A shot of tradition for Alden

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 21, 2003

ALDEN &045; Twenty minutes before Fugleskudning began Saturday, Steve Kier recalled the first time he heard about the event.

&uot;I said, ‘What? What do they do?’&uot; he said. A neighbor explained: &uot;’Well, it’s this wooden bird and they build it and soak it in water and shoot at it and metal pieces fall of off it, and you win prizes.’

&uot;I said, ‘I still don’t get it.’&uot;

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But that’s basically the gist of &uot;The Great Dane Shoot.&uot; On Saturday, Kier was one of about 100 participants who shot slugs at a hunk of green ash with a metal head, two wings, a tail and a quarter-inch steel breastplate, all bolted on with three-inch lags. Prizes included a Remington shotgun to the shooter who blew the breastplate off and smaller prizes to players for other body parts.

With every blast, chunks of wood blew onto the parking lot of the Cenex station on North Star Road. The sound echoed loudly, making some spectators jump.

Some admitted that the four-hour event which entailed about 500 shotgun blasts could be boring at times. But between the deafening blasts was camaraderie, as participants in the tradition watched slugs chew the bird into a spiky pulp.

Bill Jacobsen made observations to a friend for some of the event.

&uot;It’s getting smaller with every shot,&uot; he said near the end of the competition, when large, footlong chunks started falling off.

&uot;Yup,&uot; a friend said.

And then, BANG! With the echo came a breeze full of wood chips onto a nearby spectator.

&uot;You got bird all over you,&uot; he said with a slight grin.

Jacobsen has done this for years and said it’s mostly luck.

&uot;Most everybody shooting at it can hit it,&uot; he said. &uot;You just have to hit it at the right time.&uot;

Jacobsen wondered at one point why this year couldn’t have been more like two years ago, when someone knocked out two wings and the tail with one shot.

Some people brought binoculars to search for weaknesses, like maybe a bolt that was about to give. But they also helped coach their friends’ aim.

The event may seem strange, but it dates back to the 1800s. Fugleskudning (bird shooting) was brought over by Danish immigrants and done in Alden until World War I. Residents revived it in 1991 to accompany Morin Lake Days, the town’s annual festival.

Bob Mathiason, an organizer, said the event has gone through some changes since the 19th century. In the past, rifles were used instead of shotguns, and the bird is now at the closer range of about 80 yards. Back then the event could take a couple days; now, it’s just an afternoon. What it does have in common with the earlier version is that it accompanies a festival.

Mathiason didn’t know if anyone does anything else like it.

Kier said the closest thing he’s ever heard of was a dynamite shoot in his home state of Colorado. At a dynamite shoot, participants fire rifles 300 yards away from a primer cap the size of a quarter.

Kier admitted that the shoot was a tad boring at times but as the time got closer for him to shoot, he said he would begin strategizing by choosing a particular area of the bird and the best angle to hit it. He said it was also interesting to see how much one piece of wood could take.

After three hours, only the tail was left. Some people tried to hit it by shooting through the chest. Others tried a side approach.

But after the fifth round, with nearly 500 shots fired at the bird, the tail still hadn’t come down. Nearly all the shooters voted not to continue to a sixth round.

Everybody said they had fun, but the Morin Lake Days parade was starting soon and they wanted to see it.

(Contact Tim Sturrock at tim.sturrock@albertleatribune.com or 379-3438.)