It’s A Family Affair

From Sharps To Springfields,
The Spratlings Shoot ’Em All

Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos: Yvonne Venturino

In June 2014 at the BPCR Regional in Missoula, Montana, I was sitting talking with one of our lady shooters when she glanced behind me, smiled and said, “Hi, it’s good to see you again.” Looking over my shoulder I saw a lovely young woman with an amazing amount of blonde hair standing with a handsome young child who also had a mop of nearly white hair.

In my usual dignified fashion I blurted, “Wow, who are you?” Our mutual friend introduced her as Amber Spratling. Trying to make points I said, “That little girl could pass for a Viking princess.” In a deadpan voice Amber said, “He’s a boy.” I managed to get my foot partially out of my mouth by saying, “Well he’s pretty enough to be a girl.” His name was Ander and he had just turned 4.

Little did I anticipate then that the Spratling family would be some of my closest friends. We have visited each other’s homes and shot together in many BPCR Silhouette events in Montana, Utah and Arizona. A source of pride to me is last summer little Ander announced to his parents, “Mike Venturino is my best friend!”

Amber Spratling with a bull elk she took with one shot in the
2016 season. Her rifle is a Shiloh Sharps Model 1874 in .40-65.

Duke’s friends, the Spratling family, at the Missoula,
Montana, silhouette range in 2015.

Reminding me of myself at his age, a few years back husband Johnny got bit by the “Sharps Bug” (as in Model 1874). It’s a rather pleasant sickness in which you let your other types of guns gather dust while you master the intricacies of black powder reloading.

Johnny has shot his way into the higher-scoring echelons of BPCR here in the Northwest much quicker than I did. Elder son Wesley began shooting with us in 2016 at age 12. In his first season he has collected at least one “five-in-a-row” pins and knocked over a couple of those extremely difficult off-hand 200-meter chicken silhouettes. Ander is too small yet to compete but loves sitting behind the firing line with a spotting scope and watching steel targets hit by his family members fall over.

Not only do the menfolk of the Spratling family compete, Amber also shoots and spots for Johnny and Wesley and is gaining proficiency every season. At the 2016 Arizona State Championship she knocked over more of the chicken silhouettes in one day than I did during the entire 3-day event. (And I’ve been doing this for 30 years!)

The Spratlings have farmed the same area in southern Idaho for over a century. Admittedly, I know little about farming and understand the process even less. However, having visited their home I’ve observed an amazing amount of land under cultivation along with livestock being ranched, saddle horses in the pastures and a 1,000-yard rifle range literally in their front yard. Johnny has taken over stewardship of the farms these last few years, allowing his father to retire.

Amber fires her .40-65 Shiloh Sharps while Johnny spots. The location is the
Perry, Utah, silhouette range. The event was Utah’s first BPCR Silhouette
state championship in 2015.

Johnny took this magnificent mule deer with a Shiloh Sharps Model 1874 .45-90.

Johnny has been an elk hunting guide, personally taken a plethora of big game up to moose with his Sharps rifles and works diligently at keeping down the amazing number of coyotes roaming their area. Besides firearms, he hunts with bows and arrows he makes from scratch—he’s even mastered the art of knapping flint into arrowheads and flint knives. Last summer, while we adults sat in their campsite shooting the bull after a long day of silhouette competition, both boys practiced with bows and arrows Johnny had made for them.

Johnny and Amber get my vote for “Ideal Parents.” Their boys bring great joy to their mother and father. Family activities such as rounding up and moving cattle, fishing, camping, hunting and shooting competitions include Wes and Ander whenever possible. Interestingly, in spring of 2016 Wesley’s teacher asked Johnny and Amber if the boy actually got to do all the things he told his school friends about. (The bit about shooting real machine guns was due to yours truly!)

The boys have their own saddle horses, guns, fishing and archery equipment and thousands of acres on which to roam. Yet they are far from spoiled and have definite limits. In all the shooting events at which they’ve been present, I’ve yet to hear any other competitor complain about them. As young boys are wont to be, they are plenty lively but never obnoxious. At one match in 2016 I parked my pickup and opened the rear to unload my gear. Wes appeared at my side to ask “What can I carry?” This was very pleasing to an old geezer battling a bum knee.

The Spratlings surprise me often. Last October Amber texted me a photo of a beautiful mule deer buck Johnny took with a 1903 Springfield .30-06. A few days later she sent another photo of a six-point bull elk Wesley shot with a Kimber Model 84M in 7mm-08. Two days later a third photo came. This one was of her with another 6-point bull she’d taken with one shot from a Shiloh Sharps Model 1874 .40-65.

Like I said, the Spratlings are a shooting/outdoor family. I think this country needs more like them.

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