By Laura Brown

Triplicate Staff Writer

The boom of black-powder rifles echoes in the nearby forest as crowds of men in buckskin pants and women in calico blouses mill about primitive campsites.

Its the scene of the 23rd Annual Tall Trees Rendezvous.

This is the best and longest rendezvous west of the Rockies, said Trapper John, president of the Jed Smith Mountain Men and longtime hunter, trapper, and black-powder shooter. The reason why I really enjoy it is the pace of life slows way down. There is no pressure here. There is a real kickback attitude.

The rendezvous is a weeklong campout near Rowdy Creek where hundreds of families from all over the country come to relive an era predating 1840. People come to trade beadwork, furs, and art as well as walk along the forested paths dotted with 24 targets to shoot percussion and flinter rifles.

One of the most notable characteristics of the event is participants attire. Handmade buckskin trousers and loose, open-neck shirts adorn the men and boys.

Dont ever buy a pair. Youll never want to take them off, said Trapper John.

Handstitched leather moccasins protect feet. Feathers and fox tails decorate floppy weather-worn hats.

Women and girls wear buckskin dresses or long flowing cotton skirts.

Whats fun for me is learning about costumes and how they create them, said Emily ONeill, a visitor from Columbia, Calif., who is interested in sewing and research of early America.

According to Trapper John, there are 45 rendezvous in 10 Western states in July alone.

By 11 a.m. Tuesday morning, 236 people had registered as shooters at Tall Trees and 300 are expected by the weekend.

Ive been shooting since I was big enough to load a gun, said Mike Smith from Bend, Ore., who has been coming to the event since the early 1980s. Along with many of the mountain men, Smith pieced his trade gun together by hand.

Seven-year-old Abraham Hubick has been shooting for three years. He stands quietly, a .50-caliber gun in hand, powder horn slung over his shoulder dressed in a camouflage shirt and blue jeans. A long silver fox tail dangles from his hat.

Hubick and his father carefully pour powder from the powder horn into the measure. Father and son start the ball down the barrel then use the ram rod to push it down the rest of the way.

Safety is a very important issue at the rendezvous, and children must wear safety glasses and earplugs.

Hubick kneels at the cross-sticks and takes aim at the target in the trees. The cross-sticks are a pair of whittled branches tied together with leather strips at one end and nails exposed from the other to hold the sticks steady in the dirt. The blast explodes. Sparks fly in a puff of smoke, and the smell of sulphur fills the air.

Tom Stewart who heads the event says he does it for the camaraderie and most of all for the challenge.

Its a drive that you get. Ive been shooting black powder for 50 years, Stewart said.

Other activities at the rendezvous include a snipe hunt for peewees, knife and hawk throws, junior scavenger hunt, survival walk, brush hunt and campfire storytelling.

This is the most family-oriented of all rendezvous Ive gone to, said 63-year-old Alan ONeil, who has been bringing his family for eight years.