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Ardesa Hawken Match Rifle

Derek Landers looks at the Ardesa Hawken Match Rifle, a recreation of a precision rifle from one of the more famous American makers of the early 19th century.

Over the years Ardesa have been known for their value for money products which perhaps lagged behind the more prominent manufacturers, such as Uberti, for the quality of their products. But now they are upping their game and while still excellent value, their merchandise is on a par with their Italian counterparts.

The Hawken Brothers of St. Louis

St. Louis, Missouri, bills itself as the ‘Gateway to the West’ and in the early 1800’s those brave pioneers headed westwards to a new life often began their journey from here. As they set off into an uncharted wilderness, whether families in a wagon train or lone trappers, one basic requirement was a good firearm for protection and to put meat on the table. A few years after arriving in the city Jacob Hawken had set up his own workshop, repairing and modifying the many Pennsylvania-style rifles which abounded. Noting the faults on these guns and listening to the requirements of their users, Jacob was soon manufacturing his own rifles. One of his prime tasks had been to shorten the barrels on these often cumbersome rifles, making them more suitable for use on horseback or in brush. The small calibres of the early guns, often no more than .36”, were not enough for the buffalo hunters leaving for the plains so many Hawken rifles were made with larger bores and heavier barrels. By the time that Jacob’s brother, Samuel, had joined him in 1822, the Hawken name was a byword for quality and the marking “J. & S. Hawkens” (the brothers believed that their name should be stamped in the plural as they were equal partners) on a rifle barrel was much sought after by those wanting a reliable and accurate weapon. Among their devoted customers were legendary trappers and frontiersmen Jim Bridger and Kit Carson.

Fancy but functional

The original Hawken rifles exhibited very little ornamentation on the stocks such as was found on many of the early Pennsylvania guns. Often named ‘Plains Rifles’, it has been suggested that with the lack of decoration, the true term is actually ‘Plain Rifle’, although this example by Ardessa shows considerable embellishment.

Weighing in at over nine and a half pounds, with the majority of this obviously in the 32” octagonal barrel, this is a relatively heavy though well balance rifle. The half-stock design, reminiscent of the general style of original Hawken rifles, makes, in my opinion, for a much better looking gun than the earlier full-stocked flintlock and percussion models. This half-stock design was to become the norm in the nineteenth century as would be seen later with cartridge weapons such as the Sharps and Remington offerings. The barrel is locked to the stock by means of the hooked breech method and retained by two wedges in the fore stock, an arrangement which facilitates very easy removal of the barrel for cleaning purposes. The barrel flats have nice sharp edges and is finished with a deep shiny black, which indicates attention was paid at the polishing stage.

The rear sight is a buckhorn arrangement with a sliding elevator, normally seen on lever action rifles, and I feel this may be a bit of poetic licence as I do not recall seeing this type on any original Pennsylvania rifles. Perhaps as this model is termed a “match” rifle the extra elevation was provided for more accurate target work. The front sight is an elongated brass blade set into a steel base which is dovetailed into the barrel and can be moved left to right for windage adjustment.

Fast twist

The standard Ardesa Hawken rifle barrel has a twist rate of 1 in 32”, while this example has a faster 1 in 20” twist. The lock plate and hammer have muted case colours and both are engraved. The rest of the metalwork is brass, although not polished as on many reproduction guns. This has a matt, almost gilt finish, which will presumably wear and polish itself with age. The walnut stock, which is chequered at the wrist and fore-end, is inlet on the right side with an elaborate patch box and the left side has a small crescent moon like inlay. The trigger guard has a long decorative tail which gives a comfortable, almost pistol grip feel, and a spur at the base, a feature often seen on the nineteenth century weapons of this type. Almost every piece of brass on the gun has some engraving and this, combined with the gilt-like finish, is a little too much for me. Having tried the standard Ardesa Hawken some years ago I much prefer the plain, unadorned wood, but each to his own. There were one or two very minor areas where the wood to metal fit was not perfect but nothing to write home about. There was one screw, at the top of the butt plate, where the hole did not seem to have been drilled at the correct angle so the screw head did not fit flush with the brass. No big deal and hopefully a one-off on this gun, as checking back on the photographs of the plain gun I found that model was perfect.

The lockwork on this model is shared with a number of other Ardesa rifles and is of the double set trigger type. There was no movement of the hammer on full cock and trigger pull was very smooth at a shade over one pound. The gun worked perfectly throughout the test.

Short stint

An afternoon is not long enough to really find out what a rifle of this type is capable of but will merely indicate how the gun will operate and hopefully show up any glaring faults, of which I am happy to report there were none with this example. Given the chance to live with the rifle and experiment with various charge weights, an accomplished shooter could no doubt wring out the true potential of the Hawken, said to be accurate out to three hundred yards or more in the hands of an expert marksman. Unfortunately I was limited to fifty metres and I am no expert!  I used just one load combination, being 45 grains of Henry Krank fine black powder, .44” lead round balls and .005” lubricated patches, and this produced an average chronograph reading of just under 1500fps. Having broken one of these ‘decorative’ ramrods in the past, I used my own steel rod for loading. The nipple on this gun preferred the Remington number 10 caps rather than number 11.

As would be expected, the weight of that barrel absorbed much of the felt recoil and the gun was comfortable to shoot. My best effort, from a bench, was a five-shot group of just on two inches, pleasing enough for me but by no means the zenith of this rifle’s capabilities.

For those contemplating this type of rifle there are also a number of variations of the Hawken available. The basic model, as mentioned above, has virtually no decoration and slower rifling. There is a “Challenge” version of the basic gun with ‘black chrome’ furniture instead of brass and a ‘hand carved walnut stock’. Top of the range is the Match Creedmore rifle, similar to the model tested but with a dioptre rear sight, fully adjustable for height and drift. The front sight is a tunnel with interchangeable elements.

Technical Specifications
Model Ardesa Hawken Match rifle
Type Muzzle loading percussion rifle
Calibre .45
Barrel length 32"
Overall length 48½"
Weight 4.4kg

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Ardesa Hawken Match Rifle
Ardesa Hawken Match Rifle
Ardesa Hawken Match Rifle
Ardesa Hawken Match Rifle
Ardesa Hawken Match Rifle
Ardesa Hawken Match Rifle
Ardesa Hawken Match Rifle
Ardesa Hawken Match Rifle
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