By Dean Roxby
If machine guns interest you, consider attending the Big Sandy full-auto shoot! I had heard about this event in rural Arizona over the past few years but hadn’t been able to attend until this past March.
Held twice a year, in March and in October, it is now billed as the largest full-auto event in the USA. It takes place in northwestern Arizona, approximately 10 miles northeast of the small town of Wikieup.
The firing line is roughly a quarter mile long and overlooks a good-sized ravine or gully. The various targets are placed at the valley bottom and along the far side. This means that the bullet impacts are well-contained by a natural berm several hundred feet high. The targets consist of many 55-gallon steel drums painted white, a few old cars and LOTS of binary explosive targets! At times, a model aircraft enthusiast would fly a Styrofoam RC plane up and down the firing line to the great amusement of the spectators; and perhaps to the frustration of the shooters, as it is surprisingly difficult to hit, even with full-auto fire.
For those with their own machine guns, they rent a 10-foot-by-10-foot section of the firing line for the three-day event. For those without their own guns, a spectator pass is available. This allows access to the event and the chance to rent guns from several vendors that rent guns to the public.
The event starts at noon on Friday, runs all day on Saturday and has a short final shoot on Sunday morning. Of special interest are the night shoots on Friday and Saturday evenings. I cannot begin to estimate how many thousands of rounds of tracer ammo went across the valley, but it was a lot! The RC planes had glow sticks taped on for the night shoot. And still more binary exploding targets, plus colourful fireworks, had everyone grinning.
Among the belt-fed guns observed were several Browning 1919A4s and M2HBs, at least one water-cooled M1917 and M60s, including both pistol grip and spade grip versions. The classic WW I German MG-08 Maxim on a sled mount, as well as WW II-era MG-34 and MG-42 were also seen. And my favourite, the wonderful old British Vickers was there in both smooth and corrugated water-jacket versions.
Magazine-fed guns included M16/M4 types, AK-47s, Uzis, a Thompson M1928, at least one Bren gun and a Browning M1918 BAR.
Several artillery pieces also took part. We were treated to firing displays of a replica Civil War-style cannon mounted on wheeled wooden carriages and early WW II-era, anti-tank guns. The French Hotchkiss-designed Mle 1937 Puteaux 25mm anti-tank gun fired a few rounds, as did the Swedish M/36 Bofors 37mm guns. There were three Bofors guns there, with at least one being a Finnish license-made version known in Finland as 37 PstK/36. Two replica Gatling guns were seen, but I did not see either one fire. There was even a homemade bowling ball mortar, made from a high-pressure gas welding oxygen cylinder. As the name suggests, it lobs bowling balls across the valley. Great fun!
As the website says, “If you’re up to it, please come visit this uniquely American event.”
The next three shoots are scheduled for:
Fall: 19–21 October 2018
Spring: 22–24 March 2019
Fall: 18–20 October 2019
Line Shooters, 3 days $275 (advance) or $300 at the gate, per person, discounts for groups (see mgshooters.com/index.php). General Admission Spectator, 3 days $30
This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N9 (November 2018)