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Each once in a while, this website will publish an article of interest to the muzzleloading public. Most will be written by DOC, but some few will come from other sources. We will talk about any number of things, mostly hunting and muzzleloading. Nothing will be sacred. Doc usually learns something of value from the effort of writing these articles. With any luck, you will learn something from reading them.
AN UNUSUAL HAWKEN
As a group, most students of Hawken rifles believe that neither Jake nor Sam ever produced a flintlock rifle in their St. Louis shop. They may have, of course, but if so, none were marked or otherwise identified. The Hawken rifle illustrated below may be the exception.
One of my great blessings was the US Army, who in their wisdom, sent me to Alaska for two years back in the late 1960's. I arrived there in Feb, 1966 and almost immediately made the aquaintance of Bill Fuller, who ran a gunsmith shop at Cooper's Landing, on the Kenai Penninsula, about an hour and a half out of Anchorage. Bill had a half dozen original Hawken rifles at the time, including the one shown below. This particular Hawken was in excellent shape, with a heavy slightly swamped barrel in 58 caliber. The bore was likewise in great shape and it shot quite well. The stock was walnut, unusual for a Hawken, the furniture brass, also unusual for a Hawken and the styling is pure Maryland with a Lancasterish bent. If this rifle had been produced in Christofer Hawken's Maryland shop, it would not be unusual at all. But, no, the barrel is clearly marked J S Hawken, you can see that in the lower photo. The rifle also has a typical Hawken style patent hooked britch with long tang, but does not sport the long double-set trigger bar of the more typical St. Louis Hawken rifles. The lock is clearly a conversion from flintlock. The holes for frizzen screw, frizzen spring screw and frizzen spring detent are clearly seen in their usual places on the lock plate. The barrel is 40+ inches long and the rifle weighs 14 lbs.
Here are Bill Fuller and the Maryland/Lancaster style Hawken-St. Louis marked rifle, The photo was taken the summer of 1966. You can see the swamp in the octagon barrel. Note the typical, late Maryland style brass buttplate and the late brass patch-box. I call it late because the side plates are so plain and there is wood between the lid and the side plates. The side plates are decorated with a wobble of 'chicken tracks', a simple form of engraving. The trigger guard matches the style of the patch-box and is big enough to carry the double set trigger. The DST trigger bar is short, in typical early Eastern style. If I had to date the rifle by those features, I would say it was made in the East, probably Maryland, in the 1820's.
The lock plate is also late, with the flat plate and abbreviated pointed tail of later flintlocks. It is probably a commercial lock, imported from elsewhere and sold to the gun-making trade. The frizzen and frizzen-spring screw-holes have not been filled, as was a common practice when converting locks from flint to percussion yet the finish on the lock is excellent with traces of color still present. The Hawken snail breech has filled in the flintlock pan area quite nicely. There is a bit of wood missing from just above the forward extension of the lockplate, implying that the rifle saw at least some use during its active life. The oil finish on the walnut is still in good condition, there are comparatively few wear or use marks, so was sparingly used or awfully well kept.
The side-lock plate is brass and Marylandish with a curved bottom and sparing engraving. The cheek-piece is typical of Maryland/Lancaster rifles. There is no other carved decoration anywhere, which indicates production in the late first quarter of the 1800's. You can see the Hawken style long tang, which appears to barely fit an older short tang mortice. Look closely and the earlier mortice marks stand out about a third of the way back on the long tang. the Hawken stampings stand out in the rightward photo. Look how far forward the rear sight is, a feature often seen on Eastern rifles of all schools.
The real questions are obvious. Who made it? When was it made? Where was it made? When was it converted, if it was converted. Did the Hawken brothers make it or did they convert it later, using their Hawken breech and long tang? I am sure that every reader will have an opinion. I am going to hazard mine. You may agree with me, or not.
I very much doubt that a heavy rifle like this one was made in Maryland. By the 1820's, Maryland rifles, in common with Eastern rifles of most schools, were tending towards small calibers. Big game had disappeared by then as had the threat of frontier war. Big and heavy indicates manufacture in the West or at least for use in the West.. It was probably made in St. Louis for the transcontinental trade.
It was probably originally flintlock, then later converted to percussion . Its excellent condition probably means that it never went across the plains and was never used in the mountains. The owner was probably local, wealthy, demanding a true Hawken conversion rather than just a common drum and nipple, which was much cheaper. The care that it has obviously had indicates a careful and sparing user with enough means to get what he wanted.
When did the Hawken's mark it? Obviously, sometime during Jake's and Sam's partnership. Who knows if they built the rifle in the first place. We only know that at some time it passed through their hands and they marked it, probably because they converted it. I suspect they built it. They certainly knew the style. It was probably one of their earliest rifles, done on custom order, before they developed the classic Hawken style for which they are so famous, then later converted and marked.
PERFECT CAMO, PERFECT CALL- Turkey 2011
I wish I had a picture of this. There I was, sitting in a beach chair, surrounded by two foot high grass, with a bull elk 20 yards away. The bull was looking straight at me, nose and head thrust forward, ears at attention, eyes searching. The only question was how soon he was going to see me and alert the whole country that I was there.
This scene had all started a month earlier, in early April of 2011. I and two of my best buddies, Les Bennet and McCord Marshall, arrived in Texas on the eastern edge of the Big Bend country to hunt turkeys. Itís a trip we take annually, the best reason being that we can take 4 turkeys in this part of the world where at home we only get one.
Normally, the hunting is terrific, with plenty of birds in the strut and lots of opportunities. This year was destined to be different. Where usually the weather was pleasant if not a bit too warm for us cold country boys, now it was cold one day, down to 63, or super hot the next, up to 105. Where usually the wind was a pleasant breeze it was now a honking blast, with gusts what would knock over your carefully arranged cover and almost take you to the ground. It was tough to even keep powder in the pan of my flintlock. Where before the birds were well into the strut, running at my amateurish calls to be first to get to what they thought was a hen, the strut hadnít even started, or maybe it was already over. Calling actually sent them running the other way.
Naturally, I brought along a brand new flintlock fowler, this time a copy of what I thought a Chiefís Grade northwest gun might look like. It had a nice cherry stock and a 12 gauge Colerain octagon to round smooth-bore barrel with one of my custom made interchangable .660 chokes. I was throwing 1 7/8 oz of shot surrounded by a White tapered shot cup ( tapered so you can get it into that tight choke) over a couple of wool Wonder Wads and 100 grains of FFg Black Powder. It was a great load, especially with the #7 nickle-plated hardened shot I used, throwing super tight patterns at 40 yards, usually good for 8-10 hits in head and spine.
The gun, meticulously made as it was, didnít do me much good this year. The priming powder stayed in the pan as long as the frizzen was down, but as soon as to popped open with the shot, the priming went flying in the wind. No shot, no turkey. I had a big tom in my sights at 30 yards, head up, looking right at me, giving me time enough to prime, cock and pull trigger 4 times before he finally got the idea that something was amiss and left the scene. No wonder Alexander Forsyth invented the percussion system.
Needless to say, the situation was very frustrating. Les managed to get a few birds, Mc Cord got two and I only ended up with a single. Both the other guys were shooting modern guns, no wind effect there. Cartridges donít care about the wind. It made me wonder what would have happened had the tom been a Shawnee back in the Old Northwest, hearing the clack of an opening frizzen, not followed by a shot. No wonder the long hunters carried pistols, knives and tomahawks. I would have been happy had the turkey charged me after a misfire, but frankly wondered at if I could counter the charge of a Shawnee warrior.
The wind finally calmed enough for a photo. Here I am, out of camos, ready to head for home.
We returned to Utah for the opening of the Utah Turkey Season, just a week later. Glory be, the weather was just as bad in Utah as it was in Texas. Instead of hot, it was cold as your mother-in-lawís kiss, down to freezing and below in mid April. The trees tried to blossom and got frozen, had to go it again. The wind blew like a maniac. The turkeys were absolutely not interested in strutting, staying spooked by all the wind. Normally, Utah turkeys are a lot more spooky than the Texas kind, anyway. There are fewer of them in the first place, there is a lot less cover in the second and the predators are bigger and meaner in the third. Utah turkey hunting is usually a hard hunt anyway. This year was impossible.
We saw turkeys, but always at a distance and always on the move. The wind had them spooked but good. Any strutting we saw was half hearted. Gobbles were at a premium, a few from the tree, none as soon as they hit the ground. Feeding was done at a trot, a peck here and there as they zoomed past, always out of range.
The end of the Utah season loomed, at least the end of it for me. I was headed to the Anasazi Rendevous in Southern Utah on the last day of the season and wouldnít have time to hunt. I did get out on the day before. McCord had spotted a small herd that moved though a cornfield at early light every day. We determined to ambush them as they moved through.
Naturally, the best laid plans run amuck. That day they decided to get into the strut. The day was pleasant and bright , with no wind. They came of the tree gobbling their heads off and gobbled all the way to the cornfield. We thought we were in heaven. Except that instead of following their wind-blown pattern of travel, they wandered into the field, obviously henned up, in full strut, and from the wrong place. We were about a hundred yards short.
Sexy clucks did no good. They got gobbles but no action. I would call and one or several toms would gobble, then the boss hen would cluck and the toms would turn back into the herd. I even tried calling the boss hen, challenging her as if I was another boss hen, Ďcome over and fightí, but she just ran off. I guess I was too aggressive, sounded too tough. We had the fun of watching, but no shooting.
I thought that was the end of my turkey hunting for the year in Utah, but I was wrong as usual. The rest of the day went to hell and instead of leaving for the Rendezvous, I was stuck in town for another day. When it became obvious that I would not get out of town until the next day, I decided to give the turkeys one last try. This is where the story started.
There I was in the grass and weeds. It wasnít classic turkey cover. In fact, it bordered the cornfield where we had seen the turkeys the day before. It was still cold, 34 F. on the thermometer, cold enough that I put on my goose hunting parka with fall grass camo. I figured the grass pattern would match up pretty good with the weeds and cornstocks. As usual I was sitting in a camo beach chair, low down to the ground, butt just scraping the turf. The chair allows me to sit for long periods of time without back or butt pain. I had my new once fired flintlock Chiefís Grade NorthWest gun in hand. The sky was dark as the inside of a cow.
I heard a few tree gobbles from the north, sounded a long ways off. I didnít really know the distance, but the nearest roost tree was about a half mile away. As it got lighter, the gobbles increased in intensity and volume. I called a few times, loud because of the distance. I thought I got an answer. Sounded like they were on the ground and coming closer. I noticed a little movement in the distance. Elk, mixed cows and bulls just beginning to sprout their horns. They were grazing my way. The gobbles were getting closer too. Sounded like half as far now, twice as loud as before. I cut the volume on my clucks in half. I got a gobble with every cluck. Sometimes two or three gobbles.
Oops, the elk were closer, in fact, right on top of me. I was behind a pile of rocks and dirt with a few rotting tree trunks thrown in and weeds and grass growing up all around. The elk herd was dividing to go around me on either side. One bull, with a foot of new antler on his head, was coming straight at me. He ended up 20 yards away, with the gobblers now loud and close, I figured within 100 yards and responding enthusiastically to my clucking.
I knew what was going to happen. The turkeys were going to appear at the same time as the elk finally spotted me. The elk would spook and the turkeys would be alerted and run off. The performance would match the rest of the yearís turkey hunting. I decided to scare the elk off, so I clucked at him as he grazed along, nice and loud. I got a big triple gobble, sounded real close now, and the elk whirling around to stare for my trouble.
The bull spent a full minute or more staring. He stared straight at me. I figured he would see me and run off, hopefully before the turkeys were close enough to spook. Then the bull went back to gazing. I called again. Once more some big time gobbling, close. The bull took a look then went back to grazing, coming even closer than before. The third time I called the bull didnít even look. It occurred to me that my camo was so perfect and my call so good that the elk couldnít tell that I was not real. Wow!
By this time the elk was past my field of vision, off to my right. I forgot about him as two cows walked past, following the bull. The other elk went past on my left, where I was better hidden. The gobblers were getting closer, just behind the frieze of brush to my front. I shifted position, got the gun up and shifted to a one handed call. I had been using a box call before.
Three hens suddenly appeared 30 odd yards out. The pecked their way past, gobblerís red heads poking above the brush a few yards behind them. Five toms, all together , two or three gobbling together, responding to my faint clucks, heading my way. The first one was a Jake, the others bigger. The last was a three year old with a good beard. They came at me in a pack.
It was hard to tell which was which as I could only see their heads above the weeds. I kept careful track of the three year oldís head. When he stepped out in front a bit, far enough away from the others that I wouldnít hit more than just him, I pulled trigger. The flinter went off flawlessly and the tom disappeared. There was a flurry of feathers, with turkeys dashing here and there. Two of them came back and jumped the downed bird as I jumped up and ran over toó the Jake. Very dead, all 17 lbs of him, tail torn and pecked, obviously the bottom of the pecking order.
I laughed and laughed. Ií m not sure what I laughed at; the terrible season finally over, the pride of a supposed great hunter taken down, the beautiful day, the accumulation of frustrations, a touch of last minute success, or what. But the laugh was joyful. I had learned some good lessons. Never give up. Accept the blessings thrown your way with a grateful heart. You are a better hunter than you think you are. Flintlocks just make the game funner. Your camo and call were perfect for at least once in your life. You have a tasty morsel in hand. Who wants a smelly, tough old tom in the middle of the rut anyway.
And he was tasty. I threw him the truck and took him to Rendezvous. I dressed him out there, used a bit of the meat for bribes and treats and traded the feathers and wings. The breast meat was delicious cut in thin slices and fried in butter. The legs went into the stew pot, boiled slowly until the meat fell off the bones, tantalizing a slew of folks who came by to say hello. A great end to a frustrating season.
Here I am at the Anasazi Rendezvous. Looks bright and sunshiney but the thermometer said 34 F. I have on almost all the clothes I brought with me, including waffle weave underclothes, a sweater, frilly shirt and Ohio style padded wool winter waistcoat, as well as heavy gabardine pants. The wool cap is not for show, keeps my bald head warm. The walking stick is functional, too. I stumbled in a ploughed field hunting turkeys a few days before this photo was taken and wrenched my good right knee. The left knee is a replacement.
The Truly Traditional Hawken
When Jake and Sam Hawken left their Maryland home in the 1820's for St Louis, they did so for the same reason that most of us move. Opportunity was the name of the game and St Louis was the epicenter of that opportunity. Many thought that the opportunity was in the Shining Mountains of the West, but Jake and Sam knew that those entrepreneurs who supplied the burgeoning western fur trade were more likely to get wealthy and stay alive too. The survival rate in St Louis was far better, even with the Cholera, than was the 50% death rate of the trappers.
It is apparent that they had received solid training from their gunsmith father, with apprenticeship in the gun making trade. The rifles, pistols and fowlers turned out by the Hawken family in the Maryland days were Maryland style rifles. The one Hawken rifle signed by the brothers that doesnít follow the general conformation of the later Hawken style is obviously a Maryland style longrifle, brass accouterments and all. I saw it last in the hands of a Logan, Utah collector.
That all changed when the Hawkens started their St louis production. We have no idea what unmarked Hawken rifles looked like, simply because they are not identifiable, that is, if there are any. We donít even know that there are any. But we do know this, all known and marked Hawken rifles, whether fullstock or halfstock, follow that same basic conformation, with solid hooked percussion breech, long tang double bolted to a long bar Double Set Trigger, right handed percussion sidelock, with forestock keyed to the barrel rather than pinned, often with decorative surrounds, mostly iron fittings with silver occasionally thrown into the mix, a trigger guard clearly copied from the popular British sporting rifles of the time with a curl at the rear and a curved buttplate fabricated from iron sheeting and brazed together. Only later rifles have cast buttplates imported from the East.. Other details varied a little.
It is obvious that many of the details of the more famous of their rifles were gleaned from the English rifles of the day. Whether or not this styling came from personal exposure to English travelers or from design catalogues and literature is unknown, but the styling is obvious. The patent breech, with its hooked tang, was invented early on by the better English gunmakers. The Hawken variant is not so unusual that it is not seen in English and continental rifles and shotguns. The scroll trigger guard is likewise a very English feature and was very popular in England during the Hawken years. The fore-end cap was likewise English in styling. The Percussion lock and the simple lockbolt plate on the opposite sidelock panel were also typical of the understated English styling of the day.
An original heavy Hawken rifle once owned by Bill Fuller of Cooper's Landing Alaska. At one time he had a half dozen originals at his place. I got to know him well back in 1966-67.We dissected all of them and shot most. He killed a black bear that was messing in his garbage with a Hawken fullstock. This one was my favorite, 58 caliber, slightly swamped and tapered barrel 38 inches long, 1 1/8" at britch, 15" pull to front trigger, 12 lbs., a big rifle made for a big men. It fit me just right. I have no idea where it is now.
This is not to say that the Hawken brothers did not craft their own art into their guns. The most prominent difference is in the buttplate, which was deeply curved rather than the shotgun style butt of most English rifles. The use of a double set trigger is likewise an offset, as the English preferred the single set trigger. This may have been because the DST was simpler and sturdier than the SST. It was less likely to break down in the far West and could still be used as a single trigger if it broke, something that most SST's could not do. The fore-end cap, which was often Ebony wood on English rifles, was most often silver plated iron in the Hawken, Every screw Iíve ever seen was originally blued, though usually only traces of the blue showed. Barrels could be browned or blued, bluing being far more common then than we think now, most of it having faded to brown. Both made use of case hardening in color with breeches, tangs, trigger guards buttplate and locks finished in brilliant case colors. Another difference was finish. Most Hawken rifles were plain wood, obviously chosen for strength over figure and were painted with a blackish varnish. Most of the known antiques show a little of it, some no finish at all. The fullstock Hawken that a friend in Alaska used to kill a bear messing in his garbage was nearly bare yellowish maple, all finish having disappeared with use and years. The finish on the Bridger Hawken in the collection of he Montana Historical Society clearly shows the blackish varnish in places not worn by handling. Hardly any figure shows through. It shows no signs of refinish.
This is something the Hawken Brothers probably never did: a fullstock flintlock with brass furniture and a flat to the wrist trigger guard. By the way, it's a charming rifle, but once again, hardly traditional.
Two things the Hawken brothers never did: as far as anyone knows, they never produced a flintlock rifle in the St Louis shop, at least not a marked and identifiable one. We all presume that they did, just never marked them. But even then, if they did, the styling was not recognizable as a Hawken, like the later percussion ones. Also, our modern flat to the wrist trigger guard was rarely used by the Hawkens. It appears on only a few of their known and marked rifles.
Another item for the strict traditionalist to pay attention to is the curl at the rear of the trigger guard. Early Hawkens appear to have had a more rounded curl than is currently available on the reproduction market. Later rifles did indeed have the narrowed, slanted curl that we more commonly see on reproductions. Of course, a good gun-maker can re-forge an incorrect modern casting into any conformation that he wants.
The last item is the corner of the buttplate, the upper rear corner, that is. Many later plains rifles had an attractive rounded detail in that location. Many modern castings include it. It is pretty. But it certainly is not traditional. Hawken buttplates, whether an early one fabricated from sheet iron or the later bought from the East castings, were invariably straight with a square corner.
At least as far as anyone knows- that flat to the wrist trigger guard is only rarely seen on original Hawken rifles. But I love it! It makes a handsome rifle.
So what would you expect on an absolutely traditional Hawken rifle? You would expect very plain maple, smooth sanded but finished dark with a blackish varnish, no figure showing through. You get an octagon barrel, often tapered, sometimes slightly swamped and sometimes straight on a few, with a browned or blued finish. Likely most browned barrels were originally blued, now faded to brown, which is what antique rust bluing techniques do over time. You would see very low sights on the early guns, only the very later having higher ones, such as we moderns like to see. Only the Modena rifle has a truly high rear sight. The front sight would have a copper base and a real silver blade, of whatever shape the last shooter left it in. I never saw an adjustable sight on a Hawken, only on the later Gemmers. You would expect a case hardened finish on buttplate, tang, breeching, lock and trigger guard. You would expect a silver plated finish on the forend cap. All the screws would be blued, as well as the keys. Roundels would be real silver, if any. The sidelock escutcheon would be plain blued iron, sometimes real silver. There might be a capbox with crude engraving or the rare patchbox with none, both almost always in iron except for a few light calibered rifles obviously never meant to cross the mountains.
So what are you going to get on a modern reproduction? The real question is what errors we modern makers fabricate into our reproduction, and as an aside, what are we forced to do because of concern for economy or difficulty of manufacture? First and most prominently, you will rarely ever see case hardening on a modern reproduction. If you do, it will be done with the modern gas based method rather than the heat soak in bone charcoal that the Harkens probably used. The issue is that the colors are subtly different. Some of us substitute blued finish for case colors, but most builders just use a browned finish. Second, the barrel will inevitably be browned, not blued as were most of the originals. Third, the stock wood will be chosen for color and figure, usually will have been carved on a modern multi-place CNC carving machine to 98% shape and will be finished with modern oils and stain to enhance the figure of the wood rather than disguise it. Fourth, German Silver will be used in place of real silver. Fifth, the nose cap will rarely be silver plated. It will end up blued or browned or it will be a German silver sheet stamping. Probably most important, the furniture will be lost wax investment cast, rather than fabricated from sheet and brazed or sand cast as were the originals. All of these techniques , other than for the fancy stock, are either used to lessen costs or are simply not available to the worker.
Here is a modern copy of the Bridger Hawken. Note the browned barrel and furniture and the fancy maple stock finished to enhance the figure in the maple, the long bar adjustable rear sight and German silver surrounds on the forestock. What doesn't show are the lost wax investment cast parts, the 5-axis CNC pantograph that carved the stock, the modern GBQ steel, the P&W automated CNC drill and rifling machine and CNC planer that made the barrel, plus all the superb modern technology that contributed to the final product. The one great thing about all this is that it makes the final product as inexpensive as it is. It means that the average shooter can afford one if he puts his mind to it. Doing it the old way, without the advantages of modern technology, would cost a fortune.
As for myself, and I am probably typical of the genre, I use the best maple I can get with the best figure simply because $100 extra for the wood will yield $300 extra on the gun. Plain maple is to be avoided except where specifically ordered. I almost always finish it with modern clear penetrating oils preceeded by Laurel Mountain stain and finally LM stock finish- which is really a very pliable varnish. I do this for a simple reason. The rifle sells better for a higher price if I do. Tradition be damned. I have found that a traditional finished stock detracts from the final price of the rifle, moderns just donít like it. I have done a few with the blackish varnish finish, but only on special order for those who know what they want.
I also buy the best barrels I can get, machined to fit the stocks carved on a 5 place auto carver, digitally fed.. I almost always finish them brown, simply because thatís what the public demands. Once in a blue moon, I get an order for a traditional rust blued one but Iím always careful to overblue it so a tinge of rust brown shows through for that worn, antique touch.
I often antique rust blue the lock, hammer, trigger guard and buttplate, but Iíve had buyers complain because they werenít Ďcorrectlyí browned. I rarely case harden the same parts in color again because it adds substantially to the cost and itís not normally profitable to do it, unless on special order. The same goes for the real silver decorations and especially the silver plated fore-stock end-cap. Most moderns prefer German silver, itís just as pretty and far more durable with less care needed. And the real thing adds to the cost: A wax cast nose-cap costs about $10, the plating cost $40-50, the customer gets charged even more, as those base costs donít include S&H or the time/effort to get the job done. Same goes for the front sight. German silver is stronger than the real thing and brass bases are tougher than copper, too. As an aside, nobody knows what an original Hawken front sight looked like. Most show signs of modification in their later years. Likely the Harkens did what I do now- leave the front sight a bit high so the shooter can file it into the shape he wants when he first sights it in.
Screws, keys and small parts are most often fire blued, just like they were in the Hawken shop, but with a torch not a forge. Among the oddest complaints Iíve ever received are the ones about blue screws. Most moderns think they should be browned. Most donít realize that screws in those days were hand made but fire blued. Want to really jump your cost on a traditional Hawken? Just ask for hand made screws.
The oddest of all is the complaint about the curve in the buttstock. Back in the GRRW days, the Montana State Historical Society contracted for several hundred copies of the Bridger Hawken in their collection. They let us keep the original here in town for nigh onto 4 years. I carefully jotted down every detail, measuring every dimension in sight, right to the mid butt-stock being an eighth inch thicker than the buttplate. The GRRW produced rifles were very careful copies of the real thing. The complaints we got about the fat buttstock were enough to make a gunsmith cry. Note: a Hawken stock with a straight no-curve line from wrist to buttplate is WRONG!!
What does all this mean? It means that if you really want a totally traditional Hawken rifle, it will have a black varnish finished plain maple stock, a blued barrel, case colored buttplate, lock, trigger guard and breech fittings, plain low rear and copper based real silver front sight, real silver trim, a silver plated nosecap, blued screws and will cost half to twice again more than a more ordinary modern finished rifle with highly figured stock. You make the choice. Itís your money.
PS- with a little luck, I might be able to find all those precious photos I took of the Bridger Hawken back in the 1970's. I donít recall ever getting them into the computer. They are probably in the huge box where all those thousands of photos are that I have saved uncatalogued over the years. Wish me luck. DOC
PSS- I should acknowledge that there are those who might disagree with me about fit , finish and provenance as I've described it above. They certainly have a right to. But I protest that I have personally handled 32 original Hawkens , most of them back in the 70's when they were cheap and could be found at gunshows and in open available collections. I took several apart and even shot several. We thought nothing of using them like any other antique back in the days when there were only antiques to shoot and only antique parts to fix them with. I can only claim a bit more exposure to the real thing than others. I fear that the real thing is so rare, that describing the genre is like a blind man groping an elephant. His description will largely depend mostly on which part he gets hold of. I fear that my perception might be likewise colored. Examining only 32 out of the hundreds that the Brothers made over the years is really not a very good sample. DOC
CHLORATES AND BLACK POWDER SUBSTITUTES
I got a call from a fellow just the other day. He had a White rifle that he dearly loved, an old Whitetail with an early number that he had hunted with for the past 20 or so seasons. He claimed to have killed 30 plus deer with it during that time. It was super accurate and super powerful. He loved it.
Suddenly it has lost its gold plated accuracy. He took it out of for a sighting session a few days back and the less than 2 inch groups that he was used to have turned into 6 inch groups. He claimed to be using the same bullet and the same load that he always did. Had not changed a thing.
He looked down the barrel once he got it cleaned. It looked sparkling fresh, no corrosion or pits. He took it out again, but got the same results. He tried changing a few things like bullet weights and powder charges, even the kind of powder but got similar results with all them . Then he called me.
This is an awfully familiar story, one that I hear with fair frequency. Same loads, same good apparently good cleaning practices, but a sudden deterioration in accuracy. This man was even told by a gunshop that the rifling was Ďshot outí despite the well researched knowledge that it takes on the order of 20000 shots with lead bullets to even begin to make a dent in accuracy.
The really odd thing about all this is that it never occurs if the shooter exclusively uses Black Powder. It does occur if the shooter is using the modern substitute powders. The reason is that black powder does not contain chlorates while the more modern stuff does.
The use of chlorates to enhance performance goes back more than a century. Right at the time of the Civil War in the US, a number of manufacturers experimented with chlorates in black powder. Sure enough, there was an increase in power and performance. But there was also an increase in barrel corrosion and cost. The combination did not prove to be economically viable. There were excellent grades of Black Powder available at that time at relatively cheap prices. The chlorate containing powders went nowhere.
The situation is different now. Black Powder is not expensive, in fact in most localities itís the least expensive muzzle loading propellant available. The problem is regulation. It is a class A explosive, so transport in interstate commerce is inhibited by a plethora of rules and regulations that prevent its widespread availability. The more modern substitutes are class C propellants, slower burning and igniting at far higher temperatures. That makes them safer to transport and store, thus they are more readily available. That does not mean that they are better, only that they are easier to find and purchase.
Another factor is that their residues are even more soluble in water than black powder. They also burn more completely so are somewhat cleaner and leave less residue in the barrel after firing. All this means that they are apparently easier to clean, with companies competing for shooters dollars by advertising how few patches are required to clean a barrel after shooting their product. You would think that all the advantages lie with the new substitutes.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Chlorates are the problem. The presence of chlorate residues in a muzzle loading or black powder cartridge barrel introduces the possibility of faster and deeper corrosion, even in stainless barrels. This not the case with Black Powder. The weak sulfuric and nitric acids that can form with the combination of black powder residues and water/water vapor are not nearly the problem that present with chlorate residues. If the least bit of water or water vapor is left in the barrel to mix with chlorate residues, hydrochloric acid will form. This acid is intensely corrosive, causing surface pitting in the best of barrel steel, including stainless. Worse, if the pitted barrel is fired, the pressure drives even more chlorate residue into the pits, which become progressively harder to clean out as they get deeper. Sooner or later, the barrel is ruined.
I see many rifles with deep chlorate pitting in the breech area. The breech is the hardest place to clean on an in-line muzzle loading rifle, thus gets the least attention. So deep pitting in this area is a common problem. It also indicates a potential problem with the barrel interior. If I get a rifle with deep pitting in the action area, I have come to count on seeing pitting in the barrel, indicating the poor cleaning practices of the owner/shooter.
If you think an in-line is tough to clean, consider a side-lock. Most side-lock shooters clean the barrel after a shooting session, but fail to clean out the breech. Cleaning out the breech on an inline is instinctive. White has always recommended that the breech plug be removed and the barrel and plug threads be cleaned thoroughly. In order to do this with a side-lock, you must remove the barrel from the stock, immerse the breech end in a bucket of cleaner and pump cleaner through the breech. If you fail to clean the breech, you are guaranteed to suffer with chlorate corrosion.
I also see a fair number of rifles that have apparently lost their gilt edge accuracy, but which have what appears to be a sparkling clean, bright , shiny barrel with no pitting. This appearance can be decidedly deceiving. Examination with a bore scope will most often show a tiny bit of surface pitting, not enough to show to the naked eye but enough to be seen with magnification. This little bit of corrosion is enough to destroy accuracy. Practically the only thing you can do about it is lap the barrel. More on that later.
What to do? Back in the bad old days, when we thought that stainless barrels would resist anything and before the truth about chlorates came out, we all thought that cleaning the barrel with wet then dry patches after every shooting session and occasionally cleaning the action was enough. Obviously, that idea came to a corroded end. This is what I do and recommend now:
Use a commercial black powder cleaner, not just soapy water. The commercial cleaners have alcohols in them, at least most do, the alcohols evaporate faster and more completely, thus get rid of water and water vapor faster/better. Cleaning up all water residues after cleaning is vitally important and alcohols help a lot. They really donít soak the powder residues any better, nor do they slick up the barrel any better, but they do get rid of the water threat. They are also mildly alkaline which helps neutralize the acids left after firing. The best cleaner are those designed to clean stainless steel, like the stuff used in hospitals. The old White Super-Clean was merely an adaption of hospital stainless cleaner. There were three different alcohols in it, plus a spreading factor, an alkalizing agent and it dried super fast and left no water residues whatever. (That was the companies claim to fame)
Clean the entire rifle, including all parts, every time. Take the gun apart, including removing the trigger if an inline, put the small action parts in a jar of cleaner to soak while you clean the barrel with a patch. Clean the breechplug threads thoroughly. Same for the threads on the breech plug itself. Same for the interior of every part and every nook and cranny. Dry everything thoroughly. If you can, do this in an over-warm location, so drying is faster/more complete.
If the gun is a side-lock, immerse the breech end in a small bucket of cleaner and pump cleaner in and out of the barrel/breech until clean. Take the nipple out first, so the process is faster. Once the barrel is clean, dry the bore thoroughly with dry patches. Leave the nipple out so the whoosh of air in and out of the side-lock breech will dry the interior of the breech. Then follow the procedure in the next paragraph.
Once you are convinced the barrel is clean, with patches coming out without any trace of residue on them, then repeat the process. Count the number of patches it takes to get the barrel clean, then double the number and repeat the process. YOU MUST RENDER THE BARREL SPARKLING CLEAN TO KEEP ACCURACY IF USING CHLORATE CONTAINING POWDERS.
Oil everything thoroughly, inside and out. A drying, residue leaving, penetrating oil is best. Then reassemble. Pay special attention to the trigger. Any moisture left in the trigger will cause rust and lock it up. Rusty, non-functional triggers are a common problem. Use a thin, penetrating, non-gummy oil on the trigger.
Take the gun out of storage a few days later and run an oily patch down the barrel again, just to be sure. Store it in a dry place. A dehumidifier is a real help. I have one in my gun room and take special delight in how it helps.
Repeat the cleaning once a year if you donít use the gun in the meantime.
Now, how about the gun that is already pitted. Obviously, if the pitting is severe and from one end of the barrel to the other, then nothing will save the barrel except re-rifling it or re-lining to the next larger caliber. This can be every bit as expensive as buying a new barrel, which of course is another option. If the pitting is fine, especially if it is barely visible or better yet , not visible at all, except to a magnifying bore-scope, then lapping the barrel will help. Hand lapping is a laborious, time consuming and expensive process. Fire lapping is easier and is often effective. Fire lapping cuts the cost of a fix in about half, but doesnít always work. Neither form of lapping will restore the barrel to perfection, but both will improve it.
What really helps, in the long run, is to care for the gun as carefully as you would one of your children. Clean it thoroughly, every time, as described above, and you will be able to enjoy it for far longer than most.
PS- White Muzzleloading offers accurizing services. GoTo ĎAccurizingí, to the left in orange.
Getting ready for the hunt
Best or Worst conditions?
Most hunters and shooters like to sight in their rifles and target their guns under optimal conditions. Good weather, no wind, lots of sunshine, nice shooting bench all lead to great groups, or at least the best that one can get. Yet, when we hunt, conditions are more often than not much worse. It's usually cold, far different than the day when we last targeted the rifle, the wind is blowing, there might be rain or snow or sleet in the air, the guide is whispering furiously in your ear, the target is moving around, sometimes vigorously trying to put distance between him and you, sometimes trying to get closer so he can stomp you in the mud, and there's nothing pleasant or calm about the situation.
Because of that dichotomy, between the peace of sighting in and the furor of the hunt, I believe that a hunter/shooter should seek out the worst possible conditions, at least on the last time out before an important hunt ( and they are all important), anticipating that those conditions are the worst that he will have to operate within on the hunt. This does not produce optimal groups of course, but it does tell you what your personal performance will be like under the worst possible conditions. That is the performance level that should govern your personal efforts once in the field. As an ethical hunter, you should not exceed that performance parameter or you will suffer a wounded, escaped and perhaps angry animal to die a painful, lingering death or possibly cause you to do the same.
I recently finished a heavy double rifle for African shooting. (photo below) I had shot it a number of times during the regulation phase of production. Double barrels have to be 'regulated' with the load that the hunter will be using so that both barrels shoot into the same spot at reasonable ranges. This can turn into quite a chore as some rifles are extremely finicky about the load. Fortunately, some are not. Once the barrels are regulated, they are assembled with ribs, thimbles, sights and all permanent fixtures. Then comes the moment of truth, shooting one last time to make sure that the barrels stayed in place during the final assembly. Sometimes they don't, then you get to start all over again.
This particular rifle was destined, at least at the outset, to put down a cape buffalo. Normally, this is a relatively close range affair, the closer the better. It's 54 caliber bullet, weighing 750 grains, loaded over 180-200 grains of fine powder just might do the job. That bullet weight, by the way, is like shooting a 9 bore round ball gun. I chose to finish regulation of the barrels at 30 yards on a blustery day with a bit of flying rain. I also chose to shoot elbows down on hood of Suburban, no dead rest, just to see how well I could place those heavy bullets under adverse conditions.
I shot pairs of bullets, left and right, that's rear trigger then front trigger, with charges of Pyrodex P from 160 to 200 grains. I did not clean between shots, just as you would not in the field, and loaded from the pouch, so to speak, although on this occasion it was really from the pocket, with powder flask and bullets in opposite side pockets of my shooting jacket. The capper was slung around my neck, duplicating hunting practice.
Here's the target I shot
The point of aim was at 6 o'clock on the orange bull, the group in general striking right at point of aim. The front bead was almost as large as the orange bull. The 160 grain load suffered a 'called out' shot with the left barrel, a gust of wind catching me just as the rifle fired, throwing the bullet up and left. The right barrel is on the money at 6 o'clock in the bull's orange 8 ring along with bullets from the 170 and 200 grain loads. The 170 grain load put the left barrel into that same group, with the right barrel placing the bullet to the right by an inch and a half. That bullet hole is not marked. Sorry. The 180 grain load, shot during a lull in the weathers windy festivities, put both left and right bullets on a parallel and an inch apart and about an inch and a half low below the orange 6 o'clock. I decided to shoot the 190 grain load as a true double, damn the wind, and pulled the shots off within a second, with a two inch dispersion left to right. I did the same with the 200 grain load with the dispersion vertical but the bullets on the correct sides, left and right.
You might think that the 180 grain load was the best, but remember that it was shot deliberately while the others were shot as if the buffalo was coming fast and damn close. The fact is that all the shots, with perhaps the exception of the first 160 grain 'called out' shot, would have killed the buffalo, or at least slowed him down.
- Illustrations of the effectiveness of the White Muzzleloading System are available in the many videos participated in or produced by White. . Net users, click on www.whiterifles.com