It is believed that the Chinese have been using black powder for about a thousand years and they are generally credited with its invention starting with fireworks. Around 700 years ago someone came up with the idea that if you put some black powder in a tube with a rock it would expel the rock out at sufficient velocity to make it a weapon. Another early idea was to use reinforced bamboo to shoot arrows and darts. No one knows who thought of this, but they did indeed change the world. The general consensus is the Chinese and Arabs were among the earliest to use guns in war.
Black powder today is just that – black. But black powder from centuries ago used to be gray and much weaker. Today, it is common to find powders that include a mixture of saltpeter, charcoal and sulphur.
The guns of the 13th century bore little resemblance to today’s weapons, and the blackpowder formula is essentially the same as it was then, although the older powders were weaker and gray in colored. One of the few improvements included making powder with water, so it could be made into a cake-like compound. That seemed to make it more reliable and safer. A popular formula today is 75 percent saltpeter, 15 percent charcoal and 10 percent sulfur. There are and have been other formulas used throughout the centuries, and as time went on they improved the formula and strength. Even today, powders are better than just a few years ago.
One big difference between black powder and smokeless or substitute powder is that the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms considers it an explosive. Smokeless powders are only categorized as propellants requiring much less effort to store and sell.
What are the characteristics of this ancient propellant? First, it is considered an explosive as opposed to a propellant such as smokeless powders and black-powder substitutes. This means that it is highly regulated and harder to buy.
If you want to sell black powder, you have to get a special license issued by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE or ATF), and you must have special storage containers. Many gun stores don’t want to be bothered with these burdensome regulations, so they just sell the substitutes. I imagine there are areas where it may be prohibited all together. Because of this, many muzzle-loading fans use a substitute such as Pyrodex, Cleanshot or Blackhorn 209. These substitutes work well, however, for someone who is a stickler for the authentic they just don’t cut the mustard.
Black powder is messy, so some shooters avoid it rather than learn to work with it. That is a shame because black powder is capable of producing excellent accuracy. In the 1880s, black-powder rifles produced results that are respectable even by today’s standards. In 200-yard rifle matches, it wasn’t uncommon to have a competitor shoot a 10-shot 2-inch group. I have done a lot of chronographing and my accuracy with these loads has generally been excellent with both muzzle loading and cartridge firearms. As a sidenote, when chronographing black powder, you usually have to stand at least 5 feet further away from the start screen, because the smoke will obscure it and prevent you from getting a reading. This is especially true with the larger calibers.
Black powder cartridges are still made for all sorts of firearms. (Left to right) .50-70 left, .50-90 and the .50-140.
When getting into black powder there are a few things that you need to be aware of. First of all it’s explosive, and you need to keep it away from open flames or sparks and even static electricity can cause a detonation. It will ignite with very little encouragement, so you need to keep that in mind. Always use nonsparking and nonstatic electricity devices when using it. Also, I shouldn’t have to say this but never ever attempt to grind black powder to make it finer. This will cause an explosion and serious injuries to anyone in the area. From time to time people have made the six o’clock news attempting such a stunt. If you are careful, it is perfectly safe and stable. Black powder isn’t for the careless or negligent so, if you are such a person I urge you not to handle it. Many shooters including myself have handled it for many years without incident. Terrifying I know.
There are four basic grades of black powder, each with their own purpose. In an effort maintain simplicity, here are the basics:
FG A course powder suited for small cannons and large-caliber rifles from about .58 caliber on up.
1½ FG A high-grade Swiss powder used for match shooting.
FFG Used for muzzle-loading rifles from .45 to .58 especially with mini or maxi balls. This powder can also be used for patched round balls.
FFFG Used for cap-and-ball revolvers, cartridge handguns and small-caliber rifles. This powder can also be used for blanks and shotgun loads.
FFFFG This is a very fine powder whose primary use is priming a flintlock. It can also be used for blanks and in small derringers.
Half of the fun of black powder is the large amount of satisfying smoke it creates. If you are chronographing your shots, however, you might consider standing back 5 to 15 feet further than you would normally so that the smoke does not obscure the screen.
There is a little overlap in usage, but I wouldn’t deviate a great deal from these recommendations for best results. There is a Swiss powder that is graded differently, but we will get into that later. If you can’t get black powder you need to be aware of the substitutes that are available. Pyrodex is the oldest known substitute available, and performs very much like black powder. It is corrosive, just like black powder and should be loaded and cleaned in the same manner. It offers FFG and FFFG grades as well as a cartridge grade that is made for loading obsolete calibers. A noncorrosive powder is Cleanshot that has been around for a few years. It is a course powder, but works well and gives somewhat higher velocities than black powder and Pyrodex. Like the others, FFG and a FFFG grades are available. This powder leaves a white residue in the barrel and cases, but doesn’t seem to harm anything.
A new product on the market is Blackhorn 209. Originally designed for inline muzzle loaders, I have found that it works extremely well in cartridge firearms. It is clean burning and gives the most velocity per grain than any substitutes out there. It is mildly corrosive so cleaning is necessary. I am currently experimenting with it in a conventional muzzle loader. My only setback so far is it seems a bit harder to ignite. I mention these substitutes because in some areas they are more readily available. One thing to keep in mind is never load smokeless powders in a black-powder muzzle loader. This is a recipe for disaster. They simply are not designed for the stronger propellants. We will see you for Part II: Loading and shooting black powder in April. ASJ
Black powder has a long history and they are not created equal. They come in an array of coarse grains as well as composition. The grains shown here are classified as (left to right): FFFFG L, FFFG L, FFG and FG R, which refers directly to their coarseness and helps identify how it should be used.
Building And Shooting The Vintage Ordnance Co.’s Reproduction Of The FP-45 Liberator
STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY FRANK JARDIM
Clandestine weapons like the World War II FP-45 pistol, later dubbed the Liberator by the Office of Strategic Services in 1944, have always intrigued me. It remains the rarest of American martial handguns from the conﬂict, with original examples usually starting in the $1,500 range for rusty, damaged pieces and the best examples, with their impossibly rare waxed shipping boxes, bringing over $7,000. Myths and misinformation hide the pistol’s real story; they weren’t wildly inaccurate junk guns that exploded after a few shots, and they were never tossed out of airplanes over occupied Europe en masse.
The Vintage Ordnance Co. creates a build-it-yourself kit of the FP-45 Liberator, which cosmetically matches an original Liberator (left) well.
THE FP-45 PISTOL was inexpensive by design. Constructed mostly of welded, stamped sheet metal parts with a die-cast zinc cocking piece, each gun cost the federal government a bit over $2, boxed for delivery with 10 rounds of .45 ACP ammunition. Only 5 inches long and weighing a pound, this single-shot pistol was conceived as an instrument of chaos in the darkest times of the war. The idea seems to have originated with a Polish military attaché in March of 1942. His request for assistance with arming resistance ﬁghters in Nazi-occupied areas was important enough that it reached the attention of the American assistant chief of staff for intelligence (G-2) of the War Department General Staff. In a little over two weeks, the Joint Psychological Warfare Committee completed a detailed plan of action and recommended urgent implementation, which was supported by Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.
They recommended a light, simple, inexpensive, powerful handgun that could be dropped from aircraft – or other distribution methods they might contrive to suit the circumstances – to litter the countryside of occupied nations. Once delivered in theater, these little handguns would subject the enemy’s garrison troops to great mental anguish because even though they would ﬁnd some of the weapons, they would never know how many they didn’t ﬁnd. Hopefully, their anxiousness would be heightened by some fatal close range head shot casualties too. The expectation was that at least some of the weapons would be found by those intrepid souls who dared to resist the yoke of totalitarian rule forced on them by Germany and Japan.
SIX MONTHS LATER on August 21, 1942, one million FP-45 pistols had been completed. The FP designation stood for “ﬂare projector,” and was part of a subterfuge to mislead enemy spies. Manufacturing was done in total secrecy at General Motor’s Guide Lamp factory in Anderson, Ind. The assembly work took an astonishing 11 weeks. Three hundred employees worked around the clock to put together the 23 individual parts that made up each pistol in an average of 6.6 seconds. It took them less time to assemble it than it took the average shooter to load and ﬁre the weapon. It was a manufacturing tour de force, and Guide Lamp would later receive the contract to make the M3 submachine gun, which also utilized efficient welded sheet-metal stampings.
WITH 100 BOXCARS OF FP-45S at the Allies’ disposal, differences of agreement, some political and some practical, arose about how to best utilize them. In the end, the majority of the pistols were destroyed, but a signiﬁcant number – perhaps 383,000 – were at least sent to active theaters of war with no record of their return.
General Dwight Eisenhower, Allied commander in the European theater, got 500,000 FP-45s. He felt that air dropping them wasn’t a practical use of his precious air resources that were better utilized dropping bombs on the enemy. Contrary to the tales of mass airdrops, usually involving second-hand oral history from some now-deceased relative who did it, there is no written evidence showing that the FP-45 was ever distributed in any signiﬁcant quantity in France.
Ralph Hagen, in the research for his superb book The Liberator Pistol, collected and conducted many interviews with key people involved in American-, British- and even German-military intelligence and clandestine operations from the time, as well as accounts from French resistance ﬁghters. None of them could support anything other than a token distribution in the theater, if that!
Of the half-million weapons sent to England, less than 1,000 guns were sent to Sweden, and some small unknown quantity was issued for the D-Day operation. There is also one known veteran account of an FP-45 being used by a 101st Airborne paratrooper at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. He stated that he was given the pistol and an orange ﬂare cartridge to signal his position to armored American units trying to relieve the surrounded soldiers.
More of Eisenhower’s 500,000 FP45s went to the British War Office than anywhere else. The 30,000 they received went to the Suez, India and Gibraltar. What happened to them there is not known. This is the case with most of the pistols sent into the active theaters of the time. Once they arrived, any written record of how they were ultimately used has yet to be found and probably no longer exists. IN THE PACIFIC THEATER, General Douglas MacArthur was much more interested in the FP-45 pistol than his European counterpart. MacArthur requested and received 50,000 guns in total, which he appears to have made use of. Unlike the other theaters of war, there is solid written evidence that the pistols were distributed in the ﬁeld. MacArthur himself indicated in a report that he had used the ﬁrst 8,000 guns to arm native villagers in the Solomon Islands of Tulagi and Guadalcanal. American veterans returned home from this area with souvenir FP-45s.
The pistols were clearly used by the Philippine guerillas, and I have personally found original guns there. Some were delivered by submarine. Others may have arrived by airdrop, though the complexity of ﬁnding anything airdropped into the jungle suggests that wasn’t likely. Airdrops on the coastline, however, were made.
The second largest shipment of guns from America numbered 200,000 and was delivered to Calcutta (now Kolkata), India, in July of 1944. Forty thousand went on to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and another 44,000 to Burma. The rest were destroyed after the war.
The third largest shipment was 100,000 guns destined for Jorhat, India, in August of 1943. Their ultimate destination was China. There is evidence that the pistols did make it into the hands of the locals, guerillas and bandits alike, but exactly how many will never be known. The only recorded image of an FP45 pistol in theater during World War II shows the pistol in the waistband of an Asian man in Kunming, China.
In July of 1944, another shipment of 40,000 was delivered in Algiers, Algeria, and some of these guns are known to have made their way to guerilla operations in Greece.
Easily understandable drawings detailed how guerilla forces were to load and unload the original FP-45, along with where to find more bullets.
THE NUMBER OF FP-45 pistols actually used to ﬁre a shot in anger is a matter of speculation only. Guerillas can’t be faulted for poor record keeping. It’s probably pretty hard to write a report with a Nazi or Japanese patrol hot on your trail. But for most of my adult life I’ve wondered what it was like to shoot an FP-45. If I was a Greek partisan in Thrace, or a Philippine guerilla in Luzon in 1943, could I actually make a one-shot kill with this clumsy-looking gun? I decided to make a replica of the Liberator.
The motto of Vintage Ordnance Co. LLC is “Just like the originals, only better,” and if there was ever an antique gun that could stand to be better, it’s the FP-45. From an engineering and design standpoint, the FP-45 is brilliant. However, in the assembly department it’s often pretty sloppy. Many are quick to call the original guns junk, but I disagree. The original guns were at least as good as they needed to be and probably a little better. By the spring of 1942, the Axis powers had already conquered most of Europe and Asia. There was certainly no time to waste making the FP-45 a masterpiece of ﬁt and ﬁnish. It was actually the ﬁrst mass-produced US military small arm made of spot-welded, sheet-metal stampings. They may not have looked all that great, but apparently they all ﬁred. According to the project managers, every one of the million units built in the summer
of 1942 was test ﬁred for inspection.
In creating the Vintage Ordnance Co. replica, I worked from the original plans and corrected against the actual pistol. The existing plans alone were not enough to build an accurate replica. Inconsistencies between the ﬁnished product and the plans were often dissimilar, which was typical due to the urgency of production. Often, design adjustments were made on the factory ﬂoor and never recorded on the drawings. Guide Lamp only expected their FP-45 to have a 50-round usable life, which was plenty for its intended purpose. Collectors today would ﬁnd that unacceptable. The “Better than the originals” objectives of my project centered on using stronger, tighter tolerances, materials, precisely controlled welding and accurate headspace. All of those improvements ensured my reproduction FP-45 was strong and safe to shoot without the built-in expectation of failure that makes ﬁring an original a fool’s errand.
I made the barrel, tube strap (breech ring) and cover slide (breech block) out of 1050 medium-carbon cold-rolled steel for greater strength. It’s the same steel Browning Automatic Riﬂe receivers were made of. I tightened the chamber tolerances to meet commercial standards and addressed the terrible headspace problems of the original that allowed them to batter themselves apart under repeated ﬁring. Also, my reproduction zinc cocking piece is cast from a denser alloy for greater strength.
Cosmetically, the replicas differed from the originals in a few ways: the reproduction has a riﬂed barrel and discrete markings to comply with federal law, and hopefully prevent it from being unscrupulously sold as an original antique. I marked the serial number on the front of the grip frame and company information, model and caliber designation on the underside of the barrel behind the trigger guard. All characters are the minimum 1/16 inch high.
In the course of prototype testing, I ﬁred over 100 rounds over numerous sessions. It took a day to recover enough from the pounding this little pistol gave me to go at it again and ﬁnish the testing. These marathon ﬁring sessions with high-pressure .45 ACP 230-grain loads were the most unpleasant experience in my 30-plus years of shooting. The recoil is very stout for sure, but it is aggravated by the small grips and the grip angle. In my hand, I found that I had to angle my wrist upward to the limit of its range of motion to get proper sight alignment. I simply can’t hold the pistol tightly enough to prevent it from snapping my wrist back past that limit. I didn’t feel it so much in the ﬁrst 10 rounds, but it got progressively more painful to shoot the pistol.
Another recoil characteristic was the tendency for the Liberator’s zinc cocking piece to move backward against the spring pressure, causing the point of the guide pin to stick in either the right or left side of the tube strap. This expedites reloading, but I have no reason to believe that it was an intentional design feature. Some ultrafast video recording showed that the cocking piece’s rotation under recoil appeared to be caused by the back of it hitting the shooter’s hand.
Though distributed by the Allied forces in the European and Pacific Theaters, the FP-45 saw rare use, if much at all during the war.[
I SHOT THE PISTOLrested for accuracy at 6 yards and later 20 with results similar to Ralph Hagan’s tests of his original gun including some random
keyholing, which he highlighted in his book The Liberator Pistol: Development, Production, Distribution. I shot two groups at each distance. Sight picture is somewhat obstructed by the guide-pin boss on the cocking piece. The cocking piece was originally designed without it. All bullets were clearly cut with riﬂing when recovered.
At 6 yards I found the pistol to shoot approximately 9½ to 10 inches above the point of aim and slightly to the right. Both groups were 3¼ minute of angle, which is certainly suitable for the pistol’s intended purpose. With a few practice shots, a partisan or guerilla ﬁghter could easily get a feel for the Kentucky windage required to put the bullet on target. I found that I could consistently burst gallon jugs of water with a one-hand hold before the recoil got the better of me.
At 20 yards, the point of impact was about 30 inches high and groups tripled in size from 8½ to 14½ inches despite my best efforts. This was clearly beyond the useful range of the original weapon, so it comes as no surprise that the replica performed in a similar manner. A target pistol this is not. The FP-45s trigger pull is not conducive to good accuracy. They take a lot of squeeze to move the cocking piece back and get the connector cammed off the sear. I measured it between 10 and 11 pounds.
The FP-45 Liberator is renowned as one of the rarest American martial handguns from WWII.
At a hair over 1 pound, this little pistol packed a powerfully lethal punch. It took two shots to get the hang of it. An inexperienced shooter could certainly master it for closerange work with the 10 bullets provided. I can’t help but imagine that any resistance ﬁghter who may have fought with an FP-45 must have let out a great sigh of relief as he stooped over the motionless body of his adversary, picked up their Mauser or Arizaka riﬂe and disappeared into the night. ASJ
Editor’s note: Author Frank Jardim founded Vintage Ordnance in 2008. For more on the company’s products, go to vintageordnance.com.
In this segment of WW2 firearms, two lucky shooters from Iraqveteran8888 Youtuber got a chance to fire the M3A1 “Grease Gun” and in doing so they were in awed by its raw power. Watch as they shoot this historic firearm, showcasing how forceful it still is today.
According to Wikipedia, “The original M3 was an answer to the somewhat complex design and high production cost of the M1A1 Thompson during World War II.” This ‘Grease Gun’ was made cheaper for WWII, and used actively up until Desert Storm.
Did you notice how accurate the firing was? It was by no means created for precision shooting as it’s main purpose was for area shooting.
This gun was semi accurate up to 75 yards, so if you’re looking to get your own soon be sure to shoot within this range. Chambered for the .45ACP cartridge, it is notable for its very low rate of fire – 350-400 rpm, which made it quite controllable and easy to shoot for relatively inexperienced troops.
Photo from GettyImage
Sources: Iraqveteran8888, Johnny Certo, Wikipedia, ForgottenWeapons
A gun specialist and a trauma specialist gives us an answer by reproducing a scene from the 1986 war film, Platoon. With the assistance of a fast camera, we will get a good idea on the degree of harm. The M16 slug 5.56 (.223) is known for its “tumble” which is essentially what causes the harm.
Nonetheless, while most lead center slugs do this after they enter the tissue, the M16’s speed also adds to the injuries. From a distance of 30 feet, what will happen to the ballistic gel mannequin? What will be the impact to the imperative organs? Let’s see!
Paul Dalby is a weapon’s expert with more than 30 years’ experience testing firearms and explosives.
“What I’m holding here is the iconic M16 Assault Rifle. This particular example being a Vietnam veteran. It’s a 5.56 caliber weapon, fed from a 20-round box magazine. It’s accurate to 500 meters, and fires at a rate of 700 rounds per minute.”
To show the damage caused by a single M16 bullet to the human body, Paul will fire into a block of Ballistic gel that has the same density as human tissue. A high-speed camera shows the extent of the damage caused by the bullet.
Adam Brooks is a trauma surgeon and expert in ballistic injuries. He’s treated similar wounds on the battlefield and will be examining the extent of the bullet’s impact.
“This Ballistic Gel is very much like incising tissues of the body, and I’ll try and cut along the track of this round, so we can get an idea of the damage that it’s done. So here’s the entry of the bullet, for the first five or six centimeters, very little in the way of destruction or damage to tissues, but then as the round slows down and turns on its side in the tissue, we get this cavitation effect. All the energy’s dumped into the body, and you get tearing and huge amount of trauma to tissues. And then finally, you can see how the round has twisted, turned on its axis to the point where it’s pointing backwards here and come to rest, still within the body.”
If just a single shot from an M16 rifle causes such devastation to a human body, what will be the effect of tree direct hits to the chest?
To recreate the scene from Platoon, this Ballistic gel mannequin will represent Sargent Elias. Inside are representations of the vital organs: The heart and lungs, liver, and kidneys. Paul will be firing in semiautomatic mode from a distance of 30 feet. The same shooting distance as in the movie.
Every one of Paul’s bullets hit their mark, but have they missed the vital organs, as they did in Platoon?
“He’s been hit low down, just taking the edge of the kidney out, and that’s going to bleed, you can see the blood around the model. He’s got two other injuries, here and here. Both of which have caught the edge of the right lung. Although the lung has been deflated a little bit, it’s not an immediately life-threatening injury.”
So Elias could have survived Barns’ assault, to later reappear from the jungle, only to meet his maker at the hands of enemy fire. But after surviving three bullets to the chest, would Elias really have been able to run into the clearing?
“Elias could have got up and run, for a period of time.”
Sources: Smithsonian Channel, Paul Dalby, Adam Brookes
[su_heading size=”30″]In the 1820s, Samuel Hawken joined his brother Jacob at his St. Louis shop, and together they made riﬂes that helped make history.[/su_heading]
Story And Photos By Mike Nesbitt
The author poses with a Hawken in full period regalia (JERRY MAYO)
[su_dropcap size=”5″]W[/su_dropcap]hen Jacob Hawken ﬁrst began making his “mountain” riﬂes, he incorporated features into each gun that were well thought of based on his experience. Hawken wanted his riﬂes to be the very best available and, therefore, desired by the most people. His strategy worked, because these days, they are the riﬂes we remember the most from the early to mid-1800s.
Dan Phariss, a highly regarded gunsmith and black powder historian, may have said it best: “The Hawken, the fully evolved mountain riﬂe, be it full or half-stock, was the ﬁnal evolution of the American muzzleloading hunting riﬂe.”
In my opinion, no other muzzleloading riﬂe ever surpassed the classic percussion Hawken riﬂe.
MOUNTAIN MEN NEEDED A RIFLE that was dependable, one that could last a whole year or more in the wilderness. Generally, it had to function without the possibility of major repairs and need for replacement parts, although trapping brigades sometimes had blacksmiths or gunsmiths traveling with them. But with Hawken, that strength and dependability was built right into their riﬂes.
A Hawken-style rifle and some plunder from the rendezvous era.
For example, muzzleloading riﬂes were often susceptible to damage with breakage to the stock right at the wrist. To strengthen that area, Hawken riﬂes and their replicas have the long upper tang, as well as the extended trigger plates. Those two iron or steel pieces reinforced the wrist of the stock at both top and bottom, and screws from the tang go through the stock to anchor the trigger plate.
Unlike many modern modular 70 designs, the barrel is the literal backbone of muzzleloading rifles, as it provides the foundational support for all of the other parts and pieces. With that in mind, the Hawken rifles had heavier barrels than most other models. It could be that this was because Hawkens were expected to make more frequent use of heavier loads, but that explanation isn’t as probable as the brothers simply seeking a stronger foundation for their rifles.
This S. Hawken-style rifle was made in the early 1970s by Green River Rifle Works.
Gunmaker Dave Dolliver shoots a flintlock Hawken he built for the author in 2002.
The locks and triggers used in the Hawken design were also the ﬁnest available at that time, and were another reason that they were the ﬁnest shooters in the world. Finally, the Hawken shop was one of the ﬁrst to embrace the percussion ignition system, and while many historians believe the Hawken brothers also manufactured ﬂintlocks, none of these have ever been located.
Some believe the role of the Hawken riﬂe in western history has been exaggerated, or that the Hawken brothers are being given more credit today than they deserve. But This if nothing else, the Hawken riﬂes were clearly recognized as being the gun to have if you could aﬀord one. That is not just because they were more expensive than most other riﬂes at the time, but also because – in the diaries, ledgers and account books of the time – Hawken riﬂes were frequently the only riﬂes that were mentioned by name.
The percussion Hawken the author uses the most currently is Three Aces. Also built by Dave Dolliver, it is a .54 caliber with a 35-inch barrel.
Three Aces is shown with a group ﬁred oﬀhand at a recent competitive shoot.
For example, in the inventory listings of what the American Fur Company shipped to Fort Union, in what would become North Dakota, in 1834, a notation indicates “4 riﬂes, Hawkins.” Another early reference appears in a list of goods taken west by French Canadian trader and fur trapper Etienne Provost in 1829: “2 riﬂes, Hawkins ($25.00 each).” Those are just two examples (both notations appear in the book Supply and Demand: The Ledgers and Gear of the Western Fur Trade by Olsen and McCloskey). Other riﬂes were not generally named to this level of detail, but Hawken riﬂes (and some pistols) always seem to be mentioned by name. In other words, if it wasn’t a Hawken, it was just another riﬂe.
The upper riﬂe is a full-stock Hawken-style big game riﬂe in .58 caliber, while the lower is a lightweight Hawken designed for use by sportsmen.
Although their popularity was not as widespread as their riﬂe siblings, many Hawken pistols were carried west to the mountains.
For comparison, the price of a “trade riﬂe” (a riﬂe made for the fur trade, to be sold or traded to trappers, red or white) as made by Henry, Leman, Tryon or others could be purchased for around $12. At more than twice that amount, Hawken riﬂes were truly expensive guns.
Details like these serve to remind us how respected and desirable the old Hawken riﬂes were. Those reminders emphasize the fact that Hawken riﬂes were certainly on the “roll call” at rendezvouses of the period. At today’s, the caplock Hawken is just as much at home on the good list, and much in demand. There just isn’t anything that spells “mountain doin’s” like an authentically made classic Hawken.
The author’s father made this half-stock Hawken in the mid-1970s, and nicknamed it “Ol’ Horsefeathers.”
HAWKEN RIFLES EVOLVED OVER TIME, starting with the early J&S Hawkens ﬁrearms and ending with the S. Hawken riﬂes, which continued to be manufactured for nearly 20 years after Jacob Hawken’s 1849 death. The diﬀerences between the early and late riﬂes are primarily minor details, such as the use of a single pin to hold the entry pipe for the ramrod on the S. Hawken riﬂes in place instead of two as used on the J&S Hawken models. But the truth is that each original Hawken riﬂe was a unique, handmade creation, with no two being exactly alike.
In my 40-plus-year quest to acquire as much Hawken information and experience as I can, I’ve handled – and admired – several original Hawken riﬂes. But believe it or not, I have never ﬁred one. All of my shooting with Hawken-style riﬂes has been accomplished with more recent duplicates of these famous guns, many of which have been very exacting copies and that performed in an amazing fashion.
However, Art Ressel, long-time proprietor of the original Hawken Shop in St. Louis, once showed me six Hawken riﬂes, all laying on a bed. He let me handle them all I wanted, for as long as I needed, and asked me if I could ﬁnd the one riﬂe in that group that was not a real Hawken. Although it took me over an hour – a very treasured hour – I’m proud to say that I ﬁnally identiﬁed the imposter. What ﬁnally gave it away? The reproduction had eight-groove riﬂing while all of the others had seven grooves in their barrels.
The author ﬁres one of his many Hawken-style riﬂes. (JERRY MAYO)
In short, the Hawken riﬂe was a highly desired and reliable ﬁrearm of the iconic mountain men who blazed trails and helped settle the American West, and it deserves its place in the historical saga of that important period in our nation’s growth, expansion and development. ASJ
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