John Archer is the Canadian that really deserves a medal for over 2800 miles of driving to get to and from the Tennessee Kentucky Rifle Show. David Rase deserves one as well for the same amount of driving miles.
These images are of a Highland dirk and four Celtic penannular brooches that John recently forged.
Dirk: 1084 steel, brass, and English walnut. The blade is 14 ½ inches long.
The sheath: Basswood, leather, and brass.
The penannular brooches: mild steel and copper. ( Isle of Skye tartan )
The dirk is an interpretation of dirks from the 1740’s…used for fighting with a targe shield. They were banned after 1745 and came back into the highland formal wear late in the century when the law was repealed. Sadly they had become bejeweled ornaments. The dirk and sheath have been artificially aged.
The red material showing through the piercings in the end cap represents a snippet of cloth cut from a slain British soldier’s redcoat…showing that the dirk has been blooded.
For most American outdoorsmen and
students of history, European hunting traditions are largely unfamiliar and
even perplexing to our sensibilities. Perhaps this is why the
corresponding material culture of those traditions remains obscure to some of
us as well. However, if you're passionate about history, traditional
hunting methods and equipment, and have an appreciation for skillful
craftsmanship and design, then it is likely that your imagination and interest
has been intrigued by European hunting bags, and in particular Germanic game
bags. In an effort to understand more about these bags and their history,
I discussed the topic with several makers who have studied European hunting
bags and have produced their own contemporary works inspired by or copied from
their study of historical examples. The makers interviewed were Eric
Fleisher, James Rogers, Steven Radosevich, and Ron Scott. Additional
assistance and a veritable treasure of photographs and illustrations were
kindly provided by Mr. Erhard Wolf, author of "Flintlock
Jaeger Rifles: Masterpieces of Eighteenth-Century Gunmakers", and Mr. Manfred Schmitz, Contemporary Makers' European Correspondent.
So, to introduce the makers:
How long have you
been making hunting bags, and when did you first learn about European hunting
bags and game bags?
Eric Fleisher:I started making
shot pouches in 2008 after buying a copy of T.C. Albert’s book at the CLA Show,
and first learned about them around 2005 when I really started getting
interested in the contemporary longrifle culture.
Ron Scott:I started making
and selling some hunting bags about 1980 and produced a few per year for the
next decade. About 2009 I enticed Ken Scott to conduct a hunting pouch workshop
in conjunction with the Oregon Gun Makers Fair. That workshop with Ken
rejuvenated my interest in the European game bag.
James Rogers:I have been doing
leatherwork and attempting to make bags since the 1980’s. I believe I
first learned about game bags from Madison Grant. We used to converse quite a
bit when I first got interested in bags.
Steven Radosevich:I started doing
leather work about 45 years ago, but only recently trying to develop some
saddle makers skills. On the dust jacket of the "New England Gun" by
Lindsay and Pendleton, published in 1975, is a picture of a game bag with the
Cookson fowler. It has a fur or velvet flap with a knotted bag sewn to the
front of the bag. This is the first game bag I remember seeing and falling for.
The next bag is saw was at a gun show here in Kalispell again very large
bag with deer dew claws on the flap. It measured about 12 by 14 and had a full
sized flap. In the early 90's Beth Gilgun wrote a little article about
how to tie up a game bag. After a lot of practice, and a lot of string, I
almost have it figured out how to tie one.
drew you to game bags in particular?
Eric Fleisher:As a bag maker, I
like the complexity of the German bags. These bags have to be constructed
in a particular sequence of steps. I also like the precision and
James Rogers: My main interest in
game bags was mainly driven by researching their use by the English gentleman.
Steven Radosevich: What drew me to this
type of bag was the tradition of the craft. When you look at a few of these
bags they have quite a lot of similarities. The bags I refer to are the bags
made some time between 1780 and even as late as 1910. Being hard to date.
Ron Scott: My principle
artistic profession is in creating European flintlock rifles and I found myself
desiring to have appropriate accoutrements for my customers.
Are there any
characteristics that are peculiar to European game bags?
James Rogers: I think the use of
rings to connect the strap may possibly be characteristic to game bags due to
size but not characteristic of ALL game bags. A net, partition or rings
for actually carrying game in my opinion makes a bag a game bag.
Steven Radosevich: The way the
trim is attached, the front seam vs. the back seam, and the way they are put
together. The strap attachments with the rings. Of the ones I've got
a chance to look at so far, none have had pockets on the inside but only
one the outside.
Ron Scott: So far I've not yet
observed a small game bag and some have been rather large.
Eric Fleisher: There are many with
other types of hair-on, inlet flaps and plain leather flaps, but the ones with
roe deer dew claws standout to me. Another detail is the leather covering
of some of the hardware. Most of the earlier German bags I have studied
have leather covered rings and strap buckles. Also, many of these bags
have game hanger straps and knotted net bags.
Do you see any
influence of these bags in any of the American bags you've studied?
Eric Fleisher: Most of the American
bags I have studied are more utilitarian in design. The German bags are
ornate in their design and complexity. They seem to be more of a status
symbol rather than a purpose built item.
Steven Radosevich: You will see an
occasional American bag with ring attachments but I've not seen much else
that reminds me of the European ones.
Ron Scott: I speculate that
these were primarily used for day excursions and not prolonged hunts, which may
help with reasoning why Early American bags seem to be of a small scale.
James Rogers: I have not really
seen any influence to note, possibly due to the area of my focus. Though
there is documentation for the import of game bags into the colonies, I do not
really think these were what we think of as “German” game bags. Most
likely they were more on the line of what the English seemed to use, which were
apparently ONLY for carrying game and not a hunting/accoutrement/game carrier
combo. The origin for these styles were much earlier.
Do you have any
theories about the origins of Game Bags?
James Rogers: Game bags have been
in use for so long it is hard to speculate their origin. A plain net or loosely
woven bag to carry game while hunting for more or to tote them home is an
ancient thing. Even today in my neck of the woods, it's not uncommon to see
someone at the crack of dawn pumping gas as the local store with a possum in a
Do you have any theories about the
culture that used them, and its relationship with our own?
James Rogers: The formal game bags
we know of I believe were driven by the sporting hunter based on much earlier
purse and bag type designs.
Ron Scott: I just
obtained a copy of the book Purses in Pieces by Olaf Goubitz. It is an
archeological examination of Medieval through 16th century leather bags,
purses, and cases. It suggests a wealth of insight into styles and techniques
that could shed light on origins and age of our classic game bag. Another topic
of intrigue for me is the nature of original leathers used. I assume most or
all were vegetable or bark tan. However, what of the color shades, odor and
texture? A bit of reading revealed mention of Russian Leather as a sought
after material for quality leather goods in Eighteenth and Nineteenth century
Europe. A cargo of Russian Leather was discovered 1973 in Plymouth Sound by
sport divers. The Die Frau Metta Catherina foundered Dec 10, 1786, its cargo of
leather being preserved in a condition good enough to warrant cleaning and use
for high grade shoes, wallets and watch bands in the 1990s.The characteristics
of this leather are its odor of Birch oil and cross hatched grain. I have
requested a sample of this leather and am looking forward to observing it.
Eric Fleisher: It is my
understanding that only aristocracy were allowed to hunt in Germany. That
is why I think these bags are more of a status item, than
Steven Radosevich: The 3 main
cultures that these bags seem to show up from are England, France, and Germany,
all of whom had not only the nobleman who would be able to afford a firearm and
the accompanying accoutrements, but still had a class type of society in which
a lot of their products either came from factories or cottage industries and
were available to the wealthier class. I think our society here in
colonial America, with the exception of the ruling class, were somewhat
aloof from that mindset and more independent. You didn't have to get your
durable goods from just one place that stuck to the old system of guilds and
such. Craftsmen, just prior to and during the American Revolution were
beginning to think they could start businesses without the permission of
the powers that be, so it made for a little different business climate
here. Even to this day there are certain societies who maintain a mind-set of
the training of crafts from master to journeymen to apprentice, and the items
under question are no exception.
Is there any reliable documentation as to who made them?
James Rogers: Early on, I believe
they were made by professional bag and purse-makers. There are some
medieval/post medieval images of bag makers and their work.
Eric Fleisher: I feel these bags
were definitely made by professionals in specialty shops. I have studied a few
pre-cartridge bags without shell loops, but the majority of the bags I have
studied have shell loops inside. The style and construction techniques
are almost identical between the early bags and the later cartridge bags.
I have a reproduction Akah catalog from 1908 with several pages of ink drawings
of bags that were available at that time. I believe this company still
Who was the most
likely user of a game bag?
Ron Scott: My guess is that our
classic game bag was a frequent companion of continental European game keepers
and individual hunters. A wealthy hunter may well have been catered to by a
group of servants, providing services such as chasing game, loading firearms
and caring for the shot game. Thus relieving the nobleman or noblewoman of the
burden of carrying their own accoutrements.
James Rogers: Depends on if they
were the formal type of game bag or a sack. Also who, when and where are
important factors. Formal: the gentleman sportsman; sack: anyone,
including a poacher. The later the period, the more the average
individual used the proper game bag. By the late 19th century, what we know as
the German style game bag seemed to have been used all over.
What is the oldest
image of a game bag you have seen?
James Rogers: The oldest image of
a net front game bag I have seen is around 1735-50 by Hormans. During the mid
18th century period I have seen a Germanic bag that incorporates the use of a
ring as a means of strap attachment on one side of the bag with a buckle
adjustment on the other side. I have seen many 16th and 17th century game bag
images where the bag is just for carrying of game.
Steven Radosevich: The oldest reference
I can find is a few paintings from the 18th century of the knotted bags. One of
a large haversack type of bag and the another by the painter Francesco Goya,
from 1760-70. It's a rather longer-than-wide bag, with knotted flap decor.
I've found no dated material on the game bags with the dew claw
What are your
theories about the age of these bag and time span of their use?
James Rogers:? I believe the
classic game bags were in use all over the world thru the mid-20th century.
I also believe most all of the bags we see today are from the mid-19th century
forward. I speculate that most of them are from late 19th and early 20th
century manufacture. I think many of these Germanic type bags we see are
of Netherlandish manufacture during the 1890-1920 time frame.
Ron Scott: I am beginning
to suspect that the wonderful game bags featuring dew claw flaps, tied net game
pockets and game straps are nineteenth century items. I have been able to
handle a half dozen or so original bags and from the stitch work and the
fact that some sport cartridge loops, it would seem many of these are late in
manufacture. Leather, as compared with firearms materials is a fragile
material, either decomposing over time or being cut down and reused as the
stitched seams wore out. That being the case, old specimens are not plentiful.
Eric Fleisher: I think these bags
were being made in the 18th century up through the 1940’s. You can buy a brand
new game bag today, but they are not nearly as ornate and decorated as the
What are some of the
materials commonly used in game bags?
Steven Radosevich: Besides
leather, some are lined with a line type product. Most of the straps are
also leather, but a couple have been noted with woven straps. There is trim of
a different type of leather from the bag leather, dyed red or green.
There are steel and brass rings, leather covered rings or leather wrapped
rope loops, or no rings at all. The flap can be plain leather, lined with
another thinner leather. It can be covered with fur or fabric,
embroidered, carved leather, painted, or my favorite, some kind of animal
dew claws. And string! Lots of string. Linen, hemp, or cotton; woven into a
net. The earlier ones seem to follow a square knot type of macramé with a small
assortment of pattern, sometimes in more than one color. These knotted
bags come in a one-sided variety that is sewn to the front of the bag around
the front sides and bottom, or a two-sided type that is sewn to the top of the
James Rogers: Leather, woven
netting, loose/coarse cloth to allow game to breathe. Sometimes metal
hinges and points of entry, pull ties, etc.
With regards to some of the
specific design features seen on various game bags, which do you think have a
function and which do you think are just for form? Do any seem to be intended
for both in particular?
Eric Fleisher: I think the knotted
game bags and game hangers are more for aesthetics than practical use. You will
always have some blood residue from game animals. I would not want that
blood on my expensive, fancy hunting bag. I doubt if these aristocratic
hunters carried their own game animals out of the field.
Steven Radosevich: At some point,
the knotted bags got smaller and smaller to where the size was too small
to hold anything of value. We're they purely decorative at that juncture? The
small game rings, were they also for decoration?
When you had an
opportunity to study an original game bag, did anything about the construction,
scale, or any other feature surprise you?
Eric Fleisher: The size of these
bags can vary quite a bit. It seems the average bag was around 10”
wide. However I have studied a bag that was about 7 ½” wide and one
that was almost 14” wide.
What are some
of the stranger and more unique features you've seen on any of these bags?
Eric Fleisher: The leather cover
hardware does not seem practical to me. The leather has to be very thin
to form the hardware. Under everyday hard use, I would imagine this
covering to wear through quickly. But as I stated before, I think these bags
were special occasion status symbols.
Steven Radosevich: Some aspects
of the construction are unique to these bags as opposed to bags made here. They
seem to all have gussets, even on the pockets. The back-seam is sewn to the
outward, with a band over it. When you sew the back to the gusset with the seam
sewn outward, it automatically makes a concave surface of the back. Was this
planned, (facilitating) room for your hip? The front-seam is sewn to the inside
with a welt to cover the thread. The flap, although sewn to the top edge
of the back is not sewn to flatten down the front and make access more
restricted. Another interesting and unknown feature on these bags
is a little pouch attached to the strap . Speculation is amuck .
James Rogers: There are some bags
that have a side entrance at the back of the leather bag. It actually unfolds
and is almost twice the width of the true bag body.
Is there a change in
your work habits or approach when you make a game bag vs. a typical hunting
Ron Scott: Part of the appeal of
these bags is the challenge of designing a bag with the multitude of pieces
that make up the pockets, strap and flap. An average project might constitute
twenty individual pieces. The selection of appropriate materials is necessary
to make a bag that is strong but of reasonable weight and without being overly
stiff, or worse, stretch out of shape. I am finding a preference for calf and
goat leather, both of which were common purse leathers in medieval Europe. I am
currently using a 4-ply waxed linen for stitching.
Eric Fleisher: I was
intimidated when I started to make my first Germanic-style bag. But after
you look at them and break down the construction in your mind, they are not
that difficult to construct. I had to refine my basic skills slightly.
I have always tried to make bags like a professional harness maker would
have made. The German game bags to me are the next step. You have to
precise with every step of the construction. I enjoy the challenge of
recreating those neat, tight stitch lines.
James Rogers: The biggest
difference is due to size. If stitching a small bag, one can generally go all
the way around with stitching. I usually start in the middle bottom and work
both ways in stitching a big game bag to prevent such a twist in the finished
Steven Radosevich: When
recreating one of these bags it is an interesting challenge to include all of
the original features I can, to be as authentic as possible.
What is the biggest
challenge in producing a game bag?
Steven Radosevich: The hardest
part of reproducing this type of bags is 1) not knowing the age of the bag
and wanting to put it with an older gun, and 2), finding appropriate materials.
My approach to these bags when I go to build one is to build it in my
mind, inside out. Attach everything possible before the front and
back go together.
Eric Fleisher: Fine, closely spaced
stitches and leather covering hardware.
When you've recreated
a game bag, were there any features of the originals you were compelled to
omit, change or otherwise alter, and why?
Eric Fleisher: I try to make my
reproduction as close to original as possible. The only thing I change about my
bags is the occasional addition of an internal pocket. I have never seen
an original with a pocket inside the main body of the bag.
James Rogers: I like to incorporate
a removable net front for ease of washing. This is a feature that can actually
be found on a few game bags but I like it for cleanliness.
Have you ever used a
game bag in the field? Did you have any impressions about their utility
James Rogers:Anyone who has hunted
upland style, even with modern tackle has probably used a form of game bag.
They are very useful in my opinion and I use them for all types of bird hunting
as well as small game. I really like the utilization of a separate
shoulder bag for game only.
Steven Radosevich: Other than at
shoots, I've not been able to field test these bags but at the least the
knotted bag would be good for your liver sandwich.
*Authors Note: I have
used a game bag in the field many times over the past two and a half
years...and they do serve their intended purpose exceedingly well, but as the
makers here correctly surmise, they will get soiled quite fast...and they will
also become one of your favorite hunting accoutrements. Thank you and
by Eric Ewing....Photos provided by Erhard Wolf, Manfred Schmitz, and the
Makers. Thank you to all who helped with this article. Art, Jan and Robert.
When Robert Weil started collecting images for the Contemporary Makers book in 1973 the challenge to record contemporary gun work was daunting. Gathering material was difficult and time consuming. Few makers thought that there was any value in published documentation of their work. Electronic publishing has changed all that. Having a website or having one's work available to view on the internet is becoming a necessity. In spite of all the potential to finally have a true overview of what's being produced by the artists of today, a great deal of work still remains covered up and basically unknown. Our role is to make an effort to document some portion of what’s going on today. To comment on the established makers and to uncover the unknown. We welcome your comments and suggestions and look to you our readers to make us aware of the talented makers out there. Art and Jan Riser Robert Weil and The Makers