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Old-fashioned biathlon returns to Massena

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MASSENA — Contestants strapped on their snowshoes and shouldered their guns, ready to brave the cold at the second annual St. Lawrence Valley Primitive Snowshoe Biathlon.

Many wore old-fashioned fur coats, and modern hunting accoutrements such as scopes were frowned upon.

The participants departed one at a time, hustling into the woods at the Massena Rod and Gun Club to hurry along the 1.5-mile trail, stopping along the way to aim and fire at 10 targets placed along the course. They had only one shot per target, and each hit would peel five minutes off their total time. For the final challenge, the contestants threw a tomahawk at one last target to finish the course.

Each could make up to four runs, two each on Saturday and Sunday.

Some carried modern rifles or muskets, others antique or replica pieces. More than 30 people vied for the best time, tripling last year’s participation.

The competition was a fundraiser for the Fort de La Presentation Association, a group dedicated to building a monument on the site of a historic fort near Ogdensburg.

The event was inspired by a similar biathlon at Smugglers’ Notch, Vt.

“We would travel over there, and we eventually got the idea, it’s fun there; why don’t we do the same here?” event organizer Frederick H. Hanss said.

Many of the participants were firearms enthusiasts looking for a chance to test their skills with their classic weaponry.

“We’re attracting a lot of people who like shooting muzzle-loading rifles, and they’re looking for something to do in the wintertime,” Mr. Hanss said.

The idea was especially appealing to re-enactors.

“When we’re shooting at each other, we just use blanks,” John M. Miller III said.

Mr. Miller shoots both modern and antique firearms, and he said it takes some time to get used to older weaponry. Today’s guns fire as soon as the trigger is squeezed, but antique muskets require time for the hammer to come down and ignite the powder.

“It’s so much different, because there’s lag time,” he said.

The lag time didn’t seem to faze Mr. Miller too much. He won the men’s smoothbore category in 32 minutes and five seconds.

Those who competed in the primitive category also had to wear old-fashioned wooden snowshoes, while those carrying current weapons could wear a more modern version.

This year’s competition was held in honor of Jack W. Gray, the owner of Gray’s Gun Shop in Lisbon, who died last year.

“I’m running for Jack today,” said Mark L. Kelley, who took over Mr. Gray’s position as vice president of the St. Lawrence Valley Trappers Association.

Mr. Kelley won the men’s in-line category in 32 minutes, five seconds.

The fastest overall time went to Harley A. Grice, a 75-year-old Middlebury, Vt., resident. Mr. Grice was a steady shot; after the deductions were factored in, his total time was negative 25 minutes and 40 seconds.

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