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My First Muzzle Loading Shotgun Competition (Part 1 - Skeet)

posted Jun 15, 2010, 3:52 AM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Dec 25, 2010, 10:20 AM ]

    I attended my first muzzle loading event this winter at the NMLRA Western Nationals in Phoenix, Arizona.  I will admit that the idea of entering a muzzle loading shotgun event was a little intimidating.   I have been shooting a muzzle loading rifle for many years and hunted elk in the first Colorado muzzle loading season back in the early 70s.  I have also been hunting upland birds with my muzzle loading shotgun for several years.  However, I had never participated in any type of organized shooting competition, be it muzzle loading or cartridge. 

    For several months my wife had been planning a family trip to Phoenix in February of 2010 in order celebrate my father-in-law's birthday.  Anticipating that I would needs some sort of distraction from the "family" events, I was very happy to discover that the NMLRA Western Nationals were being held at exactly the same time.  My options were to either hang out with my in-laws or spend the week shooting my muzzle loader.  I chose to try my luck at a muzzle loading skeet competition.

My first step was to join the NMLRA.  The people who work at the main office NMLRA Office in Friendship, Indiana could not have been nicer.  They answered most of my questions about the Western Nationals.  For those questions which they could not answer they put me in touch with the person who would be running the shotgun events in Phoenix.  Once at the event, all of the other shooters were extremely helpful.   In certain respects, shot gunners sometimes feel like the red headed step children of muzzle loading sports.  The rifle and pistol events attract many more participants than do the shotgun events. Anytime someone new expresses an interest in muzzle loading shotguns, they are welcomed with opened arms. 

Western Nationals included several shotgun events, all of which were some variation of American Trap and American Skeet.  If you need to brush up on your basics, here are some helpful links describing American Trap and American SkeetTwo fields were in use at the Western Nationals.  One field was dedicated to trap events and the other was dedicated to skeet events.   For the most part, the normal American Trap and Skeet rules applied.  However, accommodations were made to insure safe and efficient loading of the guns.

Both the skeet and trap fields had dedicated loading areas with loading benches.  The loading areas are roped off from observers and are designated as non-smoking areas due to the presence of black powder.  Guns are loaded in the loading area and taken un-primed to the trap or skeet shooting station. All guns, regardless of whether or not they are loaded, are to be carried with the muzzle above your head.  Once it was your turn to shoot, you step into the station, prime the gun and call for your birds.   

Because everyone loads their muzzle loaders at a different pace, muzzle loader events are typically shot individually, rather than in squads.   Although you are shooting individually, this does not mean that you are the only one shooting on the field.  As a result, some simple rules have been developed to determine where you wait to take your turn to shoot and who shoots next.  Due to the difference in the layouts of trap and skeet fields, there are some different rules.

On the skeet field, there are a total of eight stations.  In a standard 25 bird round, four birds are shot from Stations One, Two, Six and Seven (one target from the high house, one target from the low house and one pair).  Two birds are shot from Stations Three, Four, Five and Eight (one from the high house and one from the low house).   The twenty fifth bird is shot from the station where you missed first.

When shooting skeet with a modern gun, shooters are divided into five person squads.  Each member of the squad will shoot all of their targets on Station One (both singles and the pair) and then the entire squad will move to Station Two.  In this way the squad will move together around the entire skeet field.

With a muzzle loader, each shooter will shoot individually at each station and work his/her way around all eight stations.   Since there may be several shooters ready to shoot at any given moment, shooters who have their guns loaded and ready to shoot will shoot "in rotation."  Here is how you go about shooting a round of skeet:

    At the time you register for the event, you will be given a shooter's number and a score card for each event that you will shoot.  When you are ready to shoot, you give a score card to the scorer and proceed to the loading area to load your gun.  Once your gun is loaded (but not primed) you walk to the waiting area for the station where you will be shooting next.  While walking to the waiting area, remember to keep the muzzle above your head.  Your first shoots of the round will be from Station One.   Typically, the waiting area for each station is directly behind the station. However, there are separate waiting areas for Stations One, Seven and Eight on the skeet field to insure that the people waiting are safely out of the line of fire. 

    Competitors waiting to shoot will shoot "in rotation."  The first person waiting at Station One shoots first, the person waiting at Station Two second and so on through Station Eight. Once the person at Station Eight shoots, the next person waiting at Station One will start the process over.  When it is your turn to shoot, you step on to the shooting station, call out your shooter number so that the scorer can record you birds on the proper scoring card, and call for your birds.  If you have a double barreled gun, you will shoot both barrels when it is your turn to shoot.   Once you shoot, return to the loading area (with the muzzle above your head), re-load the gun and walk to the waiting area for the next bird.

    The shooting sequence for muzzle loading skeet is slightly different than modern American Skeet.  In modern American Skeet the pairs which are shot at Stations One, Two, Six and Seven are shot immediately after the singles.  In muzzle loading skeet, all of the singles are shot first.  After shooting all of the single targets at Stations One through Eight, you return to Station One to start shooting the pairs.  After you shoot doubles at Stations One, Two, Six and Seven, you  shoot your option bird at the station where you missed first. For those lucky few which have not missed a bird, you shoot a second low house bird from Station Eight.  I am still waiting for my chance to break a second bird at a low eight with a muzzle loader. 

    This explanation makes it sound more complicated than it really is.   If you have any questions about where to load the gun, who shoots next or which station you should be shooting, just ask.  People are more than willing to help.
    The skeet events at the Western Nationals where held from Wednesday to Sunday morning.  The "qualifying" events were held on Wednesday through Saturday.  The championship rounds were held on Sunday morning.   The qualifying events are "reentry" events, which means that you can enter the same event as many times as you would like.  The top three shooters from each day's qualifying events is entitled to shoot in the championship round on Sunday. 

    The qualifying events were held on Wednesday through Saturday and included the follow: 
  • Men’s Daily Qualifying.  This event is open to any muzzle loading gun permitted under the NMLRA Rules.  Typically, this event is shot with a percussion muzzle loading shotgun.  A total of 16 birds are shot.  All birds are shot as singles
  • Women’s Daily Qualifying,   Same format as the Men's Daily Qualifying,
  • Flint Daily Qualifying, Same format as the Men's Daily Qualifying except that this event requires the use of a flintlock ignition system.
  • Wilford Shaw Daily Qualifying, Same format as the Men's Daily Qualifying.  The Wilford Shaw events are open to shooters who are 60 and older.
  • Junior Daily Qualifying. This event is open to shooters who are 16 and under.  Same format as the Men's Daily Qualifying.
  • Doubles Daily Qualifier.   This event consists 14 birds all shot as pairs.  A pair of targets is thrown from Stations One through Seven.
  • Lo-Gun Daily Qualifier,  This event consists of 16 birds, Six of the birds must be must be shot as pairs.  The shooter is able to designate which three stations will be shot a doubles.  For right handed shooters, Stations One, Six and Seven would usually be designated as the doubles.  Left handed shooters generally shoot their doubles from Stations One, Two and Seven.  Your gun must be in "ready low" position when you call for the bird.
    The championship events, which are held on Sunday morning, included the following:
  • 25-Bird Championship, On Sunday morning, those shooters which qualify shoot one round of skeet to determine the Championship.  Three place awards are given.
  • Women’s Championship, Sunday, 16 birds singles, Three place awards.
  • Doubles Championship, Sunday, 24 birds doubles two pairs from Stations 1 though 7, Three place awards.
  • Lo-Gun Championship, Sunday, 25 birds, Three place awards.
  • Flint Championship, Sunday. 16 birds singles, Three place awards.
  • Wilford Shaw Championship, Sunday, 60 and over, 25 birds, Three place awards
  • Junior Championship, 16 and under, 16 birds singles.
    In addition, there are three special events which were held during the week . The special events were as follows:
  • Skeet Aggregate  This is a "reentry" event which can be shoot anytime Wednesday through Saturday.  A total of 30 birds are shot, 16 singles, 14 doubles, Three place awards are given.
  • Black Powder Cartridge,  On Thursday and Saturday evening  a "black powder cartridge" event was held.  This event is open to any gun with exposed hammers or Damascus steel barrels.  The cartridges must be loaded with black powder or an approved substitute.  I use Goex Pinnacle since it is safe to use in modern reloading machines.    25 birds, Three places.
 The Trap events and some more observations about the Western National Shoot are the Subject of Part 2 of this Article.

This is a picture of a flint competitor shooting Skeet at the Western Nationals.  The notice the bird and the High House is in the back ground

    A view of the bird being released from the Low House at Station 8 on the Skeet field

This is a picture of the loading area at the CMLA Memorial Day Shoot.  Shooters bring their own loading benches at this event.

This is a picture during the Trap competition at  the CMLA Memorial Day Shoot.  This was a "protection match".  If the first shooter misses a bird, the second shooter attempts to break it.