Tennessee Valley Muzzleloading’s Fowler is just one of several excellent muzzleloading guns they make, either as finished guns ready to shoot or as kits. I have built guns from TVM’s kits before, so for this Fowler, I ordered one again. The kit I ordered is called a “TVM Kit,” which means several important steps are already done. TVM also makes the “Builders Kit” for more advanced ‘smiths where more work is needed.
Getting the TVM Kit does cost a little more, about $150, and to me that is well worth it. The TVM kit for the Fowler has a base price of $850 but options (like the sling swivel) can increase that.
The TVM Kits come with the barrels fully inletted, the butt plates fitted, and the locks fully inletted. In addition, the screw hole through the stock, the breech plug and the lock plate is already drilled. That’s important because the alignment of the lock and barrel needs to be good. Although these tasks are done for you, there are still a lot of things to do on the TVM Kits. In other words, getting the TVM Kit instead of the Builders Kit simply gives the buyer a much better start.
I wanted this Fowler to be on the “handy” side, so it was ordered with the 36-inch-long barrel instead of the longer 42-inch. Other features in this kit include the brass furniture. The option for furniture is either steel or brass. My kit also came with the fittings for a sling, a swivel at the front and a large button at the back. One other option was the selection of a Durs Egg lock from L&R Lock Company. That completed the kit as ordered from TVM.
Additionally, I asked for very plain straight grained wood with no figure. That was just what I received and I do compliment TVM for that. My reason for wanting very plain wood was because I intended to artificially stripe the stock, somewhat like Leman striped his stocks. That might be just a bit out of place on a typical Fowler, but my gun is going to be mine, not typical.
ALL OF THE work assembling this Fowler was done at Allen Cunniff’s small shop. Allen is my Quigley partner and we do a lot of black powder shooting together. He’s also a fine ‘smith and he works faster than most of the ‘smiths I know. I can’t give Allen enough credit for the good work that he did, although he did save some of the task for me.
The first real step in assembly was to more properly fit and attach the butt plate. That is a good place to start and the butt plate then protects the butt of the stock. From there, we located the position for the barrel lugs and the middle lug also became the location for the sling swivel. The barrel is held to the stock, ahead of the lock, with cross pins in addition to the main lock bolt, which also goes through the back of the breech plug, and the tang screw, which extends down to thread through the trigger plate. That’s where progress is measured in sawdust!
Then the gun was complete, as far as assembly goes. Allen did the browning for me on the lock, barrel and trigger. In addition to that, he had heat blued the screw heads. The only thing left to be done was to finish the wood and that was my department. So we took all of the metal pieces off of the stock, gave the maple stock a coating of walnut stain, and I took the wood back to my base camp for the striping and finishing.
The artificial striping was done using Lincoln’s dark brown leather dye, painted on with a very small brush, “painting” each line at a time. My method includes dipping just the point of the brush into the dye, and then painting as many lines as possible before the dye is completely gone from the brush. This means the first line will be the boldest, and the lines keep getting thinner and “weaker” until they basically disappear. And don’t make those lines too straight. Nature doesn’t stripe wood with straight lines. Artificially striping a stock this way takes a couple of hours per side of the stock and that does seem to be slow. Of course, nature takes more time than that.
The artificial stripes are just a little bit darker than the walnut-stained stock, so the lines are not outstanding or in any great contrast to the darkened wood. Those stripes are actually hard to see until the finish is applied. After the finish is applied, then those lines do stand out and dramatically so! Let me say that I was very pleased with the artificial striping done on this stock and at this time, with words being written before the gun has been fired, I’ll say how I do expect to hear just a few “ooohs and aaahs” from other shooters.
After the striping was done, this stock was finished with Tru-Oil. Tru-Oil is more or less a type of varnish and that makes it rather authentic for finishing a muzzleloader like this Fowler. Nine applications later, it sure looks good to me. And, following the re-assembly of the gun, it was ready to do some shooting.
WHILE THIS IS a “fowling piece,” most of the shooting that will be done with it is with a patched round ball. A lot of birdshot loads will be fired too, but for now the only shooting I’ve done with the new gun has been with round ball loads. Those loads consist of 60 grains of GOEX FFFg powder, a .595-inch diameter round ball wrapped in a .015-inch thick lubricated patch. A 20-gauge is basically a .60 caliber, and for good starting loads, try one grain of powder per caliber, or 60 grains. That’s a load I have used for several years in other 20-gauge smoothbores.
For a target, a 100-yard bull’s-eye was posted at just 25 yards. This Fowler has no sights other than the “turtle” blade at the front, and (of course) no rifling in the bore, so we can’t expect the most in accuracy. But my first shot showed me how accurate the gun might be, printing in the 9-ring at 6 o’clock. That was delightful. Four more shots followed and they all printed rather well on the target. I’d call that first target an excellent measure of success.
Three more shots were fired before I was done for the day. Those were taken offhand at a turkey silhouette hanging at 50 yards. That turkey is a rather small one and I’ve missed it plenty of times before. But this time I hit it two out of the three tries. Now I’m ready to use this gun in the coming Trade Gun Frolic of the Evergreen Muzzleloaders.
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More words about Tennessee Valley Muzzleloading are certainly in order. They’ve been in business for 20 years now and, in my opinion (and I’m not alone), they make the best muzzle-loading kits available. I quickly recommend them with no hesitations. TVM makes a variety of styles and their Leman rifle is certainly one of my favorite front-loading rifles. They can be telephoned at 601-445-5482. They also have an impressive website for viewing their fine guns and kits at tvmnatchez.com.