Outside magazine, January 1998
For biathlete Mike Burke, it's one thing to blast targets with an antique rifle while slogging through the forest on wooden snowshoes — but another thing altogether to do it masquerading as a French fur trapper. "Slip and fall on one of those homemade tomahawks?" he shudders. "Not me."
Fair enough, but most of his fellow competitors at the 1998 Smuggler's Notch Primitive Biathlon, to be held in Jeffersonville, Vermont, on the 24th of this month, will in fact be sporting buckskin, beads, powder horns, and coonskin caps. "Most hunters are bored stiff this time of year," explains former Smugglers' Notch Area Chamber of Commerce president Ray Saloomey, the brains behind the three-year-old event. "I wanted to come up with something different."
Different, indeed. Based loosely on its Olympic cousin, the world's first and only "primitive" biathlon requires its 50-odd competitors to negotiate a two-mile-long course using eighteenth- and nineteenth-century equipage, clomping around on clunky, wood-framed snowshoes and stopping en route to fire black-powder muzzle-loading rifles at targets strung between trees. Happily for more grounded-in-reality entrants like Burke, full mountain-man regalia is still optional — though that's not to say that the 1996 winner isn't a bit concerned for his safety, given his absentminded competition and the 100-plus-year-old weaponry. "Hell, one year a guy pulled the trigger with his ramrod still in the barrell," says the champion marksman. "It flew a couple hundred feed and darn near split a tree."
Illustration by Mark Gallagher