Herman Brune, my friend and fellow Texas Fish & Game magazine columnist, invited me to come to his place in Columbus, Texas recently for the second annual ATF Day. Herman is a cowboy, rancher, rodeo rider, and hunting guide, although, basically, he’s a storyteller. He also ran for the state legislature a couple of years ago. It’s too bad he didn’t win, because he a really good storyteller. I figured that made him a shoe-in as a politician, but there you go.
ATF Day was put on by the local branch of the Young Republicans, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and Herman. The idea was to get a bunch of people to come out and shoot, with a focus on people who haven’t shot guns much, or not at all. And yes, there are actually some Texans who have never shot a gun, as difficult as that may be to believe.
Herman’s place is perfect for such an event, because right behind his house there’s a 1000-yard shooting range. And about a quarter of a mile from the house, also on Herman’s place, there is a Cowboy Action Shooting range, built to look like an old west town, called Gunsmoke, Texas. Every year, about the third weekend in March, a huge Cowboy Action shooting contest called ‘Trailhead’ is held there. If you saw ‘Tombstone’ you pretty much have the picture. There’s even an OK Corral at Gunsmoke.
Last year’s ATF Day was held at Gunsmoke, where visitors shot rifles, shotguns, and revolvers. This year the event was expanded to both ranges, and included black powder cartridge guns, plus lots of other stuff. A local fellow named John Blaschke, and a bunch of his friends, brought out a veritable armory of weapons, including Gatlin guns, machine guns, a Barrett .50, and all kinds of AR-15s, both loud and suppressed. If you can’t have fun at an event like that, you’re just not trying.
The big draw was John Blaschke’s Barrett .50 BMG. I always thought BMG stood for Be My Guest, but it doesn’t. Actually it stands for British Machine Gun. This is confusing sometimes, since you’d think, because of the name of the cartridge, that a gun that shot that round would be a machine gun. The Brits developed the cartridge for a machine gun, but the Barrett company makes a bolt action rifle and a semi-automatic rifle that shoot it, and neither is a machine gun. You’d have to be there.
The Barrett .50 is a great big thing that doesn’t lend itself well to offhand shooting. It pretty much needs to be sitting on a table or the ground, with the barrel resting on its bipod legs, if you want to hit anything with it. It’s made to reach way out there and touch someone, and it works as advertised. The cartridge is 5½” long, and over ¾” in diameter at its base. At 100 yards the bullet will go through 2” steel plate, or three feet of concrete. And just about anything else in its way.
Such a gun would knock you back at least a couple of days every time you shot it, except it has a thing on the end of the barrel called a muzzle brake. This captures most of the gasses coming out the barrel and directs them backward, which pulls the gun forward and keeps the recoil down a lot. It actually kicks less than most .270s I’ve shot. The muzzle blast also blows everything off the shooting bench, if it isn’t tied down.
And it’s loud. Very loud. Both ear plugs and muffs are recommended, and even then, to anyone standing within 10 yards, the concussion of the Barrett going off can be felt inside the rib cage. It’s basically a cannon, is what it is.
A couple who were mostly unfamiliar with guns stood behind the table watching the shooters, and after seeing a fellow shoot the .50, the woman asked him, “What did you think about that?”
He said, “It was great. Nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be.” Which is what everyone said, including me.
The woman seemed unconvinced. She said, “It looked fairly significant.”
There were other interesting guns, such as a Barhorst Gatlin-style gun. Two Ruger 10/22 barrels and actions are mounted in ventilated shrouds over a tripod, and the shooter grabs a handle at the rear and pulls the trigger, and then turns a crank on the right side of the housing. A cam-type shaft causes the barrels to shoot alternately, and the faster you turn the crank, the faster the thing shoots. I went through 50 rounds in about 8 seconds, and I was trying to go slow.
ATF Day was about the most fun I’ve had in a long time, and I’d like to thank Kristin Jones, of the Columbus area Young Republicans, who was the head person in charge of the event, and a really nice young lady. I’d also like to thank Herman and John and Phil (who cooked some excellent briskets) and everyone else who worked hard to make ATF Day possible.
But most of all I want to thank America’s veterans. Without them, and the freedom they’ve ensured for us, we’d have had to stand around, point our fingers, and say, “Bang.” The effect just wouldn’t have been the same.
Besides, you can’t poke your finger through 2” steel plate from 100 yards . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who has a birthday coming up, in case anyone has a Barrett .50 lying around. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org