TVM Flintlock Fowler Kit

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.

Story and photos by Mike Nesbitt

The 1874 Sharps Carbine Hunter’s Rifle

The Sharps Carbine Hunter’s Rifle


Among the Model 1874 Sharps rifles made currently by C. Sharps Arms Company, the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle seems to get the least attention. That really isn’t fair because the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is one of the Sharps versions that is most often found on the “guns in stock gallery.” But there is more to it than just that, because the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is a very shootable Sharps.

Today’s version of the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is actually a combination of two rifles from the Sharps history. The Hunter’s Rifle was introduced by Sharps in 1875 and it was available in all of the Sharps cartridges at that time. Barrel lengths on the Hunter’s Rifles ranged from 26 to 32 inches but other options remained few because the original Hunter’s Rifle was introduced as an economy model. When the Sharps company made their move to Bridgeport in 1876, the Hunter’s Rifle was kept in the lineup, but it is a rare version of the 1874 Sharps and this model saw a total production of just under 600 guns.



Even rarer is the old Sharps Model 1874 carbine, which was made in both military and commercial styles. The military version had a barrel band about the forearm, while the commercial version had the forearm held on with the two typical screws from the bottom. Chamberings were more restrictive in the carbines and all of the carbines made at Hartford were chambered for the .50-70 cartridge, while the majority of carbines made at Bridgeport used the .45-70 cartridge, but .40-70 and .50-70 were also available. Barrel lengths for the military carbines were generally 22 inches but the commercial carbines most often carried a 25-inch barrel. About 450 of the ’74 carbines were made.

While the Hunter’s Rifle and the civilian carbines are rather similar, there is one very specific difference. The Hunter’s Rifles had front sights that were dovetailed to the barrels, the same as the Sharps Sporting Rifles. The carbines, both military and civilian versions, had front sights that were brazed directly to the barrels.

TODAY’S VERSION OF the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is a combination of the old Hunter’s Rifles and the civilian carbines. In their current catalog this is shown as the “1874 Carbine Hunter’s Rifle.” It is offered with the barrel lengths of a carbine, 22, 24, and 26 inches, but with the dovetailed front sight of the Hunter’s Rifle. Other barrel characteristics follow the carbine barrels with the short flats on both sides of the barrels just ahead of the action and the “bulge” in the barrels at the breech. What this combination produces is a very handy hunting rifle, ready to be packed by hand in the timber or carried in a saddle scabbard.

At the very beginning of the gun’s description in the C. Sharps Arms catalog there is a list of the cartridges it can be made in. That list begins with the .38-55 and ends with the .50-70, including only the .40-65, .40-70 Sharps Straight, and the .45-70 in between. Those are the cartridges that can do their best in 26-inch or shorter barrel lengths and chambering one of these light rifles for larger cartridges could make the guns rather uncomfortable to shoot. However, if you have desires for a Carbine Hunter’s Rifle chambered for another cartridge, such as the .40-50 for example, don’t hesitate to ask. I could be easily tempted to request one chambered for my favorite .44-77.

My own Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is chambered for the .40-70 SS and it has the 26-inch barrel. It is simply standard and has none of the other options, such as the Hartford style cast German silver nose cap on the forearm. (If I should ever get another Carbine Hunter’s Rifle, I will order that silver nose cap. In my opinion it really adds to the looks of the gun.) The general shape of the forearm includes a Schnabel at the tip, although on my rifle that Schnabel was removed after delivery to give the gun more of an appearance like the old Hunter’s Rifles.

All of the Carbine Hunter’s Rifles come standard with the military style of buttstock and buttplate. This follows along with the way the original carbines and Hunter’s Rifles were fitted. And this model of the 1874 rifles is not particularly a lightweight gun; my .40-70 SS with the 26-inch barrel and fitted with the Distant Thunder tang sight weighs almost 10 pounds.



NOW SOME TALK about the shooting, at least the shooting I’ve done with my own Carbine Hunter’s Rifle. As already mentioned, mine is in .40-70 SS caliber. My favorite load for this rifle includes a 330-grain paper patch bullet over 65 grains of Olde Eynsford 1½ F powder. That duplicates the old .40-70 SS loading and it would do very well as a deer or medium game rifle-cartridge combination, although I have yet to do any hunting with it.


While I haven’t hunted with this rifle as yet, not all of my shots have been aimed at paper targets. Yes, some of my shooting was done right after Halloween so I had a pumpkin to punch. That pumpkin was set out at 60 yards and properly punched with a couple of the paper-patched bullets just to see what their effect might be. To say those shots were effective is putting things mildly and, as you might guess, that pumpkin will never be the same again.

Another load that I like and probably use a bit more than the paper patch load uses a 370-grain bullet from Saeco’s #640 mold over 60 grains of the Olde Eynsford 1½ F powder. This loading shoots very well and the 370-grain bullets were used to get this rifle sighted-in with the new Distant Thunder sporting tang sight. For target use, the 370-grain bullets have performed the best, making tighter groups.

Two of my friends have Carbine Hunter’s Rifles as well and both of them selected .50-70s, perhaps mainly with hunting in mind. Ashley Garman ordered his .50-70 just three days after shooting one of my Sharps in that legendary caliber and he specifically wanted a hunting rifle that would fit a saddle scabbard because he does a lot of hunting from horseback. Bob DeLisle also picked the .50-70 and both of those shooters enjoy using their Carbine Hunter’s Rifles with paper-patched loads, duplicating the old .50-70 sporting loads.

I’ve shot beside Bob DeLisle in some of our short range black powder cartridge matches and I can quickly testify on how well he does with his .50-70, most often competing with the open sights on the barrel. It’s getting rather hard to mention shooting with a .50-70 without mentioning Bob DeLisle.

Let me conclude my description of the Carbine Hunter’s Rifle and the comparison of today’s version with the originals by saying that the old Sharps Company introduced the Hunter’s Rifle as a model that was less expensive than the other Model 1874s.
Today’s C. Sharps Arms Company does likewise because their Carbine Hunter’s Rifle is the least expensive of all of their Model 1874 rifles. It is currently priced at $1,925 (before taxes). I will point out that is only $70 less than the standard price for an 1874 Bridgeport model, because if the buyer wants to add options, the heavier Bridgeport model might be the better way to go. For more information, check out their website at csharpsarms.com.

Story and photos by Mike Nesbitt

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Black Powder

Part I of III- Invention to Explosion

Story and photographs by Bob Shell

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.

A pile of coarse black powder
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.
    Man shooting with black powder
    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, fine to course
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.

Sharps Rifle 74 Hartford .50-70

When other rifles knock him out of his groove, this black powder shooter reaches for his big, heavy ’74 Hartford to get back on target.



You have probably heard me compliment the .50-70 Sharps rifles before, and the most “pats on the back” in this story go to my C. Sharps Arms ’74 Hartford with the 32-inch number 1½ Heavy barrel. That’s a hefty 13-pound rifle; a very good performer too. It seems like every time I have some difficulties with another rifle, either a black powder cartridge gun or a muzzleloader, I go back to this .50-70 in order to get my bearings and stability again.
This is the rifle that the Accurate Molds bullet number 52-4502L was designed for. The design seemed to be necessary because this rifle would not shoot accurately while using some other bullets. Those other bullets did not carry enough lubricant. They’d shoot a good three-shot group, but then bullets began to fly all over the paper and the last 4 inches or so of the bore would be caked with a hard fouling. So, this bullet was born with wider lube grooves. I like it and the 70problem of “not enough lube” vanished with the first batch of bullets I tried.




Using a 25:1 lead-to-tin alloy, these bullets weigh about 445 grains, or about 20 grains heavier than the Lyman number 515141 bullet. My favorite and most common load with this bullet in the .50-70 burns 65 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F compressed under a .060-inch Walters wad, while the bullet is seated deeply enough that its forward bearing ring is almost out of sight in the mouth of the case. I have tried other loads but keep coming back to this one. It’s a good standard load that gives me confidence, and when I invite other people to shoot the 32-inch-barreled rifle, that’s the load they get to use.
One new shooter who borrowed my heavy .50-70 was Wes Davis, who had been bitten by the black powder cartridge bug but didn’t have a rifle yet. Wes and a partner were going to share a rifle, but I offered to let Wes shoot the .50-70 instead. So, I gave Wes a quick “Sharps lesson,” which included putting the hammer on half-cock before opening the action, plus a couple of “dry fire shots” (with the hammer all the way down so there was no hammer fall) so he could feel the lightness of the set trigger. That all went well. I also told Wes to not be afraid to adjust the sights. He did adjust the sights and his second target, fired at 200 yards, showed that he was much more comfortable with the rifle than he was with his first target. That’s just getting to know the gun. Wes has his own rifle now, a Sharps in .45-70, but I’m sure he will consider getting a .50-70 every now and then. The ol’ .50-70 seems to cast a spell on shooters.

LOADING FOR THE .50-70 with the grease-groove bullets is rather simple. Starting with fired, decapped brass, my first step is to run the cases through the expander die. I generally reload my .50-70 cases without resizing them. This is quite acceptable, especially if the loaded ammo is going to be fired in the same rifle. After expanding the case mouths, which also “rounds out” any cases that might have been dropped or “dented,” the brass is then reprimed. With the new primers in place, the brass is ready for loading.
Each primed case is then charged with powder and that powder is compressed under a fiber wad, by using the expander die, to a depth that will let the bullets be seated properly.
Then the bullets, sized to .512 inch and lubed, are simply seated in the cases with fingertips. Those bullets need to be seated with only a little of the top bearing band exposed, or the loads will be difficult to chamber. And the final step in preparing these loads is to run the loaded rounds through a taper crimp die, which securely holds the bullets in the cases.
I don’t load all my ammunition without sizing the brass; this description only refers to how I usually load my .50-70 ammo. Other cases often require more attention. Likewise, the .50-70 ammo will require resizing if the cartridges are to be used in guns other than the rifle the ammo was previously fired in.

WITH NEW RELOADS well prepared, this .50-70 was ready for a short-range match at our club, where we shoot at 100- and 200-yard targets. Things went well in that match. At first, I spotted targets for a pair of partners, Jerry Mayo and Lynn Willecke, who had their targets side-by-side so both could be seen without adjusting the scope. Then, in the next relay, it was my turn and Jerry spotted for me on my 100-yard target. That went just fine. One shot got sent out of the black, but I will take credit for that simply because I’m the most suspect factor in my shooting.
Then we moved out to 200 yards and, again, I spotted for the two of them while they made their scores. During the break, I wiped the barrel of the .50-70 with just one patch. While shooting, I use a blow tube for fouling control, relying on my moist breath to keep the fouling in the barrel soft. Soon enough they finished their 200-yard targets and we traded places; I sat down behind my cross-sticks and Jerry took over the scope to spot my shots.
My first shot on this target was a good one, at 10 o’clock. By taking good aim for each shot, and shooting without hurrying, only three shots strayed out of the 10-ring. I’ll have to admit that I was rather pleased with this target, my second highest score at 200 yards in our short-range matches. That score was a 96-X for the 10 shots fired.
But again, one of the three shots that strayed out of the 10-ring went out of the black. Like on the 100-yard target, that must be my fault. I still have something to work on.

Our match was not over with those two targets. We always shoot a couple of gong targets after the paper-work is done. Those are the buffalo and the bucket, shot at 200 yards over cross-sticks for the buffalo and at 100 yards offhand for the bucket. We shoot five shots at each of those two targets, starting at 200 yards. I missed the buffalo a couple of times, although just barely, according to Don Kerr who was spotting for Bob Gietz, our range safety officer and scorekeeper. None of our shooters hit the buffalo with all five shots but Allen Cunniff, my Quigley partner, did hit it with four shots from his .45-70. Then we moved to the 100-yard bucket for some offhand shooting. There I did better than expected and hit the bucket with all five offhand shots. In our final scores, Allen and I were tied with eight hits each, but the tie was broken in my favor because I had five offhand hits while Allen had four.



Using this .50-70 in the match was a good choice. It helped me place third on the paper targets and first on the gongs. That’s more than enough to make me feel restabilized. Now my biggest problem will be leaving this .50-70 in the rack while I try shooting with another rifle.


STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

American Longrifles

The School Dedicated To Longrifle Building

Story by Frank Jardim Featured photograph (above) by Joe Pucciarelli / www.loop.pics

Knowledge is a fleeting thing if steps aren’t taken to preserve it. Whether it’s building the pyramids or a family recipe, if knowledge isn’t passed on to subsequent generations, it is eventually forgotten and lost. Thirty-four years ago, the passionate desire to preserve the 18th century gun-making techniques, by which American longrifles were handcrafted, led to the creation of an extraordinary training seminar by Professor Terry Leeper, Ph.D., of Western Kentucky University (WKU) and master gunmakers Wallace Gusler and Jon Bivins. Three years later the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA) began cosponsoring the seminar and it remains the premier resource for serious subject-matter students. While classes are technically challenging, the instructional team has years of experience at meeting both the basic and most advanced skill levels of the participants. It is serious scholarly instruction in the true master-and-apprentice style.

Prior to every seminar, the instructors assemble a study collection of original and contemporary black-powder firearms (frequently valued in excess of a million dollars) for participants to examine and learn from hands-on investigation and observation. A glance over the five-volume Journal of Historical Armsmaking Technology that grew out of the early seminars indicates the depth of knowledge available for the asking. If you want to learn how every part of a firearm was made over 200 years ago, how to make the tools and dies required and what materials were used, there are instructors at the seminar who know.

Every year several of the best contemporary artisans/artists who specialize in making guns and related accoutrements in the manner they were made over two centuries ago, gather and spend nine to 10 days passing on that knowledge for the 50 to 70 students who attend.

Professor Leeper believes the success of the seminar stems from their focus from the very start in 1981 on getting world-class instructors. This year the House brothers – Herschel, Frank and John – along with Ron Scott, Mark Silver, Jim Kibler, Jack Brooks and Lally House taught nine different courses. In the past, Wallace Gusler, John Bivins, Lynton McKenzie, Monte Mardarino, Lewis Sanchez, David Wagner, Ron Ehlert, Jim Chambers, George Suiter, Jay Close and Gary Brumfield have all led classes.

The courses are intense and the days commonly run 10 hours. All but one of the courses are taught in the WKU industrial arts shops used for technical education labs on the Bowling Green, Ky., campus. The only exception is the Southern rifle-building class taught by the House brothers in the famous Woodbury School of iron-mounted gun-making in Woodbury, Ky., where they have several coal forges set up for students to learn and practice hand-forging iron parts.

The seminar is organized around three-, six- and nine-day classes, the longest generally focusing on the building of a complete firearm. Nobody can take it all in during one seminar, which is why many students opt to return again and again.

In the nine-day courses, the prerequisite parts (lock, stock and barrel) are usually brought to class either by the student or instructor. From a practical standpoint, there isn’t enough time to make every small part in class, so trigger guards, patch boxes, buttplates, nose caps, thimbles and the like are usually provided too. This allows the students to focus their limited class time on shaping the stock correctly (referred to as its architecture), proper placement, inletting and fitting of the various parts, and then finishing and decorating the wood and metal.

Master gunsmith Herschel House (left) discussing the art of decorative incised-line carving with student Nathan Blauch

Herschel House was involved with the seminar from the start, and he and his brothers are the only instructors who teach the iron-mounted gun-making techniques prevalent in the mid- to late 18th century of the central South. The Houses set up three coal forges where students heat iron bars and hammer them into the raw shapes from which they will file out their own buttplates, trigger guards, lock plates and related stock furniture.

The atmosphere during the House course is like stepping back in time. The workshops are tucked into the forest and two structures that the students use are historic log cabins. I watched a dozen students beating iron bars into shape on the anvil, rasping out the first stages of their stock architecture, roughly grinding their newly formed iron parts to shape on an ancient bench grinder powered by a 90-year-old, single-cylinder engine, forge-welding their trigger-guard parts together, fine-filing the details of their metal stock furniture, and then locating and inletting them into their stocks. While this was going on other students were making knives, petting the many dogs that lounge around the area and firing rifles at targets in the woods. Throughout the day, the House brothers circulated continuously among the students, answering questions, demonstrating techniques, and providing guidance. To promote discussion and the exchange of knowledge, students and instructors ate their meals together on site either outside or inside one of the original log cabins. One student was living there during the entire seminar in the same cabin’s loft.

H2 Frank and Tom Greco Inside Hershels Workshop-min
The instruction is hands on. Student Tom Greco watches Frank House’s technique of roughing out the stock’s architecture with a file.

C1 Jack Brooks-min
Master gunsmith Jack Brooks holding a Revolutionary War-style longrifle he built, and uses to demonstrate in his course.

Master gunmaker Jack Brooks of Englewood, Colo., brought 40 years of experience to lead a nine-day course in stocking a Revolutionary War (circa 1775) Christian Springs-style longrifle. Brooks has extensively researched and documented the original weapon, which is heavier, plainer and more robust than the Golden Age longrifles of the postwar period. Students had to order the lock, stock blank and barrel in advance of the class while Brooks supplied them with reproduction rough castings of the trigger guard and buttplate, as well as patterns and photographs of the original historic rifle. In this challenging course the student’s form and inlet the massive rough-cut stock blank, file the parts to shape, and ultimately fit them to the stock. Not every student will complete the project during the seminar. The objective is to complete the most difficult parts of the project under instructor guidance and finish the fine details at home.

Brooks became interested in building long rifles as a college student in 1971. After graduation he worked as a chemist for the Environmental Protection Agency. His fascination with the American Revolution and the artistic elements of gun-making increased over the years but the pivotal moment came in 1976 when he was offered $1,200 to build a rifle for the bicentennial. He jumped at the opportunity and never stopped building.

Ron Scott, a long-time instructor at the seminar, believes its merit comes from more than just the exchange between teacher and student. The interplay between students is of great value because they learn from each other. Scott shared his gunsmithing expertise on European firearms in his course, designing and building a 1770s’ period fowler or rifle in the Parisian Rocco Art style. He conveys to students the architecture of the different schools of European gunmakers who worked within a rigid guild system, as well as the technical details of how they executed their work.

At the conclusion of the course, students know what the Old World masters made and how they made it. Scott provides the parts needed for the projects, including replicas of the highly decorative cast parts. He uses silicon molds to capture every detail of the original investment cast parts. These are ambitious projects!

Joe Valentin,  a retired dentist from Marlette, Mich., has been a regular seminar participant since 1983. The artistic quality of historic guns appealed to him and drew him away from his previous hobby of target shooting with black powder rifles. He taught himself the decorative arts of engraving and gold-leaf application, and used these skills to finish last year’s seminar project, an ornate German holster pistol. Before the gold could be applied, the raised edges of the design were undercut and the flat surfaces covered with tiny “teeth” formed by gently tapping a pointy metal punch with a mallet, first in one direction and then another. This creates an array of mechanical connections so the back of the soft gold foil can adhere to it when it is hammered against them with a wooden punch.

At 40 years old, instructor Jim Kibler is one the youngest professional full-time longrifle gunsmiths, and an alumni of the seminar. He built his first longrifle in his late teens before college and didn’t build another for 10 years because he was too busy working as an engineer for the automotive industry. Longing to make a move towards gunsmithing as a vocation rather than a hobby, he took the loss of his job during the recent economic recession as a sign to do it. He taught a three-day course on the drawing and design principles for carving and engraving longrifles and a six-day course on the fabrication of rifle-stock furniture in sheet brass that covered patch boxes, inlays, thimbles and stock nose capes. I watched him expertly hammer out a nose cap from a cut brass blank in minutes, stretching and compressing the metal in a die of his own making to make a perfectly formed part.

One of Kibler’s students is Justin Chapman, the military programmer for Colonial Williamsburg, a historic city, whose job includes the building and repair of the reproduction weapons used by historical interpreters. He comes to the seminars for professional development and has built 10 rifles in last three years.

Master builder Mark Silver who made a career making custom sporting rifles before shifting to longrifles, also taught two classes. In a three-day course, his students learned their choice of American- or European-style silver- and brass-wire decorative stock inlay techniques, beginning with the making of the specialized tools and ending with the final finishing. Silver’s six-day course focused on both incised line and relief carving that commonly adorned both American and European guns.

Lally House, renowned authority and practitioner of the nearly lost Native American art of porcupine-quill and moose-hair embroidery, taught back-to-back classes for beginning and advanced students. They learned every step of the process, short of catching their own porcupines and moose. Instruction focused on traditional designs, materials and dying techniques to maintain the authenticity of the art form.

Tom Greco attended the Woodbury School iron-mounted gun-making seminar and felt he learned more in two weeks with the House brothers than he had in 25 years on his own. During my interviews with seminar participants, I      found this type of high praise for the instructors common.

You may be asking yourself, “What would such and experience cost me?” The three-, six- and nine-day classes cost $360, $720 and $1,080, respectively, plus the cost of class materials. That’s no more than a cheap AR-15. If you want to learn how to build longrifles, there is no better way to do it than under the guidance of
accomplished instructors.

At least 30 former seminar students have gone on to build rifles of such fine quality they were deemed worthy to include in the traveling Minneapolis Institute of Arts exhibition in 2003. Another five former students now build longrifles full time. Today, most seminar participants are middle-aged or older, with the time and money to devote to studying the complex and interdisciplinary art of building longrifles. Professor Leeper along with Herschel House and many other aging masters expressed to me the need to get younger people involved in the seminars to carry on the tradition for another generation.

They encourage men and women with passion and talent to make themselves known, as a lack of financial resources will not be an obstacle to a dedicated student. ASJ

Author’s note: For more information on the 2016 seminar, contact Professor Terry Leeper at Terry.Leeper@wku.edu.

Scattergun

Bonhomie – Pedersoli’s new side-by-side is a modern shotgun with a classical twist, and it will be right at home for you at the range or afield.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

Dedicated scattergunners have probably realized by now that, although I’ve shot their preferred choice of gun for many years, I’ve never considered myself a shotgunner. It’s not that I have anything against them; it’s just that for me, shotguns have always taken a backseat to rifles and rifle shooting, especially when it comes to using black powder. But after seeing, handling and shooting a fine Pedersoli 12-gauge double with twin outside hammers, I think my priorities might start to shift a bit.

Pedersoli calls this side-by-side their “Bohemienne,” or Bohemian.  Comparing it to the standards of today, this shotgun is definitely nonconformist, and it is good enough that we can refer to it as being somewhat irregular. It is a cut above many others, and for me it is delightful in many ways, especially with its double outside hammers.

I want to emphasize one point right from the beginning. In most gun reviews like this one, contact information is provided so consumers get more information about the gun can described, but all too often the dealers at local gun shops don’t receive guidance about how to stock them. But this fine shotgun is available through the Italian Firearms Group,
a partnership that supplies the U.S. dealer network with the best products of multiple Italian gun makers.

The Italian Firearms Group was established in 2010, and represents some of that country’s top firearms craftsmen: F.A.I.R, Sabatti and Pedersoli. By going directly to IFG, dealers can make rather quick contact to get wholesale pricing and other useful information in regard to getting firearms to sell.

This finely crafted firearm features fine engraving, color casehardening, browned barrels and blued trigger guard.

THE PEDERSOLI LA BOHEMIENNE is a striking piece, to say the least. It is a classically styled, double-barreled 12-gauge shotgun with double outside hammers. The 28-inch browned barrels have 3-inch chambers, and are equipped with interchangeable chokes at the muzzles. The pistol grip and the fore-end each offer checkering for comfort, a good grip and, quite honestly, beauty. And speaking of, the frame is color casehardened and features hand-finished engraving. Overall length of the shotgun is just under 46 inches, and it weighs about 7¾ pounds.

The hammers are rebounding, so they don’t have or use half-cock notches. Rebounding hammers are, in my opinion, a good safety measure. If the gun is cocked and the hammer needs to be returned to its “down” position, you just hold the hammer back, pull the trigger, and slowly ease the hammer forward while releasing the trigger. The hammers cannot go far enough forward to hit the firing pins unless the triggers are held back.

The La Bohemienne is right at home with modern loads and with steel shot.

In addition to that, the gun is also equipped with a sliding safety, the very same as on a hammerless double, so the gun can be put on safety while the hammers are in the cocked position. The sliding safety does not move to the safe position when the gun is opened.

This gun is not specifically a black powder shotgun, not like a muzzle-loading shotgun would be. Instead, the Bohemienne is a finely made modern shotgun with modern steels in the barrels, so it is right at home with modern loads and with steel shot. While using steel shot, however, the changeable chokes should be used with only cylinder or improved-cylinder at the muzzles because the steel shot is simply not as compressible as lead.

A cloud of black powder smoke obscures the target, but it was a hit. (JERRY MAYO)

At the same time, in my most humble opinion, this gun is such a classic that it had “black powder” written all over it, and my choice for shooting it immediately fell to black powder loads for ammunition. That ammunition came from Buffalo Arms Company in northern Idaho. They offer a variety of shotgun loads with black powder, and the one I selected to use the most was loaded with 3 drams (82 grains) of black powder under 11/8 ounce of size 7½ lead shot.

This close-up of the side-by-side’s muzzles shows the changeable chokes.
THE BLACK POWDER SHOT SHELLS from Buffalo Arms Company are rather classic themselves. They are loaded in good old-fashioned paper hulls, and are nicely star-crimped at the mouth. Inside, these shells are loaded with what we might call “old style” components.

Dave Gullo, owner of Buffalo Arms, described the loads this way: “An important feature to our shotgun ammo is that it’s loaded with nitro overshot wads and fiber overpowder wads, not plastic wads, so that the shooter is not needing to scrub plastic out of their barrels when they are done shooting.”

At first, I couldn’t help notice what I will call rather heavy trigger pulls. I know that “rather heavy” is a relative expression. I’m most comfortable with the very lightly set triggers on muzzle-loading rifles and my favorite Sharps, so perhaps I wasn’t the best prepared for what this shotgun required. When I called for my first bird on the sporting clays range, I followed it until it was out of sight and the gun hadn’t fired. For my next try, I was more prepared.

The trigger pulls were actually quite fine, breaking very sharp and crisp, while remaining a bit on the heavy side. I realized that one reason for those trigger pulls being “heavy” is so the gun can be fired while both hammers are cocked. In this way, with its associated recoil, the jarring of one barrel going off will not release the second hammer. In other words, this gun will not “double” on you, which could be a memorable experience you wouldn’t want to have.

After I “caught up” with the gun, the good hits began to come one after the other. As you can guess, that’s when the fun really took over, and using this shotgun became a delight.

Our muzzle-loading club has a target known as the “slice of pie” that is used for a particular match with flintlock smoothbores during our Trade Gun Frolic. The slice of pie is used in a luck shoot where each shooter gets just one shot at 25 yards while using buckshot. It’s hard enough just to get some hits on the paper, and a shooter must be lucky to get any score at all.

This shows the “slice of pie” target with the six holes from the buckshot load.
Just to give this Pedersoli 12-gauge a chance, I took one shot at the slice of pie while using 00 buckshot. This was done with the Pedersoli’s left barrel, with the modified choke, and six hits are seen on the target (see photo at left) but with zero for a score. That shot was just another part of the fun.

There isn’t a whole lot more I can tell you about the Pedersoli La Bohemienne that wouldn’t simply be echoes of what I’ve already written. It is a very fine classic double-barreled 12-gauge, priced in the neighborhood of $2,100. And with the black powder loads, it provides classic shotgun shooting at its best.

For more information about Pedersoli, the La Bohemienne, and other finely crafted shotguns, visit italianfirearmsgroup.com. To learn more about the Buffalo Arms Company’s black powder shotgun loads in 10 and 12 gauges, visit buffaloarms.com. ASJ

The Great Flintlock Duck Hunt

[su_heading size=”30″]On a cold winter day in western Washington, two duck hunting rookies loaded up on No. 2 shot and expert advice to take on some wily webfoots.[/su_heading]

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]C[/su_dropcap]edarville Farms, located in Oakville, Washington, is an active farm that includes a working millworks facility. But perhaps more applicable to the topic of this column, it is also home to a waterfowl hunting club situated on more than 100 acres with five swales, a tree-enclosed pond, and 2,500 feet of river frontage. Owner Jon McAninch always donates a couple of two-person guided hunts to the annual Washington Waterfowl Association (WWA) raffle, and since I was one of last year’s lucky winners, I was able to select a partner. I chose Mike Moran, the president of the Washington State Muzzleloading Association, because I knew I could count on him to join me in hunting with a flintlock rifle.

Mike Moran (left) and Mike Nesbitt with the ducks they bagged using flintlocks.

Jon and Kurt Snyder – the chairman of the Grays Harbor chapter of the WWA – made our group a foursome. In addition to his duck hunting knowledge, Kurt was a huge help because it was he who put out the decoys and doubled as our retriever for getting our birds out of the water.

Ironically, neither Jon nor Kurt likes black powder shooting with muzzleloaders, and neither Mike nor I consider ourselves duck hunters. In other words, we were going to need their help to collect a couple of ducks, and they were more than glad to provide it.

Mike Moran’s 20-gauge Northwest gun has a 36-inch barrel.

MY “DUCK GUN” OF CHOICE was actually a short-barreled “canoe gun” in 20 gauge with the 20-inch barrel. From my point of view, it shoots with the best of the flintlock smoothbores. And, since I’ve used it in several rifle matches where it served me well enough to give me some rather good scores, this was the only gun that I even considered for my duck adventure.

A side-by-side size comparison of Mike and Mike’s flintlocks. The author’s is on the bottom.

Although Mike is well aware of my faith and trust in short-barreled guns, when he got the kit to make his Northwest gun, he chose one with a 36-inch barrel. I suppose the longer barrel must add some advantages, although I’ve yet to discover what those might be. But despite the difference in length, both of our guns use cylinder bore barrels with no choke at all, so we knew the shot patterns would most likely be very similar. Mike also selected a 20 gauge because that is probably the best all-around bore size for a Northwest gun.

This hunt took place on a cold winter’s day on Medicine Creek, which is at the high end of the Nisqually River delta, in Washington’s southernmost Puget Sound. And though Jon and Kurt had some established duck blinds in the area, Mike and I took up positions behind a log and some brush beside the slow-moving creek. Less than half a dozen decoys were anchored in the water near us. We were to hunker down to remain out of sight (always good advice), and were told in no uncertain terms that when the ducks came in, they’d be coming in fast.

Our flintlocks were loaded with steel air-rifle BBs. Jon had been very specific about what size of birdshot we might use in our 20-gauge guns. The birdshot, of course, must be steel, and Jon suggested that we use large shot so kills could be counted on; we wanted no wounded birds getting away. He recommended No. 2s or larger.

Since those BBs were most likely harder than the barrels of our guns, due consideration had to be made to put together loads just for duck hunting. First, we’d pour 75 grains of black powder down our guns’ barrels. The granulation of powder I used was Olde Eynsford 2F. Then came the same volume of BBs, contained in 20-gauge Remington Power Pistons. And because the amount of BBs more than filled the Power Pistons, we generally used Wonder Wads as overshot cards to give the bore a bit of lubricant ahead of the BBs.

Mike Moran helps Kurt Snyder (right) to bring in the decoys.

OUR GUIDES GOT US INTO POSITION after we had loaded our guns. Jon headed out to other parts of the area to scare up some ducks, while Kurt remained with us, primarily as our “retriever.” Kurt was a very good hunting guide. He was able to identify ducks that were coming toward us when they still looked like black dots to Mike and me. We’ll both be eager to hunt with the “Jon and Kurt team” again.

Then some more ducks came in, and these followed a flight plan more to our liking. But all too quickly Mike and I were looking at each other holding empty flintlocks, and no ducks had even broken formation! Clean misses! In fact, very clean misses.

Cedarville Farms owner Jon McAninch admires the author’s short Northwest gun, saying, “This is light!”

Finally the spell was broken. A flight of half a dozen ducks approached, and I picked out one I’d try for. They got into our desired range and I stood up to take my shot. When I rose, the duck swung sharply to its left, my right, but I had guessed that would happen and kept up plus a little ahead of it with my gun. When my flintlock spoke, the duck took some hard hits and for a moment seemed to stop midair. Then it was lifeless and simply tumbled down to the water. The first duck of the hunt was mine, but I certainly didn’t take it with my first shot.

There was no time to gloat, so I simply reloaded. My gun had just received its fresh load when Mike’s gun roared. When I stood up to see what was going on, there was a wounded duck in the water ahead of us and my gun was quickly unloaded in order to end any miseries the duck might have felt. That was Mike’s first duck; he had taken it out of the air and all claims to it were his.

Later, we finally had some moments to reflect on our successful shots. The image of the duck I killed almost stopping in the air actually looked like an easy shot. That was the type of shot we had come to that spot for. In fact, it looked so easy that I have no idea why I couldn’t do it again.

Suddenly a lone duck flew our way and Mike stood up to take the shot. It was a very good shot at a fast-flying bird, and although the duck was hit hard, its speed and momentum carried it through the air to crash behind us. That was Mike’s second duck and it looked like our day of hunting was over. That’s also when the pictures you see here were taken, and in some of them you can see the long shadows that accompany late afternoon photography.

IT WAS AFTER THE PHOTOS were taken that Kurt noticed a dead pintail hen. At first it was thought that the hen had been killed by other hunters who were there the day before but the duck wasn’t frozen. It was still warm and, in fact, it showed a single wound to the breast made by a BB, so it was clearly one of ours. It must have taken the hit, perhaps like a heart shot, but continued flying until over or behind us before it reached the ground. Mike suggested that I take it because that would give us each two birds for the hunt. I appreciated the gesture, and claiming the pintail really added to my day.

Here’s author Mike Nesbitt’s favorite 20-gauge “flinter,” with a 20-inch barrel.

Mike and I decided that additional flintlock hunts would be a good thing, perhaps for grouse or rabbits next time. Different kinds of game offers challenges of another sort, and you’re never too young to learn. We also agreed to do more practice shooting with our flintlocks using birdshot on flying, running, and bouncing targets simply to be a bit better the next time we take those guns afield. ASJ

Hawking The Hawken

[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

Goin’ Slow

[su_heading size=”30″]If you are starting out with black powder cartridge shooting, the .45-70 is a great place to begin.[/su_heading]

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

Two nice .45-70s: the C. Sharps 1874 (top) and the Browning Model 1886 carbine (bottom).

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]M[/su_dropcap]ost of what we’ve heard or read about black powder cartridge shooting seems to focus on long-range action. Those stories either include long-range target shooting, especially in “Quigley style” competition, or hunting, such as the tales of the buffalo hunters. While those tales of longrange heroics are often very true, with credits positively earned, black powder cartridges are right at home with shorter range shooting too. Some folks might consider this to be “goin’ slow,” but it really is the best place to start.
IF YOU ARE JUST BEGINNING to get into black powder cartridge shooting or are even just thinking about it, the good old .45-70 is a fine and logical entry point to this type of shooting. One good reason for that is because there are so many things, including guns and accessories, available for the .45-70 caliber. Ammunition is readily available too, but that’s less of an issue because for black powder shooting we’d be loading our own, for either single shot or repeating rifles.

Black powder loads can certainly be fired in repeating rifles, such as my Browning copy of the old Winchester 1886 saddle-ring carbine with its 22-inch-long barrel. The main difference between the repeaters and most of the single shots is that the single shots – such as the Sharps or the rolling block – actually have no maximum cartridge length.

On the other hand, lever-action rifles have a maximum overall cartridge length, generally just over 2½ inches, so the cartridges can cycle through the actions. Also, the trapdoor single shots might not accept cartridges quite as long as the Sharps or rolling block because their cartridges must be initially loaded at an angle. And those trapdoors and repeaters might actually chamber cartridges that are too long for them to eject if still loaded, so to unload the rifle, those long cartridges will have to be fired.

Lyman’s #457124 bullet, the famous “old timer” for carbine loads.

During the “on duty” days of the .45-70, there were some variations in the loading of the cartridges. The first and the oldest was the .45-70/405, which was designated as the “rifle load.” Because that powder and bullet combination can be considered quite a blast when fired from a carbine, a “carbine load” using 55 grains of powder under the same 405-grain bullet was also used. The carbine load might sound like it is melted down compared to the standard rifle load, but don’t cut it too short. Carbine loads can stand on their own while offering comfortable shooting.
MAKING THE CARBINE LOAD IS SIMPLE. This can begin with new unfired brass which has been run through the neck expander to accomplish two things: it bells the mouth of the cases just a bit to accept the cast bullets, and it rounds out the mouth of any cases which might have gotten squeezed a bit out of round. Of course, fired brass needs to be treated the same way. Then the cases are primed and ready for 55 grains of black powder. Once the powder is poured into the case, no compression is required and you can easily seat the lubricated cast bullet down over the powder.

The bullets used for these carbine loads were Lyman’s #457124, the old ideal style of grooved bullets that were the standard 405-grain slug for the .45-70. Some of the old-style bullets did have fewer and wider lube grooves, but those don’t show once the bullets are loaded into the cases.

Bullets for carbine loads are seated rather deeply, to ensure that no air space was left in the case above the powder charge and to make the carbine loads instantly identifiable to the shooters. For my loads, the bullets were seated just deep enough so the mouth of the case could be slightly crimped over the top of the forward driving band.

A crimp groove in the bullet is not necessary with black powder loads because the bullet is resting on top of the powder charge. There is very little opportunity for the bullet to be pushed further into the case, even when used in a tubular magazine.
IF THERE WAS EVER A CLASSIC BULLET for the old .45-70, it would have to be the old Lyman/Ideal #457124. I say that for a couple of reasons, but they can be netted out into just a couple of short statements. First and foremost, it is a very historical design, and Lyman refers to it (in their old Handbook of Cast Bullets, from 1958, the one with an engraved converted Sharps carbine on the cover) as “the regular standard .45-70 Government bullet.”

For our shooting needs these days, this remains a standard bullet, and is useful for any .45-70 rifle or pistol being single shot or repeater. It can be used with carbine loads using 55 grains of powder or with full rifle loads burning 70 grains of powder. This old standard is still an all-around bullet for the .45-70 and it can be used in most other .45-caliber rifle cartridges as well.

The original weight of #457124 was listed at 405 grains. I don’t think any design change has been incorporated over the years but now this bullet is most often listed at 385 grains. That weight difference is simply from the alloy the bullets are made or cast with.

My favorite use for the #457124 is in carbine loads, such as the cartridges pictured above. These are loaded with 55 grains of Olde Eynsford 2F. That is simply a nice load, good for shooting all day without cleaning as long as the bullets are well lubed. When you shoot it all day, this load leaves you with good feeling in your shoulder too. While that is the carbine load, it remains good load for hunting, perhaps for deer-sized game at ranges within 100 yards. It is not a long-range powerhouse, but it doesn’t lack much either. In fact, the above load scoots an average of 1,245 feet per second when shot out of a 30-inch barrel. That’s not bad at all.

Not the tightest group, but a good target shot with carbine loads.

If any .45-70 shooters out there don’t have a #457124 mold from Lyman in their gear, their “possibles” are simply incomplete. Lyman has dropped many molds from their catalog over the years, but thankfully #457124 is still on the list; it’s just too good to ignore. These quality bullet molds are available from almost any handloading supplier, and Lyman lists this one for $90.95 without handles.

I must give plenty of credit to these slow .45-70 carbine loads. My loads for this carbine and my lightweight Sharps rifle as well perform just as I want them to. Carbine loads will actually perform just as well if not better in any of the heavier rifles too. There is nothing wrong with loads that send the bullets out a bit slower than the full charges. They can actually be better if they help us make better hits. ASJ

Contact: Lyman Products Corporation Lymanproducts.com

Crackerjack Barrels

[su_heading size=”30″]Flintlock Construction Inc. offers quality muzzleloading barrels in a variety of calibers, lengths, twists and tapers.[/su_heading]

STORY AND PHOTOS BY MIKE NESBITT

[su_dropcap style=”light” size=”5″]I [/su_dropcap]recently purchased a .52-caliber barrel from Charles Burton of Flintlock Construction Inc. (FCI) in northeast Kentucky, and I’m happy to report that it now has a new rifle wrapped around it and is performing very well.

My shooting was done using a .512-inch-diameter round ball wrapped in a .015-inch patch. The bore is tapered – just a mere .003 inch within the 35-inch length – but it is easily felt both when loading a patched round ball and when cleaning the gun. That ball-and-patch combination is relatively easy to start at the muzzle, and ramming the patched ball down to rest on the powder actually gets easier as the ball is pushed further down the
bore. At least part of the reason for that is because the tapered bores have their tightest diameters at their muzzles.

These barrels can be straight octagon up to 1 3/8 inches in width for any length out to 48 inches. FCI also offers straight tapered barrels to those same dimensions. Swamped, octagon and round barrels are also available out to 48 inches as well. Smoothbore barrels are made out to 48 inches. Burton also makes a 1 1/8-inch light bench barrel with a false muzzle, and pistol barrels too.

This Leman-styled rifle was built using the new .52-caliber Burton barrel from FCI.
This Leman-styled rifle was built using the new .52-caliber Burton barrel from FCI.

Burton’s barrels are made from 12L14 steel, and several calibers are standard. These include bore sizes of .30, .32, .36, .38, .40, .44, .45, .47, .48, .50, .52, .54, .58, .60 and .62 calibers. What drew my attention to his barrels is his offering of the .52 caliber, and that is what I ordered: a 35-inch barrel that is 1 inch wide with a twist rate of one turn in 66 inches, and having flat bottom grooves. All barrels come with a straight or tapered tang breech plugs and the rifling is cut with seven grooves. Twist rates can be from one turn in 21 inches to straight rifled, so the buyer has the choice of just about any rate of twist desired.

SQUARE-BOTTOM RIFLING GROOVES are cut to a depth of .010 to .012 inch, while round bottom grooves are cut to .015 to .016 inch. All rifled barrels have seven grooves, and typical twists are 1 in 48, 1 in 57, 1 in 66, and 1 in 72 inches. But by using a sine bar rifling machine, Burton can cut twists from straight to as fast as one turn in 21 inches.

In addition, he hand laps and shoots all custom barrels before shipping them. My .52-caliber barrel came with a test target that was fired from sandbags at 30 yards with 70 grains of FFFg under a patched .512-inch round ball. In order to shoot the new barrels, Burton temporarily breeches them to an in-line “action” and glues sights to the barrel. All evidence of the sights and the breeching are removed before the barrel receives the breech plug the customer has requested.

When it was time to sight-in my new rifle the day was wet and rainy, but I just wore my hat with the “Montana peak” and went shooting. For the initial shots, I posted a target at 25 yards and filed down the front sight to raise the point of impact on the target. The load used for these close-range tests was 50 grains of GOEX FFFg under the .512inch cast ball wrapped in a Bridgers Best .015-inch lubricated patch.

All five shots cut the X on this second target.
All five shots cut the X on this second target.

With the sight filed so the rifle was hitting center, I posted a pistol target for a five-shot group, and this turned out very well indeed. Those five shots, by the way, were fired using the Pushing Daisies patches from October Country, cut from .015-inch ticking and lubed with Bumblin’ Bear Grease. Both are very good patches, especially for hunting. In case you are wondering, I consider both Bridgers Best and October Country patches to be equally good.

All things considered, the Burton barrel with the tapered bore loads easily and shoots very well. The small amount of shooting I’ve done with this rifle probably hasn’t done the barrel any real harm, but more shooting will certainly be done – and sooner than later.

Prices for Burton Barrels vary, but all are very reasonable, starting at $185 for a breeched straight rifle barrel, such as mine. Prices do not include shipping, and Burton asks for 50 percent of the barrel’s cost when an order is placed, with the remainder due when the barrel is received. Delivery is generally made in three to six months, as no barrels are kept in stock. All barrels are for black powder only.

To learn more about Burton gun barrels, or to place an order, visit fcibarrels.com, or call (606) 780-7709. ASJ

The author sights in his new .52-caliber FCI barrel from the bench.
The author sights in his new .52-caliber FCI barrel from the bench.