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Mountain men set up camp at Sterling

STERLING  Mountain men are alive and well outside of Sterling this weekend. 

The men and women of the Beaver Creek Freetrappers Rendezvous set up camp earlier this week for a weekend of outdoor living  1830s style. The secluded rendezvous area in rural Comanche County provided the perfect atmosphere for foregoing modern conveniences and returning to a much more simple  albeit dangerous  life. Thankfully, Steve Strickland was in attendance with his black powder rifle  ready to take aim  if not actually hit, any targets. This makes his 26th rendezvous at Beaver Creek. He should be better at aiming.

"I have come out here at every rendezvous since 2005," said Strickland, one of the longest-serving members. "I don't think I've missed a single one."

What he allegedly lacks in shooting skills, he more than makes up for in picking his campsite. While many of the black powder shooters opted out of staying the night in primitive tents, a select few already had their spots picked out. Strickland made his camp on a hill in the middle of the rendezvous area  a place he stakes out each time he comes. It's far and away, separated from the rest of the crew  for a reason. Al Hobbs, another longtime rendezvous participant, pointed out the difference in the two camping areas. 

"Where Steve camps out is affectionately known as 'Rowdy Hill," Hobbs said. "Down here is what we call 'Baptist Row.' If you want to go to sleep right after dark, you stay on Baptist Row. If you want to stay up and drink and party, you go up on Rowdy Hill."

Strickland had another explanation. When rain moves in  as it's forecast  as it's want to do in spring in Oklahoma  he has the best spot to ride out the moisture in fairly dry fashion. 

"I've been through all sorts of storms out here," he said. "The real test is to see how well you can get your shelter to stay up in these fine Oklahoma winds. Then you see if water will make its way underneath. But the best part is watching the flashes of lightning through that white canvas."

When Strickland wasn't spinning tall tales, he was competing against black powder shoots Mark Whittenberg and Jeff "Bones" Lathrop. Friday marked Whittenberg's first visit to the Beaver Creek Freetrappers Rendezvous in about five years. He said he's just now getting back into black powder shooting after briefly flirting with it a half-decade ago. 

"I like to do traditional archery, but I need to have something else to do," he said. "You have to have a good time at this or it's not worth doing. You met some really nice people out here and I'm having a really good time. So I should be coming back, even if I haven't hit a target yet."

Lathrop was a bit more fortunate  perhaps due to his trusty Kentucky rifle. Keen observers notice a bandage  of sorts  around the stock of the gun. That's because Lathrop, who has been black powder shooting for about 15 years, had to make repairs after a gun box fell on it at another shoot. 

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