Step back in time at Capote Classic rendezvous

Smell the wood smoke wafting through the oak trees. Hear the crack-thud of blackpowder-burning muzzleloaders firing round balls into targets. See the men, women and children dressed in buckskins and colorful capote jackets decorated with tarnished metal pins.

If you ignore the modern cars and trucks in the parking lot and don’t look too closely around camp for cell phones and other high-tech gear, you can imagine a pre-1840 camp of free trappers or wilderness explorers.

This is the annual encampment of the Fox Valley Muzzleloaders Club members and guests. On one end of the 40-acre site south of New London, you’ll find a few modern campers and nylon tents. The vast majority, however, are sleeping in white canvas tents or teepees and staying warm under wool blankets or even buffalo robes.

Open fires heat boiling pots of homemade beef stew or slices of venison in Dutch ovens. Children laugh and play, some running through the camp barefoot despite the chilly fall temperatures. The sights, sounds and smells of the Capote Classic Rendezvous — named for the distinctive coat used during the early 1800s — are a heady tonic for anyone who is stressed from the overload of work, responsibilities and technology, and who longs to slip back, back, back in time to a simple, rewarding lifestyle.

The public is always welcome to visit the club’s annual rendezvous, which happens today and Sunday at 8450 Seefeld Road, New London. There is no charge for visitors, but small fees for some of the shooting contests.

It’s more fun to learn about history when club members and guests bring it to life with their period costumes, guns, knives and camps. It’s an informal atmosphere and virtually anyone there will welcome visitors, questions and photos with open arms.

Things get serious during the muzzleloading rifle, pistol and Woods Walk competitions. You’ll see both percussion and flintlock rifles on the shooting line, with shooting sticks used to steady the rifles for long-range shots out to 100 yards. The Woods Walk is a team effort, with small groups working together to follow a short script and walk through a wooded area to face pop-up targets of both two- and four-legged foes, plus an occasional hidden “rattlesnake” thrown in. Most Woods Walk competitors emerge from the trail with an ashen cross marked on their foreheads to signify that they “died” somewhere along the way.

Another event is the Seneca Run, which involves fire-starting with flint and steel, trap-setting, crossing a simulated stream by walking across a log and other challenges that a free trapper or pioneer might face.

There are special events for kids, too, including a pumpkin-carving contest and a BB gun shooting contest. Both adults and kids enjoy knife and tomahawk throwing, with long-bladed Bowie knives and wooden-handled tomahawks tossed into log blocks with enthusiasm. What would the PC crowd say about an elementary-school child tossing a large knife or tomahawk through the air alongside other kids doing the same thing? Kids learned responsibilities at an early age back in the 1840s, and these “sons and daughters of the pioneers” do the same thing today.

The club was founded in 1960 and currently has just over 50 members. Club meetings are on the first Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the clubhouse in the warmer months, and at Bean City Bar and Grill in the winter (true to primitive form, the clubhouse only has a wood stove for heat, but is wired for electricity). The club’s always looking for new members, especially those willing to help out at monthly shoots and clean-up days.

The 14-bench shooting range is the envy of area clubs, with a 100-yard dirt berm, and shooting bunkers at 25, 50 and 75 yards. There’s also a small pistol range.

Club members may use the grounds year around, including camping and deer hunting in the fall. There are primitive pit toilets and water, with electrical outlets for camping being planned. The club is old-school, sure, but it does have a website: www.foxvalleymuzzleloaders.com.

There’s no admission fee for visitors during the Capote Classic. Stop out and you may find the pre-1840 lifestyle offers a nice break from 2018. Just be careful — the life of a buckskinner is addicting.

Ross Bielema is a freelance writer from New London and owner of Wolf River Concealed Carry LLC. Contact him at Ross@wolfriverccw.com.