It's mission: To promote, protect and preserve hunting and the shooting sports.
A Rendezvous with Shooting and History
Visit a gathering of history-loving, muzzleloader aficionados, and maybe you'll become one, too
By Bill Hilts, Jr.
Photos courtesy of NMLRA
"The National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA) exists to promote, support, nurture, and preserve NMLRA's and our nation's rich historical heritage in the sport of muzzleloading through recreational, educational, historical, and cultural venues such as match competition, hunting, gun making and safety, historical re-enactments, exhibits, museums, libraries, and other related programs."
The Mission Statement of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA) is the perfect segue into what muzzleloading and rendezvous events are all about. Just like the humorous saying that someone went to the fights and a hockey game broke out, the same analogy could be made between a rendezvous and a shooting match. When people representing this era get together, shooting will break out -- but in a fun sort of way.
Steeped with history, these old-fashioned rendezvous gatherings afford excellent meeting places for family and friends alike. They are also the perfect venue for newcomers to become acquainted with a way of life that no longer exists. And with a huge focus on firearms, it's also a super way to get involved with the firearms of yesterday -- and show off your marksmanship -- with a long list of shooting events around the country.
On the national level, NMLRA is anchored in the Midwest, with roots deep in Friendship, Ind. The group hosts two major shooting events each year: the Annual Spring National Shoot (set for June 9-17, 2012) in mid-June; and the National Championship Shoot (set for Sept. 8-16, 2012) in mid-September. Several weekend shoots and other events are also held throughout the year.
NMLRA is a huge resource for the novice and veteran muzzleloading enthusiast alike. Whether it's information on regional events or state information on individual charter clubs -- all is available through the group's website.
The Primitive Rendezvous is an important component to this bygone era. Coordinating a rendezvous is not an easy task, and that's one of the reasons NMLRA formed the National Rendezvous and Living History Foundation (NRLHF) back in 1998. With a focus on the time period of 1640 to 1840, the NRLHF manages five week-long rendezvous events in each of the regions of the country. All these special gatherings follow the guidelines established by a board of directors (a board made up regional delegates).
The Eastern Primitive Rendezvous was first held in 1976 and is considered one of the biggest in the country. States in this region include Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey. It is traditionally held the last week of September.
The Northeastern Primitive Rendezvous includes the states of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. It is held in July.
The Southeastern Primitive Rendezvous is normally held in April, with North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee all included in the region.
The Old Northwest Territory Primitive Rendezvous includes Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Lower Michigan -- traditionally held the last week of June.
The Midwest Primitive Rendezvous includes Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Upper Michigan and when an event is held, it is usually in the summer months.
The group also hosts other period celebrations such as the Corps of Discovery Rendezvous. Held in Pennsylvania during the month of May, this event focuses on the period between 1800 and 1803, the time of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
What causes a person to become interested in muzzleloading and the time period associated with these smoke poles? "Perhaps it's the love of American history and the desire to replicate or re-enact it," says Bill Lloyd, founding father of the New York State Muzzle-Loading Association. "Maybe it's the challenge of a traditional single-shot flintlock or percussion arm and the questionable reliability that comes along with that. But chances are, for men and women of a certain age, they simply grew up admiring the exploits of Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone or even Jeremiah Johnson."
New York has a strong membership base within its state boundaries. With 42 charter clubs and nearly 500 members, it's no surprise that the group will be celebrating its 20th Anniversary Rendezvous and Hunt in the Moose River Plains area of the Adirondacks in October of 2011. As in years past, the rendezvous coincides with the Northern Zone big game muzzleloader season.
"The highlight of the week, though, is always 'visitors day' -- one day when the camp is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.," says Lloyd. "Thousands of people turn out for this positive interaction between participants and the public. And more often than not, it's a time for interested parties to get a taste of what it's like . . . and they want more."