Long time black powder enthusiast Rick Gorte recently opened Bullseye Muzzleloaders and More in Island City. His inventory includes kit and factory-built replicas of historic firearms. (BILL RAUTENSTRAUCH/WesCom News Service)
ISLAND CITY — To hear Rick Gorte tell it, there’s a growing community of people who love muzzleloaders, both for the history and the modern-day hunting experience.
That’s the reason he’s followed his own abiding black powder passion into business, opening Bullseye Muzzleloaders and More in a small retail space at 10201 W. First St. in Island City.
“I’ve seen muzzleloaders gain a lot in popularity, and I’ve seen there are people who need help learning how to safely operate them and take care of them,” Gorte, a past president and current member of the Wenaha Muzzleloaders, said.
Gorte is a Baker City product who went to work in a sawmill right out of high school. Later he got into the construction and heavy equipment hauling business. He moved from Prairie City in Grant County to La Grande in 1995, mainly because of La Grande’s proximity to Interstate 84.
“I was on the road for quite a few years,” he said.
He’s always had an interest in firearms and hunting, but didn’t get involved with muzzleloading until after his move to La Grande. Then he joined the Wenaha Muzzleloaders, the group famous for its annual Rendezvous at Troy in Wallowa County.
For 37 years now, the Rendezvous has been a grand historical spectacle, with men, women and children dressed in pioneer garb, practicing pioneer skills, and showing off their prowess with pioneer tools and weapons. The muzzleloading firearm, rifle and pistol both, is at the heart of it all.
Gorte has served several terms as Wenaha Muzzleloaders president. The Rendezvous attracts people from other clubs, including the Elkhorn Muzzleloaders in Baker County and the La Grande Rifle and Pistol Club in Union County. As an organizer and participant, Gorte is well-known among those groups.
Reliving the era of the mountain man is a fun, family-friendly activity, but it’s not the only reason people get into muzzleloading. Gorte said more and more hunters are taking muzzleloaders in search of deer and elk, because it’s easier to draw an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hunting tag.
Not only that, muzzleloader hunts are longer, and not so crowded.
“The people who try it find it’s a more relaxed, less stressful way to hunt. In my opinion, it’s what archery was 30 years ago,” he said.
Gorte said he and his wife, Debbie, had been thinking about going into business for a long time, and started “working on it heavy” about five months ago. He said there was a lot of license-related paperwork to be taken care of before he opened the doors.
In November, finally, Gorte signed a lease for his store, which is situated in a small plaza along West First owned by Valley Realty. Gorte said the owners worked hard to make sure he felt at home in the space.
“I liked the location and the rate was good,” he said. “Valley Realty and the City of Island City were both good to work with. My hat’s off to them.”
Most area gun dealers devote some part of their business to muzzleloading, but emphasize sales of modern-day firearms. Gorte highlights muzzleloading, but also is dealing in the modern-day weapons. In addition, he’s hosting the classes people need to take for concealed weapons permits.
He figures his is the only muzzleloading specialty shop between Island City and Troutdale. Without doubt, it’s a fun place to visit. Anyone dropping by gets an eyeful of history.
In one rack behind the counter are replicas of Hawken rifles, the kind prized by Jeremiah Johnson himself. Under the counter glass are copies of pre-1850 percussion cap pistols, and Civil War-era cap-and-ball Colts. In a corner rack stands a beautiful Pennsylvania long rifle.
Gorte sells both kits and factory-made muzzleloading pieces, plus accessories, even some local muzzleloader-related artwork.
He’s hoping he’s the man people come to see when they think of firearms from bygone days.
“I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, but I do know muzzleloaders, and I know who to call if I don’t have an answer,” he said.