Touring the Buffalo Bill Center of the West
October 02, 2019
Almost every year for the past six, I’ve joined a group of firearm and bike enthusiasts for the “Motoschützen.” “Moto” signifies our affinity for motorcycles, and “schützen” translates to the German-military word for “marksman,” a homage to our passion for shooting. Combined, Motoschützen means that we do what we love: ride and shoot.
The Motoschützen is 125 miles of riding a day over five days. Previous trips covered Colorado, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and Utah, but this year we ventured into Cody, Wyoming. Following our day rides, we returned to our cabins before dark and wrenched on our bikes at night.
When we weren’t at the Cody Shooting Complex (codyshootingcomplex.org) dusting clays, plinking with rimfires or smacking targets out to 1,400 yards, we were riding. Along the way, we conquered the Beartooth Highway, an infamous switchback that crosses over a 10,948-foot snow-covered mountain pass between Montana and Wyoming. We paused at the summit for photos and to admire the desolate, snowy landscape. We also wandered through Yellowstone, America’s first national park. There, we rode among bison, elk and grizzlies while exploring the region’s hot springs and frozen lakes.
On our last day in Cody, we toured the newly remodeled Buffalo Bill Center of the West, an all-in-one building and home to the Buffalo Bill Museum, the Cody Firearms Museum, the Draper Natural History Museum, the McCracken Research Library, the Plains Indian Museum and the Whitney Western Art Museum. It’s difficult to describe how impressive the artifacts and contemporary layouts were.
The Cody Firearms Museum is home to the Winchester Arms Collection, thanks to a 1975 loan. Borrowed from Connecticut’s Olin Corporation to the then-Winchester Firearms Museum, the collection was permanently gifted in 1988. Though the museum had always contained historically significant firearms of many makes, Bill Ruger challenged the museum’s Board of Directors to a name change. Responding to Ruger’s request, a then-museum director countered Ruger with a for-the-right-price-we’ll-consider-it offer. Without hesitation, Ruger penned a check for $1 million. Thus, it’s now called the Cody Firearms Museum.
Current Cody Firearms Museum curator, Ashley Hlebinsky, and assistant curator, Danny Michael, guided us through its public exhibit halls. Notably, I saw a 1839 Colt-Paterson revolving shotgun; Audie Murphy’s Colt Bisley; M1 and G30 prototypes; and exhibits featuring embellished guns. We were also escorted downstairs to the gun vaults containing firearms not yet on public display. Inside were three examples of the Winchester Automatic Rifle (WAR), an alternative design to the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) proposed to the Ordnance Department; several mid-19th century air rifles; and an impressive collection of new-in-box vintage Colt, Ruger and Smith & Wesson revolvers. In all, the museum houses more than 7,000 firearms and 30,000 artifacts. The catalog of firearms, accoutrements and their respective historical significance was staggering.
Looking back, perhaps my favorite item was a Winchester lever gun featuring a bullet hole through a coin minted “Universal Pictures” inlayed in the stock. This was the same gun used behind the scenes of “Winchester ’73” (1950) to make movie magic. Though Jimmy Stewart appeared to make the incredible coin shot in the movie, it was really Herb Parsons standing behind Stewart who shot the coin with his Winchester Model 71 in .348 Win. The ‘71’s stock wears the signatures of the film’s cast, including Jimmy Stewart’s and Rock Hudson’s.
No matter how you arrive, a visit to the Center of the West is a must for anyone traveling through northwest Wyoming. Until then, take a tour online at centerofthewest.org.