See that ol' Thompson/Center Arms percussion lock above? It came from one of the company's extremely popular "Hawken" rifle models. That rifle was built back around 1979 or 1980. I had taken the .45 caliber half-stock in on trade for another .50 caliber half-stock I was selling. Quite honestly, I didn't even want the .45 percussion Hawken rifle, mostly since the bore of the rifle had been lost due to the previous owner putting it away dirty ... sticking it in a closet for nearly a full year before he discovered that the black powder fouling had ruined the rifling.
I ended up with only about $60 in the muzzleloader. The lock, triggers, walnut stock, and all the brass furniture were in great shape ... and I thought that maybe I could install a new barrel, of a smaller caliber for hunting squirrels, rabbits and other small game. Well, fortunately, I kept the rifle for for more than a year ... and found a whole new life for it.
That's the very same lock in my custom half-stock shown directly above. That's also the T/C set-trigger salvaged from that old Hawken as well. In fact, the only parts I did not use when building this rifle was the excellent condition walnut stock ... brass cap box ... and the curved brass butt-plate. Yes, when I built this rifle through the summer of 1983 ... I also managed to use that 28-inch .45 barrel with the rusted bore. However, I had sent it to a custom barrel maker ... who reamed it out to .50 caliber ... and rifled the bore with a 1-in-24 twist. (Today, this rifle is fitted with a 32-inch .50 caliber 1-in-24 twist Green Mountain barrel.)
Now, getting back to that percussion T/C Hawken lock shown at the top of this post. Over the past 35 or so years, it has provided the "mechanism" for firing well over 10,000 rounds out of this rifle. The barrel now on this rifle is actually the fifth barrel to be matched up with this lock ... and all the other parts salvaged from that neglected .45 T/C Hawken some 35 years ago. There was that original barrel, rebored and rerifled to a fast twist .50 caliber, which I hunted with for 4 or 5 years. Then, the rifle was fitted with a .50 caliber 1-in-66 twist round ball barrel, which I shot in competition for close to 10 years - and there was also a shorter .32 caliber barrel that I used for hunting squirrels. Those three barrels were followed by a .40 caliber round ball twist barrel that my kids often shot. The present 1-in-24 twist .50 caliber barrel has been on the rifle for the past 12 or so years.
It's very likely if it had not been for that old Hawken with the rusty bore, this rifle would not have ever existed. That $60 "in trade" has been one of the best deals I've ever made. What made that deal even sweeter was that a year or so after building this rifle, I sold the original Hawken stock (with cap box) and butt plate to a friend for $45.
Many of us know or know of "muzzleloader builders" who are true artists at taking a hodgepodge of parts from different guns and turning them into somewhat stylish muzzle-loaded guns that are very shootable and very usable. The rifle directly above is a great example of that. There are parts on this rifle from at least three different prior rifles.
The basis for this small-bore .31 caliber muzzleloader was the barrel. Back in the late 1970's, I had bought the remnants of a nice little half-stock rifle for only a few dollars. Actually, all I got for a couple of $20 bills was the barrel and the nicely shaped walnut half-stock ... which was in excellent condition. The lock, the trigger(s), the trigger guard, the nose cap, and the butt plate were missing. But, as I said, the stock was in great shape and the small bore of the slender barrel looked to be clean and very shootable, I had no intention of "re-building" the rifle ... but bought it for the parts ... and for trade material.
Well, the very next day I traded it to one of the best friends I've ever had, John Sorbie of Gillespie, Illinois. John was a coal miner who should have been a gun maker. During the more than 40 years I knew John, he always had a small machine and gun making shop out behind his house - complete with a lathe, mill and other pieces of machinery. If he couldn't find a part he needed ... he simply made it. And that occasionally included making the barrel. He could literally take a pile of "junk parts" and make a shooter out of those less than matched parts. I think it was the challenge of doing so that appealed to him.
Anyway, when he pulled the barrel from the stock, he found that it was marked REMINGTON on the bottom flat of the octagon barrel. He sat the barrel aside for future use, refurbished the stock, complete with a well fitting lock, triggers and furniture, back to its original glory ... and barreled it with a new Green Mountain .40 caliber round ball barrel for another local shooter. I always regretted letting that one get away.
Back about 2010, after I had moved to Montana, John called me one day ... needing a set of the mounts for the Hi-Lux Optics long Wm. Malcolm scope. I had a spare set, and sent them to him ... and he constructed his own "tube sight" ... just for this barrel. It wasn't until late 2013 that he actually built a rifle around that barrel ... and installed the tube enclosed peep-sight on the rifle. He had discovered that the bore had a reasonably fast 1-in-32 rate of rifling twist, and shot the rifle with a 30-grain charge of GOEX FFFg black powder and a short sized-down 90-grain .32 caliber soft lead pistol bullet. This is one of his rifles he wanted me to have before he passed away in October of last year. My goal was to shoot the rifle with a light patched round ball and just 15-grains of GOEX FFFg black powder.
That ol' circa 1840's .31 caliber REMINGTON barrel, matched up with a lock and the trigger from two other rifles which had been lost in a house fire has been a real tack driver, shooting a patched "pellet" of .300" diameter No. 1 buckshot (from Ballistic Products Inc. of Corcoran, MN). I never got the chance to hunt fall turkey with the rifle last year ... but that's high on my priority list for this coming fall.
When John Sorbie handed the above "break-open" .50 caliber rifle to me six or seven years ago, and said ... "Not much more I can do to save this one ... take it home with you ... it's your's!" I looked it over for a few minutes, and had to admire the ingenuity of the home-shop gun builder. Then I pretty much summed it up by saying ... "Well ... It's certainly a real Frankenstein!"
Back in 2004, I had taken a Savage Model 10ML-II barrel to John, so he could machine off the very rear portion of the barrel, where the breech plug threaded in. I wanted to examine and photograph the sealing shoulder against which the front edge of the plug supposedly formed a gas tight seal. I was looking for signs of gas seepage and cutting ... and found just that. Once I photographed the barrel, I had just given it to John. Well, that barrel laid around in his shop for a year or more, until someone gave him an old Harrington & Richardson break-open .410 shotgun ... with a destroyed (bent and split) barrel ... and broken stocks.
Being the machinist he was, he saved the portion of the barrel with the lug for locking into the receiver ... turned the rear of that Savage muzzleloader barrel so it fit perfectly into that remaining three-inch portion of barrel ... re-drilled and tapped the barrel for a new breech plug ... then silver-soldered the short section of shotgun barrel and rifle barrel together. The end product was a very short and fast handlng home-made in-line rifle ... which became my extreme close-range brush rifle. (Photo above left shows the mating of those two barrels.)
I found the short 21-inch barreled "Sorbie Brush Rifle" to shoot very well with a 90-grain charge of Blackhorn 209 and the big saboted 400-grain Hard Cast bullet from Harvester Muzzleloading. At 50 yards, the rifle has proven capable of keeping shots right at an inch.
At the muzzle, the load is good for almost 1,700 f.p.s., with a bit more than 2,450 f.p.e. At 50 yards, the bullet will slam into a deer with between 2,200 and 2,300 foot-pounds of wallop. In 2012, I finally got around to actually hunting with this Frankenstein match up of gun parts ... and got on the doe shown here quickly as it busted out of some brush only about 20 yards away. Needless to say, the little home-made in-line and load put the deer down immediately ... if not sooner!
These are just a few of the muzzleloading rifles I've enjoyed that were made from re-purposed gun or muzzleloader parts. Have you ever owned ... hunted with ... or just enjoyed shooting a muzzle-loaded gun that was the end product of similar ingenuity? If you have, please share that experience in the following comment section of this post. - Toby Bridges
More On The Sorbie .31 Caliber Full Stock Can Be Found At -
More On Shooting & Hunting With The Sorbie Home-Made In-Line Can Be Found At -
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The three-shot 100-yard group shown here is pretty typical of my "first three shots" out of a perfectly clean bore ... with that upper right hit being the first shot. Quite honestly, I can live with this small amount of "first shot deviation". Center-to-center, this "group" is still inside of 1 1/2 inches. But ... sometimes that first shot has a tendency to spread out a bit more.
When shooting for groups on the NORTH AMERICAN MUZZLELOADER HUNTING range, I almost always take a shot or two to put a small amount of powder fouling in the bore ... BEFORE GOING FOR A GROUP. Most days, I'll take a shot or two at a steel 100-yard gong ... which lets me know the rifle ... scope ... and load will print on a paper target. That shot, or couple of shots, will put some "soot" in the barrel ... and then it's time to go after those sub 1-inch groups.
On the first morning of a hunt with one of the ultra modern No. 209 primer in-line muzzleloaders, I'll snap two or three primers before loading. Yes ... one primer is plenty for clearing the ignition system of solvent or oil, but by snapping a couple of extra primers, I've found that the small amount of additional primer fouling put into the bore very closely simulates the fouling left by a first shot. Without fail, when two or three primers are fired before loading, the first shot impact is right there with the following two.
(Note: The above is true when loading and shooting with Blackhorn 209. When loading and shooting with Triple Seven, to obtain those sub 1-inch groups requires that the bore be wiped between shots with a lightly dampened patch.)
The sub 1-inch group shown at left was shot with a .50 caliber Thompson/Center Strike rifle - stuffed with 110-grains of Blackhorn 209 and the light 250-grain all-copper .430" diameter MAXIMUS bullet from Cutitng Edge Bullets and Harvester Muzzleloading .50x.44 Crush Rib Sabot. These were the first three shots out of the rifle that morning ... and before loading the rifle, three of the Federal No. 209A primers were fired through the ignition system. Quite honestly, I cannot tell you which was the first shot. The group measures right at .600" center-to-center.
For more on keeping that first shot out of a clean bore much closer to where the following shots will impact the target, whether on a paper target or on a big ol' buck, here's a link to a feature article we published back in 2012 -
How about sharing your experiences when taking a first shot out of a perfectly clean bore ... and what you do to eliminate the impact of that shot being too far from where following shots are likely to impact the target. - Toby Bridges
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Have you ever looked at a product name ... and wondered, either to yourself or out loud ... "Why did they give that product that name?"
When it comes to shooting and hunting products, the preferred names tend to have something to do with performance - either the accuracy ... the knockdown power ... or the reliability. In our sport, muzzleloading, a product's name often reflects our muzzleloading heritage. One that has been used extensively for more than 40 years has been rifles referred to as a "Hawken" rifle ... many of which were far from looking anything like an original Hawken dating from the 1840's and 1850's. Then there have been a number of rifles named for the region of the country which the modern made reproduction is supposed to represent, such as the Kentucky rifle ... Pennsylvania rifle ... or Tennessee rifle.
For what we shoot out of these rifles, most names again revert back to terminology which indicates accuracy, power or game taking ability. These include Power Belt Bullets ... Black Mag (powder) ... White Hots (white powder pellets) ... and the use of the word "Magnum"! Over the years, I have been asked to help name a lot of new products, muzzleloading and otherwise. The bullets shown above are one of several I have named. This is the line up of the Harvester Muzzleloading saboted Scorpion PT Gold bullets. Actually, naming these came very easy for me ... since I had mocked up the first prototypes of these bullets ... by "borrowing" the polymer tips from another new bullet (the Parker "Ballistic Extreme" ... which I also named) and installing them into Harvester's hollow-pointed Scorpion bullets. When I sent along my idea for a polymer tipped (PT) version of the bullet, I had spray painted the black tips gold in color ... and simply suggested the company call them the Scorpion PT Gold.
Another very popular muzzleloader loading component I was involved with was the powder that became Blackhorn 209. Mostly, my involvement was with the engineers who actually developed the new "High Performance Muzzleloading Propellant" ... and I sat down with them to outline all the properties which would make this the perfect modern formulated powder for today's hot new No. 209 primer ignition in-line muzzleloading big game rifles. Back in the early 2000's, this web magazine was widely known as HIGH PERFORMANCE MUZZLELOADING ... and in 2007 I suggested the use of that wording on the label to describe the powder inside one of those mostly black and orange containers.
The gang at Western Powders, of Miles City, Montana, actually came up with the Blackhorn 209 name. I had thrown a couple of name ideas their way, but actually liked the name they came up with for the powder. BLACKHORN has kind of a traditional ring to it ... while 209 says the powder is for use in those modern muzzleloaders with a hot No. 209 primer ignition system.
New Names For New Products...
Muzzleloader Featured Above - Thompson/Center .50 Strike With Hi-Lux Optics 1-6x Buck Country Scope