By Vic Fogle
At a recent Knob Creek shoot, a regular shooter was overheard relating a conversation with his wife some days before:
Wife: “Well, it’s April again. I suppose you’re gonna go.”
End of conversation.
Much is compressed into this laconic exchange, with its implication of chronological inevitability. The man was a machine gun shooter, and there is only one place like-minded men want to be on the first weekend in April or October. During those times the Knob Creek Gun Range, at West Point, Kentucky, becomes the crossroads of the American Title II world. To paraphrase a comment once made about Caesar’s wife by an inept undergraduate, Knob Creek is all things to all men, and attending this event so transcends attending any other gun show or shoot that it can only be described as an experience every machine gun owner should have at least once.
If someone describes a gun as something you’d see at Knob Creek, you know it’s rare, novel, or unique, and perhaps all three. If you promise that something will be ready by Knob Creek, you’re using the event as a time reference. If you say you’ll deliver it at Knob Creek, you’re referring both to a time and a geographic location. But while the name denotes both a time and a place, it also encompasses a gun show, a series of competitions, a merchandise mart, a firepower demonstration, and a spectacle. It’s about a sense of shared comradeship and values with people you’ve never met, as well as with friends you only see there. But mostly it’s about freedom.
As you move through the gun show, down to the rental range, past the submachine gun jungle walk, and back to the main firing line, ask yourself where else in the world you could find a similar scene of free men shooting their own machineguns.
People come here and bring their guns to shoot here because they can. It’s a perfectly legitimate, legal activity. There is no reason why we should not and several reasons why we should. One important reason why we should is to demonstrate this right, to show people that it exists. But even more compelling is the need to keep this right alive. Rights not exercised are easily lost to hostile governments.
Other less obvious but nevertheless potent influences are also at work here. The theme of personal freedom is strongly reinforced by the shoot’s setting in rural Kentucky, a state which has always produced far more than its share of soldiers. It was a concern with freedom, with regional self-determination, that led to the secession of the Confederacy, and one should remember that Kentucky borders on the Old South. Neither the Southern military heritage nor the War Between the States is ever very deeply submerged in the Southern psyche. But the military connections to be found here are not only with the Confederacy; they are national in scope. It would appear that most of the shooters and many of the spectators are ex-military.
One senses that some attendees go to Knob Creek as an unconscious way of expressing the fact that, despite the passage of years, they can still report for roll call and are still functioning. Moreover, attending is an affirmation of the values and institutions they fought to maintain, so why should they not assemble with like-minded comrades? One attendee acknowledged that because he lives in Illinois he cannot own machineguns, but he brings approximately ten military rifles when he comes, and he was there to shoot on Wednesday even when he had to return to Illinois and miss the weekend shoot because his wife’s class reunion.
Besides this demonstration of freedom there are other reasons. Some shooters collect rare guns and like to show them. Others come to see friends, and one remarked to the writer that many of them had watched each other’s children grow up. Shopping exerts a powerful pull on some attendees, the desire to see what treasures are available in the pole barn this time. Then there is no telling what rare, striking, or hand built guns will appear on the firing line. Yet others are drawn to the noise, smoke and dust of the shooting sessions. Each of us had his own reasons.
For most of us non-vendors, there is an eager sense of anticipation despite the piled-up miles as we leave I-65 at Shepherdsville, Kentucky, about seventeen miles south of Louisville. It’s a good thing we made reservations early at the last shoot, for there are no vacant motel rooms this side of Louisville. We drive the fourteen miles west on Route 44 while trying to hold the speed down to accommodate the road’s deceptive curves. A final series of bends prepares us for the large sign that a grateful Bullitt County provided to mark the range road.
During these shoots Kenny Sumner becomes one of the largest employers in the country as he oversees several score traffic directors, ticket sellers, cooks, target placers, clean up people, cashiers, competition directors, and a large company of security people. Most of his employees have done this many times. They know their jobs and are good at them, and they keep an impressive number of activities running smoothly.
As we head down the lane toward the range, we traverse what appears to be a marginal structure well above a tiny watercourse, but appearances are deceiving about both of them. The bridge has held tanks and large trucks, and the creek has submerged some of the property under thirteen feet of water. Spring shoots, in particular, can be real adventures in terms of flooding, potential or real.
The property itself consists of several hundred acres of hills, ravines, meadows, and woods several miles from the Fort Knox Military Reservation. During World War II large navel guns that had been rebuilt were shipped in and test fired from railroad cars at the site of the main range. Old timers can tell you just where the tracks are located beneath the present paving.
In the 1950’s this property was bought by the Sumner family. Avid shooters, they invited friends to join them, and soon their friends wanted to bring friends. An institution was born. Over the years the gun show, pole barn, snack bar, rental range, competitions, etc., have gradually evolved and expanded. During most of the year there is casual shooting at a variety of targets, supplemented by paintball, combat pistol, and other competitions. But the machinegun shoots are the two big events of the year, attended by some 10,000 spectators over three days.
A quarter miles travel from Route 44 finds us passing through the principal parking area, which is capable of holding hundreds of cars. Just ahead and to the left is Kenny’s home, built on a mound for good reason and overlooking another, smaller parking lot. This is for some of the senior vendors and shooters. Things are done here by seniority, not only in the parking lot but also on the firing line and in the pole barn where much of the gun show is held. Basically, people can get the same places for the next shoot so long as they behave themselves and don’t wear out their welcomes and there are always more enthusiasts clamoring for the limited number of firing line slots and table spaces.
Just past the Sumner house the road slopes downward for the hundred yards or so to the sprawling concrete block building that serves s office, range administration center, kitchen, cafeteria, and gun and souvenir sales shop. Along a side of the building are low bleachers. Running in front of them is a narrow, paved roadway that provides unloading access to the fenced rear of the firing line. During the shoots experienced and observant security personnel are stationed at the several gates to further control access and safety. The firing line is well covered, with bench rests across the back providing approximately forty firing points for normal operation. During machinegun shoots, spaces are painted on the gravel in front of the cover, and shooters provide their own gun coverings for inclement weather.
This firing line is adequate for most Knob Creek activities fifty weeks a year. It could be extended to the left, but that would squeeze the staging area used by the pyromaniacs for their flame throwers and by those shooters using vehicle mounted guns and cannons. The range itself is relatively flat and funnel shaped, perhaps 300 yards deep and bounded by sharply rising wooded hills on both sides. Ideally, the backstop hill could be more nearly vertical; during the Saturday night shoots tracers can be seen to ricochet from it. The rain that may fall during Friday and Saturday provides a mixed result; while it can be disagreeable to those who have to be out in it, the moisture ensures that tracers can be shot on Saturday night without burning down everything in the woods.
Gates are opened at 6AM each day. When 9AM Friday comes you should be ready to watch the shooting begin. Usually everyone tries to be ready to go for the opening session. Therefore, if you see something exotic, such as a 20MM, that may not be shot much during the weekend, this may be a good time to see it in action. There will be a safety introduction by perennial range officer Homer Saylor, during which time he lays out the ground rules so that everyone knows what to expect, before he finally calls out his much awaited”…and the line is hot at Knob Creek!” Everyone tries to get the first shot off, and the ensuing fusillade lasts a minute or two. After a short time things settle down somewhat, for none of the guns will be shot steadily the whole time. People with beltfeds tend to shoot them during parts of a number of shooting sessions, while those whose interest is in subguns are more likely to shoot a variety of different models. It’s nothing to see a dozen or more different guns at a single firing point, and many shooters bring gun racks.
The first time visitor will doubtless think about being part of the throng on the firing line, of contributing to and being part of the deafening roar that erupts periodically as each shooting session begins. One must feel considerable pride in being able to add to the general cacophony. For those scores of attendees who want the experience of shooting machineguns, there are several vendors prepared to satisfy this desire. One is on the main range, toward the left end and the others can be found on the rental range. The latter range is located several hundred yards behind the pole bard, down a graveled road. It is available on Saturday and Sunday, being used on Friday for the assault rifle match. Shooters pay up to about $25 per magazine or short belt and often shoot several.
But it takes lots of ammunition, to say nothing of lots of resolve, to sustain a place on the main firing line, if you should somehow be fortunate enough to earn or share one. This writer recalls seeing a shooter stagger to the firing line with two large wooden cases of ammunition to join the eight cases already there on his firing point, and if you wander to the extreme right end of the line, you will see enough ammunition behind Little Fat Guy’s firing point to begin a South American revolution. Numerous shooters consume at least $1000 worth of ammo per shoot. This is clearly not an activity for the cheap or uncommitted, and it differs markedly from going out with the fellows for a couple of hours of plinking on a Saturday morning.
Other shooters, outside the firing line cover on the left end, save themselves considerable trouble loading and unloading equipment and ammunition and simply shoot guns mounted in large trucks or trailers. One such shooter, who apparently believed in neatness, was well supplied with large plastic buckets for empty cases and links, which he scooped up with a coal shovel; he was, as they say, self contained since the truck sides confined the empties inside.
Quite the opposite tack is taken by several gentlemen from a prominent southeastern state. Systems engineering is the best way to describe their approach, for they bring with them everything necessary for their well-being in one rambling, integrated package, and then they unload it. Because they are the temporary custodians of several firing points beyond the left end of the range firing line cover, they begin by putting down outdoor carpet and several canopies to repel sun and rain from core areas. Then comes an electric generator, electric lights, benches, gun racks, a coffee maker, armorer’s tools, chairs, an ice chest, linking and delinking equipment and a veritable supply dump of various calibers and makes of ammunition, with each kind intended for a particular gun. On this piece of carpet the writer counted at least eleven belt-feds set up at once, with more stored in vertical racks to the rear. The whole enclave brought a new meaning to the term “Southern Comfort,” but repacking everything for the trip home must be a daunting task.
But, such shooting is beyond the resources, as well as stamina, of many visitors to maintain for two and a half days. As Kent Lomont says, after the first belt or so that you put through a new target car, you might as well shoot blanks, for many of the bullets merely enlarge existing holes. Besides, if you stay on the line in your firing place and shoot all the time, you’ll miss seeing other shooters toys, and you can always shoot at home.
In general, belt-feds rule the line. There are usually waterjacketed Browning M1917’s, but the models one sees in the greatest numbers are the A4 air-cooled .30-06 Brownings, along with a few A6s in the same caliber, and the M2 .50 caliber Brownings. The sprinkling of M60’s occasion considerable rivalry as Browning owners joke the M60 owners about having unreliable guns, while the latter contend that people shoot Brownings because they can’t understand anything sophisticated. German MG 34’s and MG 42’s are very popular and a group of Pennsylvanians always being several earlier German guns. German Maxims and their cousins, the British Vickers are also seen. There are always some .50 caliber rifles of various models. Over the years there have been a number of anti-tanks rifles at the shoot, but the present high cost of 20 mm ammunition precludes its use in satisfying quantities.
Some shooters don’t share this interest in belt-fed guns, preferring instead the much lighter and more portable submachine guns. The most popular representatives of this category are Thompsons, STEns, various German MPs, H&Ks, Lanchesters, Swedish Ks, Yugo 49s, PPSh 41s, Karl Gustavs, Reisings, grease guns, S&W 76s, MACs of various models, etc. People who shoot subguns at the Creek seem to take quite a few and thus have to keep straight all the requisite ammo, loaders, magazines, tools, cases and other necessities.
Although firing ceases during periodic breaks, that doesn’t mean that activity does. Target setters on large tractors occasionally drag “new”-that is to say, unperforated-cars and appliances into position about 150 yards down range and tow the old ones, now reduced to jagged scrap over to the left side of the range. Shooters may link belts or load magazines in preparation for the resumption of shooting. Or, now that it’s quite enough to converse, they visit other shooters and try to find the answers to problems or compare notes on which ammo vendors have the best buys. Those in need of parts and supplies may well disappear into the gun show to find them, or they may simply get something to eat or drink. Those who have been watching the shooting session from the bleachers are likely to head off for the gun show, cafeteria or souvenir shop.
And there can be other activities. Flame thrower demonstrations furnish entertainment during breaks and provide the more venturesome renters with yet another facet to their Knob Creek experience, to say nothing of keeping the nearby grass short. Occasionally, too, there will be a brief interlude limited to suppressed guns. At the Spring 1998 shoot, for instance, one shooter demonstrated his suppressed .50 Browning; unfortunately because he used regular velocity ammunition, the degree of suppression left much to be desired. Sometimes too, entrepreneurs will offer flights aboard ex-military models of helicopters, flying from the parking lot. At the Spring 2001 shoot these flights cost $60, and were available all day long on Friday and Saturday. The variety of these activities helps to set the Knob Creek Shoots apart from others while providing much needed respites for both shooters and spectators.
There is so much to see, hear, and experience at Knob Creek that it is literally impossible to assimilate all the sensory stimulation on the first visit. You have to deal with it all in stages made possible by repeat visits. So unless you’re already a veteran of similar shoots elsewhere, it may be best to concentrate on the firing line and perhaps gun show for the first visit.
The desire to express oneself creatively in firearms is by no means limited to tame hunting or target arms. You soon realize that there are rare or unique pieces that you’d never see anywhere else unless you happened to meet the right person and were invited to shoot with him. There was, for example, the man who regularly brought his 2 1/2 ton army truck with operable quad .50 Brownings. What a racket he made with all guns firing! Attendees have brought numerous reconnaissance and civilian vehicles alike carrying mounted machineguns. A number of the “”mules” carrying people and their purchases between the range and parking lot sport mounted belt-feds. There are always .50 caliber Browning bipod-mounted rifles that are shot prone and off stands, and it’s always interesting to see the diversity in muzzle break designs. Richard Pugsley, who builds full-sized replicas of the 1874 Gatling gun in .45-70 at his Thunder Valley Gatling Gun Company in Nebraska, often brings either his beautifully hand-crafted two-inch Hotchkiss revolving cannon or his 7.62x51mm M134 mini gun on an equally beautifully custom made 1874 Gatling chassis reproduction. A contemporary fad for which there is much enthusiasm is short barreled Brownings, which produce spectacular muzzle flashes and reports. One custom gunsmith cuts the barrels back to 12”, while another uses 14 1/4” to take better advantage of the pressure curve. There’s no denying how loud, compact, and eye-catching these guns are, either in day light or especially firing after dark. Beginning in 1998 one gentleman began to bring a highly customized golf cart that he had repainted olive drab with a white star on each door; in front of the passenger seat was a Colt commercial .50 caliber that he had converted from air cooled to water cooled, routing the hoses under the floor to a tank and pump to the rear.
Discerning shooters can admire the ingenuity and craftsmanship, as well, in many different tripods and mounting systems. With wartime operational concealment no long necessary, shooters prefer more comfort and the luxury of being up out of the dust or dampness, and some of these systems are designed either for stand-up shooting or else incorporate seats. Some of the .50 caliber rifle shooters have made bench rests whose underlying support is the heavy .50 Browning tripod. Similar thoughts has gone into ammunition box stands and holders, some of which funnel empty cases and links into receptacles.
Not to be forgotten are those who have crafted double mounts so that they can double their shooting fun. Little Fat Guy likes to shoot his beloved Brownings two at a time, and another outstanding example is Lou Pacilla’s beautiful pair of MG 42s that he calls “The Twins”. Equally memorable is the triple mini gun array, one over two, on one of Neal Smith’s suite of tables at the Fall 1998 show.
But despite the attraction of looking at the guns on the firing line, for many the gun show is the high point of the Knob Creek experience. Most people who attend, even those from non-class 3 states, own military firearms of one kind or another. There is a great variety of military items of all categories, especially but not limited to machinegun and assault rifle parts, under the wide roof of the pole barn. Vendors ranging from the Lomonts in Idaho to Jonathan Ciener in Florida, from Long Mountain Outfitters in Maine to Northridge in Los Angeles are there. Specific items may be available that one would be fortunate to find after much telephoning, and often at better prices. Need magazines for a Yugo 49 or Beretta 38A? The writer did-and found them there. Need a 100 round “C” drum for a 1928A1 Thompson? The writer didn’t know he did until he saw two there. But it’s not just magazines.
There is almost anything else you need. You can find barrels, suppressors, sights, stocks, cleaning equipment, bipods and tripods, registered side plates, belting and linking equipment, ammo of all kinds. At a recent show several attendees needed M2 Browning parts that SARCO had sold out, so on Sunday the SARCO representative obligingly cannicalized a Browning parts kit. There is a brisk business, as well, in military manuals of all kinds, books, videos, instruction pamphlets, military and shooting clothing, bumper stickers and decals, web gear and packs, parachute flares, special purpose ammunition-the list is almost endless.
Outside the pole barn in a rough horseshoe around the range office are the vendors whose merchandise is too heavy or bulky to be sold from tables. These people stock-under tents, free standing buildings, or in trucks-ammunition by the box, case or pallet, military clothing, empty ammunition cans, sights, night vision equipment, steel reactive targets, custom made dog tags, links and belts, dehumidifying chemical. For those whose toys are beginning to resemble battlefield pickups, Hawkeye Refinishing is always at the Creek with a compressor equipped truck to prepare metal surfaces before parkerizing in the owner’s choice of gray, green or black.
And then there are the guns! The gun show presents a veritable cornucopia of machineguns and assault rifles of all kinds, nationalities, rarities, and ages. There will be guns to appeal to the most specialized tastes. While some enthusiasts want only the latest black steel and black plastic models, others like wood stocks and more classic designs from the years prior to 1945. Dealers tend to bring everything possible, knowing there will be a market for it. Because myriad models up to and including mini guns can be found, it’s a good opportunity to confirm that a gun you’ve only read about may meet your needs. This writer, for instance, was becoming interested in a certain assault rifle, but a Knob Creek conversation with a well know Title II gunsmith convinced him that the gun would be mechanically unsuitable. Shooters who feel they might want a specific gun they’re located, but who also want to see it before committing themselves, can ask the dealer who owns it to bring it along, so long as they make the request early enough so that the dealer can file the necessary Form 5320.20 and have it approve by BATF. Nothing beats looking at the specific gun you might want to buy. Additionally, it may be possible, if the dealer has a space on the firing line, to receive basic instruction about the gun and then fire it before making the decision regarding purchase.
Not surprisingly, there is a certain amount of gamesmanship and macho exhibitionism. After all, if you have a BREn gun, why not show it off? Everyone else will envy you. And there’s no better place for display than the Creek, which is always covered by members of the firearms press who have demonstrated that they can write responsibly.
From the showing off of desirable or exotic guns, it’s not much of a leap to the display and sale of clever or ingenious gadgets and accessories. The shortened barrels for Brownings have already been mentioned. Some of the first really large capacity magazines this writer saw were at the Creek. One shop adapts 50 round Lanchester magazines to work in other guns. Wooden replacement stocks to fit MACs have been sold there. Another company combines two Thompson magazines to provide 50 rounds of .45 ACP capacity. A Missouri firm adapts PPSh or Suomi drums to provide 71 rounds in the MP5. Another manufacturer appeared for several shows selling out the stock of 30 round magazines he made before the ban for the Reising, whose scarce and expensive 20 round magazines have prevented it from enjoying greater popularity. Yet other craftsmen will rework submachine guns by changing the magazine wells so that the guns will feed from different, higher capacity, cheaper or more readily available magazines originally made for other guns. Devices to allow easier or faster loading of stick magazines are among the products of another frequent exhibitor. At least some of these products and services may be available at other militaria shows, but only at Knob Creek will you find most of them.
Closely allied to the idea of showing off clever products you have for sale is actively looking for ideas you can adapt to your own uses. Several of the foregoing ideas can be utilized by a skilled craftsman with proper tools, particularly after a bit of experimentation, and more can be seen by an observant person. The writer saw, several years ago a very useful brass catcher for the 1928A1 Thompson; he hasn’t made one yet, but the idea and principle have been mentally filed away.
You can also see ways in which Knob Creekers have improved their guns to make them more useful or enjoyable to shoot. For example, the subgun competition always features some splendidly customized guns; for years now competitors have fitted M16 butt stocks to MAC 11s to replace the ill-fitting factory wire stocks. Additionally, they have reduced the rate of fire to about 600 rounds per minute, replaced the short barrels with 10” models, and added vertical front grips, offset compensators, and optical sights. The writer plans to get more enjoyment from an M3A1 grease gun and a MAC 10 by replacing the factory wire stocks with wooden ones. Any Thompson owner who has been plagued with a horizontal foregrip will immediately buy a vertical one as soon as he tries one.
When you attend a Knob Creek shoot you are strongly advised to take as much money as possible, because there will be things there you’ll want to buy. Consider the shoot as a shopping destination. You can always bring home money you haven’t spent.
In the course of shopping and negotiating you’re bound to meet some interesting people. You may even want to come around later and chat with them when they’re less likely to be busy, if you can find such a time. If you’re fortunate enough to be able to make multiple trips to Knob Creek, you’ll see many of them again. After awhile some shooters finally acquire most of the guns and hardware they think they need, but by then they may have discovered an endless fascination with the people they meet there. Genuinely colorful characters abound, and becoming aware of them is probably the third level of appreciation of the Knob Creek experience.
Those who have come to shoot and/or sell products are almost overwhelmingly ex-military, and it can be intriguing to try to guess their military experience. It is safe to say that most were deeply imprinted by their military service, no matter how they felt about it at the time, and they have gravitated to Knob Creek because they can find echoes of the comradeship they once experienced, before the complications of family and career issues. One still sees Korean War soldiers, and there are some from Desert Storm, but the majority hail from the Vietnam conflict, in part because it takes years for most people to acquire the resources to own multiple automatic arms.
The busy vendors are interesting in their own right and are usually extremely knowledgeable about their wares. As you become better acquainted they’ll learn what kinds of parts and merchandise you’re interested in, just as you’ll learn which people are most likely to have what you want. Many, if they can’t fill your needs, will try to steer you to someone who can. It’s enjoyable to see the familiar faces, whether they’re the faces of shooters, vendors, or the ladies in the cafeteria or souvenir shop.
But there’s nothing wrong with the unfamiliar people. They’re simply friends you haven’t made yet. A holiday atmosphere prevails that goes well beyond traditional southern hospitality. Impromptu conversations among total strangers spring up with great frequency as people ask each other about the schedule, the hardware, where to get various things, and share experiences brought to mind by the equipment they see. Frequently, if someone has found a really desirable piece, a stranger will ask where he got it, as the writer did when he saw a lucky shopper who had acquired not one but two Thompson “C” drums before the gun show was open to the public. Often strangers will discover that they share mutual friends or interests. The overwhelming impression is that you’re among friends, among kindred spirits with whom you have much in common. People at the Creek treat each other with courtesy, respect and friendliness and are eager to share knowledge. Attendees stress the positive links among them, and there is little bickering or complaining. A patriotic strongly pro-gun rights, live and let live outlook is a given and is the overarching shared value that provides positive reinforcement to everything else. Although numerous women attend, the Knob Creek experience is a strongly masculine one for men who have served in their country’s armed forces.
One characteristic of Knob Creek events that contributes strongly to the feeling of good fellowship is the informality of dress. Although there are shooting events that discourage the wearing of camouflage fatigues because of a perceived warlike image they project, fatigues and Knob Creek tee shirts are among the most pervasive forms of apparel. In addition to their utility and their appropriateness for handling dirty, greasy guns and dusty ammunition, the fatigues symbolize support for the U.S. military establishment. But they do more than that. The wearing of camouflage or casual clothing is a leveling device that strips away distinctions of rank, affluence, or occupation and encourages communication. It is, after all, difficult to be stuffy or officious if you’ve in undifferentiated camouflage or wearing a tee shirt that says “Dying a Natural Death Is for Pussies” or “Peace Through Superior Firepower.”
Attendees become aware that at Knob Creek they have entered the nucleus of the Class 3 world, even with regard to information. Consider the visitor who developed an interest in the BAR, thought he might like to have one, and then became aware of FN’s mid-century-updated version, the model “D”. Dan Shea’s Long Mountain Outfitters obligingly brought one to the Creek, and the visitor bought it. But then the visitor was treated to more information on both BAR, designs during a shoot break, for that weekend BAR authority and regular attendee Jim Ballou described the book he was writing on the BAR (The BAR: America’s Rock is available from Long Mountain Outfitters). As a footnote to his presentations, Ballou demonstrated a tripod for the FN “D” that he temporarily borrowed from Kent Lomont. The visitor hadn’t known of the existence of the tripod, but he bought one from Lomont on the way home. It really can be a small, interconnected world, and its elements converge at Knob Creek.
If there is a structure to the Knob Creek Shoot and Show, it definitely reaches its zenith on Saturday night. One cannot help noticing that beginning early in the afternoon, spectators pour into the grounds in anticipation of the evenings pyrotechnic display. Commencing about 5PM, the evenings remaining shooting sessions will involve flammable charges attached to the targets and painted fluorescent orange for heightened visibility. As darkness deepens, these charges are further illuminated by flares, so that gunners can see to aim.
Weather permitting, shooters break out belts of tracer ammunition that they have been hoarding. One of the features of the night shoot is the beautiful lines of orange, red, green and white tracers arcing gracefully down range from various points scattered along the firing line. Both start up and shut down of the various guns are, of course, completely random, and sometimes the lines of light are roughly parallel and at other times converging. Certain guns, especially the short barreled ones produce abnormally loud reports and stunning muzzle flashes, and shooters appear as relatively static dark shapes against the high speed, strobe like flickering light.
There can be other lights as well. Points of brilliant white light that appear to dance about on the steel targets are in reality the strikes of incendiary bullets. In addition, the writer recalls on Saturday night when he became aware that the muzzle flash from a truck-mounted Browning on the left end of the range had become a constant glow. The orange glow that began at the muzzle eventually extended all the way back to the chamber, and only then did the shooter shut it down and change the barrel, having the gun out of service for only a matter of seconds. One hopes that his barrel had a stellite liner. (Dan’s note: This is not a particularly safe practice- bullets can come out the side of barrels superheated to this level)
The final shooting session of the evening, just before 10PM is the grand finale. It consists of approximately eight widely spaced 55 gallon drums each partially full of diesel fuel, with illuminated explosive igniter charges placed on the sides. Each explodes with a thunderous report and concussion and produces a fireball that goes 150 feet into the air, reminding the crowd of scenes in “Apocalypse Now”. Although these targets are about 150 yards down range, it is common for some debris to be blown back towards the firing line, so eye protection is advisable. The last couple of shoots a helicopter has overflown the range, hovered above the top of the backstop hill, turned on a spotlight and ignited a charge below with an M60. By the time the night shoot ends, most viewers have absorbed enough visual, aural, and tactile stimulation to last them for sometime, and the round of applause they spontaneously give the shoot officials and pyro-technicians is richly deserved.
Given the variety of attractions at Knob Creek and the differing reasons people have for attending, a day by day guide should be useful.
BEFORE THE SHOOT
Anyone attending should plan his trip as far in advance as possible. Facilities, especially lodging are limited in the area near the range. The writer recently decided on the Sunday morning of the Spring shoot to reserve a room for Fall and was told that the motel was completely booked for the Fall shoot and that people were booking rooms for the following Spring. There is plenty of motel space in Louisville, but be aware that the city hosts many cultural and racing related events and any of them may coincide with shoots.
If you want to shoot in any of the competitions, enter as early as possible. Not only is space limited, but, if you are not a resident of Kentucky, you must allow time for submission and approval of a Form 5320.20 by BATF for each Title II device you want to transport across state lines.Begin to accumulate the cash you’ll need. As with all American gun shows, cash rules. If you don’t spend it, you can always take it home.
On Wednesday, the range does its regular business of recreational shooting. Some of the machineguns are set up and going, for there seems to be a trend among shooters to arrive earlier. There may be guns that you won’t see on Friday Through Sunday because the owner doesn’t have a firing line space during the main shoot. Besides this limited amount of shooting, there usually isn’t much going on, so it’s a good day to familiarize yourself with the layout of the property and learn what is where.
This is the official vendor and machinegun setup day, when security coverage begins. No one is allowed to shoot anywhere, and the public is not allowed in the pole barn at any time. The public is, in fact, officially discouraged from coming to the range by a “No Spectators!” in the official schedule. If you’ve come to the area early, this is a good day to tour the nearby Patton Museum and Fort Knox and to see something of Louisville.
Begin to tune into weather forecasts. Part of the price of that verdant Kentucky foliage is frequent rain. There is almost always rain these times of year during the shoot or within two or three days of it, so it’s a good idea to check the forecast either the night before or the morning of each day you’re there. Be especially careful to park on as level ground and as near the road as possible, for the wet grass and dirt can be extremely slippery. But if you should become stuck, young men on large tractors will pull you out free of charge.
This is one of the two big days, so don’t waste any of it! The gate opens at 6AM and the cafeteria begins serving the breakfast buffet at 7. Adult admission is presently $7 a day or $15 for the weekend. Children under 12 pay $3 a day or $6 for the weekend. Both the gun show and the shooting blast off at 9, as do the assault rifle match and the old military bolt rifle match. If you plan to buy Knob Creek clothing or other souvenirs, you’ll want to visit the souvenir shop early. The subgun jungle walk commences at noon. As mentioned earlier, the beginning of each day’s shooting is a desirable time to see and hear most of the guns in operation; during the remainder of the shoot they may be in use only occasionally. As soon as you’ve seen and heard everything on the firing line, you may want to make your first circuit of the gun show, which will remain open until 8PM.
Once again, the front gate opens at 6AM and the breakfast buffet is available an hour later. At 8:30 the subgun championship kicks off, and half an hour later at 9AM both the main firing line and the rental range (where yesterdays assault rifle match was shot) commence for the day. The gun show also starts at 9AM.
It’s desirable to get through the gun show-or at least the parts of most interest to you-a couple of times a day to see if any new items can’t live without have appeared. If you came to buy ammo you should do it early, for those quantities available at the best prices are rapidly bought up. Another good reason for buying ammo or anything else heavy or bulky is that you can hire a “mule” driver to take it and you to the parking lot for a small charge. If you wait until Sunday in the hope of a better price, you run the chance that what you want will already have been sold, while most of the “mules” are packed up early and are consequently not available.
If you plan to watch the night shoot, be sure to bring to the grounds a warm jacket or a heavy sweater or sweatshirt, along with a cap, because the air becomes increasingly cold after 5PM. The writer has seen literally scores of people shivering before dark on Saturday nights and have to leave early because they were too cold to enjoy the night shoot. The writer brings a fleece top and a warm cap in the bottom of a pack sack, and they’ve been most welcome.
People begin to claim seats in the bleachers beginning early Saturday afternoon in anticipation of good seating for the pyrotechnics. Although the latter begins about 5PM, the bleachers are usually nearly filled by 2. Granted, people are constantly coming and going, but contiguous seats for several people can be difficult to come by in later afternoon and the bleachers provide an opportunity to stand on the seat and thereby see over the people standing behind the firing line fence. Be sure you have ear and eye protection, it’s a good idea. Both the night shoot and the gun show end at 10PM and getting out of the parking lot is slow. The front gate is locked at midnight.
Once again the front gate opens at 6AM and the cafeteria begins serving at 7. The rental range and gun show both open at 9, but on this day the main range does not commence operation until 10, the same time as the assault shotgun match starts. The shoot and show both officially close at 4PM.
One might think that Sunday would also be a heavy shooting day, but one would be wrong. While there is some shooting on Sunday, most attendees switch into homeward bound mode as soon as the Saturday night shoot is over. A number of campers have already broken camp and are heading for home soon after the last explosions. The pattern seems to be that most people use Sunday as a travel day, although some manage to shoot most of Sunday and still arrive home in time to go to work on Monday.
Sunday morning is the time to make any deals that have been left hanging in the hope of lower prices, and you shouldn’t wait to close them. Many of the vendors begin to leave soon after two o’clock, and they will not let you into their areas while they are packing due to security concerns. You will probably have the most success in cutting deals on heavy or bulky items, such as multiple cases of ammo, that the vendors don’t want to have to handle again and take home. Since most of the “mules” are not to be found, you should be prepared to drive down to the show area to pick up whatever you purchase. It’s best to clear this in advance with the security men on the way to the parking lot; a little advance notice on what you’d like to do, accompanied by the promise that you won’t stay long may smooth the way. If you’re allowed to drive down-and remember that it’s a privilege that they may grant, not a right that you’ve paid for-you should already have all your negotiating and purchasing done, so that you are going to the gun show only to pick up purchases. Then get your merchandise as quickly as possible for there’s always a lot of congestion around the gun show on Sunday morning, and don’t forget to thank the security people on the way out in part so that they’ll know you kept your word and didn’t stay long.
As you come to the end of the lane and symbolically cross over the bridge back into the real work, there are always conflicting emotions. It has been a remarkable experience, this combination of shooting, watching, learning and shopping, of seeing old friends and making new ones. The question recurs, where else in the world could all this take place-free men shooting deadly weapons of war in safety and good fellowship? Attendees seem to be aware of this uniqueness of experience, even if only subliminally, for they keep returning in order to perpetuate it. They come, in part, because they can and because the mere act of asserting this freedom helps to keep it alive. As Thomas Paine wrote in 1777, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must, like men, undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
There are so many pleasant images and memories to take away! As for this writer who now faces a return drive of about 2450 miles, sometimes he almost reaches Shepherdsville before he begins looking forward to the next Knob Creek Shoot and Show.
“SEE YOU AT THE CREEK!”
The Knob Creek range is located just off Kentucky Highway 44W roughly 17 miles south of Louisville. Highway 44W runs east and west, and the range turnoff (to the south) is approximately 14 miles west of Shepherdsville and approximately one mile east of U.S. Highway 31W-60, the Dixie Highway.
The physical address for mail and for BATF 5320.20 forms is Knob Creek Gun Range, 690 Ritchey Lane, West Point, KY 40177. The telephone number is 502-922-4457. The virtual address for e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org Knob Creek’s web pages are http://www.knobcreekrange.com Brochures are available upon request.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V5N1 (October 2001)|