Attendees at the Southern Vermont Primitive Biathalon, which took place last year at Skinner Hollow Farm in Manchester.

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MANCHESTER — Lace up your snowshoes and keep your powder dry: The Primitive Biathlon is back.

The 18th annual event, which combines snowshoeing and muzzleloader shooting in a test of athletic endurance and marksmanship, will be held Saturday and Sunday at Skinner Hollow Farm, off Route 7A. The event site opens at 8:30 a.m. and shooting competitions will be held between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Contestants are encouraged to compete in period dress as they make their way through the course on snowshoes, firing at a series of targets with black powder rifles and muskets. Spectators are welcome.

Eric Severance of the Manchester Rod and Gun Club said it’s the non-profit sporting organization’s primary fundraiser for its youth conversation camp scholarship program, which sends kids ages 12-16 to Green Mountain Youth Conservation Camp.

“It’s just basically a walk through the woods where there’s a target shoot,” Severance said. “You can be timed or go untimed and be scored solely on shooting.”

The event will consist of four target shooting areas throughout the 1½ mile course. At the first three shooting areas in the woods, participants will load and shoot two shots within each area from the standing off hand position. In the last area, a field setting open to spectators, participants will fire 3 final shots.

All nine shots will be on the clock and fired at 6-inch square hanging steel targets at ranges under 50 yards (inline class target size and distances may vary). A total of 5 minutes will be deducted from the overall running time of a participant for each target that they hit.

“It’s an interesting competition in that it’s really physical,” said Hilton Dier III of Middlesex, who said he has competed in the event annually for about 15 years. “Whatever your top speed, you’re footing it a mile and a half on snowshoes, which is intensely physical. At the same time you have you stop with your heart pounding and lungs heaving and you have to be still to get a good shot off.”

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The challenge also includes wrangling weapons technology of the past – black powder rifles with firing mechanisms using various means to spark the powder, and send the bullet towards its target. Dier uses a gun with a wheellock mechanism – he likened it to “a combination of a pocket watch and a Bic lighter” – when he competes.

“I do like the challenge,” he said. “I used to shoot flintlock and that’s enough of a challenge. This is really tricky.”

Dier likes the spirit of the event – “everybody’s trying hard but nobody’s grim about it,” he said – and the camaraderie among contestants.

Severance said the field is full of repeat contestants. “Most of them come for the camaraderie to catch up with friends and enjoy target shooting with muzzleloaders. That’s a big part of it.”

One need not be an Olympic sprinter to compete, Dier added. “I’m trudging along, walking purposefully, and some people run like gazelles,” he said. “I’m more the purposeful marching type.”

“If you’re into being outdoors it’s something fun to check out,” Severance said.

There will be food provided by Street Eats Food Concession, and spectators are welcome. A door prize raffle is open to all participants and spectators.

For more information, visit the event website at svtpb.org or manchesterrodandgunclub.org.

Reach Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com or at 802-447-7567, ext. 119.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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