By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
And that was just the smaller hardware brought by Denver Bullets. In front of the tents, facing the field, was a wall of larger artillery, mostly belt- or box-fed anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns. The M-60, circa 1955, earned its reputation shooting out of helicopters in Vietnam. One impressive setup, dual German machine guns mounted on a single swivel, peppered the Colorado farmland with more than 2,000 shots per minute, or thirty per second, if anyone could count that fast.
Most of the guns are relatively easy for citizens to acquire, explains Greg from Denver Bullets. According to federal law, any machine gun manufactured before May 1986 is available to any person over the age of eighteen who can pass a background check and come up with the $200 tax. "If you can buy a gun, you can own a machine gun," he says.
Several of the guns on display were made after 1986 and could only be legally owned by law-enforcement officers or Class III gun dealers. So the Fun Shoot provided a rare opportunity for regular citizens: All of the guns were available for rent, at $25 for fifty rounds.
Down the line from Denver Bullets, Jay, a tall, serious-looking man, boasted perhaps the most famous gun at the event. Known as the "ma-deuce," the belt-fed M2 machine gun was used in World War II to propel Browning's .50-caliber rounds through German tanks. But not in Morgan County, of course. "I don't hunt or target-shoot," Jay says between percussive bursts from the four-foot-long gun. "I just like to watch machine guns go off."
The M2 is widely considered the granddaddy of the whole .50-caliber movement. Single-shot, or semi-automatic guns that fired a round, popped up occasionally after World War II. But it wasn't until a decade ago, when the gun achieved near-mythic status in the Gulf War as the sniper's consummate tool, that its popularity soared. Today the .50-caliber cartridge has attracted an estimated 20,000 peacetime fans, who are enthralled by the range, power and sheer pyrotechnics of the weapon.
Jay's collection of big guns was so large, he arrived at the range in a pickup-mounted camper pulling a trailer. Setup and breakdown of his half-dozen guns took the better part of a morning. On Sunday morning, more than an hour was spent gathering up the mounds of shells that surrounded his spot on the firing line. The time and cost of Jay's hobby -- at 600 to 900 rounds per minute and about $2 per round, firing the M2 can quickly strain a budget -- makes manning big guns a solitary pursuit. "I had this hobby before I had a wife," he says. "Now I don't have a wife, so there's no one to complain."
Randy's wife, Theresa, wasn't doing any complaining, even though a bum knee prevented her from shooting. Randy, a genial two-tour Vietnam vet, had brought his family along in a 1972 Pinzgauer, an Austrian military vehicle that's a cross between an SUV and an ATV. Once he'd parked the Pinzgauer, he mounted his .50-caliber rifle to the bed, so he could shoot out the back of the vehicle. "The .50 has more range than anything else," he says. "It's one of the most phenomenal guns you can get your hands on."
"But if you're going to get into it, you gotta be careful," he adds. "You don't see amateurs getting involved with it. The only people who have interest in it are people who've been around guns all their lives."
He's made sure that group includes his family. Theresa shot the gun at last year's Fun Shoot. And this past weekend, the couple's fifteen-year-old daughter, Sarah, shot it for the first time. "It was awesome," she says, reclining under a tent with her family. "Things were blowing up. Even when the cars already were on fire, you could tell when you hit it. Sparks would fly up."
"A few of my friends think it's pretty cool," she adds. "Others think I'm a psycho. I don't talk about it too much around them."
"This particular gun will never be misused," Theresa says. "I take great satisfaction in knowing these guys can come out here and do this because they want to."
Next door, Vic, a plasma physicist who once taught at the University of Colorado, meticulously picked off targets nearly a mile away. The appeal of one of the most successful military guns ever, he explained, is being able to use it peacefully. "Usually they're used in times of war," he says. "This is one of the few times you can use them and only damage paper and metal. It's a very innocuous sport."
Fathers nudged their sons behind the guns, eagerly paying -- $10 for three shots, $15 for five -- for the experience, snapping pictures to preserve the moment. After one thin boy fired into the field, the gun's owner tried to pump him up. "A little better'n a .22, isn't it?" he laughed, slapping the boy's back.
The boy smiled slightly and rubbed his shoulder. "What's wrong?" the owner asked loudly. "Something bite you?"
The entire Fun Shoot seemed more pyrotechnic than hostile or military, and I was easily drawn into the spirit of the thing. I stood in line and paid my money, first to shoot the tripod-mounted .308 M60 (my fifty rounds disappeared into the muck and were gone in a flash, although my arms shook for minutes afterward), and then a .50-caliber owned by Bob from Denver Bullets.