By Chuck Madurski
With fairly humble beginnings in the mid-1970s, the semi-annual Machine Gun Shoot and Gun Show at the Knob Creek Range in Westpoint, Kentucky has grown into a huge, beloved event. It is not unusual for local lodging to be sold out months in advance. Many folks arrange their vacation schedules around it. Attendees not only come from all over America, but often from all parts of the world. Readers of Small Arms Review are likely well aware of The Shoot, but for those who have never been, or perhaps haven’t been in a while, an update may be in order.
Originally a Naval Ordnance test range, today Knob Creek is many things to many people. It can be a firepower display, a gun show, a place to compete against other gunners, a place to meet far-flung friends for camaraderie, etc. Whatever the motivation, first and foremost is the Knob Creek main firing line. This is where the machine guns, cannons, sound suppressors and other interesting hardware are shot at a selection of fun and interesting targets downrange. The targets can be old cars, small boats and assorted appliances. Placed on the targets, for added enjoyment, are explosive charges (euphemistically called “reactive targets”) that are spray painted orange for easy targeting. It is with lustful joy amid focused concentration that the shooters try to be the one to hit a charge and watch the resulting fireball go boiling into the air.
Except for those moments when suppressed weapons are given center stage when the line is hot, it is very loud. Those who have gone to Knob Creek several times, after a while, come to be able to identify certain arms by the sound of their firing. Not just the volume (loudness), but the characteristic sound of its cyclic rate. A classic German MG42, fast as they are, won’t be confused with a throaty burst from one of the several miniguns in attendance. And the steady, Hammer of Thor sound of the big M2 .50 BMG “Ma Deuce” is easy to pick out of the cacophony. Speaking of cyclic rate, that is the very thing when discussing the automatic weapons at Knob Creek. One might say that the recreational machine gunners are engaged in a kind of durability testing of their guns there. For many, the definition of fun is shooting the longest burst possible given the subject gun’s magazine capacity or ability to pull the weight of long lengths of belted ammunition. And why not? The main line at Knob Creek is as much as a proving ground of sorts, as it is a place to recycle ammunition back into the Earth on the 350+ yard range. Arguably, a fair amount of learning occurs on the firing line; things discovered, or rediscovered, about weapons, ammunition, and even how they were used. All based on the empirical information gathered while having fun.
All of this can be watched as closely as you please from behind the fence that separates the shooters from the spectators. There are even a few sets of small bleachers to sit in relative comfort. A popular spectacle is the night shoot, where, when weather permits, tracers, many with incendiary tips, are sent by the hundreds and thousands downrange in a glorious orgy of laser-like streaks of light and flame. Seeing this is impressive and also educational if you care to watch the incredible, crazy bounces and ricochets of the projectiles downrange.
The main line isn’t the only shooting that goes on at Knob Creek. One of the most popular events is the subgun match. Competitive shooters from all over come to test their mettle against others, and the clock. Run quite professionally and safely by an experienced group of volunteers, the submachine gun shoot is actually just one of several contests offered. There is a practical pistol match, an assault rifle match, the old military bolt action match for the Luddites, a shotgun match, and the aggregate match that combines the assault, practical pistol and subgun matches.
Further, there is the lower range to shoot at too. There, the visitor to KCR can shoot their own gun that they brought as well as renting some interesting guns, usually buying time by the magazine full or belt. Some renting is also available on the main line as well. The lower range is a nice feature as the waiting list to get onto the main line is currently 10-15 years.
Buy, Sell, Trade…Gawk!
Knob Creek is also one of the premier NFA related gun shows in the USA. For many, this is the primary reason to come. Not only can you shop for almost anything NFA related, but it is common to be able to try out your item of interest prior to handing over the cash: no small advantage these days. It is a thrill just to walk down the aisles under the pole barn’s roof. Museum quality pieces, whether for sale or just show, are often “right there”, in front of you. How often will the opportunity to stand directly next to a 37mm Hotchkiss Revolving Cannon occur? To gaze at its mechanism, see its five huge barrels waiting for a chance to fire again?
The significance of the gun show portion can be measured another way. It is not unusual for a company to premier a new product there. A couple of fine examples of this occurred last fall when U. S. Armament introduced their re-creation of the wonderful 1877 Colt Bulldog Gatling Gun while several feet away Allied Armament showed early prototypes of their 50-round drum magazine meant for the HK series of rifles (with alternate feed towers for other arms to follow).
Speaking of the pole barn, it was roughly two years ago when Knob Creek Range owner Kenny Sumner, along with his son Chad, expanded it yet again. First built over 15 years ago, the open-sided building has been the subject of many updates. For all of its simplicity, it provides a bit of a haven from the sun and dust and even a bit of the noise. It now covers more than 700 tables. Additionally, the driveway that wraps around the range house is rimmed with about 100 more tables and booths.
Important too is the fact that Knob Creek is often the best place to buy ammunition in quantity for very good prices as one converts money into noise. Some have argued of late that the twice-yearly event serves as an indicator of ammo availability and upcoming price changes. As volatile as the ammunition market is, they may have a point.
Lastly, don’t overlook the range house and store. Knob Creek Range has a full service gun shop inside. Well stocked with sporting, cowboy and military types of arms, they have a wide selection of accessories and factory ammunition. Between the dealers and the hosts, if you can’t find what you are looking for while at KCR, maybe you didn’t look hard enough.
Other Improvements and Plans
Recently, the main line had the shooting positions reworked. Gone are the old concrete shooting benches that were towards the back of the canopy, replaced with metal framed tables closer to the action. This makes much more room for working, cleaning or loading behind the tables, along with room to move about, all while enjoying the new concrete underfoot and the refreshed roof as well.
A sink hole that used to be where the entrance road ends near the uncovered firing positions was filled in and is now a gravel lot for added shooter and vendor parking. The shuttle for visitors to and from the parking area has been continuously improved over the years and now features a tractor pulling a double trailer filled with canopy covered bench seats.
For the future, Kenny has some more things coming. To ease some traffic flow inside, he hopes to have a second road around the backside of the range house. Lastly, he will soon also have a new dining area in place for everyone’s convenience.
Let’s Talk About the Weather
Whenever the Knob Creek shoot gets closer on the calendar the internet is abuzz with discussions about the weather. Will it be hot? Cold? Too dry for tracers? On and on it goes. For the October 2007 shoot, it could not have been better. Cool mornings turned into perfect days. Everything was great…until the wind shifted. Then the smoke and dust from downrange came back into the shooter’s and audience’s faces. But not to worry, after a few hours, the wind changed again and all was bliss, just in time for the night shoot too. However the forecast reads, in the long run, it matters not. It is all part of the Knob Creek experience.
Knob Creek Range is located at 690 Ritchey Lane, West Point, KY 40177. Telephone: (502) 922-4457. the Shoot website is www.machinegunshoot.com. Aside from hosting The Shoot twice a year, they are open year around and offer memberships, both individual and family, that entitle you to unlimited range time during regular business hours. For the shoots, primitive (no electric or water hookups available) camping spots are available on a first come – first served basis.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V11N8 (May 2008)|