Southern Side by Side shows history, rivalry

Apr. 26, 2014 @ 08:48 PM

Bill and Mary Kempffer started the Southern Side by Side Championship and Exhibition Spring Classic in 2000 as a celebration of the largely-lost American and European tradition of wingshooting, or side-by-side, double-barrel shotguns.

This weekend, during the 15th Annual Southern Side by Side Championship at the Kempffer’s Deep River Sporting Clays and Shooting School, proof the tradition is becoming stronger and more popular is more obvious each April.

Last spring, a record attendance of 2,480 came to Deep River for the Southern Side by Side. From competitive shooters, to rookies, to spectators and to vendors and exhibitors — displaying rare and historic items as interesting as the sporting action itself around Deep River’s grounds — last year’s new record could stand for only a year.

The championship concludes today with a number of competitions ongoing. Most notably and prestigiously, the Atkin, Grant and Lang Southern Side by Side Championship Main Event will be contested from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. with the Ripon Cup awarded at 3:30 p.m. Gates open, with no admission charge for spectators, at 8 a.m. for a worship service in the Pavilion led by the Rev. Charlie Brooks of Winchester Wesleyan Church.

Saturday afternoon, the Parker Brothers and L.C. Smith Challenge Cup was being decided. The Parker Gun Collectors Association takes on the L.C. Smith Collectors Association in a mix of camaraderie and a year’s worth of bragging rights.

The associations represent two of the major American gunmakers of a century or more ago, in the golden age of side-by-side shotguns, largely used for quail and duck hunting.

Competitors this weekend are using the actual, vintage, 90-plus-year-old shotguns — not replicas or reproductions.

An exhibition tent near the 5-stand area where the event was ongoing had shotguns from 1884, 1886 and 1887, on one of the many display stands.

John Liles, of the L.C. Smith association and who made the trip down from Virginia for the weekend, competes with a shotgun, made in 1912, but found about eight years ago in a closet in the garage of his grandfather’s home.

“It’s a beautiful piece,” he said. “A lot of these are rare, and can be sold for a lot of money, but they stay in the family.”

“It’s very generous of our members to bring in these guns to display,” Liles said.

Seventy-eight vendors came last year and the Kempffers thought they would wind up welcoming more this year. Just the window-shopping alone is well worth free admission.

“You’d have to go to all the capitals of Europe to see what will be here in Sanford in three tents,” said Mary Kempffer.

Spectators are welcome and encouraged to go to the 5-stand range or out along the sporting clays course through the woods, but eye and ear protection is required. Novices, or an experienced shotgun-lover who might be lured into an item on one of the vendor’s tables, can try something new at the Have-A-Go Stand open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today.

“Even if you have an inkling this is something you might like to see,” said Bill Kempffer, “we encourage you to and we think you’ll love it.”