Mountain Men Blast Away

Meet Rod Slinger. Or Black Hat. Or Fallen Woman. Maybe even Thundering Buffalo or Red Belly.

But be nice to them, they’re all pretty darn good shots. These aren’t comic book characters; they are characters at the Central Whidbey Sportsmen’s Association Rendezvous, which occurred this past weekend.

“I’ve always enjoyed history a lot,” Oak Harbor resident Grey “Black Hat” Wunderly said. “This is a thing where I can practice what I enjoy.”

The three-day event showcases how the mountain men of the fur trading era lived their lives. Rudimentary camps are set up, with thick canvas taking the place of the lightweight materials available today. Everything visible in the camp should have the appearance of pre-1840s America.

Black Hat sat in front of a fire pit on a wooden chair. His face grimey from three days of black powder shooting and living in a field. He wore buck skin pants and necklaces adorned with claws and bones draped on his neck.

He said an interest in black powder hunting led him to his first rendezvous 13 years ago in the wilderness of Montana.

“You just won’t see the modern stuff in a primitive camp,” Black Hat said. “The idea is to keep everything as authentic as you can.”

For some, the idea of authenticity takes them to adopt their persona full time. Thundering Buffalo said he goes to work in his mountain man gear. And if his supervisor gives him grief, he puts his throwing hatchet outside of his door.

This is the third year the Sportsman’s Club has played host to the event. But it has been happening on Whidbey for at least 15 years.

People camp, shop with the traveling traders and participate in sports that were common to the era.

Several shooting events take place, all with black powder weapons. On the last day, teams of two competed. The first shooter obliterated a coffee can filled part way with water, which sent a soda can perched on the top skyward. The second shooter then tried to blast the soda can while it was in the air.

There are also archery events, knife throwing and story telling — lots of story telling.

With no TV, no radio and no Internet, the campers have only themselves and the tall tales of the wild frontier to keep them busy in the evening.

“We just sit around and swap lies, I suppose,” Black Hat said.

One of the more common topics are the names that are earned. Black Hat’s originated from his ugly black hat he sports around camp.

Then there’s Rod Slinger, this year’s event organizer.

Shooting a black powder rifle requires several steps. Powder, a special wadding and a bullet must be loaded individually and tamped down with a rod. The key step is removing the rod. Well, somebody didn’t tell that to Rod Slinger.

“That really knocks your shoulder back,” he said.

Each name has a story behind it, Black Hat said.

“If you’re the new guy, then we can name you,” he said. “And if you do something funnier or stupider, then you’ll get a new name.”

Amongst the other guns that will test the strength of your shoulder was Stanwood resident Dennis Burkholder’s 17th-century Blunderbuss, the equivalent to the modern-day sawed off shotgun.

Burkholder, who goes by Little Mary, said he built the gun, which sent his shoulder back nearly six inches when he fired it, himself.

The events become a lifestyle for the truly devoted. Rod Slinger, better known as Pete Sill, said he has been going to the Whidbey Island Rendezvous for the last 13 years.

“I go to as many rendezvous as I can,” he said. “This is what I do in the summer.”

Look for the event again next year, but don’t forget the coon skin cap.

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