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By Dan Rudy 

Wrangell resident earns five medals in shooting tourney


Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

Don Roher displays five medals from this year's Western National Shoot and one of the guns which helped win them. The replica model 1860 Colt Army revolver was purchased the day before its use in competition, not giving its new owner too much time to become familiar with it. Roher still came out with a second-place medal.

A Wrangell resident brought back a number of top prizes from one of the world's largest muzzle loading shooting competitions.

Don Roher was one of four men competing for Alaska's team at the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association's 25th annual Western National Shoot in March. Held just north of Phoenix, the week-long tournament drew 180 competitors from across the country and beyond.

"These are the best of the western United States," Roher said.

The state almost didn't have a team to send this year, due to lack of members. The team fortunately found a fourth member, a former resident now living in Phoenix who was allowed to participate because he had previously competed on the Alaska team in past competitions.

Competing for only the second time, Roher said he was also still recovering from hip replacement surgery when the tournament took place. Under the circumstances, he was surprised at how well he did, taking medals in five different categories.

Competing in the marksman-class pistol categories, Roher took first place in both the international marksman and the revolver 50-yard slow fire competitions. Using a reproduction 1858-model Remington, he placed second in the traditional aggregate, which requires use of a revolver with fixed sights.

Familiarity with his weapon helped win the day there. "Mine shoots a little low and to the left," Roher explained. But in the open-top revolver aggregate, he used a replica Colt 1860 revolver just purchased the previous day. Having only fired it five times that afternoon before entering the competition, he expressed his surprise at having taken second place in the competition.

He further went on to win second place in the as-issue revolver marksman competition, which requires use of unmodified weaponry used by armed forces fighting in the American Civil War.

"Never did I expect to do this well," he said. Roher hypothesized that the physical therapy after surgery may have helped. Part of the process involved holding three-pound weights at arm's length for extended periods, which he felt helped steady his aim. At the least, the exercise helped him make it through 19 different standing competitions.

Roher and his wife, Bonnie, both developed an interest in black-powder firearms after picking up a pair of rifles in 1978, while living in King Salmon. Roher enjoyed shooting before that, but he found the processes involved, the history and the community to be appealing. While there is a lot of preparation and upkeep involved in using and maintaining the weapons, he noted it was actually a less expensive pastime than other forms of shooting, with ammunition more easily obtainable.

Roher has long been a shooting enthusiast, and is no stranger to competition. Previously he managed a couple of Air National Guard shooting teams, and once had an opportunity to try out for the Olympic air pistol team. In recent years, he has participated in primitive shooting competitions as well.

"That is a lot of fun," Bonnie Roher said. At such events, after the competition, attendees can participate in square dancing and other period festivities.

On the firing line, Roher explained competition can be fierce. "You'll find guys that won't even talk to each other," he said. But outside of the tournament, he said the camaraderie was just as strong.

"You belong. It's like a family," Bonnie said. "The sport is just awesome."

"It's a rather complicated sport, and it's dying out," Roher commented.

While he has noticed a declining number of participants in the sport, he added that for competitions such as NMLRA's another of the challenges is the cost, with a weeklong trip running up to several thousand dollars.

Hoping to spark wider interest in the pastime, Roher is currently working on a book about black powder revolvers, with editing help from friend Keith Bayha. Working now on a draft, his book outlines some of the different models, how to safely load and fire them, and some key points to maintaining and repairing the weapons.


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