Bill and Dave meet up every year at the NRA Whittington Center
Raton, New Mexico - Every shooter has a story and Bill and Dave Wallinger are no different. These brothers grew up in Illinois, but Dave now lives in Idaho and the two have come down to the NRA Whittington Center each year for almost a decade to shoot the NRA Black Powder Target Rifle Championships.
"We meet in Denver and then drive down here for this shoot," Bill told me.
"The reason we meet in Denver is because both of our sons live there now," Dave added.
Dave, who spent 21 years in the Army after graduating from West Point, retired out in Idaho and now teaches High School ROTC in Boise.
Bill is two years older than Dave and worked construction until he retired and went to help their father run a business in Illinois. He also now works at a high school, teaching special education in Peoria.
The two have been NRA Life Members since about 1975, but how did they first get into shooting?
"Our father was a gun collector and both of us have been shooting since we were five years old," Bill said.
Black powder is a pretty niche discipline, did they get into it because their father?
"No," they both chuckled.
"He wasn't a black powder shooter, but he got us interested in shooting and we went from there," Bill explained. "I started shooting black powder and became interested in it because I bought an old action and built it up into a black powder gun. It was the first one I'd ever had."
After shooting a match up in Wisconsin, Bill converted his rifle into a long range gun and was interested in shooting the NRA Black Powder Target Rifle Championships here at the Whittington Center.
"I called Dave up and told him that I was going to come down here and shoot in the nationals and that he ought to build a gun and come shoot with me," Bill said. "And Dave said said 'Nah, I'll come spot for you' and I told him that's against the rules and he had to shoot."
"It's not," Dave interrupted with a dry smirk.
"So he builds this black powder gun and then calls me up and says 'Hey, I just read the rule book, you don't have to shoot,'" Bill said laughing.
"Two-thousand dollars later I now have a black powder rifle," Dave added.
The two met up to shoot the 2003 nationals and have only missed one year since when their father passed away.
Bill, having successfully tricked Dave into joining him at the Black Powder Championships got a taste of his own medicine about four years ago.
"We were shooting on the line with a couple guys shooting Trapdoors. Dave looks at me, gives me the elbow and says 'I got one of those' and I said 'Well I don't,'" Bill chuckled. "So then I had to buy one."
"It wasn't two-thousand dollars, though," Dave added.
Since the switch, the two have stuck to their Trapdoors. Dave's is a 1892 and Bill owns a 1886. Both are entirely original.
"I've had that rifle for 48 years," Dave told me. "My father bought me that Trapdoor when I was 12 years old and it's the first gun I ever had, but when I got it I never fathomed that I'd be shooting a competition with it."
"One of the guys shooting down here is Dennis Bruns, who holds most of the current National Records with Trapdoors," Dave said. "So it's fun to watch him shoot and talk. He's helped us out a lot and given a lot of tips on Trapdoors."
One of the things the Wallingers like so much about the Black Powder Championships are their relationships with the other shooters.
"Almost all of the shooters are like Dennis. If you have any questions and they have info, they very willingly share it and assist any new shooter," Dave said. "They're really great about that."
Unfortunately for Dave, when the two got caught in yesterday afternoon's wind and rain, it let up by the time it was Bill's turn to shoot.
"Believe me, the front blade on a Trapdoor isn't very big to shoot in the wind and rain like that," Dave laughed.
Let's hope they don't get caught in any more extremely windy conditions, but that's unlikely. Maybe Bill will at least get his turn in the bad weather today.