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A NW Gun!!

A NW Gun!!

For awhile, I have been wanting a North West (NW) gun.   As most of my reenacting focus lately has been in the 1790-1814 period, I felt like I wanted a later period, British trade gun.  I also have been wanting a gun that has a slightly shorter barrel and that is lighter weight so that my wife and daughters could shoot it (although my wife does quite fine with my longer, French trade gun).

Unfortunately, there are no NW guns on the market currently that fit this period, and I do not have the money to hire a gun maker to custom build one for me (especially with parts alone costing well over $700 and labor being at least that).  At first I felt like I would just not worry so much about the little details that made the differences between an early and later gun as few would notice, and because it would rarely get to a public historic event.  My expectations are that for every day this gun will be at a historic event, it will be in the woods at least 30 days.  This was/is really to be a hunting gun for our family.

These thoughts in place, the historic nerd in me could not be satisfied.  I wanted to try my best to create a more correct early gun with what was available on the market.  After looking at a number of makers, I quickly narrowed my choices to North Star West and Caywood.  Both made a very nice NW gun, although they both fit the bill for the post 1820 period, not my earlier time frame.  After a lot of research, discussion with knowledgeable friends (thanks Karl and Rod), and weighing out the options, I settled on North Star West.  My goal would be to make a Barnett NW gun.  Barnett was the main supplier of NW guns to the NorthWest Company in the 1790s and early 1800s.  Orders from the NWCo in this period often looked something like this 1799 order, “Tower proof, blue barrels, stamped exactly same as Hudson’s Bay, bridle locks.”

After a few initial conversations with Matt Denison, the owner of NSW, I was certain that I chose correctly.  He was great to work with and very willing to try to do what I wanted to make this gun work for me.  I chose a number of options, some not advertised, and had a gun ordered “in the white.”

My goal was to get an “in the white” aka unfinished gun that I could then do the final tweaks needed to get the gun from the standard 1820s sold by North Star West (and a darn nice gun for that period) to a pre-1812 gun.  I should quickly note that I do not fault these companies for making a later period gun as that is what their demand is for.  The majority of folks that want NW guns focus on this later period and the few of us that would use these for earlier, are too few.

Recently, I received my gun in the mail that I ordered from NSW, built by Mark Horvat (who builds many guns for North Star West,) and it was LOVELY as it was.  I quickly did a lot of work to it and now have it about where I want.  In the rest of this blog, I would like to explain out what I ordered, what I changed on it myself, and what still is not perfect for this being a gun for my time period of interest.

From North Star West, I ordered there North West Gun “in the white” with the following options…

-36″ 20 ga. barrel.  (20 ga. was not THE most common gauge but is often seen in originals.  Although not the most common, I chose it as a slightly smaller ga. still uses the same sized barrel and is just heavier, and a major goal of this was to be light.  I also like a 20 ga. for hunting and it is sure to hold legal for hunting most game in North America… a smaller ga. is not always legal for use on some game in some states.)

-No touch hole liner (these are typically used on these guns but I chose none as it is more correct for my period)

-“Barnett” and tombstone fox stamped on the lock (Barnett was the maker I wanted as it was the most common for the NWCo and all early examples had a tombstone fox stamp to imitate the Hudson’s Bay Co. mark).

-Early London Proofs on the Barrel (Matt has these and did a great job marking the barrel as a London (Tower) proofed gun of the period)

-early sideplate and trigger (Matt has an earlier serpent sideplate that is very similar to the early guns I am interested in as does he have an earlier, daintier trigger)

-simple iron front sight (they have other options, this was most correct for me)

-I asked not to install the buttplate as I wanted to rework it and the stock

After I got the gun, I …

-annealed and flattened the buttplate.  I reshaped it a bit narrower and rounded the bottom.  I also planned (and did) want to round the bend of it from the 90 degree angle it had to more of a curve like seen on earlier guns.

-reworked the stock, removing some of the comb to lengthen the wrist.  I also thinned out the wrist and much of the gun overall, removing wood to give it a slightly daintier and more correct shape for the earlier period (and rounded the top of the butt).

-inletted the reshaped buttplate and installed it, finished shaping and the stock … including stain and rubbing in a finish

-blued the barrel.  NSW, typically browns the barrel.  This is common on the later period NW guns, but as seen in the above order and others of the period, mine needed to be blued.

Things that are not perfect…

-The lock should be a 3 bolt lock for the 1790s and earlier.  The 2 bolt lock showed up on Barnetts between 1805 and 1807.

-The tombstone fox should have an “IB” on it and not an “EB.”  Short of having a stamp custom made, this was the best I could do.  The letters are not noticeable from more than 3 feet away, and I hope to bugger up the E to make it less noticeable.

-It has Thomas Barnett’s TB and not the RB for a mark on the barrel.  Thomas was making guns in the 1790s but didn’t put HIS initials on them until around 1810.  The RB is tough to replicate without proper stamps though since it was in a cartouche.

-MOST (but not all) Barnetts were dated.  I chose not to as I really want to use this for the 1790s, but I can not put a 90s date on it when there are elements that are more correct for 1807-10.

-It finished out at 6.5 pounds.  This is nice and light, but originals were closer to 5.5 pounds.  This extra weight is in the modern barrel (almost 4 pounds alone).  Historic NW guns were filed down THIN.  I am not about to do this, for the work and for the safety.

All in all, I am very pleased and have a gun that follows the lines and looks of a gun for my period.  The little details are DARN close for the 1790s and are VERY DARN close for pre-1812.  I am happy, and now that I am home from being gone for the weekend at Madeline Island, can’t wait to get out and shoot it tomorrow.

8 Responses to “A NW Gun!!”

  1. Mark Sage says:

    Hi, I went with NS West when I made a copy of the Wheeler gun that is in the collection of the MN historical society. I am very happy with mine–have killed three deer, a number of grouse and one gray squirrel. Mine is made to be a 1790 gun. Matt is great to work with!

    • Isaac says:

      Great INDEED!! I thought about a Wheeler or a few other makers as the stamps issues I had would not have been an issue. I really wanted a Barnett though for the fact they seem to have been the main producer for the NWCo. Thanks for the reply, Mark.

  2. Chris depot says:

    Very nice! I use a 20 gauge fowler, they are great for.small game and up. Best of luck, happy hunting this fall.

  3. Bob Miller says:

    The very first bear I shot with a flintlock was taken with a 20 bore 36 in barrel trade gun.
    The bear was a 2 year old male who was very interested in breakfasting on my new dog.
    The dog was terrified, and when I ran out the back door the bear was in a stalking crouch only 10 feet from the dog . It backed off into the woods when I showed up, but did not run. It was angry and “woofing “. Going back in the house, the flintlock was easier to grab than my 30-30 [ locked up in the safe ] so loading as I went, I was soon outside again. The bear had circled and was coming back from the direction of my shop. I shot it at exactly 24 feet away [ the length of the shop ] and after a shriek and a spin, it was dead ! I have never doubted the capability of a 20 bore loaded with ball since then. You will be well armed for any game encountered , including moose. Happy hunting !

  4. Isaac says:

    Oooo… moose… SOMEDAY!!!

    Cool story on the bear. My French gun did great with my bear 3 years ago (20 ga.).

  5. Mark Scott says:

    What’s your thoughts on a bridled frizzed ? most that I’ve seen before about 1810ish don’t seem to have a bridle off of the pan? My trade gun now has an unbridled ketland lock that I rounded the plate and cock on, but I’ve been thinking of building a new one and haven’t found an unbridled trade gun lock.

    • Isaac says:

      My understanding is that (from what I have seen) most early originals were unbridled frizzens/pans. Finding a lock to fit this bill is near impossible for this type of gun (again, the issue of earlier vs. later NW guns). Interestingly the 1790s and early 1800s lists ask for “bridle locks.” I have not seen the internals of the original locks, but it does not appear that they were referring to frizzens/pan bridles. This is an interesting point of conversation though.

  6. whitebear says:

    Interesting pictures and article. I am planning to build a 20 gauge canoe gun 28 1/2″ barrel soon.

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