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Quigley 2012

By Bob Anderson

In the 1870’s, a man rode out of the west and boarded a sailing ship bound for Australia to ply his trade as a rifleman. The man was Mathew Quigley and his rifle, the Sharps model 1874, already famous for its long range capability.

Fast forward 150 years and watch that journey played out in reverse. 635 competitors from 40 states and 4 countries set out on a similar journey of their own. Their paths, some hundreds and for many, thousands of miles long, culminate on the Al Lee ranch just out of Forsyth, Montana. Unlike Mathew, Quigley, though, the end of their journey was met with genuine Montana hospitality and friendship. Typical of the true west, everyone waves when passing each other in their pickup trucks and if you seem to need help, they are quick to stop and lend a hand. I have been invited to so many homes in Montana and Wyoming; I don’t think I will ever be able to visit them all. That’s what makes Quigley such a fun shoot. You meet the folks you met last year and the year before and then catch up on everything. It is as much a social event as it is a target shoot.

Last year, the 20th anniversary shoot, was cancelled because of rain. Not a little rain, but an Oklahoma Frog Strangler. It had been raining off, and on all week, but the forecast was for 5” of rain on the two scheduled event days. This was a Cartfirst, and we prayed all year that it would not repeat itself for the second try at the 20th Anniversary match.

A great deal of preparation goes into getting ready for a black powder cartridge match and one has to be disciplined in his scheduling and sticking to the program in order to be done when June rolls around. There are casings to prep, bullets to cast, weigh, sort and lube, equipment to clean and sort and pack. The ammunition needs to be loaded, and this is a complicated process with black powder. After the cases are cleaned, they are primed and then to secure the flash hole a newspaper disk is dropped into the case. The powder is dispensed and weighed and placed in the case, and a cardboard disk is placed on top and then compressed. Then, another piece of newspaper on top of the cardboard is used to keep the cardboard disk from sticking to the bullet, is placed on top and crimped into place. This is the most tedious part of black powder cartridge shooting; the assembling of the 200 bullets.

This year, I was extremely fortunate and received support from a couple of friends from the gun club who also compete at Quigley. They helped cast bullets, 300 of them, and assisted in the building of a shooting cart that allows us to carry three rifles, our ammunition, other accessories, and coats, cross sticks, snacks and water while moving back and forth over several hundred yards between targets. The caveat is, I got to drive my crew cab Chevy 1025 miles from my front door to the Howdy Hotel in Forsyth, Montana.

Normally, there are five of us from the club that attend this event, but this year due to college finals and a surgery, only three of us were able to make the journey. So, on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. Jack and I started out on our annual trek to Quigley. The day was calm, bright and sunny, and we made Butte, Montana in just 10 hours. We had a relaxing dinner at Fred’s Mesquite Grill and then crashed for the night.

At precisely 4:30 a.m., Jack was up walking around, getting dressed and running his electric shaver, because the first crack of morning light had hit the room. I was the one who was doing all the driving and my clock said sleep till 6:00. Ugh! So, I was now up and dressed and ready to hit the road, and it was only 5 a.m.  The plan was to drive to Bozeman, another hour and have breakfast and travel into Big Timber. So, after fueling up, we set out in search of breakfast. This is a traditional stop for us in downtown Bozeman. It is a small cafe that all the ranchers and locals stop at. The food and coffee is terrific, and we were fortified for the next stage to Big Timber.

Our first stop in Big Timber is the Shilo Rifle Company, the maker of the famous 1874 Sharps. Typically, we buy spare parts and tee shirts and maybe a book. This time we were given the royal treatment and a tour of their manufacturing facility. Precision machining, hand fitting and extreme attention to detail are what they are all about. Every phase of their operation says quality. Parts were so precise that you could interchange parts between different actions and they all exhibited the close tolerances that Shilo is famous for. They even shared a 1874 Sharps chambered for 45-120(this is supposed to be strictly a black powder rifle) that had been loaded with 90 grains of smokeless powder and fired twice. The barrel on topFirst Day in front of the receiver had split for 4 or 5 inches, and bottom of the barrel had split for about six inches in front of the receiver and the receiver itself had split on the bottom. The rifle had, though, held together. This is a testament to the strength of their product.

We then stopped in to see John, the owner of C. Sharps, which is only a block away from Shilo. He was at a meeting out of town, and so we stayed long enough to purchase some shirts and hit the road.

We arrived at the Al Lee Ranch where Quigley is held, about 4p.m. There were only about a dozen people there on Monday afternoon and we walked around and renewed our enthusiasm for the place. It was clear and sunny, about 75, no wind and certainly no sign of rain. As a matter of fact, it hadn’t rained much in a few months, and it was so dry the ground was cracked, and I could see that setting cross sticks into the ground would be difficult. We then returned to Forsythe and checked into the Howdy Hotel, circa 1910 and went to dinner.

Sleep came easy, and morning actually didn’t arrive till seven. Since we had a kitchen, we ate breakfast in and then headed out to the range. The drive is about seven miles and is beautiful. The first things you do are cross the Yellowstone River and immediately pass a pasture with three colts playing and nursing Sight infrom their moms. You then take a hard right and meander through Ranchlands. There are prairie dogs, plenty of antelope, and mule deer. You then come to crest of the hill and look over the next valley. At the bottom of the hill, you see the Quigley Match range and the beginnings of a tent and trailer city. Although it is still quite small, there are trailers and campers slowly trickling into the site.

Since conditions were perfect, we decided to zero in on as many of the 6 targets as possible on Tuesday. Typically, you get a decent day, and it rains the next or blows like crazy. We unloaded our gear and set up the rifle cart and headed for the first target, 805 yards; the steel buffalo. This target has always given me fits when I was shooting my Browning 1885 40-65. It seems like I could totally surround the target, a 7 foot steel buffalo, but rarely hit it. I would liken it to throwing knives in a circus. On this day, however, I was shooting the 1874 Sharps that I had replaced the stock on the previous year and replaced the sight with MVA front Globe and a Parts Unknown rear sight.  I had not shot this rifle and had no sight settings, so I took my setting off my 40-65 and applied a fudge factor and almost hit the target. A minor adjustment and the next two shots were hits. I was amazed and immensely happy with myself.

This was the same story for the next five targets, and I was getting pretty cocky and fairly confident about the match. We finished zeroing all of our targets by five o’clock on Tuesday and returned to our room, showered and went to dinner.

The next morning was still clear and sunny, and we decided to take a drive over to Miles City, about 45 miles east. What we found was a beautiful town with a quant downtown and then a commercial area close to the freeway that was showing positive growth. We visited the Range Rider museum, a must see, and the Miles City Saddlery, which has been around since 1909 and has a saddle museum upstairs. At the end of the day, we returned to Forsythe and stopped by their pizza parlor and got one to go. The food was excellent and the hospitality off the chart. The owner sat with us and visited and teased us about the pizza that we had ordered. A fantastic time was had by all.

The next two days were spent visiting with friends and vendors that we have known for years. Catching up on news and reestablishing friendships and making new ones.  We even met a fellow who was an old gunsmith and, now confined to Remchestera wheel chair, who had created a rifle he called a Remchester. It was an old Remington Rolling Block that was connected by a common barrel to an 1885 Winchester “Hi Wall”. The hammer on the Remington was in full cock and wired down. That way you could load the Hi Wall and shoot straight through the Remington action.  He had too much time on his hands, I think.

Saturday morning came, and we spent the first hour learning where we were to start from and their safety rules. There are six separate types of steel targets. The first five targets have two of each type and the sixth, the offhand at 350 yds. That has 4 targets. You shoot 8 shots at each target for a total of 48. Each target has a left and right string of six shooters. Each shooter in a string will fire one shot and rotate to the next shooter until eight shots are fired. Then they retire, and a new string moves into position. While that is happening, the right string is doing their shooting, and so it goes back and forth until all five strings on each side has shot their 8 rounds. You then pick up and move to the next target to the right, just like a shotgun start in golf. Everyone starts on a different target, so there are 72 shooters on the line at a time.  

On Saturday morning, we arrived a little early and I walked to the firing line to fire two fouling shots. The target was 600 yds. and I just pulled down on it offhand and fired. My first shot hit the darn target, and it rang like crazy. I quickly reloaded and tried again. This time the bullet went just under the target. I was totally pumped and couldn’t wait until the match to begun.

The shooting started promptly at 9 a.m., and the weather was perfect. No wind, 65 degrees, not a cloud in the sky. All you could hear were sounds of black powder guns firing and steel targets clanging. All you could see was white smoke. I could tell the scores were high and was beginning to feel like records will be broken this weekend. Several shooters were hitting 8 for 8 or 7 for 8, and everyone was beginning to get excited. Then there was the sound of the air horn blasting a cease fire and we were told to leave the firing line and retire to the other side of the road that runs behind the firing line. When we had all complied, an ATV came by and told us an ambulance was coming through and that there had been an accident on the firing line. It seems like we sat there for an hour waiting for something to happen and finally the ambulance came through. It seems that a lady competitor, from Forsyth, had had her 125 year old Ballard Rifle blow up. The gun was destroyed, and shrapnel was embedded in her arm and face. The wounds were serious enough to require that she was flown to Salt Lake City for surgery. She hadn’t done anything wrong, and her husband had fired about 80 rounds through the gun, and she had fired several rounds before the rifle just came apart. This incident caused us to be only able to shoot three targets on Saturday, and that meant a long Sunday to finish up the last three.

Sunday morning we were on the range early, and it was clear and sunny, and there was only a hint of a breeze.  My first target was at 400 yards, and I think I hit it about three times as the wind began to pick up. The next target was 350 yards offhand, and now the wind was getting extremely serious, and I would have guessed it was blowing a substantial 25 mph. Scores began to tumble, mine included. The last target was the 805 yard buffalo and by this time the wind was blowing 35 mph. It was finally my turn to shoot and the sand was tearing at my face. I had to hold a plastic score card up to protect it. My first shot was 10 feet to the right of the buffalo and about 4 feet high. There is a ravine in front of the targets, and the wind was pushing the 535 grain cast lead bullets up and to the right. I ended up using Kentucky windage and was about seven feet to the left and a foot or so below the rear leg. I managed to hit four.

It was now 5 pm and Jack, and I didn’t have time to attend the award ceremonies. We hit the road and made a beeline for Butte, but I ran out of steam by the time we got to Bozeman and found a motel. I do believe that Jack and I washed Dust Stormoff half the top soil in Forsyth that evening, but I felt like a human being again and truly enjoyed dinner. Sleep came easily. The next morning we left for home and were there by dinner.

This match is a perfect example, of why the Quigley Match is so challenging and fun, for everyone.  You can have the most incredibly good shooting conditions that build your confidence and then, in the wink of an eye, be handed a serious dose of humility when the winds come up, or the rain sets in, or both. The match is not as formal and rigid as other similar competitions but is a great deal of fun. People are relaxed, helpful, and friendly, even the most skilled are willing to stop and offer advice or help you out. That is why we continue to return each year.