I’ll gladly shoot anything that goes “Bang!” I own my share of modern firearms, and I enjoy shooting them, but, when I was 17 years old, I shot my first black powder gun, and I was hooked. It was slow, messy and smelly…in other words…totally fun. By the time I was 18 years old I owned my first muzzleloading rifle, and it was just the first of many. I was always striving to get more authentic looking rifles. But I quickly discovered that all of the commercially available, mass-produced, flintlock rifles were sadly deficient in the authenticity department.
I really wanted a custom longrifle. Unfortunately, custom-built longrifles are expensive. My solution was to make my own, and, over the years I’ve built a number of muzzleloading rifles. I’ve gotten to the point where I can make a longrifle that doesn’t cause me to hang my head in shame, but I’m not even close to being a master craftsman.
For a long time, my desire for a custom-built flintlock rifle got shelved, in favor of things like putting food on the table and shoes on my kids’ feet, and funding a pair of college degrees. But, as time passed by, the boys finished college, and got themselves jobs. Pretty soon, they had their own places, and they were buying their own shoes and hamburgers. And lo and behold, I started seeing something I wasn’t used to, namely, money in the bank at the end of the month. So, on my 59th birthday I decided that I had waited long enough for a custom rifle. I called up David Crispin, who lives about an hour away from me, and set up a meeting to plan out my custom rifle.
These days there are probably more people handcrafting flintlock longrifles than there were in 1776. Many of these craftsmen are turning out exceptional work. In fact, a good number of them are as good as, or even better than, the best eighteenth century gunsmiths. Many of these builders have national reputations, but, for something as intimate as a custom fitted rifle, I feel more comfortable dealing with someone I can meet with face to face.
Luckily, there are excellent builders in just about every part of the country. If you’re in the market for a custom longrifle, I recommend that you attend major muzzleloading or reenacting events near you. An event like Dixon’s Riflemakers’ Fair, held in Kempton, Pennsylvania is ideal, but any of the National Muzzleloading Rifle Association regional rendezvous are very good as well. A quick search on the Internet should show a number of sites within an easy drive of your location. At these events you can see these gun makers and their work, and get an idea of who you’d like working on your rifle.
I chose Dave Crispin because I’ve been able to get to know him over the course of the last few years. For two years we camped side by side at the annual Fort Frederick 18th Century Market fair, which is held at an actual French and Indian War fort in western Maryland. We’ve shared campfires and conversations, and I was able to check out half a dozen of his rifles and fowlers in the hands of satisfied customers. Dave made his living as a tool and die maker for 40 years, and he has been building flintlock rifles for decades. He is also a dedicated 18th century hunter and trekker. The guns he makes work in the real world. That was important to me.
When I met with Dave I already had some firm ideas about the rifle of my dreams. Stylistically, I wanted a rifle from the Bucks County, Pennsylvania school of builders. Historically, I’m interested in the period from the French and Indian War in 1754 until the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. And that is a tough combination. There are plenty of Bucks County guns that were made at the end of that period. But, in researching, I could only find one that dated as early as 1760 it was on page 22 of Shumway’s “Longrifle Articles Vol 1”, which is a collection of his “Longrifles of Note” column for “Muzzle Blasts” magazine. Shumway dates this gun to the period 1760 to 1780. It featured a sliding wooden patchbox, which is a feature that I wanted on my rifle. I also selected some features from a rifle that is featured in “Rifles of Colonial America Vol 1”. It is #65, which Shumway dates as likely to have been built in 1780.
Dave recommended that we have Dave Keck of Knob Mountain Muzzleloading in Berwick, Pennsylvania, profile the stock for us. Dave Keck has a collection of over 200 stock patterns copied from original rifles. We selected a stock profile that closely matched the number #65 rifle from RCA, and Dave selected a premium maple stock blank to send to Knob Mountain.
The next decision was the barrel and caliber. Eighteenth century rifles have what are known as “swamped barrels” barrels. They start wide at the breech, where strength matters. Then they taper down to a point about six inches back from the muzzle to reduce weight, then they flare out slightly to the muzzle, which improves the gun’s balance for off hand shooting.
Swamped barrels come in different profiles, that are usually designated as A, B, C, or D, with the A profile being the most slender. My rifle is going to be carried a lot, and used for deer hunting in season. Most people select a C-profile barrel in .54 caliber for that task. But I have a rifle with that barrel combination, and I think it is a bit heavy. For this build, I selected a .50 caliber, Colerain B-profile barrel. I think .50 caliber is sufficient for whitetails, and the B-profile barrel is noticeably lighter and better balanced than a C-profile .54. With that decision out of the way, Dave measured my length of pull, and we nailed own the final details of stock furniture, engraving and woodcarving.
The next time a saw Dave, a couple of months later, the barrel, tang, butt plate, ramrod entry thimble and the flintlock were all inletted into the stock. Dave makes most of the brass furniture on his rifles, including side plates, nose caps and ramrod thimbles. If the rifle calls for a brass patchbox, Dave fabricates that as well. For the trigger guard and butt plate Dave uses brass castings that he modifies as needed.
The total wait time for my rifle was four months, which is not bad in the world of custom gunsmithing. But it is plenty of time for the anticipation to build. When I picked up the rifle, it lived up to all the anticipation. The stock was beautiful. Dave colored the curly maple with Laurel Mountain Forge’s Nut Brown stain. It really made the tiger stripes pop. With the dramatic sweep of the butt stock and the tiger striping, the stock is very eye-catching.
The brass butt plate has a typical Bucks County thumbnail at the end of the return. On the right side of the butt, Dave installed a sliding wood patchbox, an early rifle feature that I was looking for. On the left side, he made a Bucks County Style hunter’s star and inlaid it into the cheek piece. And behind the cheek piece, Dave executed some elegant, but restrained incised and low relief carving. On the wrist Dave inlaid a silver oval with my initials. And he outlined the tang by decorative carving. Dave fabricated a typical Bucks County entry thimble, with a long ornate tail. This is not only an eye catching feature, but it also provides protection to an area on the stock that wears over time from friction with your hand.
Because this is going to be a real working rifle, I didn’t want it too highly decorated. Dave’s carving and metal engraving set exactly the right note.
A large Siler flintlock provides the rifle’s ignition system, which is tripped by a simple, single trigger. I think double triggers can be useful at the target range, but they can be a hindrance in the woods. A properly set up single trigger, with a crisp three-pound pull will do everything I need it to do.
The browned octagon barrel is topped with open sights of Dave’s manufacture. The front sight is a sterling silver blade, that Dave left high so I could adjust it myself. The rear sight is a very shallow, semi-buckhorn design. There is a small notch at the low point of the sight blade for 25 to 50 yard shot. Elevating the front blade to the top of the buckhorn allows accurate 100-yard shooting. This is a great hunting sight.
My load for this rifle is a .490-inch ball patched with pillow ticking over 75 grains of Goex 3Fg black powder. I prime with the same 3Fg that I’m using in the main charge. With this load I can cloverleaf my shots at 25 yards, and hit a four-inch circle from the bench at 100 yards.
A good rifle deserves a good bag and powder horn. I am a firm believer in having a separate bag and horn for each muzzleloader I own. Each bag is equipped with the necessary gear to load and clean that specific rifle. And each horn is equipped with a powder measure that throws the correct load for that gun. Having rifle-specific bags and horns prevents you from getting out to the field with a .50 caliber rifle, and discovering you have .54 caliber balls in your shooting bag. That happened to me once 30 years ago. It makes for a very bad day.
The bag for this rifle is one that I picked up at a small event at Prickett’s Fort in West Virginia. It has an authentic eighteenth century design, with a little line carving on the flap to add a touch of class. The horn was bought at the afore mentioned Fort Frederick Market Fair. It is of the type known as a Pennsylvania screw top. The horn tip is threaded and unscrews to make its own funnel for filling.
My custom-built rifle is everything I hoped it would be. Since sighting it in, I’ve shot it at one event, and I’m looking forward to making meat with it this fall.
Points of contact:
504 N. Gorsuch Rd.
Westminster, MD, 21157
Knob Mountain Muzzleloading
287 Mountain Rd.
Berwick, PA 18603