Statistics are difficult to find indicating just how many people wake up in the morning wanting to drive a tank.
But whatever the number is, the opportunity presents itself again Sunday near Morristown, Minn., not far from Owatonna, at the annual Ahlman’s Shooters Roundup.
About 15 tanks will be on hand, and rides in them will be available, part of a shooting-sports and family-fun festival at which fully automatic weapons also are on hand for test-firing.
“Last year a guy spun off quite a few rounds with a full auto, and I asked how much it cost him,’’ said Mike Ahlman, heir apparent to the famous Ahlman’s Gun Shop, located near Morristown and host of the annual roundup.
“He said, ‘$50, and worth every penny.’ ’’
Begun in the early 1990s as a venue for rifle manufacturers to exhibit their wares, Ahlman’s Shooters Roundup in the years since has morphed into a 40-acre attraction that is a slice of Americana like few others.
“We like to think we’re promoting the sport of shooting on a large scale,’’ said semiretired Larry Ahlman, Mike’s dad. “We don’t pretend to make any money on it. In fact, it costs us money. But it’s family friendly, and everyone has a good time.’’
A big draw at the roundup each year are the western melodramas that play on an open-air stage, the climaxes of which feature, well … shootouts.
“In one play, a guy gets shot and falls into a tank of water, and another gets shot off a roof,’’ Mike said. “Actually, in the end, everyone gets shot.’’
Including zombies — but that occurs on the Zombie Trail, in which participants ride in side-by-side ATVs along a route with five stations that feature zombie targets and zombie-ready firearms.
“You can shoot an AR-15 and other guns,’’ Mike said, adding:
“Also, for $5 you can shoot a .22 long rifle at a target that has a melon on top. You’ll blow fruit everywhere, and get a sonic boom with it, too.’’
Today is the second and final day of the roundup, and when the event closes at 5 p.m., about 800 melons will have been vaporized.
“And it was hard to get the melons this year,’’ Mike said. “It’s been a tough growing season.’’
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However much humor and good times are central themes of the Ahlman’s Roundup, the event has a serious side, too.
Its central goal, as Larry said, is to celebrate and promote the shooting sports, and aids to this end include the tanks, machine guns, zombies and the plays that highlight cataclysms requiring fast thinking and even faster guns (that shoot blanks).
Also there’s a Wilderness Hunt competition with 15 targets, with guns going to the winners.
Add to these attractions various food stands and two live bands, and the result is a real-life spectacle that draws more than 5,000 people to Morristown one August weekend each year.
About 600 who attend, Larry said, are interested specifically in trying out the latest guns from manufacturers such as Remington and Winchester, among others.
“We might sell 200 guns over the weekend, but that’s not enough to cover our costs and not the reason we hold the roundup,’’ Mike said. “We’re more into the fun part of it and exposing people, including people unfamiliar with guns, to the shooting sports.’’
Unspoken by Mike or his father is an obvious point:
Gun ownership — whether for target shooting, hunting or personal defense — is a social activity. Examples: Trap shooters meet other trap shooters at ranges. Ditto skeet shooters and pistol shooters. The same holds for bird hunters and deer hunters, as well as collectors.
In fact, in many cases, lifestyles revolve around gun-centered activities
Certainly Larry Ahlman’s has, not just professionally — he took over the business from his father — but personally. Some of his best days, he’ll tell you, occur while holed up in the family hunting shack near Isabella, Minn., not far from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
Mike’s life has unfolded similarly, except that in addition to hunting with guns, he also chases deer and elk with a bow.
So it is that their notion of recreation and good times is centered to a large degree on the shooting sports, about which they are unabashedly evangelistic.
“Any kid that comes through, I want them to shoot as much as their parents will let them,’’ Mike said. “Shooting is fun.’’
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Thinking of driving to Ahlman’s to check out the roundup Sunday? Here’s more to know:
• Admission is $10. If you want to compete in the Wilderness Hunt, it’s $20.
• Champion gun spinner, trick roper and “whip artist’’ Johnny Hotshot will be on hand.
• More than 40 different shooting ranges, each professionally staffed, will be available.
• Badlands Bill Oglesby will be on hand.
• Civil War re-enactors will demonstrate, complete with cannon discharge.
“The whole thing has grown since I was a kid and my grandpa had a rifle roundup,’’ Mike said. “We’d get 100 or 200 shooters here, firing at deer or bear targets that we pulled across a rail by hand, while hiding behind berms.
“Then we went to Smith & Wesson days and Colt days and it’s grown from there.’’
Said Larry: “We’ve tried to make it more family oriented over the years. We want everyone to come, including women and kids …’’
And people who wake up in the morning wanting to drive tanks.