Friends of Billy Dixon Ultra Long Range Shooting Facility (FoBDSF)


by Andy Tuttle

Edited by Mic McPherson

Contributions: Dave Torkelson, Bob Boyle, and Bill Falin

March 13th, 2010




I have always found shooting conversations using the words long range to be both interesting and confusing.  In the shooting context, what does long range actually mean?  For one man, this might mean 200 yards; for a shooter with more skill, this might mean 300 to 400 yards; for a highly skilled and experienced shooter, this might mean 500 to 600 yards.  Obviously, long range is not solidly defined.

For example, over the last few years, I have met shooters who reliably and humanely take big game at ranges approaching 1000 yards and who casually discuss doing so, as if this were no great thing.  For myself, I would say that targets from 600 to 1000 yards seem to fulfill the definition of long range.  But what about engaging targets at far greater distances?  Here, we enter the realm of ultra-long-range shooting, where both unique skills and special equipment are required. 

Ultra-long-range shooting is nothing new; this skill has been practiced since the early 1800's and many kills were recorded during the War Between the States at ranges near one mile, most of those using muzzle-loading target rifles.  Despite that, the rifles perhaps best associated with this sport are single-shot cartridge guns by Christian Sharps, the model 1885 Winchester, the Peabody (forerunner of the Martini), the Trapdoor Springfield, and the Remington Rolling block, but other types exist.  More recently, we have seen development of newer high-velocity cartridges that are capable at ranges far beyond 1000 yards, when chambered in modern, quality rifles.  But where does one go to practice shooting at such distances? 

One place that is unique for what it offers shooters who are interested in shooting at long range is the Friends of Billy Dixon Ultra Long Range Shooting Facility (FoBDSF, or simply, "the range"), located at the Stengel Gun Shop.  This facility is situated five miles west of Hotchkiss, Colorado, adjacent to State Highway 92 (on the north side). This range offers targets and shooting positions for shots to 1800 yards — by any sporting-arms definition, 40 yards beyond one mile is long range. 

The testing that led to creation of FoBDSF was originally the brainchild of Bill Falin and ML (Mic) McPherson. They enlisted the critical help of Harvey Watt and Paul Armbruster. Later, McPherson garnered the support of David Torkelson and Robert “Doc” Boyle. Without the active participation of all these folks, likely, this range would never have been developed. However, I must note that Torkelson was singly responsible for completion of this dream, and we are all in his debt for this great gift.

McPherson is a well-known author, ballistician, and gunsmith (he specializes in lever-action Marlin customizing - please visit his web site: Mic has a serious interest in history. He first learned about the famous Dixon shot as a child of eight — through a story told by a distant relative of one who was there. That story always fascinated McPherson.

Falin headed Handloader Customer Support at Accurate Arms, and was their Chief Ballistician. Those positions led him to realize that a significant need existed for a smokeless propellant that would duplicate blackpowder loads in original rifles. He was solely responsible for development and introduction of 5744, as a standard product in the Accurate Arms line (5744 is now Accurate’s best-selling propellant) — this smokeless allows duplication of blackpowder ballistics in any original blackpowder rifle cartridge. 

Watt, a world-class hunter and marksman, supplied significant financial support and facilitated the early testing that led to development of the FoBD and ultimately this range.  Armbruster, a pottery artisan and blacksmith who specializes in Damascus steel, joined Watt in that early developmental work.

Torkelson is a world-class shooter, sculptor, and artist. He works in various mediums such as fossil ivory, nickel iron meteorite, and steel.  

Boyle is an Old West historian and Doc Holliday Portrayalist. 

(Being around members of this iconoclastic group makes for some rather interesting conversation, to put the matter mildly.)

In the late 1990s, Falin read about the life of Billy Dixon and how, early in the morning one June day in 1874, Dixon had ended the second battle of Adobe Walls by firing a single shot from a Sharps rifle. The bullet he so carefully launched hit an Indian warrior who was mounted among a group of approximately fifteen riders, who were gathered on a distant hillside. Those warriors were evidently having a powwow about something — perhaps how best to prepare for the third day of battle; perhaps how best to withdraw; and, perhaps something else — exactly what they were discussing we will never know.

Dixon’s bullet hit that unlucky warrior above the elbow, breaking his arm. The impact so startled and unsettled him that he fell from his mount. During the subsequent scramble to reseat their wounded companion, the Indian leaders immediately assumed a new plan:  This incident obviously indicated bad medicine. They withdrew without further discussion. Dixon’s amazing marksmanship so demoralized the Indians that the battle was unceremoniously abandoned, forthwith. 

Several days later, a passing Army survey crew measured the distance between the spot where Dixon rested the gun and where blood was found on the ground (where the warrior had fallen) —1538 yards, just two yards short of 7/8 mile.  By any standards, that represents a long shot.

For a detailed account of the historical relevance and authenticity of this event, please read The Shot that Changed a War: The Billy Dixon Story, by Steve Lee, located under the articles section of the Friend's of Billy Dixon website:

About 1997, after considerable discussion, and out of curiosity as to whether the shot could be duplicated and as a possible plug for 5744 propellant, McPherson and Falin began efforts to duplicate Dixon's famous long shot. That June, with the help of McPherson’s parents (Bob and Joyce), they created a life-size representation of a rider, found a suitable location (on public land, in the Grand Valley, northwest of Grand Junction, Colorado) to stand that target on a barren hillside (where impacts would be apt to create a visible dust plume) and where they could have a handy shooting location at the correct distance. Then they began their quest — to see how feasible Dixon’s shot might have been — was the hit merely a fluke or did Dixon have reasonable hope of making such a shot? 

Testing that day was with Falin’s 1875 C. Sharps rifle chambered in 40-60 Falin, using his handloads.  They fired approximately 130 shots and recorded many hits and dozens of near misses that would certainly have hit a life-size target representing fifteen riders in a group.

The following year, McPherson and Falin’s friends, Harvey Watt (an ex-Cobra helicopter pilot who served in Vietnam) and Paul Armbruster continued this background work.  They shot in the same area but with a larger target (approximately 7½x15-feet). This time, they tested 45- and 50-caliber Sharps rifles. (Unfortunately, Falin could not be present so further 40-caliber testing did not occur at that time.)

You can find the full story of these quests, Replicating Billy Dixon's Legendary Long-Shot, by McPherson, at the articles page of the FoBD website.

When these men began their efforts, no source for reliable trajectory data existed for any sort of sporting bullet fired at such distances.  Therefore, estimating trajectory corrections was a considerable issue. If you do not have the sights adjusted close enough to bring bullet impact very close to the target, seeing the dust marker (impact plume) becomes a matter of pure luck.  These two experiments gave this group enough basic information for them to know approximately what sight settings would be needed for any similar gun and load. 

At the 1999 Shootists Holiday, held at the NRA Whittington Center, McPherson’s peers asked him to speak about this quest to replicate Billy Dixon's long shot. 

Shortly after this gathering, Torkelson spoke to McPherson about an idea that had come to him during that lecture:  What if an organization was founded to create a facility where Dixon's shot could be attempted by anyone with the necessary degree of interest, the right tools, and enough talent? 

With blessings, Torkelson discussed his idea with Boyle (who travels nationally, portraying Doc Holiday, the infamous gunfighter).  Very shortly thereafter, Boyle, Torkelson, with McPherson and his wife (Peggy) and daughter (Autumn), Bill Tharp (Shootist), and others established The Friends of Billy Dixon (FoBD), which is structured as a non-profit, educational organization, under the auspices of CCE (Colorado Creative Education). Through this mechanism, FoBD is chartered as a 501C3, a non-profit organization.  

(Editor’s note: the following three paragraphs are entirely my creation, partly as an aside, to explain why the FoBDSF is not located at Whittington Center.)

The Founders of FoBD then developed a petition, in an effort to encourage Whittington Center to consider hosting The Friends of Billy Dixon Range, which would include a shooting line at 1538 yards and targets that we would provide.  Thirty-four shooters signed this petition that day.

In the next two years, with the express goal of creating a truly long-range facility at Whittington Center, the Founders gathered about seven thousand dollars in range-development contributions from shooters and industry supporters.  However, despite three years of intensive effort and significant expense, FoBD failed to persuade Whittington management to find a suitable location.

In the face of this disappointment, while other members of FoBD were unable to continue to contribute useful assistance, Torkelson single-handedly continued the search for a suitable location.  That search eventually led to the Stengel Gun Shop and Shooting Range.

Gerhart (Casey) Stengel’s facility has the available space to host such a range.  After negotiations that led to a permanent home for the FoBD range, Torkelson began drawing artistic targets on steel. Fellow Shootist Alan Aman cut these out of scrap plate steel that Torkelson had acquired for FoBD.  Aman and Torkelson converted this steel into 27 targets (10, 1-inch thick, any gun, and 17, 5/16-inch thick black-powder-class only) — see photographs. 

I learned of the FoBD Facility at the 2007 SHOT Show, where McPherson introduced me to Torkelson and Boyle.  Upon returning home, I soon telephoned my friend, Tym Hurst, to see if he would want to include a visit to the FoBD range as part of our annual Spring Break camping trip in 2007.  We then telephoned Torkelson and arranged dates for a visit. 

Unbeknownst to us, we were destined to become the first members of the general public to shoot at a scheduled Billy Dixon event at the FoBD range, subsequent to its inauguration the previous Fall, when only FoBD members participated. 

That Spring, I used my 43 Mauser.  Interested readers can review my earlier experiences with that 71/84 Mauser, which I named “Old 3120” under Report of FoBD Shoot by Andy Tuttle at at the previously mentioned FoBD website.   

The evolving shooting range at the Stengel Gun Shop includes an ever-increasing diverse assortment of shooting facilities.  This facility is quickly becoming a world-class shooting range. 

The majority of the FoBDSF targets are artistic steel cutouts created by Torkelson and Aman.  Creating these targets required a huge amount of labor.  These include the official Billy Dixon Target (three riders on horseback), the Billy Breckenridge Target (one rider on horseback) and bears, elk, mountain lions, buffalo, and coyotes.  Other targets include circular gongs, calibrated to minutes of angle at 1000 yards. This facilitates sight adjustments. Thicker steel diamond targets called the “Dixon Diamonds” tolerate any sporting rifle bullet.

McPherson cleverly designed a minute-of-angle (MOA) grid behind the Billy Dixon Target. This allows the spotter (located near the impact zone in a protective observation booth) to report to a spotter at the firing line, by radio, precise MOA sight adjustment corrections, as needed to get the shooter on target. The various shooting lines allow a shooter to learn the trajectory of a rifle and load at various incremental distances, from 100 yards, to beyond one mile. 

My experience has been that one’s knowledge and shooting skills improve significantly after one supervised visit to this range. The historical education, educational shooting opportunities, and coaching provided are just that good. 

FoBD leadership continues to develop competitive games. These include the Billy Dixon: Five Shot, Billy Breckenridge Shot, and Dixon Diamond: One Shot. 

Those participating in the Billy Dixon: Five Shot event are given sight-in time on the Billy Dixon target, shooting from the official (1538-yard) shooting line.  After all shooters have a basic zero, all are allowed five shots at the Billy Dixon target, for score.

Each shooter’s first shot gives that person a chance to duplicate Dixon's famous shot. A hit on that shot will earn that shooter the official Billy Dixon Medallion.  After all shooters have had one shot, each is given four more shots, for score — whoever makes the most hits, wins. If a tie, the event goes to a shoot off. If no one hits the target, no one wins. (Boyle won the inaugural event.)

A feature of this event is that, in an effort to maintain historical perspective, any hit on steel counts.  This is because it would not have mattered how Dixon had drawn blood and it would not have mattered if that blood was human or equine. Almost certainly, the warriors would have considered any hit, to horse or to rider, direct or ricochet, as equally Bad Medicine. 

The Billy Breckenridge Shot allows similar preparation before taking one shot at the Breckenridge Target, which represents a face-on mounted rider at 880 yards.  This event thus duplicates Breckenridge's historical feat. 

The Dixon Diamond One Shot is a game played with targets at ranges from 200-1538 yards (or beyond).  This includes five shots for score. One shot at one target at each of five mutually agreed upon distances. This game includes sighting in on one of the five targets (of the shooter’s choice). Shoot offs usually involve choosing smaller diamonds or those at greater distance. This game allows the participants to match the difficulty to their skills and equipment.

A unique characteristic of the FoBD organization and facility is the level of camaraderie among those who run the facility and among participants in both formal and informal events.  FoBD’s goal is not just to provide a place for competition but, more importantly, to provide a low-pressure shooting environment where everyone can enjoy themselves and learn and practice new skills with help from possibly more experienced shooters.  In the modern competitive shooting world, where sportsmanship and good will sometimes take a back seat to the intense pressure of competition, the FoBDSF is a welcome retreat.

As noted, the FoBD is affiliated with a non-profit, educational organization (CCE — Colorado Creative Education).  Education is part of every FoBD event. The historical significance of the incident that the participants will in some small measure re-enact is always emphasized. The importance of the firearms and technologies in use at the time of the original incident is also discussed, as well as the fact that extreme long-range precision shooting has not progressed much since that time (as a matter of fact, most modern rifles and loads cannot be used effectively for shots at the longest distances available at this range).  All sanctioned FoBD events include an educational lecture. 

FoBD founding members agree that failing to learn from history destines us to repeat the same mistakes. They also have a keen awareness of how the lives and actions of those that have gone before have influenced our modern world. A review of the associated articles should clarify just how seriously these folks take the study of history.

As previously noted, the range at Stengel Gun Shop offers diverse shooting opportunities, in addition to FoBD targets and shooting lines.  Included is a National Rifle Association approved High Power Rifle target array. This includes twelve shooting positions and twelve target standards (see pictures). For Highpower Competition, these targets are officially used at 200-, 300-, 600- and 1000-yard distances.

Interestingly, this facility also offers one the ability to shoot bench rest at these paper targets at 1328 yards. As far as I know, this is a unique opportunity in the US.  Torkelson currently holds the 22-caliber range record, a five-shot group just under 20.4 inches.  He used a custom rifle chambered for the 22x45 SMc (a cartridge developed by Superior Ballistics co-founders, McPherson and Smalley):

The range at Stengel Gun Shop also offers Trap, Skeet, Bench Rest (to 300 yards), steel gong targets at various distances out to 700 yards (independent from FoBDSF targets), National Rifle Association Falling Plates and Silhouette, Cowboy Action bays (with monthly SASS meetings), Small Bore Youth Programs, Small Bore Silhouette, Action Pistol (with events), and an National Rifle Association PPC course with national Competitions. 

I coordinated a Journalist Invitational in April 2009.  In that event, a small group of friends and local shooters enjoyed what the FoBDSF had to offer.  Attendees included: Tym Hurst, Mic McPherson (Shootist), Butch and Shirley Jarvis (devoted shooting enthusiasts), Jim Williamson (Shootist), Bill Tharp (Shootist), Randy Arnt, By Smalley (Superior Ballistics), Alan Aman (Shootist), David Torkelson (Shootist), and me. 

Prior to the arrival of other shooters, Hurst, Torkelson, and I enjoyed shooting off-hand at shorter distances with iron-sighted lever guns (200-300 yards).  In an unofficial game of “Dixon Diamond One Shot” between Torkelson and me, I managed one more hit than he did.  (Yes, I am bragging, beating Torkelson at any shooting game is no mean feat!)

The following day, when all participants had arrived, we held the main event — The Billy Dixon: Five-Shot.  Rifles used included 71/84 Mausers, modern 1895 Winchesters, modern 1874 Sharps, Peabody, and Trapdoor Springfield. Shooters used heavy lead bullets and black-powder or equivalent smokeless-powder loads. 

No one managed to hit the Billy Dixon Target on their first shot-for-record attempt.  As shooting progressed, a tie developed between Shirley Jarvis of “Team Jarvis” and Alan Aman.  A “sudden death” shoot-off determined the winner.  McPherson and I were down range in the observation booth. We spotted and listened as Jarvis and Aman alternated shots, in order.

Hearing the shots and the bullets go by was extremely exciting. First, the very faint but obvious report of the shot; then, the sound of the bullet as it passed by, only a few dozen yards from our safe location — the fudda, fudda, fudda sound is quite unique; then, to hear the impact in the dirt, as the bullet narrowly missed hitting steel. Finally, on his third shot, Aman’s bullet found steel. From our location, the loud clang was obvious. Aman was the winner. 

Afterwards (after setting the appropriate safety flags), all participants loaded into vehicles and came down range to observe the target.  Various folks took photographs.  This solidified the memory of the event for everyone involved. 

Casey Stengel has created a wonderful place to shoot. Amicable people run this range. It provides a unique opportunity to practice one’s long-range marksmanship, make new friends, and learn about remarkable historical events.

We are already planning the 2010 event schedule.  That information and more details on this range and The Friends of Billy Dixon is available at the website:

Hope to see you there in 2010. 

FoBD and others who are interested in long-range shooting owe a debt to Boyle and his wife, Caroline.  They created and are maintaining the user-friendly and informative FoBD web site.  This represents considerable effort.  Without this contribution, FoBD would have almost no presence on the World Wide Web. Caroline is

Andy Tuttle


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Click pictures for a larger version.


All FOBDSR targets, as seen from the 1538-yard firing line.



NRA High-Power (left), Billy Dixon and High-Power Diamond targets (right).



Billy Dixon target, as seen from near the observation booth.



Torkelson created the FOBD target.



200-yard NRA shooting line.



Breckenridge target (left), calibrated gongs (center), NRA High-Power (right).



L-R: Bill, Deb, Mic and Dave at the Billy Dixon target 2008.



Author Tuttle with 71-84 43 Mauser.



Aman, co-builder of FOBD targets, indicates one of his hits.



Shirley Jarvis shoots while Butch Jarvis spots.



Aman (winner) and Jarvis (runner-up) at the 2009 Journalist Invitational.



Williamson shoots Trapdoor, Tharp spots.



Arnt with his Sharps rifle - notice sight staff.



Bill showing hit on the Billy Dixon target 2008.



Butch Jarvis.



Hurst firing 303 Enfield at 1538 yards.



L-R: Jarvis, Torkelson, Aman.



McPherson showing hit on the Billy Dixon target 2008.



By Smalley with 45-70 Rolling Block, "Old Nose Buster".



Torkelson with range record target - 22x45 SMc at 1328 yards.



Williamson, Torkelson, Boyle, Tharp at SHOT 2008.