Monday, May 11, 2009

Boomershoot 2009

JD arrived at 9 to pick me up. We were going to drive to Idaho instead of fly for a few reasons, mostly TSA idiocy and California gun laws. JD managed to shave a few hundred miles off our trip by playing with our route, but Google still estimated 21 hours for the trip. We found some of the time measurements dubious, and fully expected to arrive hours earlier than estimated.

The route took us north, almost to Sacramento, before turning East through Tahoe into Nevada, then North through a short stretch of highway in the South East corner of Oregon, and into Idaho for a seemingly simple trip North to the town of Orofino.

It was going to be a good road trip. California runs the gamut of biomes; from scorching desert to mountains covered in snow and trees. This trip was going to take us through some of California's more scenic locations. It's easy to forget how beautiful California can be when you're buried in traffic on the 405 or ducking between alleys and one-way streets to find an address.

The trip was going to be long, but JD and I were veterans of long road trips, and honestly, looking forward to the experience. It was going to be about 1300 miles of driving.

The 5 up California took us through city, rural, desert, grape fields, and snowy mountain passes into Nevada; which was less scenic, but 80 cents cheaper on gas. The Oregon trail was kind of odd. Never before have I seen headlights coming at me at 70mph, and not had them pass me for 10 minutes. In the dark this is even creepier. But the sign which read "Next gas 100 miles" prepared us for an interesting experience. Miles into Idaho, we passed Boise and closed in on our destination. The going had been tough, but we were close now, and getting our second wind. At about 300 miles, it was the homestretch, and we were ready to arrive.

Northern Idaho had other ideas.

We had been confused by Google's odd time estimation for what appeared to be a short stretch of our journey, and learned that like many other things on the internet, you don't question Google.

The 65mph highway we were on slowed to a 25mph zone for what could be charitably called a town, and less charitably called a loose congregation of buildings. This wouldn't have been a problem had this not happened an amount of times which went from amusement, to comedy, to tragedy, to despair. To make matters worse; when the road wasn't slowing to 25mph (which was infrequently), it was vanishing into a series of streets that left it to our imagination to rediscover our route, weaving us at slow speeds on severely winding roads on cliff edges without highway markers in pitch black, or thwarting our attempts to overcome with completely closed towns denying us access to restrooms, caffeine, and gas.

My turn driving ended abruptly when, on one of the many twists and turns, my mind wandered to hitchhikers. Coincidentally enough, the next bend revealed two hitchhikers standing on the side of the road! Odd place for them considering the time and location. I blinked, and they disappeared. "Whoa!" I broke suddenly, and pulled over sharply. "OK! Time to switch!"

Neither of us slept. It was hard. VERY hard. We had expected to end our trip, or at least have our destination in sight hours ago, and we had nothing. Just endless, winding road stretching into the black. We were fading fast, and had no indication of progress. We needed to make it in time to go to the media day Joe had put on for the bloggers, but it really didn't look like we were going to make it.

JD summed it up well;
combine lack of service stations with constant speed changes, exhaustion and treacherous roads that looked to drop off into a Lovecraftian abyss at 0-dark-30, and you have two somewhat peeved bloggers

Five hours later, on the edge of a knife, we spotted a service station that had just opened. Desperation gave way to hope, and we resupplied on gas and much-needed caffeine. I asked the proprietor how far to Orofino, having seen no mention of our destination, even though we seemed so close. "Orofino? It's about 25 miles up."


Powered by a determination to arrive in time for the Blogger Day, NOS energy drink, and Dragonforce, we arrived as the sun began to blue the sky.
Guitar-wailing heavy metal sounding our victory over the darkness and Northern Idaho's mountain highways.

Orofino emerged suddenly from the trees as a beautiful fishing town split by a wide river and a single bridge across it. The buildings were aged and the valley sided by dense trees. The anachronism of modern cars driving past buildings that looked like 1900's general stores was interesting.

After a bit of flubbing we made it to Trib's place, just in time to catch an hour of sleep before breakfast.

Trib's Place is a quaint bed and breakfast in Orofino, operated by Bob and Kenda Tribble. All they needed were our names, and we were family. Breakfast was delicious and hearty, a real country breakfast, and a good time to get to know my housemates, David who posts at Random Nuclear Strikes, The Packing Rat, and Dave who photographs for Random Nuclear Strikes. Squeaky would be arriving later in the day.

Clicky all images for full size!

California Gun Bloggers; assemble!

Rowdy, official mascot of Trib's Place

At the site, Joe began the media day. He brought us back to the Taj Mahal; a shed full of the makings of the explosives he uses to make what he calls Boomerite. Boomerite is a play on tannerite, an explosive that activates by being shot. Joe's mix was made to be sensitive enough to go off with the impact of almost any supersonic bullet (.22lr to .50 BMG), and includes extra materials to generate an eye-pleasing plume of "smoke" (water vapor). For containers, Joe found nothing works much better than simple white cardboard boxes in 3"x3" or 7"x7". He recounted the history of Boomershoot, from conception to today, and the years and years of trial and error, and small tweaks perfecting his mixture for Boomerite. Getting the mixture to where it is today was obviously no small feat. It was plain for everyone to see that this is a labor of love for him.

Joe at the Taj Mahal.

Joe mixing a cake you shouldn't put in your oven.

Those with ATF approval got to make their own Boomers. Because a bullet is used to trigger the detonation, the mixing of the Boomerite is quite safe so long as no one shoots at you while you're doing it.

Joe didn't need to handle his rifle very much to reveal how sure it was in his hands.

Once the Boomers were made, Joe gave the newly minted recreational bomb-makers options for destruction. "Fireball?" Joe offered.


Two 7" targets were used, in an optimal configuration for dispersal of the fuel (two gallons of gasoline), and The Packing Rat was the one to take the shot.

The resulting fireball was spectacular.

The grass fire was not.

In preparation for the trip, I bought some lightweight, waterproof hiking pants from REI. At the time I was slightly bothered by the high price, but as I brought my boot and pant leg down into knee-high burning brush, I couldn't keep my mind from wandering back to the price, and hoping the extra money went toward flame-retardant fabric. Fortunately, it did. My pants had only a few streaks of black soot, and my $20 5.11 8" Strike boots were more than up to the task.

Grass fire extinguished, we called it a day and everyone departed to invade a local eatery.

Honestly, I don't remember much of anything after we left the field. I needed sleep.

The next day we slept in.

We figured after about 36 hours up, we had earned it.

View from the firing line. Boomershooter center-right, the 700 yard berm is right at the tip of the barrel, and the bolt handle is pointing to the 380 yard berm.

After another amazing breakfast, we were on our way to the field of fire day. Field of fire ran concurrently to the precision rifle clinic. You basically got to shoot on site at different steel targets out to 700 yards. It was a good opportunity to scope out the location, zero for the new elevation and approximate temperature, test the wind, and work on your spotter/shooter communication.

The shooter/spotter team was something I never really understood. I thought it was just to have someone with a wide view of the target area when the shooter had a relatively short range of vision. Turns out it's much more involved than that. At long distances, the spotter needs to properly estimate the wind, and time the shot. The spotter also needs to watch the impact or splash and quickly give accurate adjustments to the shooter. The communication was something that took some work, but by the end of the event, we were quick and understandable.

"Shooter ready."
"Send it."
"Maintain elevation, adjust windage two minutes right."
"Shooter ready."
"Favor left... Send it."
"Hit. 6 inches off center at 7 o'clock."
"Got it. One more."
"Spotter ready."
"... Shooter ready."
"Send it."
"Hit. Perfect elevation, two inches right of center."

JD and I took turns spotting and shooting, and were reliably hitting the 20 inch steel targets out to 600 yards. My notebook was full of information on the wind, and approximate drop for different ranges, and reticule sizing information. JD had built some simple benches for us to shoot off of, which was nice, because maintaining the prone position for extended periods of time was not fun. Sitting at the bench, your head was quite upright, and your position was rather stable. I shot off a bipod, which took a little practice. You really need to lock in your position to get stable on a bipod because with too little pressure, the legs bend slightly on firing, and with too much pressure the feet skip forward, and you have to readjust.

Around the middle of the day, the temperature, light, and humidity got to a certain ratio, and I saw something I had always wanted to see; bullet trace.

When a bullet passes through air, it creates a high pressure area in front of, and around it, and creates a slight increase in temperature as the bullet impacts the molecules in the air. The pressure and temperature difference creates enough of a disturbance to bend light slightly. The result is a what appears to be a wavy donut that enters the bottom of your field of view, arcs upward above the target, and drops down into the target. (I call it a "wavy donut," JD calls it the "undulating donut of death." I like his better.)

Seeing this phenomenon with my own eye was really amazing. I knew how rifles worked, I knew the physics involved, I knew the trajectory was parabolic, and I've seen many charts of bullet flight path; but it's still hard for your brain to wrap around the idea of a tiny thing flying through the air at 2800 feet per second. Actually seeing it happen seemed to dispel the magic the non-logical part of my brain was convinced was involved. Squeezing a trigger here, didn't just make something happen there; it began a very simple set of physical principals that ended in a predictable manner that I could view with my eye.

Plus, it was wicked cool.

Joe said that these flowers grew in the Boomershoot field for generations.

Nearing the end of the day, we were all given three Boomers (two three inchers, and one seven incher), and spray paint to distinguish them from the others. We set them up at 380 yards, returned to the line, and eagerly waited for the range to go hot.

It took about 10 seconds of shooting before the first Boomer went off, and then, more explosions trickled in. JD took out his .223 boltie for these targets, and rezeroed for the range in three shots, and blew all three of his targets with three more. He was quite pleased. He started spotting for me, and I started sucking.

My seven incher was somehow a dud. Of course, we didn't realize this until I had become quite flustered apparently hitting it to no effect, and we saw other people making definite hits to no effect. By then, I was disconcerted and upset, which are bad things to be when you're trying to hit a three inch by three inch target at almost 400 yards. I danced around my Boomers for boxes AND BOXES of ammo. I was on a mission, and I wasn't going to let things like trigger control, breath control, and flinch get in my way. (*sigh*) I managed to hit one, but it felt like luck, and I didn't relish the hit. It took a while before I realized I was too hyped up to hit anything, and just stopped. JD recalled calling my shot a miss left, watching me adjust my scope, and impact in the exact same place. I had Boomer fever, and I couldn't hit a damn thing.

Thankfully, the cease fire was called after the staccati of booms stopped for about a minute, and I was left to contemplate my failure while Joe and his team prepped for the "high intensity cleanup." The cleanup consisted of gathering all the unexploded ordinance, setting the firing line at a scant 25 yards, and finishing the job. We had brought our ARs in preparation, and the night before, had removed the screws and lugs that the state of California required. Idaho was happy to have more trained, responsible, law-abiding people with un-neutered AR-15s, and we were happy to oblige.

JD, Packing Rat, and I helped David and Dave clean up the smaller items from under the Random Nuclear Strikes canopy as people made their way down to the new firing line, and relocated the Boomers to the new range. David, a veteran of Boomershoot, had a radio on the Boomershoot frequency, and we chatted while we waited for them to make the final call to the line.


We turned to look at the line. That was probably a test.



We rushed to the cars, and drove down to the new line. My AR was already uncased from a quick function test in the back, so I grabbed it and three mags, loaded it, checked the safety, and carried it muzzle down, one handed, to the line. As I walked, I had a nagging feeling that I was doing something wrong. I had the gun safety on, finger was off the trigger, muzzle in a safe direction, I wasn't running or walking at an unsafe speed, so everything seemed OK, but something still felt off. As I approached the line, I realized that there was no real way I could enter the line. I was out of phase with everyone, and that wasn't right. One of Joe's staff approached me with urgency, and asked if I had a case for my rifle.

Shit. That's what I fucked up.

One of Joe's rules was to keep guns inside their cases until they were within two feet of the line. I was breaking this rule. That's why I felt wrong.

The staff member offered to hold my rifle while I got my case, and returned. The walk wasn't too far, only about 200 yards, but it felt longer because I got to think about how Joe invites all these people from all over America, and tries so hard to maintain an atmosphere of safety around an event with guns and explosives, and I was one of those people, screwing it all up. I realized that I was probably going to miss the cleanup, and should have been bummed, but I was too busy kicking myself for breaking the rules.

I returned with my case sheepishly, and the staff member kindly gave me a deserved refresher on the rules.

A cease fire was called. I and a few others who had not been ready for the cleanup to start had gathered on the far end of the line. In what should have been an unsurprising move, Joe brought out some more Boomers for us to shoot, and set us up with our own cleanup. Joe has made accommodations in the past, and struck me as a genuinely nice guy, so I shouldn't have been surprised; but it was still nice of him.

With my AR in my hands, I was much more confident in my ability to nail Boomers. I had built this simple lefty carbine out of Stag parts almost three years ago. In that time, dry firing, handling, and shooting has made it very sure in my hands. It wasn't yet an extension of my body, but it was getting close.

I had 90 rounds in three mags to hit Boomers with, and I was ready to go when they signaled to open fire.

My first shot established my holdover, almost a 12 o'clock hold, and the rest were just booms. I had three incidences of flinch that I caught just before firing; each time it was a shoulder press. I was a little excited. My eyes would track the next Boomer, my body would snap the rifle in line with my eye, my finger would squeeze, and the target would disappear in a puff of white smoke and a rain of dirt clots. *BOOM* Track. Squeeze. *BOOM* Track. Squeeze. *BOOM* This was too easy for me. After the first mag I decided to lay off, and returned to the targets that seemed to be duds to practice rapid shots on target. I'd shoot the Boomer off the stake, and make it kick up into the air on a high shot, or hit it as it lay on its side on the ground. Surprisingly, and few of these blew up after repeated shots. This was a lot of fun. Joe had said that some people like to blow up Boomers at long range, while others prefer to "pick grass and dirt out of their teeth." I could understand why. By the end, my cheeks hurt from smiling so severely.

Returning from the field, looking down into Orofino.

At dinner that night, I again marveled at how well we got along. Strangers we were not, but I still wasn't used to getting along so well with people I had technically just met. Plus I'm a bit anti-social anyways. We had four California gun bloggers in the same place, and talked about (what else?) California gun laws. Apparently there are some very well placed, very intelligent, very capable people working up a game plan to restore California's gun rights, and by precedent, the rest of the states (and certain districts) that used Ca gun control as a model. What has your state done to fight gun control lately?

That night we all had a little show and tell with our guns. What they were, how we came to them, what we meant for them, and on and on and on. Get four gunnies in a room to talk about their guns, and you'll never get them to shut up! Dave had brought a bore scope, and we eagerly checked eachother's bores, having never used one of the devices before. It was very interesting to see the similarities and differences up close like that. We all laughed when I compared this to some kind of Gunnie slumber party, talking about our guns, dryfiring them, checking eachother's bores. I don't think any of us had hair long enough to braid though.

Breakfast at Trib's Place. So good, I had to run to get the camera to take this picture before I started eating.

The second day of field fire, and the day before Boomershoot, played out a bit better. For me, there was more focus on getting more precision at ranges we could easily work with than hitting 20 inch targets at 600 yards.

The problem was; shooting 20 inch steel targets at 600 yards was not the same as shooting 7 inch Boomers at 600 yards. Particularly at that range, without high-powered optics, we were not always able to see the exact impact on the target. Most of the time at that range, all we could tell was that the bullet didn't make a "splash" in the dirt around the target. It was a hit; but was it low left, high right, or dead center? At least with the Boomers, we knew for sure when we connected.

David was kind enough to let me sight in his his scoped 7-30 Waters pistol at 380 yards. The recoil was surprisingly light. To me, it felt even lighter than some .44 magnums I'd fired. It was pretty damn cool to hit gongs at almost 400 yards with a pistol. I gotta get me one of these.

Leading up to Boomer time, I had been focusing on staying relaxed. The shooting bench and my seat was at a bit of an odd angle, so that when I leaned on the corner of the bench, it bent slightly, likely throwing off my shot at the last moment.

I was under no illusion that shooting at these ranges was simple, but I was still amazed how involved this process was.

I recalled that part of this event was Joe wanting people to learn how to shoot at long distances. Until now, I had shoot off a concrete bench, with sandbags, in perfect Californian weather, at 20 inch steel targets at 600 yards without problems. Now, I was shooting at an upward angle, in winds that shifted in direction and speed, in temperatures that varied from the shooting location to the target location, at a 5000 foot elevation, at targets almost three times smaller than at the range, under pressure!

This was some real-world shooting, and it would not tolerate even the slightest mistakes.

When the Boomer time came around again, I was was much slower, but was still having problems. I kept "wounding" them; shooting out the stake, or the corner of the box, causing the explosives to leak out the bottom. I was still frustrated, but I was thinking more clearly. Bothered by the increasing flex of the bench, I picked up my rifle and moved to an empty patch of grass to shoot prone. Few things are more stable than the ground. I also took a long time calming down for my shot. The mirage was worse closer to the ground, but the temperature/sun/wind shifted, and gave me a clear shot to my target. With Dave's help spotting, I walked my shots into two Boomers with little difficulty. I knew I had the skills, I just needed to keep things simple.

That night was the dinner and charity raffle. Apparently Boomershoot had gotten so big, they had to change venues to accommodate the people. The raffle tickets were for a good cause, so I bought $20 worth, and put them mostly into the Ultimak AK mount bucket. I really liked the way they made those mounts, and had been wanting one for a while. Just before the dinner started, they talked more about the charity, and the good work Soldiers' Angels did for the people who fought for this country, and I couldn't help but donate a bit more without accepting raffle tickets. They deserve so much.

Joe spoke to us all about Boomershoot, and the people that go into making things happen. I was really impressed how many people were involved, from all walks of life, from all over the country, almost all volunteers, working to make sure everyone had fun and was safe. I guess people want to help when someone's truly passionate about something. Especially something they do for others. They really are an amazing group of people.

Sunday, the day of the actual event, Boomershoot kicked off with a boom. The opening ceremony included a fireball, and the anvil launch. The fireball had some issues, but the anvil launch was amazing. It was impressive to see something that heavy fly so far into the air. It was another one of those "this shouldn't be, yet I'm looking at it" moments I had already had with bullet trace earlier. This really was an amazing event.

Anvils away!

JD was kind enough to let me borrow his electronic earmuffs (now I badly want a pair), to make our spotter/shooter communication a bit better. This was really when our communication was spot on. The "um"s and "ah"s were gone, and all that was left was lean, informational speech. I was doing better, but JD was smoking them. He was running a Savage 12 Target rifle, and the 30 inch barrel was definitely giving him more velocity to buck the wind. The weather was probably the best it had been in the last three days. There were a few spots of drizzle that ended as quickly as they came, and the wind was mild with the occasional spike. The only way to tell the wind had shifted was when you got a flier. You'd be spotting, watching the shots close in on the target, and one goes wild. There were a few like that where I just told JD to do the exact same hold, and the next shot was a hit. The wind is a tricky mother.

One target in particular refused to be hit. It was a 7" target at 620 yards, with an "L" painted on it and a red dot in the corner. No matter what we did, our shots would just slide off it, and into the dirt around it. We became fixated. We had to get the L. Shot after shot, 2MOA left, 1MOA low, just over the left shoulder, one inch off at 4 o'clock, dropped it in behind it at perfect windage, just right of the right shoulder, then 2 MOA right. It was maddening. We hated L. It was my turn, and I had my holdover and had just begun my trigger squeeze, when a boomer in front of it went off. A thick cloud of white drifted in front of my target. I had already been fixed and had started my trigger squeeze, so I just pulled through, firing into the smoke, and was rewarded with a clear explosion which appeared right behind the last. "Hit!" "YEAH!" We laughed and high-fived and eventually returned to the boomers. Except... The L was still there.

"OK, time for a new target. How about... Wait... It was a red L with a red dot in the corner, right?"
*JD peers through his scope intently*
"It's still there, isn't it..."
"Uh... yeah..."

Somehow, I managed to shoot wild, and hit another nearby target. The timing was perfect, JD saw the shot go into the smoke, it was just at the wrong target. The L stood, defiant.

That loss was a bit much, so we decided to switch targets and began hitting them with some regularity.

I'll get you, L. Someday...

After the L debacle, I needed a little pick-me-up. So I switched to a prone position and took out a few boomers at 380 yards (not enough of an incline to look up at the 600 yard targets from the ground). A few satisfying explosions later, my smile had returned.

Later, JD and The Packing Rat began a duel over a three inch target at 700 yards that refused to be hit. The playful trash-talk that took place added to the challenge. Initially, I think the idea was to lob them out there to see how hard it was, and then leave it, but after coming so close a few times, the competition started getting tense. After quite a bit of ammo had been used up on the target, JD decided he was only going to give it three more rounds. After the first two, he held up the last and said, "This is the last one, and the only one I'm going to need!" He then loaded it into the rifle, adjusted his hold from the last two shots, and took his shot.

The high powered spotting scope I had switched to for their duel magnified the three inch target at 700 yards 30 times, which was enough for me to see his bullet fly up severely, out of my field of view, and just barely see it drop down into the target, turning it into a puff of white smoke that took two full seconds to get the sound of the explosion to our ears.

If I was embellishing this story, I probably would make it more believable. It happened exactly like that; and it was impressive.

Amazing shot.

Boomershoot ended as quickly as it began. It only felt like a few hours, but it was most of the day. I guess time flies when you're blowing shit up.

As we cleaned up our shooting area, and broke down the shade and tables when the "high intensity cleanup" started downrange. I guess this was part of the "pay" for the people who helped Joe with this event.

I walked up the hill to the trashcans, and stopped on the tall berm to watch for a moment. I listened to the rifle reports and supersonic cracks echoing against the berm, and enjoyed the time between the sudden eruption of white smoke and the sound of the explosion.

This is what America is all about. Regular, hard working people, getting together to have fun in whatever way pleased them. There aren't very many other countries in the world that would let their citizens own, essentially, the same guns their military uses, practice shooting at what could be considered head-sized targets at hundreds of yards, and mix explosives in a shed for fun.

Boomershoot was a celebration of our freedoms.
A celebration of trust between a government and its citizens.
A celebration of challenge and skill.
A celebration of us.

I kind of got lost in the moment and realized I was shirking my take-down duties, so I returned to help pack the truck.

Before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye. As we were packing up the car, we noticed two deer chewing on leaves in the oversized backyard. The beauty of this place had not lessened.

I looked down at Rowdy who regarded the deer lazily, then rolled over to get me to scratch his belly.

Boomershoot was about making things blow up from really far away; but for me it was more about long range shooting in less than ideal conditions, being among like-minded people, beautiful Orofino, small-town hospitality, and time away from everything.

An amazing trip to an amazing place to meet amazing people, see amazing sights, and blow up amazing things.

That's my kind of vacation.


Ry Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ry Jones said...

I'm glad you were able to make it; hopefully next year you can get the L target.

I find it easy to get wrapped up in a target; I find it annoying in the extreme when someone else shoots "my" target.

Hopefully you remembered to re-California your rifles before you left.

Anonymous said...

Very cool people, event and article. Thanks for sharing!

lan astaslem!

ps... so much for 13 cents, eh?

JD said...

Ry, that was the worst part...tightening the castle nut that let me know I was leaving Free America.

Give us some time, though. CA has some civil liberties lust going on...

Bob said...

I was one of a couple that stayed at Trib's in the past, we drug our feet too long this year or we'd have done it again!
Was a great weekend making noise, what more can I say.
Till next year.......