The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Monday, May 29, 2017

Is a National Treasure Hidden in Traverse City?

The "Lewis & Clark" Blunderbuss

Between May 1804 and September 1806 a group of about thirty-three intrepid individuals under a commission from President Thomas Jefferson braved virtually unknown territory, traveling westward from St. Louis, Missouri, across the continental divide until they reached the Pacific Ocean near present day Astoria, Oregon. Captain Meriwether Lewis was selected as commandant of the Corps of Discovery by President Jefferson himself, and he picked his close friend Second-Lieutenant William Clark as his second-in-command.

It is undisputed that there was a great deal of care in the preparation for the expedition in order to ensure its success, and the greatest proof of that is that all members returned safely to St. Louis, and part of that preparation was the selection of firearms to be used for an unknown amount of time in the wilderness.

According to the Western Explorers site “The journals and records prepared by the expedition members show that they carried U.S. military rifles obtained from the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, and service muskets brought by soldiers posted from other units. Personal firearms were brought by Captains Clark and Lewis, and some of the hunters enlisted for the journey may have used their own rifles. The French-speaking boatmen may have carried “trade guns,” a common type of musket. Lewis brought an “air gun,” a case of matched pistols, and a fowler, and Clark brought his personal .36 caliber long-rifle, and an "elegant fusil”. A “swivel gun,” a small cannon, was mounted on the keelboat, and the two pirogues each had a blunderbuss, each also mounted on a swivel. All the firearms of the Lewis and Clark expedition were single-shot, muzzle loading, black powder guns with flintlock ignition, the notable exception being Lewis's air gun, which on several occasions astonished native Indians with its repeating operation.”

Blunderbusses were short, heavy, smoothbore shoulder arms used for defense. They were usually mounted on a pivot in the rail of a boat or the top of a wall. The muzzle was flared for rapid loading and as an unforeseen benefit it also worked like a sound amplifier, increasing its psychological effect.

Contrary to popular belief blunderbusses were not loaded with stones or nails or broken glass or pieces of chains or horseshoes, but with a healthy load of buckshot, or grapeshot as it was known at the time, and they generally were used against a concentration of men.

While your typical 12-gauge shotgun loaded with 00 buckshot will put eight to twelve pellets downrange, you could easily loaded twice that much on a blunderbuss.

From a tactical perspective, and considering the personal firearms or light weapons of the respective eras, the blunderbuss at the times of Lewis and Clark would paly the same role as a light machinegun or a Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) plays today.

The blunderbusses came into play during the explorers' confrontations with the Teton Sioux on September 25 and 28. On Lewis's orders the men loaded the swivel gun with 16 musket balls and the blunderbusses with buckshot. On the second occasion, warriors seized the keelboat's cable. Clark was ready to blast them with the swivel gun when a chief defused the situation by jerking away the cable. That winter, the swivel gun and blunderbusses were apparently mounted on the walls of Fort Mandan. Returning to the Hidatsa villages on August 14, 1806, Clark wrote, "we directed the blunderbusses be fired several times" -a peaceful salute to the Indians who had befriended them during the winter of 1804-05.

Again in salute, the blunderbusses sounded for the last time upon the explorers' arrival in St. Charles, Missouri, a month later. As Clark recorded in his journal entry for September 21, "we saluted the Village by three rounds from our blunderbuts (sic) and the Small arms of the party, and landed near the lower part of the town. We were met by great numbers of the inhabitants.” Two days later, according to Clark, when the explorers arrived in St. Louis, "we suffered the party to fire off their pieces as a Salute to the Town."

Upon returning to St. Louis, and following a well-deserved heroes welcome, the expedition was disbanded and all items were auctioned off, and partially due to that auction currently there is not a single firearm from the historic expedition known to the public. Or is that so?

In 2001 Hampel’s Inc. (the predecessor company to Hampel’s Gun Co.) was engaged by the family of renowned firearms collector Jack Berryman to handle the dispersal of his collection of fine, historical firearms. After the successful completion of this task, the Berryman family presented to Mr. Karl Hampel the opportunity to acquire the last item and crown jewel of said collection: a blunderbuss mounted on a swivel, that Mr. Berryman obtained from William Clark family descendants in the Detroit area in the 1950’s. He had actively pursued this gun, utterly convinced that this was one of the two blunderbusses mounted on the pirogues of the Lewis & Clark Expedition!

The blunderbuss has locks made by Cooper, of London, in approximately 1790, a 23 ¾” inches bronze barrel with a .729 inches bore (which is about 12 gauge), English walnut stock, and a total length of 40 inches. The complete gun weighs a bit over twenty-three pounds and would have been quite a load had it not been mounted on a swivel.

Mr. Berryman actively displayed the blunderbuss in multiple collectors meetings around the country and it was prominently featured at the “FIREARMS OF OUR WESTERN EXPANSION” at the NRA Annual Gun Collectors Exhibit in Salt Lake City, Utah on April 1992. Its description during that meeting reads as follows:

#1. This flint-lock (sic) “swivel gun” was made by Cooper of London, ca. 1790. It was designed for fixed mounting on a riverboat or rampart. This type of firearms found favor with early explorers such as Lewis and Clark. Many such pieces were utilized along the rivers and by-ways of the far west where effectiveness in repelling would-be borders was an important function for a boat borne weapon.

The NRA 1992 BEST ARMS AWARD RECOMMENDATION FORM provides the following additional details:

Description: Blunderbuss (shotgun), British manufacture, .729” bore, no serial number, flintlock.

Originality of Components: All original except possibility of replacement ramrod.

Provenance and/or historical importance: These were used aboard ships, early stage coaches, forts, and any place a yoke and swivel feature could be used. Lock-Cooper London, about 1790. The Lewis & Clark expedition carried two swivel guns on boats, which “saved the day” when they encountered the Teton Sioux on September 24, 1804. Scarcity of these boat swivel guns at the time could support a contention that this weapon or one like it had an important role in the success of that Missouri River exploration.

Other significant information: This blunderbuss had hand made forge welded chain links, ring and wedge, indicative of the time. It is probably the only one available with full brass barrel and original swivel hardware. This weapon, or one identical to it, is featured in a treatise by Cyril Bracegirdle, on page 35 of the August 1983 issue of the Gun Report publication. Picture here reproduced. A letter by Charles R. Suydam volunteered information as to this swivel blunderbuss authenticity. Letter and publication are available.

Note from Author: Unhappily I could not locate copies of mentioned publication and letter.

I think that nobody would disagree that the Lewis & Clark Expedition marks the beginning of the western expansion of the United States of America that eventually resulted in a country that extends “from sea to shining sea!” and while it maybe impossible to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that the Karl Hampel blunderbuss is the only surviving firearm from the Lewis & Clark Expedition, it is nonetheless a unique artifact from a time when our great nation was being sculpted by the hands and will of giants, to the greatest extent of the word!


Currently the “Lewis & Clark Era Blunderbuss” which is consistent with descriptions from the Journals of the Expedition is displayed at Hampel’s Gun Co. in Traverse City, MI, on consignment from Karl Hampel’s personal collection. Unfortunately we do not have bulletproof documentation to confirm that the blunderbuss under our care is actually one of two carried by the Corps of Discovery, and the modest price of $250,000 reflects that.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Clay Shooting: The Beginning

A Bogardus Glass Ball from the Karl Hampel Collection

Note: This article first appeared in Hooks & Bullets Magazine March/April 2017 issue.

The day I first met Kevin Speer, the heart and soul behind Hooks & Bullets, we talked about many different subjects, one of them being my on-going efforts to write something that is readable without too much pain and discomfort to the reader. Another was that Kevin thought it would be nice to have some articles on clay shooting, since many readers showed interest in the subject, but were not familiar with the different forms of the shotgun sports.
But before we go any further I must make it very clear that my shotgunning parallel my writing: I am an enthusiast at both, but not really good, or just good, at either. And although I have published three books and written twenty or so magazine articles, I never shot a single registered shotgun target in my life, so…thread these lines with care!
Nowadays we have an apparently ever-increasing variety of shotgun sports, also called "Clay Pigeon Shooting", but the most common forms are Trap and Skeet. The basic difference is that in Trap the “birds,” as we call the four-inch diameter clay saucers lunched by a machine also called a trap, flies away from the shooter in a somewhat random pattern, while in Skeet the “birds” fly across the Skeet field in trajectories that are supposed to be fixed, unless wind plays tricks on the “bird,” or the shooter.
The other way of telling the difference between Trap and Skeet is by the behavior of their respective shooters: if everybody is hanging together, talking and laughing out loud you are in the middle of Skeet shooters; and if everyone is serious, concentrated, looking solely at their guns, and not saying a word besides “PULL”, the universal command to release a bird, now you find yourself among Trap shooters.
Since I shoot both Trap and Skeet, along with Sporting Clays, Five Stand, Skrap, and in more distant fields Bunker Trap (also called International or Olympic Trap) and Helix or ZZ-Birds, you could say that I must suffer from multiple personality disorder. C’est la vie!
But it amazes me is that with all the variety of clay shooting modalities that we have available in our modern times, many of us either forget or choose to ignore how the sport of shooting flying began.
Shotgunning as we know it today began in the later part of the XVIII century when the first practical shotguns came to light. By practical shotgun I mean a smooth bore long gun that was light enough that it could be handled relatively easily, ergonomically enough that a person could swing it while pointing at a moving target (for all practical purposes, a bird), and with a fast enough lock time (that is the time elapsed between pressing the trigger and the main powder charge being ignited and eventually the shot charge leaving the barrel) that would make it possible to hit a moving or flying target (again, a bird).
Bird hunting as a formal social activity originated in France, but was adopted by and perfected in England or the United Kingdom, and it is more than fair to say that shotguns first achieved perfection in that land, and a master gunsmith by the name of Joseph Manton is regarded as the creator of the first "Best Gun" and the forefather of the world-famous London Gun Trade.
The problem was, and continues to be, if you ever try shooting flying, is that once practical shotguns were available and hunting seasons were over, gentlemen of means, or of no means, still wanted to use them and demonstrate their newly acquired skills to the world, so friends began shooting at each others hats, thrown in the air for safety and to better imitate a bird (there is no historic evidence of that), but I imagine that they soon got tired of shooting at their hats, probably because it was boring and could become sort of expensive, since the beaver pelts to make those top hats had to be imported from America.
So they put their hats to use in a slightly different way. After digging a shallow hole on the ground, and place a live pigeon in it, they covered the hole and the pigeon with those hats. A long string was attached to the hat and the shooter (not a hunter anymore, but a shooter) would call "PULL" for whoever was manning the string to free the pigeon, and then shoot at it. In order to make the sport more challenging pigeons could be released from different positions, generally five.
Apparently those shooter had plenty of old hats (at least that is my assumption as they may have shot them before the pigeons became the accept flying target, again, no historic evidence), and they probably used those old hats, since one of the first famous Trap Clubs in England was called OLD HATS.
As the game evolved the old hats were replaced by wooden boxes that had a trap mechanism to release the birds and compel them into taking to the wing, therefore the name of the sport.
Eventually Trap reached the United States of America and the once abundant passenger pigeon became the target of choice, but once they became scarce (that was before they became extinct), and even in the XIX century animal rights activists began to make noise, the typical and unparalleled American ingenuity put itself to work to find suitable replacements for live pigeons.
First a Captain Adam Henry Bogardus invented the "Bogardus" glass ball in 1866. The glass ball was launched by a spring loaded trap with an arm that looked almost like a big spoon, but they made less than perfect replacement for pigeons: they were hard to see, hits were difficult to spot, so people started to fill them up with feathers, and many times shot would just slide around the smooth glass surface without breaking the targets. To correct that, the glass balls were made with textured surfaces, but the design proved to be a dead end.
Some years later, in 1880, the Cincinnati, Ohio, trap shooter George Ligowsky created the discoid clay pigeon, and we continue to shoot it today, launched from manual throwers or highly sophisticated automatic traps that hold hundreds of birds in their magazines.
From the humble beginnings (or maybe not so humble, as the first live pigeon shooter apparently were either of noble blood or had enough money to spend time with them), the multitude of "Clay Pigeon" sports evolved, but every single time I pull the trigger I envision my shot charge connecting with the feathers of a fast flying live pigeon against the blue sky.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Flag

The WWII Brazilian Flag

Early this January, around the time that I started operating my new business, Hampel's Gun Co. in Traverse City, Michigan, Pete Zimmerman, a long time Hampel's customer and family friend, came to store to meet me. And at that first meeting he presented me with a most unique and dear gift: the Brazilian Flag that you see in the photo above.

Pete, owner and operator of Rediscovered Shooting Treasures, that provides faithful "Reproductions of Classic Original Factory Firearm Manuals, Instructions, Boxes and Hang Tags", explained to me that both his parents were in active service during World War II, his father being a bomber pilot and his mother a nurse, and that they were based in Natal, northeastern Brazil.

Once his father was done with bombing missions he started flying casualties between North Africa and northeastern Brazil. Just to refresh your geography, the straight line between Natal - Brazil and Dakar - Senegal, is the shortest distance across the Atlantic, and during World War II this airway was called "The Bridge to Victory."

Anyhow, sometime during their war services, bomber pilot Zimmerman and soon-to-be nurse Zimmerman. met and fell in love and were married in Brazil, when they received this flag as a gift.

And so, the Brazilian flag was kept in the Zimmerman family for over seventy year, until it was gifted to me!

I must say that receiving it was a very emotional moment to me, and immediately I knew that I had not only the obligation to continue to preserve it, but also that it would be an opportunity to display a symbol of love and friendship.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Letters From Famous Big-Game Hunters

The "Corresponding" Hunter

Continuing my quest to read all volumes of the Peter Hathaway Capstick's "Library of African Big Game Hunting and Adventure" (I currently have seven of the fourteen volumes) I just finished reading "AFRICAN ADVENTURES - Letters from Famous Big-Game Hunters", originally published in 1935 by Denis D. Lyell (1871 - 1946).

The limited information that I was able to find shows that Denis David Lyell was born in Calcutta, India, and that his family was originally from Dundee, Scotland. In 1893 he moved first to Ceylon and then elsewhere in India where he established himself as a tea planter. In 1899 he moved again to South Africa and then in 1913 he went to Nyasaland, currently Malawi, a landlocked country bordered by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, and by all accounts some of the greatest big-game hunting grounds in Africa.

After World War I Lyell moved again, back to his family homeland of Scotland. From the time he came to Africa until his death he became immersed in the hunting world and became a renowned author, writing eight books between 1909 and 1935.

In his last book Mr. Lyell presents extracts from his vast correspondence with other famous British big-game hunters, such as Selous, Karamojo Bell, Stigand, Millais, J.A. Hunter, Sir Alfred Pease, Abel Chapman and others, and from this collection of private documents many unique insights from their more mundane aspects of their lives like how it is almost impossible to make a living from writing hunting books (believe me, I know this very well), to discussions on financing hunting trips, extensive discussion on the merit of the small-bore repeating bolt-action rifle versus the large-bore express guns, quality of ammunition and the amount of field failures, common in English made ammo, but unheard of in German made DWM (Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken), and going on and on and on.

These three paragraphs in a letter from Leslie J. Tarlton dated March 11, 1926 pretty much summarizes all discussions in hunting calibers since the advent of smokeless powder was adopted for small arms ammunition in the French 1886 Lebel 8mm rifle:

"On the much vexed question of small bores, do you not think it so greatly depends upon the skill and knowledge of anatomy possessed by the individual user as to what constitutes the best rifle?

"Karamoja Bell, I believe, swears by the .256. Personally I use a .275 high velocity, but I also think a great deal of the American Springfield, which with a 220 grain bullet is, I rather fancy, the best all round small bore in the world.

"I think the tendency to go in for 'Magnums' is being overdone, because they sacrifice smashing power for velocity and low trajectory. I have killed one or two lions with my little .275, with shots I did not expect to do harm, but at the same time it seems to me that with these very light pointed bullets one is always a trifle uncertain just what they are going to do in heavy muscles of the larger mammals. Take for example the brain shot at an elephant. I think if you got hold of Bell he would probably tell you that the reason he is so keen on the .256 Mannlicher is that the solid bullet, in addition of being very long and slender, is round tipped instead of the sharp Spitzer tip."

And in a letter from J.A. Hunter dated March 23, 1928, the final verdict is pronounced on the 30-06, despite the apparent British contempt for the so-called Colonials:

"Have used practically every make and calibre of rifles, and have good faith in the .256, .275, .280 Ross (in a Mauser action), .318 and .300 Springfield cartridge. The latter I was loath to try, being American, but the genuine Mauser with 24 in. barrel taking the .300 cartridge and 180 grain bullet is a most perfect small bore weapon with great stopping power."

And who can argue that the 30-06 is the best all around hunting cartridge in the world?

In other chapters there is extensive discussion on hunting ethics, where Theodore Roosevelt behavior while in the "African Game Trails", both regarding the amount and quality of shooting is severely criticized, and game conservation, where the USA is applauded: "That is a country where people have awakened to the value of the big game, and where they are now taking wise steps to the protect it."

Well, this is getting too long, so I will stop before I quote all the book, and deprive you the pleasure of reading the book yourself.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Hampel's Gun Co.

Traverse City, 2nd December 2016



Hampel's Inc., a traditional family owned Michigan company established in 1919, has reached an agreement to sell its guns & gunsmithing business to Meirelles Industries LLC, effective 31st December 2016. The new entity will do business as Hampel's Gun Co. and will operate in the facility located at 104 Mackey Drive, Traverse City, MI.

Mr. Karl Hampel has successfully led Hampel’s Inc. since 1977 and will continue to participate in the future of Hampel’s Gun Co. in advisory and consulting roles.

Rodrigo Meirelles, president of Meirelles Industries LLC, will be leading day to day operations of Hampel’s Gun Co.

“Hampel’s Inc. has an impeccable reputation and is the oldest firearms retailer in continuous operation in North America. We believe that by combining the profound industry knowledge and extensive customer relationships of Hampel’s highly professional staff with our proven track record in marketing and business strategy we have a very robust business,” said Rodrigo Meirelles. “We are honored to have been selected by Karl Hampel and the Hampel family to lead Hampel’s guns & gunsmithing in its second century of successful operations.”



Karl Hampel                                                                            Rodrigo Meirelles
President                                                                                  President
Hampel’s Inc.                                                                           Meirelles Industries LLC

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Trespasser

Help me identify this trespasser and possibly poacher!

This morning my son and I spent a couple wet hours at Neverland, and decided to leave before we got really wet, but on the way out we stopped to remove the memory cards from a couple of trail cameras.

Once we arrived home we had some cassoulet to warm us up and I downloaded the pictures to my computer and as I moved through them, showing mostly smallish antlerless deer and a couple "illegal" bucks I came across the photo above that made me angry and upset.

Neverland is a small property, posted, and kept as undisturbed as possible. Except for some tree stands, one feeder, ten or twelve beehives and the bridge over the Mann creek, and of course the take of a couple deer each season, we let it be.

So, why would the trespasser in the photo think that he has the right to intrude in my domains and disturb my minuscule deer refuge, and that two days before Opening Day of gun season?

I found the following definitions at Google:

tres·pass·er
ˈtrespəsər,ˈtresˌpasər/
noun
  1. a person entering someone's land or property without permission.
    "a trespasser on his land"
    synonyms:intruderinterloper, unwelcome visitor, encroacher
    "trespassers will be prosecuted"

poach·er2
ˈpōCHər/
noun
  1. a person who hunts or catches game or fish illegally.

I am not sure when a trespasser becomes a poacher, but the person in the photo is carrying a gun, uninvited, in my property! So, Monday I will be filing a report both at the local Sheriff's Office and the DNR.

In the meantime, please, help me identify this trespasser and possibly poacher!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A Very Strange Opening Day

Del and his "monster" 9 pointer

Today is the most important unofficial holiday in Michigan, opening day of firearm's deer season, the Orange Day, when we are supposed to see hunter's clad in orange perched in tree stands all across the state.

Well, this was a very strange opening day.

Although I could not hunt the morning I was up quite early, and there was a dense fog covering Grand Traverse Bay, and maybe a lot of our northern lower peninsula, that could have come from one of the best Sherlock Holmes adventures, perhaps the Hound of the Baskervilles.

Sometime during early morning Del texted me BBD, which he translated as Big Buck Down. I told him I would help him drag it out later in the morning. When I drove from my home at Old Mission Peninsula to Neverland I could not see any activity in the new constructions and renovations, which would be an indication that people were out deer hunting.

After meeting Del he told me that according to Neverland tradition he shot his buck three times, the first shot at well under forty yards, and that apart from that deer and those shots he heard very little activity and saw nothing else.

We dragged the heavy monster through remains of last's year August storm, and eventually got back to our cars. Buck loaded Del drove home and went to my tree stand by the powerline. And then it started, or should I say, never started.

Initially the day was unseasonably warm, and even the sun showed up threatening to cook me inside my camouflage clothes, but eventually the wind turned one hundred eighty degrees, from a south to a north wind, and clouds obscured the sun and the temperature started dropping.

The only action I saw was when the crows discovered the gut pile, but at about 250 yards, it was a bit far away to partake in any details, and apparently they left rather soon.

And I waited, and waited, and waited, until the light gave away to darkness, when the clear shapes of the day are replaced by eerie and uncertain forms that shadows present us during twilight.

During the five or six hours that I afield I don't remember hearing a single shot or seeing another orange clad hunter perching from another tree. Since my first opening day in 2002, this is a first for me!

Maybe the fog combined with the on going Super Moon could explain some of today's almost unnatural weirdness.