Looking for Information on Long rifles & Hawkens

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MrYoshi90

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Hi,

I'm looking to get some advice on what weapon I should use for a novel I'm looking to write. The novel is set during the American Frontier, with two periods in mind, 1760-the 80s, and 1810-the 40s. (This is still to be decided) I'm struggling to figure out what I want my main character to carry for his main rifle. I love the Kentucky Long Rifles, they're beautiful and effective rifles, but the Hawkens are far superior in terms of their effective firing range. Now without giving too much away about the story, the main character isn't simply surviving in the wilderness, they are actively hunting supernatural creatures and I want the main weapon for my character to be unique and yet based on plausible specifications. Below I will describe the rifle I'm thinking of for the later period mentioned before (1810-the 1840s). Any rifle before this period will be a Long rifle so that isn't an issue.

I'm hoping to have the main rifle for the latter period be a full-stock Hawken Rifle, .50-.54 caliber, 40"-42" barrel, Flintlock mechanism, and double-set triggers. The reason for the specifications is that the main rifle is to be built in honor of the character's late father.

In terms of this description, what is doable and what isn't?

Below is a full-stock Hawken that is close to the length and design I mentioned, but I wanted to know if it was possible to go beyond this length, were these rifles made to whatever specifications the user wanted and if so does the increased barrel length have any drawbacks in terms of effective range, weight, stability, recoil, etc? Thank you for any assistance.
Preview.jpg
 
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flconch53

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The Plains style rifle was not in use until 1810 and later. And why do you think a Hawkin has greater range than Pennsylvania Rifle ofeqial caliber
 
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Hawkens are famous but while high quality they were just one of hundreds of makers. Jacob first made basically Maryland/Virginia style. He would move to St Louis after several stops and open the shop where that type of gun was made.
The sort of rifle bought in cr 1780 or made a bit before would be a heavy, robust gun and caliber of the same size as later Hawkens.
All the guns at the time shot ball, except for a few oddities, and in American sizes, rare over .60, and .54 or .50 common. All had a range of about 200 yards, and could kill at maybe twice that but such were rare.
In Hawkins time makers such as Dickert, Derringer, Leman or Henry made westren guns as robust accurate and shot the same range as Hawkens
 
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A Hawken rifle of the Plains Rifle architecture would not have existed until after 1825 and would have been in percussion. Jake Hawken was in partnership with James Lakenan in 1820, about the time Hawken arrived in St. Louis. So, the rifle @MrYoshi90 pictured would not have existed in 1810. The Hawken brothers Jacob, Samuel, George, john and William. Jacob, John and George were working in Harper's Ferry from 1807 to 1818.

A more plausible source of this fantasy version of an early Hawken rifle would have to come from Hagerstown, Maryland and be the product of their father, Christian Hawken. This would have been of the Pennsylvania/Maryland school of construction more or less like the rifle built by Samuel Hawken in Xenia, Ohio. By having the rifle built by Christian Hawken there would not be a conflict of description, since we only know that he was a gun maker and very few of his rifles exist in the record. The rifle in the story would be built to the specifications needed to confront the supernatural creatures and not be in conflict with any rifles of a known historical description. Of course, some of the specifications would evolve into the architecture later used by Jake and Sam.

For a brief timeline of the rifle building of the Hawken family visit the NRA Museum for an interesting article.
 

MrYoshi90

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Okay, so unfortunately the information on ranges came from Wikipedia I do apologize. So they were varied in the designs and it would be fair to say they measured equally to other guns of the period?

In terms of creating a rifle, that isn't really an issue. I know I have a lot of freedom when it comes to fictional writing, I just wanted myself to know I wasn't overstretching the measurements or calibers. I know Hollywood has a tendency of creating weird and wonderful weapons, but I wanted to give myself a set of rules to go by as it were for my own sanity.

So in terms of the measurements, would the description I gave be within reason in a fictional sense, without breaking too much from reality?
 
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@MrYoshi90,

For the purpose of your 1810-1815 rifle in terms of a sort of reasonable fashion, I would make the rifle of similar style to the Sam Hawken rifle (Pennsylvania architecture) and the description of the rifle built for Ashley in 1826. Your rifle would be a precursor of the Ashley rifle, in 62 or 66 caliber of course. The iron mountings would be required as a ward against the haints of the supernatural beings. Brass simply wouldn't do.

Here's the NMLRA's description of the Ashlye Rifle. Still this description is speculation, but within the bounds or reality.
 
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Okay, so unfortunately the information on ranges came from Wikipedia I do apologize. So they were varied in the designs and it would be fair to say they measured equally to other guns of the period?

In terms of creating a rifle, that isn't really an issue. I know I have a lot of freedom when it comes to fictional writing, I just wanted myself to know I wasn't overstretching the measurements or calibers. I know Hollywood has a tendency of creating weird and wonderful weapons, but I wanted to give myself a set of rules to go by as it were for my own sanity.

So in terms of the measurements, would the description I gave be within reason in a fictional sense, without breaking too much from reality?
Wikipedia is good for some quick information but not always the best source. I read a good historian who writing on revolutionary battles assumed the reported loss so accuracy for a musket at about one hundred yards meant the ball falling harmlessly to the ground at that range.
Round ball is a poor projectile. It loses velocity in short range. So the only way to increase the hitting power of the load was by making it heavy. The heavier the better it kept it’s hitting power.
But heavy means just that. Extra weight to carry around.
A .44 round ball gives about forty eight shots to a pound of lead. A .58 about twenty four. A .54 shoots a half ounce ball.
The ‘Kentucky’ rifle was fort made for eastern game. Deer, of course but also elk,moose,woods Buffalo, and bear. So the first of these rifles were large caliber.
As time went on big game was hunted out, and much of the game taken was small, deer,rabbit,squirrel, turkey. So a big ball wasn’t needed. The Kentucky in its many forms reduced down to .40,36.32.28.
When the trans Mississippi opened up, and the westren mountain man period started big game was afoot. So rifles returned to that big size
However range is dictated by the ball size. A .54 Hines rifle from 1770 will shoot virtually identical to a .54 Hawken, or a .54 Leman.
No matter how fast a ball is shot, from 1100 feet per second to twice that, at three hundred yards it will slow to between 3and 4 hundred feet per second
 
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DixieTexian

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Another thing to keep in mind is that rifles shooting patched round balls of any size have a limited range not because of inherent inaccuracy, but more from shot to shot consistency. A slight variation in velocity can make a big difference in bullet drop at extended ranges. For a gun that is loaded by pouring powder into a volumetric measure, there is probably quite a bit of inconsistency in velocity. If you want your character to be shooting at longer ranges accurately, he needs to be carefully weighing out each load with a balance and placing it in a sealed container so that ever shot uses as close to the exact amount of powder as possible. Any time he has to obtain new powder, he will have to find the most accurate load and weigh out new charges. That could be an interesting technical aspect to put in there.
 

MrYoshi90

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'For your 1810-1815 rifle in terms of a sort of reasonable fashion, I would make the rifle of similar style to the Sam Hawken rifle (Pennsylvania architecture) and the description of the rifle built for Ashley in 1826. Your rifle would be a precursor of the Ashley rifle, in 62 or 66 calibers of course. The iron mountings would be required as a ward against the haints of supernatural beings. Brass simply wouldn't do.

Here's the NMLRA's description of the Ashlye Rifle. Still, this description is speculation but within the bounds of reality.'

I'm reading this description you sent me for the Ashley rifle, the barrel description is particularly interesting, it says the length of the barrel according to Sam Hawken was 42' long, which would suggest the rifle was nearly as long as Kentucky long rifle barrel. The reason for this would be that to achieve the velocity required, the barrel had to be longer to accommodate for the increased caliber size, this is interesting.

'Wikipedia is good for some quick information but not always the best source. I read a good historian who writing on revolutionary battles assumed the reported loss so accuracy for a musket at about one hundred yards meant the ball falling harmlessly to the ground at that range.
The round ball is a poor projectile. It loses velocity in short range. So the only way to increase the hitting power of the load was by making it heavy. The heavier the better it kept its hitting power.
But heavy means just that. Extra weight to carry around.
A .44 round ball gives about forty-eight shots to a pound of lead. A .58 about twenty-four. A .54 shoots a half-ounce ball.
The ‘Kentucky’ rifle was a fort made for the eastern game. Deer, of course, but also elk, moose, woods Buffalo, and bear. So the first of these rifles were large caliber.
As time went on big game was hunted out, and much of the game taken was small, deer, rabbit, squirrel, turkey. So a big ball wasn’t needed. Kentucky in its many forms reduced down to .40,36.32.28.
When the trans-Mississippi opened up, and the western mountain man period started big game was afoot. So rifles returned to that big size
However, the range is dictated by the ball size. A .54 Hines rifle from 1770 will shoot virtually identical to a .54 Hawken, or a .54 Leman.
No matter how fast a ball is shot, from 1100 feet per second to twice that, at three hundred yards it will slow to between 3 and 4 hundred feet per second.'

Okay, so in terms of shooting difference the higher the caliber is usually better when it comes to maintaining hitting power and doesn't affect the overall ranges the rifle would shoot at (If I read that right).
 
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I'm reading this description you sent me for the Ashley rifle, the barrel description is particularly interesting, it says the length of the barrel according to Sam Hawken was 42' long, which would suggest the rifle was nearly as long as Kentucky long rifle barrel. The reason for this would be that to achieve the velocity required, the barrel had to be longer to accommodate for the increased caliber size, this is interesting.



Okay, so in terms of shooting difference the higher the caliber is usually better when it comes to maintaining hitting power and doesn't affect the overall ranges the rifle would shoot at (If I read that right).
Mostly
50-54 will shoot real close to the same. The .45 will be a little light down range, and loose hitting power.
.58 and above keep that hitting power longer. I’m thinking the Ashley rifle was a .66, Boone may have had a .60. In general most Americans rifles didn’t go over .62.
The problem with these guns becomes the mid range trajectory. All guns shoot a curve. The ball goes above the line of sight then drops back down to the target.
A .54 weighs an half an ounce. A .66 is only 12/100 bigger, but doubles the weight. A whole ounce of lead, a .45 by contrast is just a tad over 1/4 ounce.
A .50 or .54 sighted for a hundred yards will hit around two inches high at fifty yards.
A .62 can hit up to six inches high if sighted at one hundred and fired at fifty.
It could be the difference between a hit and a miss, the same stretches out when shot farther. The bigger ball can hit with amazing force, but miss if the target is a little close or farther away then estimated
They knew their guns, and could estimate rangers pretty well. And on most targets a little high or low won’t make any difference. It is of note that German rifles that often were over .58 developed multiple sights for long and close range. Often in the form of folding leaf sights. This was before rifles were made in America, but it’s an innovation not seen on most American guns. Another way was a tall rear sight, and an experienced shooter would know how much to rise the front sight in his sight picture. But again this was rare on American guns.
Experience made up for mechanics
In general tge thing that adds range is bigger ball. But it’s a two way street.
 

DixieTexian

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A man could use the height of his front sight to help estimate range if he knows his gun well. If the height of the front sight matches up with the normal height of a man at 100 yards, then a normal man would be half the height of his front sight at 200 yards, etc. As much as we like to think that we are pretty good at estimating range, we are often wrong without some sort of way to actually measure it. You could easily throw something like that in to add a bit of gravity to your protagonists ability to shoot at range. As far as the metric of the front sight matching a man's height at 100 yards goes, I was just throwing that number out there. I think the original rifles had lower sights than most modern reconstructions, so matching the height to the center of his chest or even waist might be more appropriate. But your guy needs some way to convince the reader that he is better than the average shooter at estimating ranges to instill confidence in his ability.
 

Notchy Bob

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Now, this is interesting. We aren't talking about an ordinary hunter. We're talking about long ranges and supernatural beings, yet the rifle has to be believable. @Grenadier1758 has helped us with the timeframe, and @tenngun has pointed out the advantages of a bigger ball. The Ashley Hawken came immediately to mind.

"Super rifles" like the Ashley Hawken, intended to send real killing power at long range, were unusual but certainly known. Samuel Hawken said this rifle shot a one ounce ball, which would be around .660". Allowing for some windage, this would be a rifle of .67-.68 caliber. When Bob Woodfill replicated the Ashley Hawken and documented it in his recent book, I think he went with a .69 caliber barrel, but I need to verify that. It is generally accepted that Boone carried a rifle that shot a one ounce ball when he went into Kentucky, and that may have been the rifle used to kill the renegade, Pompey, at a range of about 200 yards. Meschach Browning, the Maryland hunter, wrote in his memoir that his rifle shot an ounce ball. There is an 1846 account in the Transactions of the Kansas Historical Society of a young fellow who threw in with a bunch of older hunters for a hunting trip to Texas. They loaned him a long-barreled flintlock that shot a one-ounce ball. There is also a record of a Kansas "Free Stater" in the Border Wars of the 1850's who carried a long barreled rifle shooting a one ounce ball. There are others, and I can post a few quotes if anybody is interested, when I fire up the desktop computer later today.

@DixieTexian pointed out that carefully measured charges would be necessary for optimum accuracy. In "My Sixty Years on the Plains," Bill Hamilton reported mountain men making and using pre-loaded cartridges in their muzzle loading rifles. These increased their rate of fire in fights with the Indians. I have not read of mountain men using paper cartridges anywhere else (Hamilton is my only source), but the technology was certainly known.

I would recommend that @MrYoshi90 look up and read Stewart Edward White's book, "The Long Rifle." The gist of the story is that a mid-18th century Pennsylvania longrifle passed through several generations of owners, all the way to a Rocky Mountain fur trapper. The rifle was converted to percussion, and while I don't remember this being addressed in the book, it would also have undoubtedly been "freshed out" a few times, which would have increased its bore size. Mr. White, the author, was an avid hunter, shooter, and outdoorsman, as well as a good researcher. Most of what he wrote in this book was believable.

This sounds like an interesting project! I would like to read the story that comes out of it.

Notchy Bob
 
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