The Hawken Rifle was an early US made rifle, designed by Samuel Hawken in 1823. Along with his brother, Jacob Hawken, the Samuel's designed entered production that same year, remaining in production for 47 years. Over that time the design was modified to use the percussion lock mechanism after 1835.
The Hawken Rifle was not entirely unique in its design. Samuel took inspiration from the Harpers Ferry Model 1803 rifle, taking the half stock design (although full stock examples were made) and general appearance from the former design. The original Hawkens were all hand-made, with a contemporary flintlock mechanism and named as "plains rifles", designed to be used by frontiermen.
Many Hawkens were fitted with dual triggers. The rear of the two triggers (closest to the shooter) would be used to "set" the front trigger if it (ie the rear trigger) was pulled. This meant that the front trigger then became a hair trigger, requiring only a slight tap to fire the rifle. Otherwise the front trigger would be a heavy pull to fire the Hawken, while the rear trigger only served to "set" the front trigger. Nonetheless, both triggers were accessible within the amply sized trigger guard.
Although each Hawken was hand made, various other features were standardised. The barrel, for example, was typically given a 1:60in rifling twist and was most commonly bored to accept a .54in diameter ball. Interestingly the barrel was given an octagonal shape on the outside. Sights on the Hawken commonly consisted of a front blade on its own, while most fittings were made iron.
The Hawken Rifle was manufactured in a range of calibre sizes, from .50 to .68in. Most commonly though, the Hawken brothers would manufacture their rifles firing a .54in (14.2mm) diameter musket ball. This ball was fired from a paper cartridge, using blackpowder in the frizzen to ignite the cartridge (when the Hawken was produced as a flintlock rifle). Later percussion caps were used (with a percussion lock action) which improved the Hawken's wet-weather capability.
The Hawken Rifle was a particularly popular rifle for frontiermen, whom required an accurate but well made firearm to defend themselves. Although the majority of production (which began in 1823) was undertaken by the Hawken brothers, a few other gunsmiths and famous names were assosiated with the production of the Hawkens. Among these names, the most prominant name perhaps is that of 26th US President Theodore Roosevelt.The Hawken name was effectively sold (as was the production of Hawken rifles) in 1862. Despite this the last Hawken to leave the production room was made in 1884, with hunters increasingly using the mass produced breechloading rifles, such as the Sharps rifles and ex-American Civil War service firearms (such as the Starr Carbine or Merrill Carbine).
In modern times it is unlikely to find an operational original Hawken Rifle. Despite this the Hawken gathered quite a following, particularly as many families across America could identify their past to the rifle. Therefore a large number manufactures produce replica Hawkens, with custom features and a handmade feel to them. The most prominant of these manufacturers is Thompson Center Arms, who produce a variety of other muzzle loading firearms and pistols.
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