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

Original Pennsylvania rifle, East India Company pistol and powder horn with modern shooting bag, period style clothing and replica accouterments


So exactly what do we mean by “traditional”? On this question I must defer to Andy and concede that his definition is more considered and probably more practical than mine. If I may put words in Andy’s mouth, I think he’d say that “traditional” means that it more or less looks like, works like, is used like and is made from the same or similar materials as something from the historical period. He would go on to identify a subset of “traditional” that he calls “historical”. Andy uses the expression “line for line copy” to describe something “historical”.

Andy would say that a Thompson Center Hawken is a fair example of a traditional muzzle loading firearm. The TC Hawken has a wood stock, brass fittings, an octagonal barrel, open sights, set triggers and a side mounted lock. No optics, no plastic, no stainless steel. Shooting a TC Hawken gives you essentially the same experience as shooting an original 19th century rifle. You can hunt with a TC and shoot pretty accurate target groups. But a TC Hawken would not be an appropriate rifle for, say, a serious documentary film about Fremont’s expeditions. Except for its most superficial features, the TC simply doesn’t really look like anything that actually existed in the 1800s. To get the documentary right, you probably should go with something like a plains rifle produced by the Hawken Shop here in Washington. Their rifles are museum quality replicas, what Andy would refer to as “historical, line for line” firearms. Except for the absence of a hundred and fifty years of wear and tear, a Hawken Shop rifle looks, feels and preforms exactly like a gun produced in Jake and Sam’s St. Louis factory.

My concept of “traditional” tends to lean pretty far in the “historical” direction. Andy once called me “hard core”. I like that.

Now don’t get me wrong Pilgrim, this child loves cyanoacrylate glue. I use an electric drill, gas torches, bench grinders belt sanders and my shop even has electric lights! When I carve, inlet and engrave, I’m wearing magnifying eyeglasses. Jake and Sam had none of that stuff so I guess I’m not all as hard core as I wish I were. I freely admit to being totally dependent upon modern technology and concede that without it I probably wouldn’t be skilled enough to sweep the Hawken brothers’ floor. But I try to ask myself this guiding question whenever I make something like a rifle, a knife, a shooting bag or an article of period clothing – “Would it raise any eyebrows, would anybody really notice it if somehow it were transported back in time?”

My goal is to make gear that would blend in, that wouldn’t attract any attention back in the day. There would be my operational, if hypothetical, definition of “traditional”.

Respectfully submitted,

My Favorite Rifle.

Everyone needs a favorite rifle.

Mine is a Hawken copy made by Loren “Doc” Brown. Doc is a artist of extraordinary ability. His rifles are made to the highest standards.

The fit and finish of my rifle is superb. There are no gaps in the wood to metal fit, The browning now worn from use, was deep and rich when new. I have had the rifle long enough now that when I shoulder it, the sights align quickly and naturally.

Overall I think it looks, feels and shoots just right.

Doc used a Ron Long lock , an Orion barrel with a 1-72 twist and walnut from a local tree that was hit by lightning to make my rifle.

Quality parts aside, Doc put a lot of himself in each rifle he built. I think of him every time I shoot this rifle.

I use this rifle for everything from target work at a rondezvous or a local rifle match, to hunting. If forced to have only one firearm , my Hawken would be the one. I can depend on this rifle day in or out to score a respectful group or provide food for my table.

Loading is the same no matter if I am shooting paper, a old can or out hunting.

80 grains of 2F, a .15 patch spit for lube if just plinking, bear grease if hunting and a .530 round ball. I find with this  load I need to hold a shade under at 25 yards and just a bit over past 75 yards to hit what I want. Kinda nice having just one load, less to worry about.

This rifle gets lots of attention when we go to a event or a shoot. I use it to demonstrate what a Hawken rifle from the 1840’s would look like.

Having a real Hawken rifle from then would be great, but since the last one I saw for sale sold for almost what I paid for my house , Doc’s rifle will have to do.

Here are some pictures, I hope you enjoy them.


Hawken with shooting bag, Christopher Johnson knife and jacket.

Overall view of right side.

Me, doing my best to hit a gong on the trail walk.

Traditional Shooting Is Far From “Primitive”

We at the Ruxton Palavar tend to get a little put out when we hear traditional muzzle loading or stick and string archery referred to as “primitive” shooting. The implication is that traditional, or “primitive” shooting is sort of an ineffective novelty, entertaining but not to be taken too seriously. Writers today are flatly stating that virtually no caliber of muzzle loaded round ball is appropriate for hunting – “primitive” (meaning non-inline) muzzle loaded rifles being inherently too inaccurate and underpowered to humanely kill even small deer. Sadly, people are believing them. The scary thing is that some states are starting to listen to this kind of rhetoric too. It isn’t a farfetched notion that round ball hunting may soon be legislated out of existence.

An equivalent attitude has become prevalent in the world of archery. Recurved bows are quaint anachronisms, longbows are cool at the Renaissance fair but surely, nobody would consider actually hunting with one. Hunting with a stone point? How utterly barbaric and inhumane! It makes you wonder how the West was ever won, or how Native people ever fed themselves on this continent for the past fifteen thousand years.

Try an experiment. Make your own bow. First, you’ll need to learn how to do it. Then you’ll have to teach your hands how to accomplish what your mind has just learned. There’ll be some trial and error. You’ll need to cultivate a bit of patience. Now make that bow a precise copy of, say, a reflexed / deflexed sinew backed artifact hanging in a museum somewhere. A bit more work is involved in that, plus some historical research. Then, invest a couple years into teaching yourself how to shoot it well enough to hunt. OR . . . just go buy a commercial bow off the shelf and call it good. Shoot it a few times and take it out hunting. After all, the bow has sights. The process is pretty straight forward.

One of these scenarios strikes me as, frankly, fairly “primitive”, though maybe not in the conventional sense of the term. The other seems like a pretty sophisticated and potentially rewarding thing to do.

This summer I spoke with a Blackfoot guy in Montana who was chuckling about a couple hunters who told him they were out “primitive hunting” for the day. He asked what they meant by “primitive”. They told him that today they were leaving their rifles at home and only bringing their compound bows. He found that amusing because a few days before he had stalked a deer to virtually point blank range and harvested it with an osage bow he had built with his son. Nothing primitive sounding about that. I find it impressive on many levels.

Another Montanan showed me the composite Turkish bow he made himself and used to kill a running antelope from horseback (!). As far as I’m concerned, that accomplishment was staggeringly cool. Far from being primitive, it tells me that he, like the Blackfoot hunter was at the absolute top of his game. By the way, that man is also capable of shooting eighteen arrows into a paper plate at fifteen yards in twenty seconds.

Carve a rear sight out of a chunk of iron using a hacksaw and a couple files. Dovetail it into a rifle barrel so that the gun shoots center the very first time you fire it. Modern longrifle builders do that routinely. On the other hand, how often do you see somebody pull a scope out of the box, clamp it to a modern rifle and shoot accurately without making any adjustments? There’s nothing “primitive” about the gunsmithing that goes into a traditional muzzle loading rifle. There may be less moving parts, but the mechanical tolerances are just as precise as those in a modern gun. And many of those tolerances are achieved using hand tools rather than modern CNC technology. In the old days, it was all done by hand. Those early gunsmiths were very good, as are the modern generation of longrifle builders. How is that primitive ?

Neither is there anything “primitive” in the 50 yard touching groups I see Andy Ward shoot off hand with his Hawken. No scope, no rest. Andy regularly wins matches against guys using adjustable sights on muzzle loaders and even modern rifles equipped with optics. His success comes from the combination of a very well made rifle, the perfect load and years of experience shooting the same gun. “Primative”???

In all these examples, the technology may be relatively simple but the shooters’ skills are highly refined. So are those of the gunsmiths and the bow makers who created their equipment. Often, the shooters and builders are the same people. How can we call this “primitive”? That’s why we refer to ourselves a “traditional”, rather than a “primitive” shooting palaver.

Traditional shooters rely absolutely upon their technology, but never as a substitute for skill. We believe that traditional shooting cultivates personal qualities like focus, discipline, knowledge, practiced skill, self-reliance and good judgment. Successful traditional shooters are by the nature of the sport, accomplished individuals. Whether you seek to master the bow or the longrifle, or the skills of hunting with traditional weapons, or the arts associated with their production, like carving, blacksmithing, flintknapping, engraving, inlay, or metal casting, you will need to study, practice and work very hard over a period of years. You will have no choice but to cultivate skills and qualities that can enrich your personal life and contribute to the quality of the shooting sports in general.

So we don’t refer to the traditional shooting sports, their weapons and their associated skills, as “primitive”. There’s much more to it than that.

Dave Braun