So Exactly What Do We Mean By “Traditional”? Part III


Powder Horns:

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Here, less is truly more. When I started in this hobby, I simply couldn’t live without an artistically engraved powder horn decorated with moldings, facets, fancy turned stopper and plug – all the bells and whistles. Today, my horns look more like something dragged up from the bottom of a box in the corner of a dusty, old antique store. Most of the time, they are.

Decorated powder horns are an art form of their own. The question is, if you own a common man’s rifle, is it appropriate to service it with an aristocrat’s powder horn? Frontiersmen embellished their horns, but usually in a folk art style that can be hard to duplicate. When in doubt, you can never go wrong with something like “J.Smedlap” or “JS His Horn” scratched with the tip of a pocket knife. Expressions like “Pike County”,“MY COUNTRY”or “Ohio”can be a nice touch. Try not to embellish your horn with 21st century sentiments.

Study period decorative motifs. Pay close attention to the styles of original powder horn pouring spouts and plugs. Study how the old horns were attached to shooting bags. You’ll notice that a lot of what you see on the market doesn’t quite look like what you see in the books.

Finally, consider using an original powder horn. There are plenty available in antique shops at prices not much different from modern replicas. I’m not talking about carrying a priceless antique around on your shooting bag. If an old horn is a work of art it probably should be on display in a museum or on your mantle. But there are plenty honest old powder horns out there, correctly made and still able to hold powder. Using an old horn adds immeasurably to the authentic look of your outfit and is a great way to display and give new life to a small piece of American history. Never decorate or embellish an original horn. Fix it if necessary, but don’t change it.

Shooting Bags:

(photo pending)

It’s hard to find a commercial shooting bag with the correct “look”. They’re usually too large, over decorated and incorporate rivets, grommets, pockets, gussets, fringe, machine stitching, leather lacing, modern finishes and cloth straps connected by metal rings. Examples of all of these features did exist in the past, but hardly ever in forms resembling what we see today.

If you decide to make your own shooting bag, The Kentucky Rifle Hunting Pouch should be your Bible. I strongly recommend using a separate flap piece secured to your bag with a wrap stitched, outside seam. That style flap is really weather proof and stays closed so well that you may question whether or not you even need a button or buckle to secure it. With the correct applications of stain, even spray paint, varnish and wax, it is possible to create a finish on your shooting bag that will make it look like something that just came out of a museum!

Even with a small shooting bag, you should still have enough room for optional items like some leather or sinew scraps for repairs, tow for cleaning, maybe a fire starting kit or even a pipe and some tobacco. Personal items were often found in old shooting bags. I can see a frontiersman carrying a small book of Psalms, a journal and a pencil, a razor, eyeglasses or a compass. Not all of those things along with your shooting supplies in one bag! But there should be room enough for the odd personal item. My “big bag”, which is still much smaller than most modern commercial bags, has room for all of my shooting stuff plus a compact, original folding telescope and a copy of Henry V . I can even throw in a couple landjeagers or pieces of jerky if needed.

Notice that I repeatedly use adjectives like small, compact, convenient and accessible. The trick is to be efficient about what you carry. So it was back in the day.

Jim Bridger’s tackle box hung from a leather strap over his shoulder. It was called a “bullet pouch” back then. Its contents were organized for absolute practicality and efficiency. A good shooting bag fits like a glove. It doesn’t bounce around on a galloping horse or catch on branches in the woods.

Period shooting bags often had “hardware” hanging from leather thongs attached to the shoulder strap. Those items were kept tucked away inside the bag. Objects weren’t allowed to just dangle around and snag on things. Period items attached by thongs to shooting bag shoulder straps included:

  • A powder measure
  • A bullet board containing three to six lubed, patched balls
  • A sewing awl (probably to function as a vent pick)
  • A pan brush
  • A capper

I don’t recommend having a lot of objects dangling from your shoulder strap. Keep it down to a powder measure and maybe a vent pick or capper.

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