Monday, September 19, 2011

A blast from the past with the Malahat Marauders

Dressed in period regalia, Perry Chow fires a blank from a replica of a muzzle-loading hunting rifle at the Luxton Fall Fair. Chad Hipolito photograph for the Globe and Mail.

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
September 19, 2011


A raccoon tail dangled from Perry Chow’s waist, where he also carried a powder horn. He held a hunting rifle in his right hand.

He placed the butt of the rifle into the dirt outside the Pioneer Building on the Luxton fairgrounds. He jiggled a pinch of black gunpowder into the barrel, having first carefully measured the amount. He joked that carelessness would turn the powder horn at his hip into a hand grenade.

Mr. Chow, 55, a steel fabricator, devotes much of his spare time to the local Black Powder Society, a group whose members turn the pages of history back at least a century.

They call themselves the Malahat Marauders, a shooting group whose members wear period costumes — or, as some prefer, regalia — to depict the hunters and trappers who once traversed the continent. After all, Fort Victoria was originally built as a trading depot for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

A half-dozen members could be found on Sunday at the Luxton Fall Fair, an agricultural exhibition held outside the capital. The fair features quilts and rafts, blacksmiths and working antique farm equipment, as well as demonstrations of the best hand-milking techniques for jersey cows. Blue ribbons are awarded the best in baking and canning.

Billed as a celebration of pioneer life, the fair’s most popular attractions include such modern entertainments as greasy food, midway rides and the Tough Truck Challenge.

The Marauders know their passion tables filled with the detritus of a lost age hold a limited attraction to others.

They had on display a selection of clothing (including a tricorn hat), furs (deer, mink, red fox, silver fox, beaver, weasel, coyote, timber wolf, mountain goat, even skunk), and gadgets, including compasses canteens and candle-makers.

An impressive arsenal of period pieces, reproductions and hand-tooled firearms garnered some attention. There were rifles, pistols and revolvers.

Doug Linton, 65, worked on making his own fucil de chasse, a hunting gun popular with fur traders. The parts cost about $1,000 and he figures he will have spent hundreds of hours on the gun before it is completed.

He is devoted to knowing more about the life of fur traders, even going so far as cooking a batch of pemmican. (How did it taste? “Like greasy granola,” he said. “With meat.”) With fellow society member Jean Chandler, he recently completed a retracing of the explorer David Thompson’s route along the Columbia River.

On Sunday, he wore cowhide breeches of his own design, including a drop flap in front should he need to answer nature’s call. He wore a military Tam o’ Shanter on his head and boasted a white Hemingway beard on his jaw.

Mr. Linton spent four decades as a bark beetle entomologist with the federal government. As a black-powder enthusiast, his quarry is significantly larger. He goes bear hunting armed with a single-shot cartridge rifle and five rounds on his belt.

“It puts a bit more adrenalin into it when you’ve got one shot,” he said. “You don’t piss around.”

He once was stalking a black bear near Gold River when he was surprised by a rustle in the grass nearby. “They’re like gophers up there,” he said. He had startled a second bear.

“I just said, ‘You’ll do. Popped him.’ ”

Mr. Chow said the uninitiated are not intimidated by the firepower of guns that take so much time to load.

“You’re not in the Rambo mentality like you might get with a more modern weapon,” he said, a grey rabbit-fur cap on his head and a gorget dangling from his neck. “You’re slowing down your pace. It’s not done fast.

“It brings you back to an easier style of life.”

Simpler, perhaps, but not easier. One of the frontier skills he exhibited was the making of a fire with straw, hemp, flint and steel. Even on a dry day with little wind it took a few minutes.

Finally, it was time for a shooting demonstration. After loading gunpowder, he placed a blank in the muzzle, using a short starter to push it partway down before inserting a ramrod.

He then aimed, squeezing the trigger.

A sharp retort echoed through the fairgrounds.

Hardly a head turned.

Hey, it’s Luxton, not Oak Bay. In the countryside, a fellow sometimes has just got to fire off his rifle.

Doug Linton, a 25-year member of the Malahat Marauders, works on a home-built rifle. Linton, a retired entomologist, now stalks larger quarry. He hunts black bears while armed with a single-shot black-powder rifle. Chad Hipolito photograph for the Globe and Mail.

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