Mark Gochnour of Germantown was surely born several centuries too late.
His passion for the 18th century period is quite evident in his participation as a re-enactor in the annual Friends of Fort Frederick 18th Century Market Fair. He dresses in period clothing and acts as the camp pastor, an activity he has been involved in for several decades. The four-day event draws thousands of visitors to Fort Frederick State Park in Washington County each year.
I met Gochnour recently at a hunter education workshop at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase IWLA in Poolesville where Gochnour is an active member. I was immediately impressed by his enthusiasm for muzzleloading weapons and his willingness to share his knowledge and skills.
With more than 50 years of experience in black powder weapons, Gochnour is an expert in his trade.
Gochnour’s interest in colonial history began at an early age. His parents recognized his fascination with Revolutionary War heroes and pioneers like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. On his 15th birthday, he received a book called “The Pennsylvania Kentucky Rifle” by Henry J. Kauffman, which piqued his interest in flintlock firearms. He studied history as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland at College Park and later earned a graduate degree in library science at UMD.
As a hunter, Gochnour has a deep passion for muzzle-loading weapons which may seem quite archaic to some. Gochnour relies exclusively on 18th century flintlock rifles and shotguns to win his game. With such self-imposed limits on his hunting tools, Gochnour can truly be described as a method scene hunter, one who focuses on process rather than outcome.
Flintlock Turkey Hunt
Bagging a wild turkey is a remarkable achievement for any hunter. Calling a wild turkey within shotgun range is a challenge that requires patience and skill. A modern shotgun loaded with magnum cartridges can effectively kill a turkey at 40 to 50 yards, but a muzzleloading shotgun has a limited range. A hunter with a muzzleloader is limited to one shot, and the turkey must be very close.
A flintlock rifle increases the level of difficulty considerably. Flintlock firearms have a less reliable ignition system than traditional side-bolts or modern muzzleloaders that use percussion primers. The black powder primer charge exposed in the flash case of a flintlock is very sensitive to moisture which can dampen the charge and cause a suspended fire situation or no discharge at all. A suspended fire occurs when the powder in the flash bin ignites slowly, disrupting the timing of a shot and causing a hunter to miss.
Gochnour has bragging rights for branding a wild turkey with his 20-gauge flintlock rifle. The successful hunt took place during Maryland’s spring turkey season in 2015. Young tom may not have not a trophy by some standards, but the fact that this may be the first time a wild turkey has been killed with a flintlock in Montgomery County in over 200 years.
Gochnour recalls, “I slaughtered the turkey on private land near Poolesville. I called a taxidermist knowledge of the area and met him in Poolesville about half an hour later. He took the jake and we met a few days later and he gave me the wing meat and feathers and he kept the tail, spurs and beard for the mount. The mount is proudly displayed in his home.
Hunting with a primitive firearm increases the challenge and represents a fair hunting ethic that characterizes Gochnour beliefs. In addition to a wild turkey, he managed to capture deer, squirrels, doves, ducks and geese using flintlock firearms. In recent years, Gochnour has traveled to Maine for moose and Colorado for elk. Both big game are on his bucket list to take with a flint.
Gochnour believes that when he hunts, he is one with the woods. He wears traditional period clothing, some of which he made himself. The colors are not modern camouflage patterns but solid greys, browns and greens that break up its silhouette.
“I had deer and other animals walking around or staying nearby that never saw me. It’s important to stay still,” Gochnour said.
There is certainly a greater sense of satisfaction when relying on basic woodsman skills and less on modern technologies to take game.
Over the years, Gochnour has given numerous reenactor presentations of 18th century life at libraries and in Montgomery County public schools. He retired in 2010 after a 37-year career in the Montgomery County Public Library system. He spent his last 19 years at Poolesville Library as a children’s librarian and branch manager. Today, he teaches instead of MCPS, a job he finds very rewarding as a way to connect and inspire young people.
Gochnour is an excellent resource for those interested in shooting with muzzleloading firearms. He is a Certified Black Powder Firearms and Hunter Education Instructor as well as an NRA Certified Safety Officer. Gochnour organizes and runs the popular annual B-CC black powder event each spring for both novice and experienced muzzleloaders. This is a full day of instruction and shooting time culminating in an afternoon shooting match to compete for prizes. He also teaches a beginner hunter workshop at B-CC.