Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mel Hankla

This fowling piece made for my good friend Bill Burtt, is an interpretation of an American fowler/musket made by a "Kentucky Rifle" maker re-using some varied parts. The guard of course, started its life on a 1st model Brown Bess, but was filed and slimmed down considerably to be used on this more streamlined fowler. I left the wrist rather thick to give the gun some heft and strength thru the wrist, wanting it have more of a military feel than of a sporting arm; although leaving this boldness in the buttstock, from in front of and forward of the lock/sideplate mortise the forearm of the piece is paper thin. I also used the plain beaver tail type carving found around the barrel tang of a Brown Bess to hang onto some of that military feel. The cast-off in this piece is rather radical at 3/8ths. of an inch and the drop is drastic just behind breech and into the tang almost giving it a "hump", but it puts the line of sight directly down the barrel and gets the comb out of the way of the cheek making it shoulder quickly and a very comfortable gun to shoot even with large charges. The pull trigger is my own design and is a carry over from my very first rifle built under the tutelage of Dr. Terry Leeper at Western Kentucky University in 1982. It is forged of one piece of wrought iron and the blade has been peened to a modest width of 5/16 of an inch. The scroll of the trigger feels somewhat out of place on this fowler, but is a signature of the maker. The sterling silver thimbles were produced by Michael Lea (the Gun-doctor) and follow the design of thimbles found on a very early English tradegun made by Ketland. The butt-piece is also of English design, however has been embellished with a silver quarter engraved by Earl Lanning with the bloom was an edelweiss flower being watched by the man in the moon. The large engraved sideplate pushes the borders of the sideplate mortise and is designed to follow the sharp drop in the transition from the tang area into the wrist of the firearm. The carving around the termination of the comb into the wrist is somewhat akin to an original Isaac Haines fowling piece that can be seen at American Historic Services , and to make the silver thimbles feel at home on the forstock of the fowler, a touch of silver wire took the place of the incised carved line that is found in this feature on the Haines. With this done the buttstock seemed very naked without a cheek piece nor box, so a silver wire design for either side of the butt paralleling the butt plate was borrowed from a Bucks County Pennsylvania rifle that has been attributed to John Shuler, that also has a scrolled trigger similar to the one on this fowler. Somewhat radical, this fowler does not strictly adhere to any geographic scholastic trends and hopefully relates a feel that it was produced by a migrating gunsmith that was an opportunist using the different parts and from his travels had seen many interesting firearms. M.H.

Photos by Mel Hankla.

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