Friendship, Indiana - One of the highlights of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association's Spring Shoot is the Primitive Encampment/Living History Center, a section of the property that appears to have traveled backwards in time to the earliest days of the United States.
Here, you could find people dressed up in pre-1840s attire and living in canvas tents and log cabins throughout the week. Visitors, affectionately referred to as "flatlanders," would occasionally come through and browse the wares and admire the setups, but this wasn't all for them. A "commericial row" was set up to sell handmade items to people of every time, but the people in the Primitive Encampment were there for each other, as a hobby they enjoyed, more than residents of the 21st century.
The denizens of the Living History Center were there to camp and shoot regardless of whether someone in a polyester shirt and sunglasses walked up to admire their crafts.
Yes, there were Primitive matches; a whole category of them held at a special Primitive Range in the back. These matches were as much about maintaining authenticity as they were about careful aim.
Like in most other matches going on at the Spring Shoot, Primitive competitors shot roundball, loaded from their pouch and horn with open, fixed, non-adjustable sights. The similarities ended there, however, as being authentic to the period meant some items taken for granted today, even by the other muzzleloading shooters, were not allowed. Shaders, chaw straps, spotting scopes, binoculars and shooting jackets were not permitted in matches. Shooters needed to be dressed in costume of the 1750-1840 period. Simply having a ramrod was not good enough. It needed to be made with material readily available from the period, meaning wood, iron, horn, antler, brass and bone. No stainless steel, fiberglass, plastic, etc. was allowed.
Despite the great lengths to create an environment true to the early american period and westward expansion, safety was still a priority and today's technology is far better than that of around 200 years ago. Modern hearing protection and protective eyeglasses were allowed and encouraged at Primitive matches without regard to whether their style fit in.
The Primitive matches had some of the same disciplines seen in other areas of the Spring Shoot like pistol and rifle, but they had a few unique matches of their own featuring bow, knife and tomahawk matches.
These matches were very popular as the Primitive Encampment was very large and always bustling with people.
Able to see the encampment from far off while attending other parts of the championships, I eventually strode into the area with my camera, a walking anachronism, to see what was going on for myself.
At one tent I ran into Bob Sherman, sitting in an old (at least in appearance) chair with a good amount of sweat on his brow. It was very hot outside that afternoon. It had been very hot all the days prior and was going to continue being very hot until the end of the Spring Shoot.
"I've been coming down here since 1968," Bob told me. "Blackpowder got me into it. I started coming here as a shooter but I was drawn to this and I've been camping here now for about the last 12 years."
When I asked how he dealt with the heat he told me the "secret" is to "Go slow and take your time. Don't forget to drink lots of water."
Some tactics for combating hot days never change.
I noticed in every few camps that some modern items had found their way in; water coolers, snack boxes, little things here and there.
"We try to stay 100%," Bob said when I asked him about authenticity. "It's a little more relaxed here because this is a match. If you go to a sanctioned event it's stricter. You don't wear wristwatches, you wear period glasses, if you do have something from the "future" you keep it covered."
Everyone I stuck up a conversation with was really enjoying themselves. It looked like a fun time, but I'm not sure I would be able to do it. I'm no stranger to camping, but I'd much prefer more breathable clothes and nylon tents, especially in that heat.