In Praise of the Hawken

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Nuthatch

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I confess, I love the aesthetics of an American longrifle. I like the long barrel, the full stock and a few other details that might sound more like I’m describing feminine anatomy than a firearm. Then there’s the history — both romantic and utterly practical for it’s time. In all likelihood, I’ll be picking one up in the next year or so.

However, after spending nearly a week in the backcountry with my Hawken as my constant companion for the third consecutive year, I have to admit that I might be, practically speaking, more of a fan of it than the longrifle. Granted, I own a Hawken and not a longrifle. But I own a longer-barreled smoothbore that shoots pretty well itself. Not only did I leave it behind, but I was glad that I did.

So what have I learned to appreciate about the Hawken? First and foremost, portability. The Hawken is a spritely 7.5 lb. That’s much easier to carry around all day than something in the 9 lb range. Where I was hunting, there is very little flat ground and a trekking pole is needed just to get up a little higher on the slopes to where the deer usually are. I’m in fairly good shape but rugged country calls for lighter gear. Having a lighter rifle is a huge advantage for these all-day excursions up slippery canyons, down deep, steep draws and through brush so thick the deer can hold tighter than quail.

Likewise, shorter barrel is also a huge advantage while hunting in the thick cover of these woods. Even just hiking in to camp requires constant ducking, stooping, climbing and creek jumping. While sitting on the side of my pack, it’s hard enough keeping that shorter barrel from snagging or banging into a downed log I’m ducking under. I couldn’t imagine having to contend with another 10+” flagging up there.

The ho-hum 1:48 twist, neither ideal for round ball nor conicals, has proven itself to be amazingly versatile. Once I learned about how to navigate patch thicknesses, I’ve managed to get respectable groups with both. I haven’t tried a sabot yet and may never need to. But lead ball, bismuth ball, ITX, power belt and Thor have all given me solid deer-hunting accuracy out to 75-100 yards. I’ve only managed to get one deer with it so far. But the rifle did it’s job without a fuss.

I’d still like to get a flintlock. But the percussion system is much appreciated where I have to camp in a humid creek bottom all night. Even after several days of a charge sitting in the barrel, it still goes *BANG!* when I pull the trigger. A little softened beeswax around the nipple seals the powder and primer from the elements. Homemade caps or purchased, homemade powder or purchased, it all works — reliably. It’s hard to expect more than that in a hunting weapon.

After 3 years of late season hunts, this Hawken has really grown on me. It’s not an “authentic” Hawken by any stretch. In truth, I only bought it because I got a good deal on it. I may yet end up putting some better sights on it or tinkering with it a bit more. But I find myself wanting to change out my main centerfire rifle for something with similar size, weight and handling of this Hawken.

So, as much as I like the looks of a longrifle and the history of a flintlock, I think my main hunting muzzleloading rifle is definitely a Hawken.
 

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Nuthatch, Nice to have a good relationship with whatever your chosen firearm is! :thumb: I agree that lighter is nice, especially the older I get.

I'd only state that a Hawken that is of a more period correct nature is a heavy beast! My Pedersoli Rocky Mountain Hawken tips the scales at over 10 lbs! Original Hawken rifles, I have heard, were generally in the 12# range. I've seen numerous originals in museums, but have not personally handled them, and all the metal in those barrels in "the day" added weight...but even modern, more accurate copy representations, are heavy guns.

On the other hand, my Kibler SMR weighs in at 7#. I have a beautiful "Early Virginia" style with a light swamped barrel in .54 that is less than 8# and no matter who picks that rifle up, the first thing they comment on is how light and extremely well balanced the rifle is. I also have heavier longrifles that are in the 9# range, give or take a bit.

In net though, I love my Hawken even though it is heavy. It's the only capper I own anymore and will stay with me for life! :)

If you haven't seen it, there is a recent "Why I love my Hawken" type discussion going on in the Percussion forum you might enjoy. Some great pictures!
 
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It sounds like you are having some good adventures with your Hawken! You sing its praises well.

My first muzzleloader was a long rifle as I was attracted to its graceful style. My next will hopebe a fowler. Number three will be a plains style half stock because I have come to appreciate them more as I have seen more of them and learned more about them.
 

Notchy Bob

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I can only echo what @Spikebuck said. I'm glad you have found enjoyment and success with your rifle, and I do like the dark-finished mountings on the one in the photo. However, "Hawken" has become a very generic, nonspecific term. While the original Hawken brothers did turn out some lighter-weight, smaller-caliber rifles for the local Missouri trade, they are best known for their "mountain rifles," which typically shot a half ounce ball or larger, and weighed 12 or 13 pounds. Francis Parkman carried a Hoffman & Campbell rifle that weighed 14 pounds, and if I remember correctly the barrel was over forty inches long! Tom Tobin's Hawken, which is still in existence, also had a barrel just shy of forty inches:

Thomas Tate Tobin.jpg


It appears to me that the term "Hawken" or "Hawkins" has been loosely applied to various plains and mountain rifles for a long time, and not just those from the actual Hawken shop. There were some very bright and literate fellows crossing the plains in the 1840's and 50's, and they nearly always wrote of the border men's weapons as "Hawkins rifles," even though the name "Hawken" would have been stamped clearly on the barrel. I think frequently they were likely referring to a type of rifle, even back then, rather than a specific maker, just as we refer to any tissue as "Kleenex" and any blue jeans as "Levis." So, "Hawkins" was not just a misspelled proper name; it was an eponym. The practice continues. I read an article from the 1960's that stated "Kit Carson's Hawken was made by Benjamin Mills of Harrodsburg, Kentucky," and I found a review written not too long ago of the "Pedersoli Tryon half-stock Hawken."

In any event, I enjoyed your post, and hope you continue to find pleasure and success with your rifle.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 
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Nuthatch

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Nuthatch, Nice to have a good relationship with whatever your chosen firearm is! :thumb: I agree that lighter is nice, especially the older I get.

I'd only state that a Hawken that is of a more period correct nature is a heavy beast! My Pedersoli Rocky Mountain Hawken tips the scales at over 10 lbs! Original Hawken rifles, I have heard, were generally in the 12# range. I've seen numerous originals in museums, but have not personally handled them, and all the metal in those barrels in "the day" added weight...but even modern, more accurate copy representations, are heavy guns.

On the other hand, my Kibler SMR weighs in at 7#. I have a beautiful "Early Virginia" style with a light swamped barrel in .54 that is less than 8# and no matter who picks that rifle up, the first thing they comment on is how light and extremely well balanced the rifle is. I also have heavier longrifles that are in the 9# range, give or take a bit.

In net though, I love my Hawken even though it is heavy. It's the only capper I own anymore and will stay with me for life! :)

If you haven't seen it, there is a recent "Why I love my Hawken" type discussion going on in the Percussion forum you might enjoy. Some great pictures!
I've been mulling the idea of one of those Kibler kits. I wish the SMR could come in .50. As of now, I don't yet trust my craftsmanship enough to slap down $1k for what will end up being a rather basic-looking, roughly finished rifle in my hands.

I've seen some more "authentic" Hawkens with flint ignition and longer barrels. So I'm not really sure what is the most period correct and figure that there are a lot of different combinations that could have been around at the time to suit the market, just as there are today. What I know for certain is that I wouldn't have wanted to carry my longer and heavier smoothbore on this hunt. And, yes, my Hawken is not an authentic type. It has plastic fiber-optic sights that are misplaced on such a styling. But if I replace those sights, I'd likely do something similar as it helps with my eyesight in low-light conditions -- something I'm appreciating more as I age a little. As I figure, life is for the living.
 
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My RMH has a fire-sight on the front and a peep on the back. I allow myself some HC leeway on that rifle and it does an amazing job in low light conditions of dusk and dawn in the woods.

Blasphemy on my flint longrifles though! ;) 🤣 I have utilized fixed and more traditional looking peeps on a couple flinters with a blade up front.

You are correct that there were many varieties of "Plains Rifles" made and, of course, many probably carried what they used "back east."
 
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Enjoyed the OP
Althoug the gun is not a Hawken when compared to the real thing it does it’s most important job, pleasing its owner
One thing often forgot was the originals mostly had a 1/48 twist, as did lots of earlier guns
 
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Longrifle is great --but I am a hawk for Hawkens. Think about it. The Hawken influenced
many other rifles. The design and elegance of the rifle meant conformity to the human
body. When a person first picks up a Hawken and shoulders it--watch the face. There
is an immediate emotion attached to the feel of a Hawken design. It is easy on the
muscles and back-, light but effective for its purpose. With shoulder strap it is like
a Parrot on the shoulder along for the ride. With millions of purchase decisions over
many decades of time= Americans have spoken. The Hawken is an American Classic.
 

Jim

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Nuthatch . . . .

Do I see a grey, laminated stock in your photo?
 

hanshi

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It's a great experience when you find a rifle, use it a while and become comfortable using it and then find you've formed a "bond" of sorts with that particular rifle. I've done just that more than once; my passion, however, is the longrifle. Having that "special" rifle as your companion in the woods is definitely a special experience.
 

Rudyard

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At the risk of being ostrasized for critizeing Hawkens I consider them as awful affairs being too heavy by far .A spritely 7 & a half pounds ? .If I was going to carry any gun hunting it would be borderline at 6 pounds & a pet mid 18thc Provincial English 50 cal I made to be 5 pounds .As you carry a gun more than you get to fire it and locally at least there is no need for long range or extra powerfull loads. But at 5 pounds its a joy to carry . I have made them for patrons (Up market customers !) ditto long rifles but for all practical purposes the 5 pound rifle will do me . 26'' 50 cal round with a swamp its enough .But then Im'e a feable 77 year old but Iv'e done a LOT of bush miles too . My maxim is' if your going to carry weight make it edible ' within reason. I once took this gun for 13 days setting of with 47 pounds all up gun ,swag ,tucker , all up inc cloaths shot a big trout. caught a good size eel, knocked off a red deer & barreled a goat & coverered 60 + bush miles

( Browns river to the Salisbury plains via the Aurerie , Spey, Dommet, Ugly, Karamea, Roaring Lion ,Lesley
& out by Flora. for any who know the regions of North West Nelson NZ)

Seemed enough. and I've done 18 day trips down some Pacific coast Mountain rivers never wieghed the kit but it included no heavy rifle & the best suited I found was a double shotgun ball in the left & small shot in the right (Converted from flint old restocked gun of 16 bore ) .
Nothing on the scale of Mackenzie, Thompson ,' Tete Juan,' & Simon Frazer but at least a sample .
Tilting at windmills ,
Regards Rudyard
 

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Rudyard

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The Pics arn't good . The headless bit is just my camera sighting they might show the Wheelock & some camps typical Sywash Bower s Must try show the' After' Felix Werder early flint it too is a hunting rifle the feathers being quills to plug the vent if wet The pic of me squatted down is I m'e trying to get the Beagle 'Mr Banjo' into the shot but he was allways camera shy . Note the Stag horn flask on the Bower frame . The old hut is a miners shack I had reached after 10 days walk from the Anatoki river to the exit at Wangapeka river another stag horn flask shot 7 ferol goats Ime wearing the swag .
Regards Rudyard
 

Notchy Bob

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@Rudyard does beautiful work. The scenery in the photos is also outstanding. I spent about three weeks in New Zealand in 1985, driving to different camping spots, seeing the sights and hiking in the mountains. It was one of the high points of my life.

I can see that a light-weight rifle would be a smart choice if you are walking, "riding Shank's mare" through those rugged mountains. The American plainsmen, who carried twelve and thirteen pound Hawkens, were horsemen. In reading the original accounts, we also see frequent references to them taking advantage of any possible rest for shooting... Against a tree, propped on a "wiping stick," across the saddle on the horse's back, or whatever was available. Uncle Dick Wootton said they preferred to shoot offhand, but most of the other chroniclers of that day mentioned shooting off a rest.

This is a good thread. Thanks to @Nuthatch for kicking it off!

Notchy Bob
 

Rudyard

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Well Ile upset some who champion heavy guns . But I believe it makes sense to carry a light rifle or any gun for any sort of arduous trip . The particuller rifles barrel is just three pounds and all round with a swamp the sights are fixed rear & stag tooth front no adjustment just know the gun . Most game is about 30 yards in thick bush and running shots are worth the shot . I have a pic of a Hind '/ Doe; shot running in' Wards Pass ' near Nelson. Its easy to make a heavy gun but its hard to get much lighter than five pounds . Its all a matter of taste & experience , we takes our fancy . choose what .
Regards Rudyard
 

Rudyard

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Longrifle is great --but I am a hawk for Hawkens. Think about it. The Hawken influenced
many other rifles. The design and elegance of the rifle meant conformity to the human
body. When a person first picks up a Hawken and shoulders it--watch the face. There
is an immediate emotion attached to the feel of a Hawken design. It is easy on the
muscles and back-, light but effective for its purpose. With shoulder strap it is like
a Parrot on the shoulder along for the ride. With millions of purchase decisions over
many decades of time= Americans have spoken. The Hawken is an American Classic.
Some Parrot ! Regards Rudyard
 
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Longrifle is great --but I am a hawk for Hawkens. Think about it. The Hawken influenced
many other rifles. The design and elegance of the rifle meant conformity to the human
body. When a person first picks up a Hawken and shoulders it--watch the face. There
is an immediate emotion attached to the feel of a Hawken design. It is easy on the
muscles and back-, light but effective for its purpose. With shoulder strap it is like
a Parrot on the shoulder along for the ride. With millions of purchase decisions over
many decades of time= Americans have spoken. The Hawken is an American Classic.
I agree except for 'light' ... my Ubertis [Log Cabin Shop and Santa Fe] are not light. My Jonathan Browning is heavier and so are some of my others. But I enjoy 'em all and continue to promote them.. Polecat
 
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The Hawken sure is an American classic , Trouble is it is also in the realm of folk law and legend and the name and style have been purloined and now seem to mean any half stocked, heavy barrel, coiled spring, brass mounted rifle . It is a bit like calling any four wheel drive vehicle a Jeep . In my mind both are American Icons and should be respected and valued as such .
 

Stykbow

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Rudyard likes a light rifle and others prefer some heft. If I was trekking for days on end I might like a light rifle as well. Or I might just stick a sling on my Hawken. 😉 I’m a Hawken man thru and thru though. I like looking at others, but they don’t really call to me like a Hawken does. Mine tips the scales at something over nine pounds, but it carries easy to me. Especially since I’m generally only toting it a mile at most.
 
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