A desert landscape. Dust plumes. Fire. Explosions. No, this isn’t Burning Man. In fact, some would call it the anti-Burning Man.
This is the Big Sandy Shoot, a 3-day extravaganza of gatling guns, rifles, and anti-aircraft weaponry held in northwestern Arizona. A hippie festival for gun nuts. In other words, not the place to be if you’re easily startled by loud noises or oppose the Second Amendment.
Hundreds of shooters gather in this remote location twice annually for the largest machine gun shoot in the United States. Pro-gun or anti-gun, you have to agree: this is a uniquely American experience.
“Nights lit up by tracer bullets and exploding drones? Check. A gold-plated gatling gun? Check. A cannon or a tank? Sure, why not.”
Blast From The Past
How did this celebration of death-dealers get its start? You might guess that it’s a political statement, a redneck roundup of trigger-happy hillbillies and NRA allies intent on exercising their right to bear arms. You’d be wrong.
Although the men (and the handful of women) who attend are proud of their personal arsenals, they’re not out to inspire think pieces on constitutional rights or gun control in America.
This is simply a gathering of enthusiasts indulging in a hobby with a community of peers, and the event’s origins reflect that understated philosophy.
Big Sandy is organised by MG Shooters, a collective that have hosted recreational target shoots in Arizona for 30 years. The events began as friendly meetings of machine gun fanatics, but over the years the low-key functions grew in scale. Bob Faris, an icon in the firearms community, pushed for a range to be created.
Co-founder and Faris-protégé Kenton Tucker set out on a mission. He spent 5 years exploring Arizona in his Jeep, before settling on a stretch of land between the towns of Wikieup and Kingman.
The Big Sandy Range was born, and its eponymous event has been held on the property for the past 9 years.
Holster That Weapon, Son
Attending an event where millions of loads of ammunition will be discharged isn’t exactly the least intimidating thing you’ll do. Then add in the inhospitable locale, the pyrotechnics, and the waiver you have to sign just to enter the site.
This one’s not for the faint of heart. Do your research and understand the basics before joining the firearms fanatics on their pilgrimage.
What To Bring
Big Sandy is no place for a suit. Pack with functionality (and desert weather) in mind. Sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen are musts. Ear plugs and eye protection are also essentials. Bring a folding chair unless you plan to spend the weekend on your feet.
The nearest motels are in Kingman, approximately an hour away. Most visitors prefer to camp at the Big Sandy Range. If you’re up for roughing it, camping in the lower area is free and available on a first come first serve basis. An RV park is available in Wikieup.
Vehicles & Parking
Shooter parking is located in a designated area directly behind the line position(s) listed on your registration form. Spectator parking is located on the lower portion of the range, approximately 100 yards from the firing line. Auxiliary motorised vehicles such as ATVs, quads and dirt bikes are not allowed on the property.
Toilets are at the rear of the firing line. They’re scheduled for cleaning every day, but don’t come expecting a 5-star experience. The commodes are bare minimum only. Non-potable water is available on a limited basis.
You must supply your own drinking water for the weekend. There are no facilities for greywater or blackwater disposal on site.
The Kingman 4-H club is on hand for food and refreshments. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on Friday and Saturday, and breakfast is available on Sunday.
Mobile phone coverage is available at the Big Sandy Range. Service is moderate but acceptable for most common carriers. Not that you could hold a decent conversation over all that gunfire anyway.
A daily schedule of the proceedings is posted. Use it to find events you’d like to attend and know when the line will be hot. Special events are announced in plenty of time for you to make your way over, but be warned that announcements cannot be heard in the camping and parking area.
The Pew-Pew Police
As freewheeling and wild as the Big Sandy Shoot seems, it’s not without rules. Safety is a top concern.
Self-defense weapons are not allowed, as it’s impossible for MG Shooters to vouch for all attendees. Armed security is on the property in case of incident. All visitors enter the range at their own risk and must sign a release waiver before entry.
MG Shooters staff the event with range officers to police the firing line, shooter RV camps, explosives magazine, registration and spectator campground. Only authorised personnel are allowed beyond the firing line. Shooters and spectators are not authorised down range at any time.
Periodically, the line shuts down to replenish the reactive targets. Weapons may not be handled when any personnel are downrange. An announcement will be made when the range is clear.
A flag is raised to indicate that the firing line is hot. Ear and eye protection are required at all times when the flag is up, day and night. Ear and eye protection are required at all times, regardless of the flag, in the Subgun and Match area. Alcohol is banned entirely from Big Sandy.
Tickets To The Gun Show
There are two ways to experience the explosive spectacle of Big Sandy, with prices divided into levels of participation.
Shooters pay $250 for the 3-day shoot to reserve their space on the line. Line positions fill quickly. Each shooter must have a completed registration form one month before the shoot. Shooters provide their own weapons and ammunition.
Spectators pay $25 per person for the 3-day shoot. No registration is necessary. Spectator wrist bands are purchased at the shoot site. Those who want to try pulling the trigger can rent time with a machine gun from the on-site rental booth. The exact kind of weapons available varies from shoot to shoot.
Once you’re in, you’re almost guaranteed to encounter something you never thought you’d see. Nights lit up by tracer bullets and exploding drones? Check. A gold Gatling? Check. A cannon or a tank? Sure, why not? A mannequin dressed as a World War II icon of the French Resistance? She’s there too, and her name is Mary Lou.
It won’t be your most relaxing weekend getaway, but you’ll leave the Big Sandy Shoot feeling exhilarated and ready to take on anything.
Zombie apocalypse? Bring it.
All images courtesy of Christian Lamontagne