Outside Magazine October 2004

Outside's Guilty Pleasures
Boom, Boom, Ain't It Great?
This lollapalooza says guns and explosives are a blast

By Lisa Anne Auerbach

SHOOTING CANS, PAPER TARGETS, and clay pigeons can be satisfying. But nothing quite compares to the tingly bliss of firing at something that is itself an explosive, giving you the unmatched thrill of sending fireballs into the sky and shaking pictures off farmhouse walls a mile away.

This is why I recently traveled to Moscow, Idaho, for a personalized day of blastitude with 48-year-old pyrotechnics whiz and landowner Joe Huffman, who created Boomershoot, an annual gunfest that, every May, draws 200 people to his family's farmland to detonate 2,000 pounds of explosives by shooting them. Sadly, I missed that. But, nice guy that he is, Huffman invited me up for some solo action.

A self-described "gun nut," Huffman works by day as a researcher at a government-owned national laboratory. In his leisure hours he's a National Rifle Association–certified shooting instructor who holds a federal license that allows him to manufacture high-explosive targets, all of them lovingly hand-mixed (think Dirty Harry meets Ben & Jerry's) in a steel shed that houses enough ingredients to make hundreds of fireballs.

I know. It sounds wrong on so many levels—the guns, the noise, the NRA—but what can I say? Sometimes a girl just has to get the kinks out, and firing guns is a great way to do it.

Huffman knows my type. On the day of my arrival, he lets me help make the explosives, a process that brings back memories of baking snickerdoodles with Mom—minus licking the bowl. I easily slide into the routine: measuring out potassium chlorate, blending the secret recipe in a KitchenAid. Properly combined, the mixture has the consistency of tabbouleh. We pack it into cardboard tubes, four to eight inches wide.

It's only when we stack the tubes in milk crates and load them into a minivan that I get a bit apprehensive. I try to act blasť when, en route to the blast site, the van fishtails on a muddy hillside, hits a small tree, and gets stuck in the mud. The tree is sacrificed. Huffman cuts it down so he can dislodge the van, and then, to my distress, we speed down the hill and jolt across a creek before reaching the field where we plant the targets.

When we drive back to the shooting area, 380 yards away, Huffman sets me up with a loaner gun: a svelte .300 Winchester Magnum with a megascope to die for. He rests it atop a sandbag on a small plywood table; I sit on a folding chair and prepare to fire.

Attempting to center the crosshairs on a distant six-inch cardboard disk, I regret my earlier double latte. But I hold my breath and, at the very moment my target bobbles into the center of the scope, squeeze the trigger. No kaboom.

"You're three inches to the left," announces Huffman, who's watching from a tripod-mounted scope behind me. My next shot is followed by enough fire and brimstone to fill the horizon with smoke. I dance a maniacal jig. I'm drooling for more explosions.

I get lots of them when we go in for the "cleanup," a process in which we both assume a "warrior" yoga pose and I get to fire an AR-15 at a dozen targets only 20 yards away.

I've shot guns in the past. I was the top-rated ten-year-old with a .22 at my day camp. I took skeet shooting as a phys-ed course in college. And for me, the undeniable truth is that—in the right context, of course—blowing things up with semiautomatic rifles has only one real downside: At some point you run out of bullets.