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The very first muzzleloader I ever shot was in the spring of 1962. I was 13 years old, and had ridden my bicycle out to a friend's family farm ... with a brand new Marlin Model 39A .22 lever-action rifle strapped across my back. I had sighted in the Weaver 4x scope on the rifle ... and I was itching to shoot a few groundhogs (Eastern woodchucks). When I got to the farm, I found the entire family, and an older family friend, hard at work remodeling the kitchen of the 100+ year old farmhouse.
When I showed everyone my new "pride & joy" ... that family friend confessed he had brought along a unique small-bore muzzleloader for all to shoot, and figured that right then was likely a good time to break it out. It was one of the circa 1850's "Buggy Rifles", just like the one shown above ... built by Wm. Billinghurst in his Rochester, New York shop. The short, but heavy, .31 caliber "pistol/rifle" was topped with an original Wm. Malcolm "telescopic rifle sight" ... a.k.a. scope. We shot the rifle a couple of dozen times and it was definitely right on at 40 to 50 yards. When I asked about slipping down to a nearby creek bottom hayfield to see if I could get a shot at a groundhog ... the owner of that Billinghurst "Buggy Rifle" loaded the short muzzleloader and handed it to me, insisting ... "Use this ... it's probably been more than a hundred years since it's shot anything other than paper targets and tin cans!"
I couldn't resist ... took the rifle ... with just that single shot and headed down to the field. Easing down the narrow dirt farm road leading to the field, I spotted a big ol' chuck out in the just greening hay crop, munching away on the clover. I slipped into the woods for cover and managed to get within 30 yards of the varmint. Using a fence post for a rest ... I held on the groundhog's facing front shoulder, just as I had on the tin can we had been shooting at a half-hour earlier ... squeezed off the shot ... and the critter dropped right where it was feeding. I had just taken my very first muzzleloader game!
I can remember seeing magazine advertisements for the Hopkins & Allen underhammer muzzleloading rifles as early as 1963 or 1964. I really didn't know a lot about muzzleloaders then ... but what 13 or 14 year old boy did in those days? Heck, most adult shooters and hunters didn't know much about muzzleloaders then either, especially about loading, shooting and hunting with them.
What I remember most about the H&A rifles was their extremely low price. One ad that I recall offered one of the rifles in .45 caliber...a half-pound of black powder...25 lead balls...and a tin of No. 11 caps for the grand total of $49.95.
When I did begin shopping for a muzzleloading rifle in early 1965, to hunt deer with in my home state of Illinois, I seriously considered buying one of the H&A underhammer models. However the glint of brass on one of the early Dixie Gun Works "Squirrel" rifles had caught my eye. The gun had originally been bought with a .40 caliber barrel, but the owner had installed a Douglas .45 barrel on the muzzleloader, and it shot extremely well. I bought that rifle for $90, and took my first two bucks with the frontloader that fall.
Back when I first worked at Dixie Gun Works during the early 1970's, I can remember seeing a lot of the Hopkins & Allen rifles being shipped. At that time, they were selling for around $90 to $125 - depending on the model a customer ordered. For many of the "veteran" modern day muzzleloading hunters among us, who began hunting with a muzzleloader during the 1960's and 1970's, one of these rifles in .45 caliber or larger could have very likely been their first muzzleloader. The rifles were definitely affordable, and the very simple underhammer action was reliable - putting the fire from a No. 11 percussion cap straight into the powder charge.
Over the years, I have owned at least a half-dozen of the H&A bottom slappers, most of which I bought for little or nothing, or took on trade for something I had for sale. One of my early underhammers was the little .36 caliber rifle shown at right with a pair of cottontails ready for the dinner table. I couldn't even begin to tell you the load shot, but I do remember casting my own .350" diameter lead balls. My guess is that the powder charge was no more than 15-grains of FFFg black powder. I always shot the mildest charge I could when hunting small game, to avoid too much destruction of edible meat. This little rifle, made during the 1970's, probably cost all of about $80 when brand new, and was a tack driver at the under 25 yard shots taken at rabbits and squirrels.
The very first of these rifles I owned and shot was a big .58 caliber model, which shot well with a 90-grain charge of FFg black powder and a patched .570" diameter ball. I acquired that rifle within a few months of getting out of the Marine Corps in early 1972. I took several deer with the rifle, and was impressed with how well the .58 caliber bore put down whitetails.
Several "other" companies ran with this design up until about 15 years ago. If you follow the gun auctions on the internet, you can still find these rifles for sale at anywhere between $200 and $400.
If you've owned and hunted with a Hopkins & Allen underhammer rifle, share a few comments about your experiences. - Toby Bridges
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Many of our blog posts will be reasonably short Traditional Muzzleloader Hunting features, news from our industry, new product announcements, hunting regulation changes, maybe even a biography of an individual within the sport of muzzleloader hunting. In short ... if it pertains to shooting and hunting with an old style muzzleloader ... it could show up here!