NORTH ANSON, Maine — Despite heavy showers early on and even some light snow, hundreds of people — mostly men, many sporting orange hats, camouflage clothing and carrying guns — were already milling around the former rock quarry on Sunday morning.
Start of deer season? Nope. The only deer in sight were decoys or Styrofoam targets, and there was no tagging station in sight.
The site was the 10-acre Williams Machine Gun Range and the event was the third annual Wounded Warrior Machine Gun Shoot.
Instead of deer, the targets for this event included pumpkins — some with explosive charges in them — Styrofoam dummies, and old pickup truck bodies. And they weren’t using .22-caliber rifles. Everything from an exact reproduction of a hand-cranked 1884 Colt gatling gun to an M60 machine gun to a German World War II MG 42 converted from shooting 8-millimeter caliber rounds to .308 was among the 20 different guns available to shoot at the range.
“I would say we spent almost 15,000 rounds in five hours here today,” said range and event founder Andy Williams.
At 22 cents apiece for smaller caliber weapons and 40 cents for larger rounds, it was an expensive event to put on.
Twenty-two veterans — three of them women — were among the estimated 200 people who descended upon the range to either shoot high-caliber, automatic weapons or watch others shooting them.
“I have just as much fun watching folks shoot as I do shooting something myself,” said Ellsworth resident Joe Seavey, a former Air Force staff sergeant who used to shoot an M2 50-caliber gun mounted on Humvees when he was in the New Hampshire Army National Guard. “I saw this [event] online and thought I’d check it out.
“I haven’t been around guns this big since 2005,” said the former Air Force crew chief who worked on U2 spy planes out of California for 10 years.
You didn’t have to be a veteran to take a turn shooting. Madison police officer Kevin Hartley shot an MP5 and a fully automatic Glock machine gun, among others.
“It’s more a familiarization type of thing for me and a chance to shoot some weapons we’d not usually see,” said Hartley, a North Anson native who grew up in Williams’ old house.
Even with so many unique and powerful guns available, the 10-barreled reproduction of an 1884 Colt gatling gun got the most attention.
“I’d say normally there are 30 to 40 shooters here and I’d say it’s at least double that amount today,” said Bangor’s Bob Erickson, who owns the brass gatling gun. “This was built about 10 years ago by a guy in Ohio. You can basically shoot bullets as fast as you can crank it, which could be roughly 400 to 500 rounds per minute.”
People like Seavey, who also handled security, convoy escorts and detainees while on active duty in Iraq, and the 17 wounded warrior veterans at Sunday’s shoot, are the main reason Williams started the event.
“After 9/11, I was very upset about the terrorists coming down the road through Jackman. That bothers me. They came down through the border crossing there and right near our land,” Williams said. “So I started up this range to protect the right to own guns and promote gun safety.”
All profits derived from the shoot will be donated to the Maine Wounded Warrior Program, which supports those injured in combat.
“I do things like this for some of the veterans,” Williams said. “They never got a parade when they came back from Vietnam or Korea. Some of these guns are the same as the ones they used when they were in the military and some of these guys haven’t shot one since they came back.”
Auburn’s John Keene has been a club firearms expert and safety officer for all 11 years of its history.
“Standing next to these guys and being able to bring a smile to their faces makes me feel good,” Keene said of the veterans. “It’s why me and about 50 other guys, plus the men and women selling snacks and taking money at the gate donate their time to do this.”