pistol Range—the home range for the Shootists during the four-day event—I took a stroll to see what others had brought to shoot. My first impression was that there was more ivory hanging in holsters on the firing line than one would see anywhere outside of a museum. While some choose ivory substitutes for working guns, like I did on my Ruger Flat Tops, others choose real ivory, like Mike from Texas with a pair of Smith & Wessons cloaked in real elephant tusk in the classic Magna pattern. Another gentleman opened up a large aluminum pistol case that held no less than seven custom .44 Spl. revolvers made by Ruger and United States Fire Arms Co. The guns present ranged from the plain and workaday to engraved works of art and antiques that would leave any gunner worth his salt breathless.
As I moved further down the line, I ran into a small group of shooters with rifles—Sharps-type rifles primarily, but soon some vintage military longarms were uncased. The next thing I know we are shooting at what is termed the “banana rock,” a banana-shaped rock that takes quite a beating each year from the Shootists, some 570 yards away up the slope. Jim Williamson, from Santa Clarita, Calif., insisted I give his absolutely mint-condition Mauser 71/84 rifle a whirl at the banana rock. Using smokeless-powder loads that replicate the original blackpowder ballistics, the 11 mm, 370-grain cast lead bullets left the muzzle at some 1,400 fps and took a couple of seconds to reach the rock. The beautifully machined rear sight’s elevation adjustments were spot on and hitting the rock was no problem, even from a supported offhand position.
Jim and Mic McPherson, Colorado-based gunsmiths, authors and general savants of anything gunny, generously helped me make some small but critical adjustments on the vernier tang sight on my Pedersoli 1874 Sharps replica, solving an ongoing and tedious problem of a lack of repeatability. The next day several of us retired to the Long Range Silhouette Range where an iron bison was set up at 1,123 yards. At its center was a 16-inch round gong. Jim and Mic began to put the hurt on the bison with their 128-year-old Mausers, while several others of us broke out our Sharps. When my turn came up I was able to center punch the gong on the second shot. At that range it takes the bullet about four seconds to make the trip. Once the spotter sees the hit, it takes another four seconds for the sound of the hit to get back to the firing line.
The final evening of the Holiday features a banquet at the dining facility on the shotgun range at the Whittington Center. Literally dozens of donations from industry companies and participants, go up for a raffle. Money generated from the raffle is donated to selected shooting programs at the Whittington Center.
It was an honor to be invited to the Shootist’s Holiday, and I was amazed at how much fun and knowledge is so generously shared by what amounts to a bunch of gunners who plink for four days. I am looking forward to attending the Holiday next year. The Whittington Center is—and should be—a Mecca for anyone who loves to shoot. If you have never been there, make plans to go. You won’t regret it. The staff is friendly, professional and very helpful. And don’t neglect the town of Raton. Those folks were some of the nicest and most welcoming people I have met in a long time.