The Curry Coastal Pilot

SMITH RIVER andndash; Walk past the RVs, up the redwood trail and toward the buckshots.

Once the clearing is reached, animal hide-capped men with rifles and women adorned in hide dresses await visitors at the 32nd annual Jed Smith Mountain Men Tall Trees Rendezvous.

Monday kicked off a week dedicated to shooting competitions, history lessons and living off the land for the self-proclaimed mountaineers.

"We are re-enacting history," said John Clark, president of Jed Smith Mountain Men.

Better known as Trapper John in mountain men circles, Clark is in his 27th year of living the pre-1840 American lifestyle and passing down knowledge to the younger generations.

"We're losing the youth because they're not learning the old ways," said Clark.

The family-oriented event, based around preserving the culture of the Western frontiersmen, is like a fused history and outdoor education class for teens and children, Clark said.

Survival skills are taught such as using rock and grass to start a fire, weapon firing and cooking over an open-flame fire, he said.

It's a place where strong ties are made through common interests, Clark said.

Canvas tents and tepees line the edges of the primitive encampment where people roam freely from each makeshift domicile to socialize with friends they haven't seen in awhile.

Rhonda "Mother Goose" George described the atmosphere as relaxed, friendly and intimate.

"You get to know people a little more personally," said George.

Members who stick around long enough get nicknames.

George was given hers by the children in the camp. Her blue dress and kind demeanor reminded them of the old woman from the popular childhood nursery rhymes.

There are shooting and throwing competitions using pistols, rifles, bows and arrows, tomahawk axes and knives.

Competitors are grouped by classes: Pee Wees ages 5-12, Juniors ages 13-19, and adult males and females.

A lead recovery mandate from the Environmental Protection Agency has forced competitors to change their targets this year.

They shoot at rubber targets attached to sand-filled barrels meant to catch the lead bullets fired from the era's replica guns, Clark said.

In previous years, steel targets were placed in dirt against hills. The problem was the bullets would wind up in the land, causing a high concentration of lead, he said.

In the encampment are craftsmen of various sorts. Clark is a blacksmith who can forge metal into tent stakes, hangers, candle lantern holders, belt buckles, hammers and knives. George is a seamstress who makes clothes and accessories such as handbags.

Visitors and other mountain men can venture down to Traders Row, where vendors in tents sell supplies.

Shoppers can find buckskins, jewelry, cookware and knives.

Everyone is invited to spectate or participate in the shooting competition and other events, Clark said.

People with no experience are encouraged to learn from frontiersmen, he said.

"We want to get more people out here to learn the ways of the past," he said.

There is also a Dutch oven demonstration scheduled for noon Friday and later in the day a cook-off.

For more information, go to