Gunfight Friday: Long Rifle vs. Hawken

Jeff's New Englander, which he brought on safari.Philip Bourjaily

Some weeks I have to painstakingly comb the Gunfight Friday archives to find a good matchup. Other weeks, a good one falls into my lap, as is the case this week. We don’t often feature blackpowder guns here, mostly because I don’t get many pictures of front-loaders, but today we’ve got a couple of good ones. Both are modern guns made in the traditional side-hammer style. One is flintlock long rifle. This one is a .50 caliber, and while most long rifles started out as smaller calibers, many were bored out to larger calibers as they rusted, so a .50-caliber flintlock long rifle isn’t a complete anachronism. The other is a Hawken-style percussion rifle of the kind used by the mountain men in the West, with a period-appropriate big bore.

Jeff's Long Rifle

long rifle
The long rifle features a hand-carved stock.Philip Bourjaily

I built my own long rifle years ago. It has a curly maple stock I carved from a blank, a siler lock, and a .50-caliber Green Mountain barrel. It's pretty accurate, and when I could see well enough for iron sights, it killed a nice 6-point buck with it.

New River Valley Outdoorsman's T/C

New Englander
The New Englander has made sixteen one-shot kills.Philip Bourjaily

This is my Thompson/Center New Englander rifle, in .54 caliber. I bought it brand new years ago; in my hands it has accounted for 16 whitetails and a large African warthog, all of them one-shot kills.

I opted for the .54, and I'm glad I did. It hits like The Hammer of Thor and has never failed me. I use round balls pretty much exclusively and never bother with conical bullets, except for that once with the warthog. The only modification to the rifle is a T/C peep rear sight better suited to my aging eyes than the open sights it came with.

There are your choices: flintlock versus percussion, and .50 versus .54. It’s nice to see these two guns making meat in this era of plastic-stocked inlines. Vote and comment below, and keep those gun pictures coming to

  • In case you were wondering about the logistics of taking your muzzleloader on safari, NRVO says: "You can't bring blackpowder nor percussion caps on the airplane, so I bought them locally through my PH. I normally shoot GOEX but all he could get was [German] WANO, which is a high quality powder that gave me no problems. I shot the warthog at 30 yards through the heart and lungs. It sprayed blood everywhere and went no more than 20 feet."