If I say, “Louisville, KY”, most of you all will have some sort of image that manifests into your brain. Maybe it’s thoroughbreds breaking through the starting gate at Churchill Downs, cheered on by sweaty drunken infield mobs of bud light fueled “aristocrats”. Perhaps it’s something else. Baseball bats, U of L Cards games, maybe… but one thing that’s highly unlikely in your vision is an elite team of time-traveled soldiers for hire in nearby Shepherdsville. Men of (in)action that are oddly reminiscent of the old glory days of Soldier of Fortune Magazine. They’re the squidbillies of the A team, and they know how to party. Probably much better than they fight. For me, though, the Belligerent Adventurers of the Merzenary Force are a pack of oddities that I’m extremely familiar with. They’re the kind of people that take me back to my own adolescent years…

Steve Merz, Commander of the Merzenary Force, surveys his convention grounds.

When I was a kid, I grew up attending the Knob Creek Machinegun Shoots.  They were held twice a year in the early spring and fall, and I looked forward to those trips even more so than anything a summer of no classes held in store for me. Twice a year, my brother and I were set free to roam the 100s of acres of old military surplus, ammunition and machineguns. The Fall shoots were usually a weekend for us, but the spring shoots usually coincided with spring break. Those Spring Break trips were pivotal to my own education in life. Not in any sort of scholarly manner, but more so in the ways “on the job” training educates young minds. We would spend a week on a firing line next to a bunch of middle-aged men running machineguns. We’d learn how to load those weapons, what goes wrong with them, the maintenance required to keep them running…and sometimes…well, we were shown a few things that may be considered felonious even back during that era. However, spending a week of days hauling .50 cal ammo cans from the backs of trucks to the firing line, linking up .308 ammo for an M60, or cleaning a 1919 were jobs more revered than anything else to us. Those trips fanned the flames of passion for my own love of firearms. Unbeknownst to me (at the time), there were other kids that held these activities in the same sort of reverence that I did. We would pass each other during the actual show/shoot, wandering around the tables of old surplus gear, looking for that cool piece gear to spend the $35 dollars you saved on. We didn’t really know each other because we were of different “tribes”, but we were easy to spot as there weren’t many of us kids roaming freely through that sort of place…and usually we were wearing some Vietnam war era M-56 web gear that carried nothing that you’d suspect it was designed to carry.

Jeff putting in work with an M14. Back then, .308 ammo going for 15 cents a round! 1990-ish
Uncle Shane working on something for his twin .30 cal shorties. 1990-ish
Jim (left) opens an ammo can up for the .50 while my Uncle Shane (right) watches on. 1990-ish

While the show was a great place to find the bargains, it was the camping trip that accompanied the show that I’m most fond of today. The campground was pretty well empty at the start of the week, but you could see clusters of old army tents all around the campground that separated the little tribes. By the weekend, the whole place would be packed with tents. Oddly, back then, the evening campground scene was the part we disliked the most. We just spent that time waiting for the firing line to open up the next morning, or we would commandeer someone’s 3-wheeler, or dirt bike and ride around the place. Those nights were spent watching the only positive male role models we knew smash Budweiser cans by the pallet load, stopping in between to take a pull from a bottle of wild turkey, or to light up a joint. Occasionally, some were into harder stuff, and we’d see them cutting out a line of coke or dropping a hit of acid they’d been saving. It was the early 90’s when my brother and I were there in that corner of the world, so this was still more commonplace for some. Our dad was one of them. He’d spend most of the week drunk or high, waiting for the actual show to begin. My brother and I were pretty much turned loose at the campground gate to fend for ourselves. Dad made sure we got something to eat, but for the most part, we were raised during those weeks by the tribe while Dad did his own thing. Most of our little group were not into any of the harder stuff. They just didn’t really judge those that were. We spent a lot of nights around a campfire watching those guys fire off suppressed weapons, popping parachute flares and lighting off homemade 1/4 sticks in the campground. Those silent tracer rounds looked like shooting stars in reverse as they’d streak through the sky. Our tribe wasn’t the only ones doing that stuff. In fact, the majority of the campground were all participants. The parachute flares burning over the campground would light up all the little clusters of tents while the flash of a 1/4 stick of dynamite would rip through the night, and we’d watch this weird Apocalypse Now fireworks show unfold until we couldn’t stay awake any longer. Typically, the opening volley of gunfire from the show would filter in through the flaps of a GP small, and that was what woke us up for the next day.

My brother and I rocking our AKs with two of our Uncles at a machinegun shoot many years ago.

We didn’t see anything wrong with any of that back in the day. Neither my brother nor I knew anything different as far as camping trips went. Best we knew, everybody camped that way. It wasn’t until we were closer to adulthood that we understood the ramifications of shooting in a campground, or making your own dynamite, or cocaine fueled days of no sleep and machinegun usage. Obviously today neither he nor I are into that level of debauchery but spending a weekend with the kids from other “tribes” now that they are all middle-aged adults is a really interesting little therapy group of sorts. Enter the Belligerent Adventurers of the Merzenary Force…

Katy bar the door...trouble is inbound hot.
By day, the mild mannered and affable Steve Merz greets party goers as they arrive at the BAMF convention.

The Belligerent Adventurers of the Merzenary Force (or BAMF for short) came to be from a small group of guys that grew up attending the same Knob Creek Machinegun Shoots. Most of us didn’t really know each other then. We were from those different little tribes I mentioned earlier, for the most part. Some in our group were more into historical military reenacting, some were just gun people, some had never even been to a show until after they met Steve. However, all of us share a love for, and truly miss those Apocalypse Now style firework shows that some of us grew up watching. The leader, and founder, of the group is Steve Merz (hence the “Merzenary” name). Steve lives, and grew up, nearly next door to the Knob Creek Gun Range where the shows were held. He spent many years on the military reenacting side of things, but he remembers all of the same things that I do about the Knob Creek show (with far less drug usage though). He has taken his love and talent for reenacting and mixed it with the old machinegun shoot experience to form something worthy of an old Soldier of Fortune magazine cover. The BAMF Convention is his creation and pays homage to the men of action we all grew up watching. Be it through old action movies, or in real life, all of the crew of the BAMF have been influenced by old 80’s militaria and weapons, and the pages of the old Soldier of Fortune magazine. The reenactor inside of Steve goes all out for authenticity in bringing party goers the true feeling of walking into the 1980’s gun crowd. Hair styles, clothing choices, and sometimes even the food and snacks selected for feeding the crowd gets the throwback to the 80’s. His role with the BAMF is that of a revered partisan leader and can usually be found mingling amongst the crowd of party goers ensuring the “damn good time” doesn’t pass anyone by. The Convention is held on the property of Steve’s own home, and even has a separate “Ammo Dump” specifically dedicated to the 1980’s militia era. The ammo dump is exactly what you would expect a bunch of mercenaries from the 80’s to hang out in, and comes fully equipped with a bunk room, kitchen/dance floor, comms center, a living room, a game room with a nice selection of original NES games on a console TV, and of course a fully stocked armory. The entire compound is secured by machinegun nests, a mortar pit, and several oscillating search lights to keep out enemy forces, but if any nefariousness slips past those measures, the roving patrols of BAMF Staff will handle the stragglers.

The Convention was typically held coinciding with the spring machinegun shoot, but now that Knob Creek has shut the show down, it seems the convention will be every May for more favorable KY weather. This past weekend closed out the 6th annual convention, and Commander Merz is looking forward to many more to come in the future. As another method of keeping this era alive, and with ammo prices the way they are now, Steve has taken this level of reenacting into the airsoft world, as a leader of a “for-hire” group of mercenaries at airsoft games. He may be the founder of the group, but you’ll find him fighting alongside his men in the field. You’ll always know the BAMF team on an airsoft field by the signature grey berets they wear and the “damn good time” that accompanies them always.

The ruthless partisan leader, Commander Merz, surveys the crowd
Ghengis Conrad reminds us that nobody loves you like Ma Deuce does
The Surgeon General reminding us to stay hydrated and explaining that the hole in the kitchen ceiling is for outgoing mortar rounds.
Slavic refugee turned Appalachian gun runner, Willi Mackiv, learns a hard lesson on trading guns with the BAMF
The armory of the Ammo Dump never disappoints
The Ammo Dump’s living room is the perfect spot to take a load off and make new friends.
The BAMF’s Guide to a Damn Good Time is their holy script, and they live what they preach for sure.





The BAMF and the damn good time they bring

One thought on “The BAMF and the damn good time they bring

  • May 17, 2022 at 4:26 pm

    This summed out our group very well. I met Merz maybe a year ago and was able to play at asylum extreme and at Parker’s airsoft field with them for a weekend. It’s always a damn good time with the group and a great way to learn a lot and tell stories. It’s a shame the machine gun shoot is over but I’m glad we’ll keep the annual “damn good time” going aswell as getting together to play airsoft. Thanks for sharing our group.


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