In the modern comforts of today’s world, it can be hard to imagine what life was like in days gone by. The American frontier has been closed for more than a century, and a hardy life of living off the land has been replaced by a five-minute drive to a local Walmart.
Despite our first-world lifestyle today, many gun owners still remain closer to that pioneering spirit of yesteryear. However, progress has not left the firearms world in the dust. With modern self-contained cartridges and semiautomatic actions, many gun owners don’t realize just how good they have it.
Fortunately, Pedersoli and the company’s friends at Italian Firearms Group, a Texas-based bunch, have recreated the firearms used in the early days of American expansion so that gun owners today can take part in experiencing the excitement (and occasional frustration) of owning a traditional flintlock rifle.
The flintlock long rifle, also known as a Kentucky or Pennsylvania Rifle, is an enduring icon of the rugged men and women who forged forth into the untapped wilderness west of the Appalachian Range. With these fine rifles, they battled Native Americans and placed food on the table, carving out a small corner for themselves in the vast interior of North America.
The long rifle began in the early decades of the 18th century as a product of German immigrants in Pennsylvania and parts of Virginia. In Europe, gunsmiths were used to building large-caliber rifles with relatively short barrels.
However, the New World required something a little different. Oftentimes, those who carried these arms wouldn’t see an opportunity to replenish supplies for weeks or months at a time. Thus, it was essential that they be able to carry as much ammunition with them as possible.
To answer this need, gunsmiths created smaller calibers, ranging from .36 to .50, to ensure that more rounds could be carried. In addition, a longer barrel was fashioned to these rifles to allow riflemen to make the most of their slow-burning black powder.
The result was a uniquely American style of rifle that could be easily constructed in small frontier towns. This style of rifle flourished on the American continent, in one form or another, for more than a century.
The firearm gained worldwide fame and notoriety during the American Revolution, where the riflemen of the Continental Army and other militias made use of another advantage gained by the unusually long barrel: sight radius.
With the increased muzzle velocity and sight radius of the American long rifle, soldiers in the Revolution found that they could easily hit man-sized targets at distances of 200 yards or more.
In the early decades of the 19th century, rifle design began to change significantly. Barrels were shortened, flintlocks turned to percussion locks and the American frontier grew ever smaller.
However, the spirit of the American long rifle lived on in remote parts of Appalachia. According to Arthur Kendal in his book, “Rifle Making in the Great Smoky Mountains,” flintlock long rifles were produced as late as the early 20th century in some remote parts of the country.
In conjunction with the long rifle, the flintlock pistol rounded out the arms carried by Americans on the frontier for centuries. The flintlock Kentucky pistol, like most pistols of the era, were used primarily as defensive arms.
While the long rifle was just as effective in the hunting fields as it was on the battlefield, the flintlock pistol played a role as a last-ditch firearm for close-quarters attacks and were often used in conjunction with a knife or other bladed tool.
Together, the flintlock rifle and pistol embodied the early spirit of American pioneers. With these tools, men and women fed families, fought wars and fended off would-be attackers in the rough frontier wilderness.
Today, firearms enthusiasts have it a bit easier. However, there is a benefit in taking time to appreciate the technology used in forging out the fledgling nation that became the United States.
Pedersoli, an Italian company, prides itself on making period-correct firearms for modern-day enthusiasts. In conjunction with Italian Firearms Group, they sell everything from early flintlocks to the cartridge firearms of the late 19th century.
Spurred by the brutal wilderness scenes in the popular film, “The Revenant,” I contacted Italian Firearms Group in order to examine a pair of flintlocks the company had available for purchase.
Interestingly enough, Italian Firearms Group is the same company that supplied the flintlock rifles and pistols used in the filming of “The Revenant,” and the company continues to provide period-correct firearms to Hollywood projects today.
The Deluxe Frontier Model comes set in a gorgeous Maple wood stock. The stock envelops the entire length of the 39-inch barrel, which is Cerakoted in a rust-brown color that simulates the rust-bluing techniques used in the 18th century.
The barrel itself is made from carbon steel, which is a far safer and sturdier material than the iron used for the originals. However, these steel barrels retain the slow twist needed to stabilize a round ball. In the case of the .45-caliber example I used, it featured a 1:48 twist rate.
The lock itself features a case-hardened finish for durability, and the rifle is finished in brass trim. The trim includes a brass patch box on the butt of the gun, an option that can be removed in plainer models.
Overall length of the Pedersoli Frontier rifle is 54.75 inches, yet the rifle weighs in at a scant 7.05 pounds. The light weight is due to the rifle’s slender build, and it shoulders and points very naturally and comfortably.
Those used to modern firearms will notice more weight in the support hand, due to the barrel weight ahead of the lock. However, the Frontier rifle balances much better than other period firearms.
To match up with the Frontier rifle, Italian Firearms Group also sent me the Pedersoli Kentucky Flintlock model in .50 caliber.
The flintlock model I received was set in a well-figured Walnut stock and featured an in-the-white lockplate and a plum-colored Cerakote finish on the barrel. The pistol is also available with a case-hardened lock and brass trimming for those who prefer it.
The pistol itself is just over 15 inches in length and weighs just 2.3 pounds. The 12-groove barrel, which is 10 3/8 inches long, features a 1:18 twist rate to stabilize a .50-caliber round ball.
I took the Kentucky pistol and Frontier rifle out to the range for a taste of American frontier life. However, I took a few modern liberties along with me.
Instead of a powder horn, I measured each load carefully on an electronic scale in the interests of obtaining the best possible accuracy.
I also took advantage of Hodgdon’s Pyrodex black powder substitute to see how it performed alongside traditional black powder. I also wanted to see the difference in cleaning between the two different powders.
Accuracy was fairly good with both the pistol and the rifle. The Kentucky pistol managed to fire a 3-inch group at 15 yards with both the Hodgdon Pyrodex and traditional black powder. However, reloading and cleaning was much easier when using Pyrodex.
When using traditional black powder, the barrel fouls with each shot. Therefore, reloading the next shot becomes harder due to the excess material lining the bore.
I used Hodgdon’s Pyrodex exclusively with the Frontier, and I attempted to measure its optimum accuracy. The best group I shot with the Frontier was just under 3 inches at 100 yards. That’s pretty good for a flintlock rifle, but I am pretty sure it can do better in the hands of a capable shooter willing to experiment with different loads.
Accuracy and ballistic capability aside, shooting both of these flintlocks can be an eye-opening experience to those hoping to get in touch with the past. Flintlock rifles and pistols are not just some obsolete relics of a bygone era.
In fact, as my experience seems to point out, flintlock firearms are more than capable. It is more than fair to pit a design from the 1750s against a modern-day slug gun. Both will throw a chunk of lead exactly where you want it.
However, only one of those options gives shooters a chance to relive the excitement of yesteryear during the hunt. Target shooting and hunting with a single-shot flintlock is a thrill. It is a true test of a hunter or shooter’s capabilities.
Not only do shooters have to aim that one shot precisely, they must have complete confidence in their follow-through and not be distracted or thrown off target by the flash of the priming powder or the slow push of recoil.
Those very same shooters must also have complete confidence in the measurement of the powder charge and the quality of the loading process and the sureness of the priming powder.
Indeed, there can be no greater involvement from execution to success than that of the flintlock rifle shooter and his fallen game or perfect bullseye, and Italian Firearms Group provides the perfect tools for those looking to test their skills.