From GUNS magazine November 2003
Reputation For Quality, by Jim Gardner
I first heard of Caywood Gunmakers some years ago. I was interested in a flintlock smoothbore typical of the French and Indian War period. Caywood was recommended as producing some of the very best of the type. I ordered a catalog, but never managed to get the funds together. You know how it goes.
Last year, while attending the International Sporting Arms Exhibition in Las Vegas, Nev., I rounded a corner and was delighted to find Caywood's booth, An arsenal of fine muzzle-loading guns in several different styles adorned the walls. I hadn't been in the booth for a minute before a tall gent wearing a broad smile thrust one of these sleek front stuffers in my hands and introduced himself.
Danny Caywood is a likeable fellow. He's a fountain of knowledge on the subject and he's more than willing to share it. Nor is his experience simply "book learning." He has hunted extensively with his period guns, and finds the added challenge of hunting with a firelock adds zest to his hunting like tossing red chili into the stew pot.
I happen to know he recently look an Arkansas elk with one of his flint guns. becoming the first man to do so in perhaps 200 years. This challenging hunt took place in the middle of a downpour, and I asked Danny what the secret was to keeping a flint gun functioning in wet weather. He generously offered to share stone pointers, and you'll find them in the attached sidebar.
Strange And Pleasant Event
Not long after the Las Vegas show, a heavy package arrived at the office with not one, but two of Caywood's fine handmade guns enclosed. It was rather like Christmas in April. And then, as I unpacked the guns and admired the fine workmanship, the strangest thing occurred.
One by one, several of the young ladies from our offices came over to inquire about these 18th century arms. Some had questions about how they functioned, while others simply remarked on how "pretty" the guns were. The GUNS and American Handgunner offices just happen to be staffed with a large number of very attractive and lovely young ladies. Having a variety of guns come through the office isn't at all unusual, but never before has a package bad such an effect. I learned two things that day: The first is that I really like my job, the second was that I must find a way to get more such packages shipped in.
I can't blame the girls--these two Caywood guns really are handsome. Danny had shipped both an English fowler and a French "Type C" fusil. Both were fitted with .62-caliber (20-gauge) smoothbore barrels. The first thing you'll notice is how incredibly light these guns are. Despite their lengthy, 41 1/2-inch barrels, they weigh only about six pounds.
The reason for this is twofold. First, the barrel is made heavy and strong where it needs to be, but light elsewhere (as were best-grade originals). The barrel's breech is octagonal, tapering to a point 13 inches up the tube where it transitions to round with an attractive "wedding ring" design. The barrel's round section is not uniform in diameter, but tapers to a waist about a foot from the muzzle, after which it flares slightly. This puts a little extra weight at the muzzle, making it more durable and giving a better feel in offhand shooting.
The second reason these guns are so light is because they are built correctly. That's to say they carry no excess wood at all. The entire stock is delicately shaped, with the long friend especially light and slim. I've handed these guns to several shooters, and all have commented on the light weight and very pleasant feel al the shoulder.
Both guns are brass mounted, the buttplates and trigger guards carrying delicate engraving. The English fowler carries quite a bit more engraving and wears a nicely shaped and engraved sideplate opposite the lock. The fowler is also fitted with loop and button for affixing a sling. Both guns are spruced up with sterling thumb piece inlays on the wrist.
Heart Of The Gun
The locks on the two guns differ greatly. The fusil is fitted with an unusual brass lock-plate. Not only does it look quite distinctive, it could have a practical advantage. The area of the pan is prone In rust when these guns are used hard and not afforded much care. A brass lockplate and pan might stain, but it won't rust. I wondered if it might wear much faster than a steel component, but a closer look showed a steel bearing pressed into the tumbler's pivot hole. Pretty darn clever, and a good indicator of the thought and care that goes into these guns.
The lock on the fowler is of a later, more advanced design with a bridled frizzen and fancy "waterproof" pan with drain. The general style is what would be called a round-faced English lock, and it's a perfect choice in keeping with the design and period of this fowling piece. The cock (hammer) of this lock has an especially graceful shape.
The trigger pull was surprisingly light on both guns, although the English fowler exhibited a tendency to creep. Caywood uses purpose built locks, built in-house, exclusively for these guns. Both of these locks are good sparkers. As long as the flint is good and sharp, they deliver a healthy shower of white-hot sparks when the cock falls.
Fit And Finish
The quality of inletting on these guns is excellent. Even complicated shapes like the thumbpiece inlays show no gaps, looking as if the wood grew around them. Pulling the lock showed a combination of machine routing and handwork in the lock recess. From buttplate to forward thimble, the fit is uniformly quite good.
The barrels are nicely blued, and some small parts, like the lock bolts, were brilliantly heal blued for contrast. I noted however, that after cleaning these guns a couple of times, the finish adjacent to the vent was pretty well rubbed off. "We've tried all sorts of traditional finishes and none of them stand up to the heat of the flash, coupled with the acids and salts that are by products of black powder combustion." Danny Caywood advised when questioned about this. "Even a slow rust brown finish is soon eroded. I guess that's the price of playing with black powder."
The stocks of these guns are very nice, both as to wood figure and finish. The French fusil is stocked in a nice grade of curly maple, the English fowler wears a very attractive stock of quilted maple. Both are neatly finished to a pleasing soft luster. They show the results of careful sanding, whiskering off, staining and many coats of finish. I was particularly impressed to find that all internal wood surfaces--barrel inlet, lock recess, etc.--were sealed to resist swelling and warping when hunting in wet weather. It's just another sign of careful attention to quality in details large and small.
Of course all of this exacting handwork comes at a price. Checking the Caywood Website showed this French fusil, once returned, would be available for $1,485 plus shipping (this reflects an additional $100 for the optional brass lockplate). Remember that these gulls are exempt from federal and most slate regulations, and may be shipped directly to your doorstep. Wouldn't that be a pleasant delivery?
The Versatile Smoothbore
Glance at Caywood's list of products, and you might be taken aback at the fact they're essentially all smoothbores. The myth would have us believe that every colonial American had a rifle, but it's simply not so. While the longrifle that evolved from the German Jaeger was uniquely suited to the needs of the American frontiersman, it had its disadvantages--principally that it was far slower to load and lacked the versatility of the smooth-bored gun.
For hunting, a musket, trade gun or fowler might be loaded with small shot for running or flying game, with a heavy charge of buckshot, with a tight-fitting patched round ball for longer ranges (possibly two patched balls for heavy game at close quarters), or with "buck and ball."
Unlike the rifle, it could be loaded in the middle of a fight with a loose fitting, un-patched ball. If the bore were not too badly fouled, such a projectile could be spat from the mouth into the muzzle, and the butt slapped hard against the ground to seat it without the use of the loading rod. An 18th century speed load, you might say. But what of accuracy with the single projectile?
There's a great deal of interest these days in "smooth rifles," trade guns and fowlers. In my muzzleloading heyday in the early '70s, these guns were all but unknown. "Today, there's a wealth of information on how to make them shoot well. Some users report accuracy that would be the envy of any good rifled gun, but all seem to agree it takes a good bit of experimentation in powder type, ball diameter and patch thickness to achieve the best results.
I didn't have time to go through that pleasant process, but I was satisfied with they way these guns grouped. Testing the French fusil at 50 yards, five shot groups ran about five inches. These groups often had three shots clustered much tighter, but invariably I would plant a couple of those big holes wide of the mark.
An inconsistency in my loading technique? Failure to follow through during ignition (they don't call 'em "flinchlocks" for nothing)? Honestly, I don't know, but it would be great fun to work further on loads and technique to make the most of these guns. However. I do know of a surefire way of improving the long-range accuracy of a Caywood gun.
Due to the care and uniformity with which the barrels are profiled and the stocks inletted, Caywood is able to offer interchangeable rifled barrels for most of their guns. This makes tremendous sense, and doubles the versatility of the gun for hunting or match use.
The English fowler was so outfitted, and exchanging the .62-caliber smoothbore barrel for the .54-caliber rifle barrel took all of five minutes. First check to ensure the gun is unloaded, loosen the sidenails a turn or two to remove pressure on the lock. remove the sling swivel and then turn out the tang screw. Now, using the supplied push punch, press out the barrel retaining pins and carefully lift out the barrel. With the barrel removed, that beautiful slim stock is pretty fragile, so treat it carefully before laying the replacement barrel into the inlet and securing it in place.
The rifled barrel carried front and rear sights, the rear consisting of a low-profile base sweated to the barrel with a petite, drift-adjustable blade. The barrel is rifled 1:54-inches, with a very nice internal finish, testified to by smooth loading and easy cleanup. Firing at 100 yards, five shot groups ran five to seven inches. Again, I suspect a little load development and increased familiarity would cut that figure significantly.
Caywood offers a wide choice of calibers in these guns, ranging from 12 to 28 gauge, and .45 to .58 caliber rifled. Please note that most, but not all of these may be had in the interchangeable barrel system. Smoothbored barrels are furnished with front sights only.
I've been told a good reviewer should always find a small thing or two to criticize when reporting on a product. I'm pretty much out of luck as far as these two splendid guns are concerned. I found them delightful to shoot, and equally enjoyable to see reposing on the living room gun rack. The only real dissatisfaction came from boxing them up to return. They're wonderful guns, and I'd be pleased as punch to have one of them. If you share a taste for history, I suspect you would feel the same.
RELATED ARTICLE: Basics of flintlock hunting.
By Danny Caywood
The experience of hunting with a flintlock is rivaled by no other weapon. When you cradle a gun built of curly maple, satin finished brass and steel you are holding not only a formidable firearm, but a piece of history as well. I've hunted game from rabbit to elk with flintlock rifles and smoothbores with great success and satisfaction. Whether calling turkeys on a muggy spring morning or stalking whitetails in a fall rainstorm, I've found there are a few secrets to making the flintlock function as the reliable hunter's gun it was designed to be.
A high-quality flintlock is a pleasure to shoot and a challenge to use in the game fields, Fast, consistent ignition depends on three things; a high quality lock, a good ignition vent (touch-hole) and a sharp flint.
When buying a flintlock, remember that the lock is the most important component on the firearm. A quality lock has proper architecture and spring strength. Parts should be properly hardened for performance and longevity.
A properly coned touch-hole funnels the flash to the main charge insuring quick and consistent ignition. Avoid long, tunnel shaped vents: they cause erratic and slow ignition.
When loading for hunting, place a touchhole pick fully into the touch hole. This will prevent moisture from reaching the small exposed surface area of the main charge and causing a hang-fire. Sharp flints insure that the gun fires at the moment of truth.
Familiarize yourself with the gun at the rifle range to work out accurate loads. Sight the gun in for the ranges at which you will encounter shots in the field. Load the gun with recommended powder charge and top off with patched round ball. Round balls have taken game cleanly for centuries and still do so. Though not a long-range projectile, they are devastating when used at practical distances. If you see your quarry at 125 yards, figure out how to get closer.
When hunting in rainy weather, a small oiled rag placed in the pan offers simple, effective water resistance and keeps your main charge dry, even in a downpour. You can either remove the patch and prime the gun if the rain slacks off, or leave it in place until an animal approaches, Keeping your primer on a thong around your neck enables you to prime in mere seconds. Avoid shots when in doubt and enjoy any animal taken in fair chase with a flintlock. Your buddies will envy your skills.
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