Pedersoli Traditional HAwken
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- Last updated: 25/08/2017
There was a time, not too long ago, when left-handed children starting school were encouraged, often forcibly, to go against their instinct and use the other hand, but now they are just allowed to do what comes naturally.
Depending on where you look for the information, you may get varying answers as to how many of the World’s population are left-handed, but it is generally accepted that the figure is around 10%. You will also find a great many ‘facts’ about lefties that can affect their health, life span, sexual tendencies and emotional state, among other things. One thing, which is not in doubt, is the fact that these people are not too well catered for when it comes to leisure activities. When was the last time you picked up a camera with the shutter button on the left? Or went to a golf shop and found a large selection of left-handed clubs?
Whilst handguns, shotguns and a great number of rifles can generally be fired quite easily with either hand, models such as bolt actions make it a little more awkward to operate comfortably. With this in mind, a number of manufacturers have offered a left-hand option, usually at a premium, on some if not all of their range. It is still comparatively rare to find off the shelf lefties, although I see an increasing number available. Pedersoli is to be commended therefore for producing a lefthanded version of what would seem to be a low volume seller.
One would assume that the percentage of left-handed shooters around in the 19th Century was similar to today and wonder if their needs were any better served back then. As guns were then made one at a time by hand, it was possibly easier to have a ‘one-off’ produced, probably for no extra payment. Certainly, the Hawken brothers of St. Louis would have been more than capable of doing such work. In the early days of the nineteenth century, St. Louis was the jumping off point for those headed West to a new life and among everyone’s possessions would be at least one serviceable firearm.
By the end of the second decade of the century, Jacob Hawken, in partnership with James Lakenan, had a successful business repairing and modifying the many variations of Pennsylvania-type long guns that were the staple of the day. Perhaps he turned out one or two left handers? In 1822, Jacob’s younger brother, Samuel, set up his own shop close by and when Lakenan died in 1825, the two brothers joined forces to form the ‘J. & S. Hawken’ venture, a business that would endure for a quarter of a century. By listening to the needs of the frontiersmen, the Hawken brothers were able to produce a quality rifle, which was perfectly suited to the trappers and pioneers and their name soon became synonymous with a quality product. While it can be said with a great degree of confidence that the two brothers worked on many flintlock rifles, it appears that no complete flintlock that was wholly manufactured by them has been positively identified. It therefore seems that Pedersoli may have used a little poetic license in manufacturing their rendering of a Hawken percussion rifle in a flintlock version. This is in no way meant as a criticism, as it puts a perfectly good flintlock piece into the (left) hands of aficionados. A glance through the Pedersoli catalogue will show that they offer this rifle, both left and right hand versions, as a percussion model.
When I was offered this rifle for review, it was a bit of a double-edged sword. Firstly, I am not a big fan of the flintlock system, my interest in firearms beginning around the third or fourth decade of the 19th Century. On the other hand, I do appreciate the quality products that come from the Pedersoli factory, particularly since I spent a very enjoyable half day there some years ago, and this was after all a chance to try out another firearm that would not normally reside in my safe.
At 1125mm (44-inches in old money), this rifle is comparatively short for a flintlock, the loss of length being in the less than average 725mm barrel. Although this barrel measures a full one inch across the flats, the large .50 calibre bore keeps the weight down with the gun tipping the scales at 3.9kg.
The resulting appearance is of a chunky rifle that looks heavier than it is and the balance is very good when used off-hand. The colours on the lock plate and hammer are quite dark; the black barrel indicates evidence of good polishing with nice crisp edges. There is a fair amount of brass, not to everyone’s taste, but indicative of the nineteenth century style. The patch box on the stock opens very easily without breaking a thumb nail or using a screw driver and once open the really sharp edges of the cut-out are impressive.
Indeed, the whole wood to metal fit on this rifle belies its budget (for a Pedersoli) price. The relatively large brass butt plate is a two-piece affair with the normal arrangement being complemented by a flat strip along the bottom of the stock. That fancy trigger guard gives a comfortable grip and a cheek piece on the stock is the icing on the cake for a pleasant shooting position. The wooden ramrod is topped off with a removable brass tip, allowing the use of other cleaning accessories, with the unit being held firmly in place when not used.
Sights are, as would be expected, fairly basic with a large blade dovetailed into the muzzle end of the barrel and a semi-buckhorn at the rear. This rear would seem to be a standard sight used on a number of rifle variations throughout the catalogue. The double set triggers worked a treat with a light crisp let-off.
I have to admit to being a little out of my comfort zone with flintlock firearms, particularly rifles. It’s not that I have had a bad experience in the limited numbers that I have used but that little explosion just in front of your face as the powder in the pan ignites is just a bit off-putting. It was even more so with this example, as it is a left-handed version, so the pan seems very close. I guess more use would ease the worry.
Shooting was done from a bench without rests at 50-yards and the starting load was 50-grains of Henry Krank medium black powder with a .495-inch lead ball wrapped in a .005-inch lubricated patch. The pan was primed with Krank’s fine black powder. The weight of the barrel easily tamed the recoil from this load and after half a dozen shots the flash in the pan became somewhat less of a worry. Shortly after that the flint began to lose its effectiveness but fortunately, as flint knapping is not my forte, I had a few spares. I understand from those more immersed in this form of shooting that a better quality flint would last much longer. Results with this load were not spectacular with three shot groups coming in at around four inches, but that was as much down to me as the tools. The barrel was only wiped after each three-shot string.
Upping the powder charge to 70-grains showed only a mild increase in felt recoil but accuracy did improve a little. Perhaps this was down to me becoming a bit more accustomed to the rifle and maybe because I began wiping the barrel after every shot. All too quickly my short supply of flints ran out but not before I began to appreciate that this primitive, by modern standards, form of ignition had some serious potential, albeit at limited range and in the hands of more proficient shooters.
The Pedersoli is also available in .54-calibre, both left and right handed, with the percussion version mentioned above being slightly less expensive. The rifle gives you Pedersoli quality at the price of a lesser marque, so if you are in the market for this type of rifle check it out.