The Essence of Life

The Essence of Life

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Final Comments On The Modern Sporting Rifle

A small 10-point fell to the “modern 30-30”

Earlier this year I started a little personal project aimed to proof the worse of the so called Modern Sporting Rifle, which is generally an incarnation in one disguise or another of the AR-15 platform, as a legitimate deer hunting rifle. I won’t repeat all the points discussed in the previous blog, but I would like to report on the completed experiment.

After a mostly unfruitful archery season, that is if you measure success exclusively by the weight of your game bag, Opening Day happened upon us. For the glorious Fifteenth I took my Winchester 71 in 348 Winchester to my blind, but must confess that I struggled with taking a “longer” shot using the aperture sights which, although precise, provide no magnification or light gathering capability. Being of middle age clarity of the target is achieved through optics, not effort or good intentions.

So, on the sixteenth I listened to the voice of reason and brought my WW-15 (an AR-15 with different letters) in 7,62x39 and topped with an excellent Leupold VX-R with a 30mm tube which helps with light gathering, especially for early and late hours when deer are most active.

I can tell you that this was an enlightening experience. The short overall length, even with the stock fully extended, makes it very handy in the confines of a blind. The detachable magazine and positive bolt hold open makes it convenient to load, and especially unload, the rifle making it safe and secure while climbing ladders, entering or exiting blinds or vehicles, etc., and to handle it in the blind and pointing the barrel out of the windows with minimal muzzle movement.

Well, I passed several does, fawns and illegal spikes and fork horns during the sixteenth, and after working at the gun shop on Saturday morning I went back to my vigil in the early afternoon. After reading a couple more chapters from Robert Ruark’s “The Old Man and the Boy” I heard munching on the bait pile, still legal until January 1st, 2019. A little button buck was delighting himself with carrots and I delighted myself in watching him through my binoculars for almost half an hour. The wind was on my face and he never suspected anything. I can only hope that he will get smarter and eventually become a trophy buck.

Around 4:00 PM a shape came out of the woods and into the logging road straight ahead of my blind. I saw it had antlers, but small. Would him be a legal buck? Around my neck of the woods there is the occasional trophy buck, but I measure my trophies by their epicurean qualities, and a young deer is juicy and tender. I used my binoculars to assess the antlers and counted at least five to a side, a lot of points for a very compact rack.

As the young buck came straight at me I exchanged the binoculars for the little rifle, rested it on the blind window and for the first time in the season set my cross hairs on a deer. At about 50 yards, the buck started to consider his options, veered to the left and then to the right and presented a clear broadside shot. And when I touched the trigger I heard the worst sound in the world: CLICK!

Now, I had put several boxes of ammo through the little AR without a single hick-up, and now, at the moment of truth I have just a CLICK!

As the deer went into the trees, as to circle the bait pile, I worked the bolt, ejected the round in the chamber and fed another one. I positioned the crosshair in the place the deer was likely to emerge from the bush, and an eternity of seconds later, there he was, broadside again. I can't remember if he was heading east or west, put little 125 grain bullet hit the mark just behind the shoulder, and the soon to be venison took of running in the direction he came from. As he passed the logging road at a dead run I connected again, with a second shot and just as I lost sight of him I heard him crash.

I unloaded the rifle, first the magazine was out and then the chamber was emptied, locked the bolt open, pocketed only the items I needed to tag the buck, shouldered the rifle and climbed down from my blind. Reloading was done in a second: magazine in, bolt released, safety engaged. Then I walked the logging road until I cut fresh tracks and found the blood spoor. Tracking blood in fresh snow is easy and in no time I came upon the deer.

I took some pictures, tagged it and went back to my blind to wait for dark when my friend Del that was hunting at another part of the property to come and help me. Why drag a deer alone and risk injury and physical exertion when it is so much easier to do that with help?

The final question is: could I have not just used a lever action 30-30 instead of the AR? The simple answer is yes, but the more complex one is that overall the AR is a more convenient rifle. It is safer by being easier to load and unload, having a bolt open device and positive safety, it is generally easier to scope than most lever action rifles, definitely it has a better trigger (which for me is very important) and great ergonomics (including a stock that allows for different lengths of pull, which is important for smaller framed hunters or shooters), and the semiautomatic action allows for a precise quick follow-up shot. Also, the 7,62x39 ammo proved to be more than adequate for deer in the relative close ranges of the north woods.

My conclusion from this not too scientific experiment (a single date point does not constitute a proper experiment) is that there is definitively a place for the Modern Sporting Rifle in hunting. This doesn't mean that you will not see me going back to more classical firearms like a little double 7x57R stalking rifle that I am eyeing, but it just shows that even a conservative hunter like me must accept that firearms design continues to evolve.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Fighting "Saudade"

A new knife and a good book...

According to Google SAUDADE (noun) is a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament. If you look SAUDADE at Wikipedia they go over a very long page trying to explain the inexplicable, but Nascimento and Meandro cite Duarte Nunes Leão's for what may be a proper definition of SAUDADE: "Memory of something with a desire for it."

Anyhow, my wife has been in Brazil for the last five or six weeks and yesterday I had a particularly strong case of saudade. So, I left work earlier than usual, stopped downtown Traverse City for a couple errands, started filling hungry and decided to treat myself to a proper dinner.

I stopped at Maxbauer Meat Market and bought a beautiful T-Bone steak for main course and a kielbasa and a weisswurst for appetizer. Before I reached the cash register I added four small young potatoes to my plans.

As I arrived home the small USPS box on my mail box greeted me with news that a new toy I was anxiously waiting for had arrived, but I controlled my urge to open the package in order to first start the fire on my Big Green Egg.

Once the fire was burning, and the potatoes and sausages were on the grill, and some oldies were playing on the radio, I turned my attention back to the small USPS box. From its guts came the most beautiful and well made friction folder one can conceive. The Michael Morris knife was made from an old file and the comfortable handle is made of micarta. A nice design feature is that the tang doubles as a bottle opener. I didn't even feel like having a beer, but felt compelled to try the built-in bottle opener! My expert opinion is that it works better than most bottle openers I've used to date.

While the Green Egg imparted its magic to the sausages I went on reading a couple chapter of Jim Harrison's Just Before Dark. The celebrated Grayling, MI, native discusses why "Small portions are for small and inactive people" along with observations along the natural order of really important things: first eat, then love! Considering I always told people that my stomach is the most important part of my anatomy, I can relate to Mr. Harrison's passion for food, that lesser souls could consider gluttony.

By this time the sausages were perfectly grilled and while they rested to allow the juices to incorporate with the meat I salted the T-Bone steak and placed it on the grill, taking time to assure the potatoes would not burn. I finished the beer while savoring the appetizer, and really building a bigger appetite.

A couple more pages and the steak was ready.

...and a great meal helps one to feel better!

In order to complement the magic that lump wood charcoal imparts to food I split the potatoes and seasoned with table salt, butter and olive oil. The texture and flavor was just out of this world. The simple dinner was washed down by a small (or maybe not so small) amount of a special edition Jameson Irish Whiskey.

Desert was just one Sonho de Valsa, the popular Brazilian bonbon made of chocolate and cashew nuts filling, and unchanged since 1938.

All this happened just before dark what is the time that saudade strikes most powerfully, but the new knife, good reading and great food helped keep it at bay.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Modern Sporting Rifle Is Not So Modern After All

Windham WW-15, Remington 7400 and Remington Model 81


Once again we see a lot of heated discussions and all kinds of opinions regarding the so called “Modern Sporting Rifles” and weather the average citizen or legal resident of the United States of America should continue to have the right to own and use such firearms.

Depending on who you ask, the Modern Sporting Rifles are seen under many different color shades, from evil tools generally referred to as “Assault Rifles”, to nothing more than another step in the evolution of the (detachable) magazine semiautomatic rifle, which in the most popular form are civilian variations of the ArmaLite Rifle-15 or AR-15 designed by Eugene Stoner in 1956. The design was sold to Colt in 1959 and adopted by the United States Air Force in 1960. Sometime later, in 1964 the United States Army adopted a slightly modified design as the Rifle, Caliber 5,56mm, M-16.

But the story of the Modern Sporting Rifle is much older. Right at the turn of the Twentieth Century it came to light by the genius of no other than John Moses Browning, the most prolific firearms designer in history. In 1900 John Browning patented the design of a long-recoil, magazine fed, high power, semiautomatic rifle, and in 1905 it became available to American sportsmen as the Remington Autoloading Rifle. In 1911 the name was changed to Model 8, and with minor cosmetic modifications it became the Model 81 Woodsmaster in 1936.

And the Remington Model 8 was not the only magazine fed, semiautomatic rifles available in the early years of the Twentieth Century. My copy of the Arms of World – 1911: The Fabulous ALFA Catalogue of Arms and the Outdoors shows no less than a dozen different semiautomatic carbines in rifles, in as many different calibers!



The Remington Model 8 was available in four dedicated calibers: 25 Remington, 30 Remington, 32 Remington and 35 Remington, and later the 300 Savage was added to the Model 81 to provide 30-06 level power, or almost. When you consider that the main competition was Winchester lever action rifles, the Remington calibers provided similar ballistics to the Winchester 25-35, 30-30, 32 Special and 38-55. The 300 Savage is the parent cartridge to the 308 Winchester and have almost the same ballistics.

Both the Model 8 and 81 had colorful stories, and a lot of that didn’t come from the big woods where over one hundred thirty-five thousand high power magazine fed semiautomatic rifles brought deer, bear and other animals to the table of the early Twentieth Century Sportsmen. During the Great War, the French Aéronautique Militaire Used the Model 8 in 35 Remington in small quantities and later during the Great Depression a certain Texas Ranger Captain named Frank Hamer used a modified Model 8, also in 35 Remington (the most popular caliber in the model) to put an end to the criminal careers of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Frank Hamer’s rifle was modified to take a “high capacity” detachable twenty round magazines by the Peace Officers Equipment Company of St. Joseph, Missouri.

In 1933, in response to the Kansas City Massacre the Federal Bureau of Investigation bought a number of Model 81’s both in 30 Remington and 35 Remington.

Of course Winchester Repeating Arms Company would not allow Remington to play alone in the autoloading rifle market, and they introduced the Model 1907 in 351 WSL and later the Model 1910 in 401 WSL (Winchester Self-Loading), and just like the Remington Model 8, the French, now the Army, pressed the Model 1907 into military service during the Great War. From 1935 on Winchester offered a special “Police Rifle” variant, with among other features, a high capacity detachable magazine.

So what we see is that both military and police organizations adopted a rifle that was create for hunters to feel their needs, but limitations on power, range, durability and cost, aligned with the typical conservative mindset of the military decision makers, prevented these designs from becoming standard infantry rifles.

Also, we should remember that the bolt-action rifle was not popular in this country until the doughboys returned home from World War I and wanted to hunt and shoot with the same or similar rifles that they used in the trenches of Europe, the 1903 Springfield and Enfield Model 1917.

In a similar way we would see semiautomatic rifles become more popular after World War II, with Remington replacing the Model 81 in 1955 with the Model 740 (which was available n the popular 30-06 and 270 Winchester calibers), Winchester introduced the Model 100 (in 308 Winchester) in 1961 and Browning BAR Sporting Version in 1967, which was the first semiautomatic rifle to be able to handle magnum calibers, like the 7mm Remington Magnum and 300 Winchester Magnum. And just as a reminder, there are “high capacity” detachable magazines avail for the Remington 740 and its successors.

So, why is there so much passion about the current Modern Sporting Rifle? Maybe it is a question of aesthetics. All magazine fed semiautomatic rifles prior to the AR-15 pattern rifles looked somewhat like a conventional bolt-action rifle, having the same overall profile and wooden stocks.

But should we judge an object by its appearance or by its intrinsic functionality? While the ArmaLite Rifle based designs may look aggressive, out of place in the Great Outdoors, threatening to some, or just plain ugly, their functionality is no different than that of rifles that have been with us, and used by many of our great grandparents, grandparents and parents for the last one hundred and thirteen years. Actually, except for caliber, they are not that different from the ever-popular Ruger 10/22 or many other detachable magazine semi-automatic twenty-two rifles. And just like any other firearms, AR style rifles are tools, as good or as bad as the people using them.

Although I tend to be a very conservative sportsman, preferring side-by-side shotguns and even double rifles for most of my hunting, because of all the discussion going on, I decided to try an ArmaLite based Modern Sporting Rifle as my next deer rifle.

I elected to have a light, compact rifle built in a caliber with proven ballistics for deer sized animals, and what center fire rifle has killed more deer than almost all others put together than the 30-30 Winchester? The only problem was that there are no AR’s in that caliber, but there are certain calibers that are readily available in the AR platform with similar ballistics, and among them I selected the 7,62x39mm (which is the intermediate cartridge that is used in the famous or infamous AK-47 rifle and SKS carbine.)

The reason for my choice is that 7,62x39mm ammunition is plentiful and economically priced, having slightly better ballistic performance than the relatively new 300 Blackout.

My rifle started as a Windham Weaponry WW-15, and then the furniture was replaced by Timber Creek Outdoors parts, and a Patriot Ordnance Trigger System replaced the original trigger. An excellent Leupold VX-R 2-7 scope 30mm tube with an illuminated reticle topped everything.

In a recent test, the rifle performed flawlessly and the recoil is minimal. And since the stock can be easily adjusted for different lengths of pull and virtually ambidextrous design, this rifle is almost the ideal tool to introduce new people to shooting. Besides deer hunting, semiautomatic rifles are ideal for hog hunting, where very often the hunter has the opportunity to shoot multiple animals.

It is important that we all keep in our minds that we are privileged on having the choices and opportunities that we have. We can hunt with bow and arrow, a flintlock musket that was the same gun as the Continental Army carried, or we can elect to use the so called Modern Sporting Rifle, with a designed similar, but not the same, as the current primary infantry rifle of the United Stated Armed Forces. And if we allow that choice to be taken away from us, what else could we lose?


Browning BAR, Ruger Mini-14 and Ruger 10/22

Note: This article was first published in MICHIGAN'S HOOKS & BULLETS MAGAZINE, May/June 2018 issue. Visit them at www.hooksandbullets.com

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Predators!

One of the best things about having a gun shop is that I am able to experiment (or just play) with different stuff at a reasonable cost. Some "stuff" works very well, other don't. So, I would like to tell about a new set-up that worked really well.

I tend to be a very traditional hunter, using mostly double shotguns (preferably side-by-side) and even double rifles (in this case reason won and it is an over-under) for most of my hunting, but for the 2017 Michigan Deer Season I wanted to try something different. 

I decided to give a rest to the medium and large bore rifles and experiment for the first time with a screaming quarter bore, the 257 Weatherby Magnum. First introduced in 1944 and said to have been Roy Weatherby's favorite creation, the 257 WM is one of the flattest shooting commercial cartridges, being able to harvest most of the big game animals of North America, short of of the brown and polar bears and bison. While it may not be ideal for elk and moose, with proper bullet construction and placement the 257 will do the job there as well.

As the launch platform for the very, very fast little pill (bullet weight varies from 87 to 120 grains) I select a modern version of the Weatherby rifle, the Vanguard Back Country. I sold the same rifle to a customer early in 2016, a recoil sensitive bow hunter, and he took it to Alaska and successfully hunted dall sheep and caribou, and I was very impressed with the rifle at that time, so I figured, why not?

With such a hot rod, my whole idea was to have a relatively long range pack, as that would align with the potential shots I could get on a new property I was hunting, and since you can't hit what you can't see, I need good optics to top the Vanguard.

My choice of scope was the Hawke Frontier 30, 2.5-15x50 SF with the LR (Long Range) illuminated reticle. I had previous experience with Hawke scopes on several of my air guns, and I like their quality and value, so I knew that this would match the Weatherby rifle well.

The reason for selecting this specific model is that I wanted a 30mm body scope for maximum adjustment range a light transmission. Then I wanted a scope that had a low enough magnification that could be used on a running shot at relative short range and high enough magnification to allow precise shooting at the longer end of the spectrum of shots that I could possibly take (400 to 500 yards). The 50mm objective also helps with the light gathering, and illuminated reticle provides a positive aiming point in low light conditions, the situation one is more likely to encounter during the twilight hours that deer are most likely to be moving (although that is not the case, as you will find out).

One thing that I could not get away from was shooting premium controlled expansion bullets, and that is why I select the Nosler Trophy Grade ammo loaded with 110 Grain Accubond bullets, with a muzzle velocity of 3,400 feet per second.

Sighting the rifle was one of the easiest times I ever had. Virtually no recoil and precise scope adjustment, allowed me to shoot a small group two inches high at 100 yards in minutes, and I ready to go hunting. And the lighted center dot in the reticle was easy to see under full sunlight.

On the day before Opening Day I received a visit from dear friend Mike Vander Muelen. He was visiting some friends in the Traverse City area and was going to spend Opening Day in their deer camp, but had no plans to hunt. I convinced or rather forced him to buy a deer license, and let him use one of my rifles for the day, and since I was a bachelor for a couple days we agreed to meet on the sixteenth and maybe hunt together, and after that have dinner and libations.

November 15th, Opening Day was almost a deluge. It rained overnight and the rain just did not let go until late afternoon. I sat all day on my blind, reading, checking my phone, snacking, but never letting go the hope that eventually a deer would come by. And sometime towards dusk I saw movement, not three or four hundred yards away, but maybe three or four hundred feet away.

A young buck was moving towards my blind on an old logging road, and at around twenty-one yards he just turns broadside! The little red dot from the center of the reticle rested just behind the buck's right shoulder and a third of the way up. At the shot the two hind legs kicked high in the air, and the buck spring forward, and after a run of about thirty yards just flipped upside down. Heart shot.

Young but legal

Next day Mike met me at my shop, Hampel's Gun Co. in the morning, and then we went to my home to get ready for the hunt. Before we left I fired up my Big Green Egg and put a whole rib side on it, so we could satiate our hunger when we came back late in the night!

That almost did not happen. We arrived at my blind around 2:00 PM, and not fifteen minutes later, there comes, through the same old log road, a nice mature Michigan buck, bigger than any deer I've ever shot, and the rifle was on my side of the blind!

But Mike had not hunted in several years (his fault, not mine), and as much as I may torment him, I really like the guy. I could see the buckfever mounting on when he asked for the rifle. I considered teasing him a bit, but he would suffer, so I passed him the Weatherby. He rested the forend on the window frame, looked through the Hawke Frontier, adjusted the magnification, took a deep breath and ... the deer moved closer.

The deer kept coming and suddenly turned broadside, but before Mike could take a shot he jumped over a fallen log and ... moved closer. And then there it was, at the exact same spot I shot my younger buck the day before.

And Mike could take it no more, he aimed carefully and suddenly the Vanguard barked, and the deer took of, the front right leg at a ninety degree angle, like a wing, and we lost sight of him on some multiflora bushes.

And Mike was devastated, almost in tears (this is my story and I tell it anyway I want. If he disagrees he can write it his way!), but I assured him that the running deer was dead, he just did not know about it, and we would find him within a hundred yards, probably northeast of the blind. He did not believe me at the time, but I was proven right at the end.

Mike and his nice buck

Since we are both old grandpas and not fit to hard work (again my story, Mike is right now crossing the country west to east in a bicycle - crazy guy!), I called Steve at Williams & Bay and asked for his help in looking for the dead deer.

We looked, and looked, and when we were about to get discouraged the three of us almost simultaneously saw the dead deer laying among the autumn leaves.

Well, eventually we made it back home and to the green egg, and those were some of the best ribs, venison or otherwise, anyone ever tasted. And the libations where almost as good, especially since the tight fisted Dutchman from Zeeland, Michigan, bought them! (And again, this is my story!)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Observations on the Absence of Wildness

I am currently reading the fantastic book "Dersu the Trapper" by Vladimir Klavdievich Arseniev (1872-1930), and I will eventually write a review on it, but I just came through a passage that I must quote in full:

"'All around soon all game end," commented Dersu. "Me think ten years, no more wapiti, no more sable, no more squirrel, all gone.'
it was impossible to disagree with him. In their own country the Chinese have long since exterminated the game, almost every living thing. All that is left with are the crows, dogs, and rats. Even in the seas they have exterminated the trepangs, the crabs, the various shell-fish, and all the seaweed. The Pri-Amur country, so rich in forest and wild life, awaits the same fate, if energetic measures be not taken soon to prevent the wholesale slaughter by the Chinese."

I can confirm the sad state of wildness and wildlife, or the lack of them, from my many trips to China, between 2002 and 2014. By and large, I could only observe the odd sparrow or maybe a pigeon, and very seldom a stray dog. Although the Chinese make a point of having many trees in their cities, they are all transplanted, groomed, without the savage soul found in nature.

During my last trip there I was so depressed that upon coming back to northern Michigan I almost had to immerse myself in our woods in order to recover a semblance of sanity.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Thundering Pheasants

Bill, Andrew, Carly, Ken, and the writer

Last week I received an invitation from friend Bill Habich to take part on the first pheasant hunt of the season at Thundering Aspens Sportsman Club, in Mesick, MI, about an hour from my home, and at the time I could not imagine how great and memorable an occasion this would become.

Thundering Aspens was established in 1987 and currently has a 84-person waiting list (including yours truly) to become members in the family operated private club that offers the opportunity to hunt bobwhite quail, chukar and Hungarian partridges, and of course pheasants in its 600 acres carefully managed to ensure habitat for birds to thrive year around.

T.A.S.C. is not your usual hunting preserve where birds are raised in pens and released in the fields shortly before the hunt starts. At T.A.S.C. birds do what their are supposed to do year around, breed, hide, forage, run and eventually fly after being pointed by fantastically trained dogs, mostly brittany spaniels, without any enclosures to tame them.

I arrived at Thundering Aspens beautiful lodge at about 7:30 AM on Friday and had the opportunity to talk a bit with Greg, Jason and Jon, the brothers that run the club and was introduced to the world class taxidermy that is Jon's passion. Shortly after the other members of our party arrived, Bill and his son Andrew, and Ken and his granddaughter Carolyn, or Carly.

We followed Jason, who also handled the two brittanys, Olive and Misty, and one black labrador, Wilco, to a large field planted with strips of corn and sorghum that held the promise of many birds. Jason explained that from their opening on September 1st to about November we are allowed to shoot both roosters and hens, but from November to the end of the season (which could be as early as January depending on weather and number of birds taken) only cock pheasants are taken in order to ensure enough breeding stock to the following years.

About the hunt itself it is sufficient to say that the dog work was outstanding and every bird shot was retrieved, the birds were all strong fliers and except by paying attention to the dogs it was impossible to tell when one or more birds could flush (there was no marked paths or vehicle tracks so common on other places that indicate where birds were planted), and that all hunters and huntress were safe and had a great time.

We hunted until about noon and then drove back to the lodge where a great meal of barbecued pheasant, maple finished white beans and homemade apple pie waited for us. The lunch was really a feast when we celebrated friendship and the passion of hunting.

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.