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GUNS MAGAZINE, AUGUST 2005
Small Game In Style, by Jim Gardner
Why do we hunt? To fill the family larder? Sure, that's a satisfying fringe benefit of a successful trip afield, but if stocking the freezer cheaply were our only goal, we'd do better to hunt the weekly sale coupons rather than the woods and fields.
No, we hunt for the sheer joy of it--and knowing that, we should choose a hunting method that adds zest to our experiences afield. And when it comes to small game, there's no greater fun than chasing bunnies with a flintlock rifle.
There's just something special about the slower pace--thoughtfully measuring and pouring powder, carefully centering a ball on the greased patch, testing the flint's sharp edge before priming the pan just so--that makes a morning's hunt seem like a grand wilderness adventure. While you may think me a fibber, game brought to table with a muzzleloader even seems to taste a little sweeter.
Thus when I heard Caywood Gunmakers was bringing out a trim Southern Mountain rifle--available with interchangeable barrels in .32 to .45 caliber--I pleaded with editor Jeff John for an excuse to test one.
Magic Wand Indeed
My previous experience with Caywood's guns included a superb pair of flint fowlers. The quality and attention to detail on those guns was exceptional, so I expected great things from their newest creation. It didn't disappoint.
Opening the box and gently lifting out the little beauty, I was astonished. I knew the Caywood team had as its goal a light, easy carrying rifle, but the result of their labors is an incredible, feathery 5.5-pound gem. Yes, it's impossibly light, but more so, the balance and stock geometry is sheer perfection. The little gun jumps to your shoulder like a bobcat pouncing on a quail.
I've shouldered and shot a lot of muzzleloaders, but something in the architecture of this delicate little rifle makes it feel like a living thing. This could be no accident, so I asked Danny Caywood about his stock design.
"We designed the gun with a stepped wrist (which by the way, is historically correct)," Caywood explained, "so we could keep the look of a southern rifle but avoid a high, angling comb line on the gun.
"Not only does this make the gun shoulder beautifully, it helps in accurate shooting too. Keeping the light weight in mind, I designed the stock to insure you won't get whacked on the cheekbone no matter what caliber you're shooting. It's so critical in flintlock shooting to relax and follow through after the shot, and this stock is as comfortable to shoot in .45 as it is in .32."
Danny admitted all who've tried the Mountain Rifle have been smitten with it, and the easy-carrying little gun has been nicknamed the "Magic Wand."
A Perfect 38-22-36
Regrettably, you can't possibly understand how splendid this rifle feels without holding one, but perhaps sharing its vital statistics will give you the idea. The barrel is 38" in length. Width at the breech is .875", tapering in to a mere .625" at roughly 2/3 its Length before flaring out to .745" at the muzzle. This is the famous "swamped barrel"--a feature found on all the finest original rifles and designed to minimize weight while improving balance.
Sight radius is 22" with the front sight of brass and pleasantly shaped for comfort while loading. Like the old rifles, the rear sight bears a tiny nick of a sighting notch. For my tired old eyes, opening up this notch slightly to admit a little more light is a must, The bright front blade catches the sunlight and shows up well even on dark, indistinct targets.
Caliber of my sample is .36, with round groove rifling for easy cleaning. The pitch appears to be roughly 1:46" which is perfect for the 65-grain, .350" ball. A happy advantage of the .36 is that 000 buckshot makes a fine projectile and may be bought cheaply in 500 count boxes.
As you can see, the stock of this particular rifle is an exceptional piece of sugar maple with tight, uniform curl. Of course this is a custom upgrade--normal stock wood is plainer, but not without handsome figure. As befits a fine rifle, length of pull may be ordered to suit your build.
With standard wood, the rifle runs $1,695. We also learned--just before press time--that Caywood now offers a matching patchbox for those who desire this feature. Add $160 for this option.
Iron Meets Maple
The mounts of the little gun are as noteworthy as its graceful lines. In keeping with Southern mountain tradition, all mounts are of iron, designed and produced for this project, not bought off the shelf.
The deep crescent buttplate, lovely triggerguard with grip rail, protective toe plate, lock-screw bolster and the thimbles all share a recurring theme of raised panels with angled incised lines. It's just the sort of fancy embellishment a wizened old 'smithy might hand file into his gun mounts for an influential customer.
A good lock is the heart of a flinter, and as Southern mountain rifles are a late form of flintlock rifle, they usually incorporate highly evolved locks. The lock of Caywood's little jewel shows such advanced features such as a guttered, "waterproof" pan, a bridle to support the frizzen and a roller-equipped frizzen spring with elegant hidden mounting screw.
Most of these late-period locks were imported, and this one is appropriately marked "London Warranted." Built by the talented Mike Rowe, proof of his good design and workmanship is seen in the fast snap of the cock and the resulting bright shower of sparks.
The double-lever set triggers are dandy. Pulling the wide, deeply curled rear trigger sets the front trigger to trip with only a few ounces of pressure. They're a fine compliment to the good lock and accurate barrel.
Black Powder, White Smoke
Crack! The whip-like snap of a small-caliber flintlock is a lovely sound. My trial load for the Caywood was 50 grains of Elephant FFFg powder. This is the normal charge for my personal scratch-built .36 flintlock, and the way the mountain rifle shot I saw no reason to change it, My priming powder is the same despite the usual recommendation to use the finer FFFFg granulation.
Homady 000 buck served as the projectile. These are surprisingly uniform, miking an average of .352", Densely woven cotton from an old shirt--.013" thick and well greased--answered for patches.
Ignition was 100-percent surefire and surprisingly fast as long as I remembered to "prick" the vent before each shot. The little rifle seemed slightly prone to clogging the flash hole, but that's probably because I punched the bore with one wet and one dry patch after each shot, which tends to fill the vent with "schmutz." In the normally arid coastal desert where I live, failing to swab out between shots can leave such an accumulation of fouling in the bore so hard as to make loading impossible.
Test firing commenced at 50 yards. I shot over the hood of my old pickup, using a front rest but no rear bag. The little gun proved pretty well regulated, shooting just to the left of my six o'clock hold. Correction was a cinch, requiring only a tiny movement of the front sight.
Fifty-yard groups ran just over 3". while the best target from 25 yards showed three in the same hole with one high and one low. I'm thinking "'pilot error" deserves the blame--it's mighty easy to flinch a bit when that priming flashes. Regardless, the little rifle showed it was ready to chase bunnies--that is, if we could find some.
Rain, Rain, Go Away
As it happened, the willowy little rifle arrived in the fall, and it brought the rain with it. We had more continuous weeks of rain and more accumulated inches than had ever been seen in living memory. The rain was a blessing for this parched country and its depleted reservoirs, but it sure hampered the shooting opportunities.
It was quite some time before a short string of dry days opened up the Forest Service road to my favorite shooting spot for initial break in and zeroing. With that done, the dark clouds rolled in again and made themselves at home.
Finally, on my last free day of the season, the rain slacked off to a drizzle and I was up before the sun--the little rifle with its horn and bag all set for a morning's adventure. Soon I was prowling the old family orchard while doing my best to keep the lock shielded from the damp.
Now here's the part where I'm supposed to tell you how fine the rifle and I shot, show you photos of a fine morning's bag and perhaps even share the recipe for Aunt Fred's famous cornbread and rabbit pie--but it just wasn't to be. The conejos were wiser than I, staying snug in the brush piles and thick chaparral. Well. I suppose that's why we call it "hunting," instead of "shooting," eh?
With months to wait before the season opens again. I'm looking forward to more shooting with Caywood's Southern Mountain rifle and to experimenting with different load combinations. Just picking up and shouldering the rifle brings a smile to my wrinkled mug, and if you appreciate fine craftsmanship you'd probably have the same reaction.
Call Mr. Caywood or give the Web site a look. They'll build a delightful little Southern Mountain rifle just for you, and then you too can chase small game in style.