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Hatfield's squirrel rifles; these replica muzzle-loaders combine the authentic good looks of the classic Kentucky longrifle with straight shooting capabilities for today's black powder buffs!

In the world of firearms, nothing is quite as American as the classic Kentucky or Pennsylvania longrifle. Throughout our nation's history, a Kentucky rifle, hanging over the fireplace, has symbolized the pioneer spirit of independence and readiness to defend our homeland. Back in the days when the longrifle was king, it was relied upon by frontiersmen and women to feed and protect theri families. It helped carve a civilization out of early America's raw, wild lands.

While the Kentucky is generally associated with the eastern rifleman of the late 18th century, it was also one of the first firearms to be carried into the virgin lands of our western territories. Lewis and Clark made sure to supply some of their men with these reliable arms, and decades later Texans struck their bid for independence while armed with Kentucky rifles.

Today, 200 years after the heyday of the Kentucky rifle, muzzle-loaders still appreciate the aesthetic and functional qualities of these truly American arms. Several black powder manufacturers produce replica Kentuckies, and it remains the most popular tradiational arm with custom muzzle-loading rifle makers. One company, however, stands out in the black powder field, as makers of the finest production Kentucky and Pennsylvania-style long-rifles available today. The firm is Hatfield Rifle Works, 2020 Colhoun, Dept. GA, St. Joseph, MO 64501.

It's not surprising tht Hatfield's rifles are both authentic loocking and of such high quality. Ted Hatfield, the firm's president and founder, comes from a muzzle-loading background. Besides being in avid black powder shooter himself, Ted's great great grandfather, Abel Hatfield, produced Kentucky longrifles in the 19th century! So you can see, a solid firearms background serves as a foundation for making quality muzzle-loaders.

In the past few years, I've seen several Hatfield rifles at various firearms industry trade shows and at the National Muzzle-Loading Rifle association's (N.M.L.R.A.) annual black powder championship shoots held at Friendship, Indiana, each year. I've been impressed with each one I've seen. However, in order for Guns & Ammo Magazine to get a better idea of the handsome design of these rifles and how well they perform, a couple of sample longrifles were sent to us for testing and evaluation. One rifle was what the Hatfield Rifle Works refers to as their Grade II rifle. The other was a custom gun, complete with all the trimmings! Briefly, the company offers three grades of rifles, plus a completely custom grade which can incorporate any feature or personal touch the customer may desire--including silver or gold inlays. The standard rifles, which all sport the same barrels, locks, sights and triggers, differ only in the quality of wood used for stocking. Grade I uses hand-rubbed American hard maple; Grade II comes with what the Hatfields call XX Fancy, curly or birdseye maple; Grade III utilizes hand-selected XX Fancy or better grade curly or birdseye maple--these rifles are stocked with the highest quality pieces of gunstock wood available.

G&A's Grade II rifle is a .32 caliber percussion arm with Hatfield's standard 39-1/2-inch barrel that has been slow-browned by an old formula. Its handsome, hand-rubbed curly maple stock measures a full 55 inches in length, with a 3-1/2-inch drop at the heel and a 13-3/4-inch trigger pull. It is made with a Tennessee-style cheeckpiece. The Ketland 1780-style lock is color case-hardened and is of the traditional leaf spring and fly variety. This lock, like all the other parts of Hatfield's rifles, is American made. It has been patterned from an original Ketland lock, which was a popular lock during the "Golden Age" of Kentucky rifles--1760-1840.

Triggers are of the double-set variety that must be set in order to fire the rifle. However, unlike some arms of this type, the piece can be cocked without setting the trigger. This Kentucky is equipped with a fixed buckhorn-style rear sight and a brass-based German silver blade-type front sight. The buttplate, ramrod thimbles and triggerguard are polished brass, although Hatfield also offers the rifle with browned-steel furniture.

The custom rifle (shown in our color page) is truly a thing of beauty. This longrifle is a .36 caliber Grade II custom model flintlock with a hand-rubbed, fancy curly maple stock. The stock and barrel dimensions are the same as the standard Grade II rifle, and the sights are the same style. Also like the standard model, this custom gun uses a Ketland-style color case-hardened lock. However, this rifle sports traditional floral and linear border carving, tastefully executed throughout the stock. There is also a brass oval, with an early American eagle engraved within, inland into its Tennessee cheekpiece. An engraved brass patchbox sets off the stock, giving this Kentucky a classic look. The brass nosecap, thimbles, sideplate, triggerguard and fancy buttplate wear just the right amount of embellishment to add elegance to this handsome replica. A silver squirrel, neatly inset into the top flat of the rifle's barrel, lends an added bit of beauty while serving to identify this muzzle-loader as a Hatfield Grade II custom rifle. Grade III custom guns are inlaid with a gold squirrel.

Incidentally, this custom rifle is the work of Dennis L. Pitts, Box 825, Dept. GA, Hayward, WI 54843, who does all of Hatfield's custom gun work. Like Ted Hatfield, Dennis is also personally involved with the muzzle-loading sport, and he has a deep appreciation and understanding of the early rifles he crafts. Of course, one look at the custom rifle sent to us for examination reveals its maker's strongly felt kinship with these historic firearms.

Of course, everybody likes a "pretty" gun, but it's performance that counts. And these Hatfield muzzle-loaders proved to be as reliable and accurate as their classic forebearers. Both G&A's Garry James and I tried our hands with these rifles at the Petersen Ranch. Each exhibited fine shooting qualities in "as received" condition--meaning that nothing was done to alter or adjust the sights to the individual shooter's eyes. The rifles were fired with the stock sights as received from Hatfield. With arms of this nature, the sight picture with a factory or gunsmith-installed sight often has to be improved by filing a wider notch in the rear sight or by reducing the height of the front sight. Also, drifting the sights to one side or another corrects any rifle that is shooting too far to the left or right.

However, both of these rifles shot well without any adjustments, and we were able to accurately determine the capabiltieis of each rifle. The .36 caliber flinter displayed an excellent lock time and, with a flint properly adjusted in the jaws of the cock, it regularly produced a healthy shower of sparks. After playing around with various loads and familiarizing myself with some casual plinking (at various distances with pleasing results), I settled on a 30-grain charge of FFFg black powder, topped with a .350 Speer swaged round ball and a .010-inch thick Ox-Yoke Originals "All Day" lubed patch. This loading produced a nice 1-inch, three-shot cluster (with two holes touching) at the 25-yard target, benchrested. The wind was blowing so hard at the Petersen Ranch, with gusts of 20-plus miles per hour moving in a left to right direction, that it was difficult to obtain the rifle's full potential at the 50-yard target. It did, however, shoot well enough--despite the gusting winds--that it showed it was capable of producing groups of a little over an inch at that distance. This is good shooting from a flintlock that has not been "tuned" to a given shooter.

Our .32 caliber percussion test gun did extremely well, even with the heavy winds. With a load of 35 grains of FFFg black powder, .310-sized cast lead balls and .010-inch thick Ox-Yoke's All Day patches, this sub-caliber rifle zapped five shots in just 7/8 inch in the black, at the 50-yard range! Its caplock ignition, which uses No. 11 caps, worked flawlessly each and every shot. The adjustable double-set triggers were set at a mere touch--probably around an ounce or so of pressure--and were a pleasure to use. By the way, both of these Hatfield weight in at about 8 pounds, and each one shouldered comfortably.

Each rifle was equiped with a removable, threaded "clean out" vent. The flinter's was located in the side of the barrel, by the flash pan, and the percussion rifle's ven was located on the side of the nipple drum. Thanks to Ox-Yoke Originals' specially lubed All Day patches, swabbing the bore between shots--as is usually necessary--was not required. Nonetheless, I did swab the bore several times in order to ensure that I was shooting from a fairly clean bore. At no time did we experience the slightest difficulty in ramming a charge home in either rifle. Those All Day patches sure do make a difference in shooting a frontloader!

Despite the gusting winds knocking those lightweight .32 and .36 caliber round balls around, both Garry and I were impressed with the accuracy potential of the Hatfield muzzle-loaders. We both enjoyed playing with them and certainly agreed, as did everyone on the Guns & Ammo staff, that Hatfield Rifle Works does know how to produce handsome and reliable old-timey rifles. If you like Kentucky rifles that not only look like the genuine article, but shoot as well as the old-timers did in their heyday, then Ted Hatfield and his company probably have just the gun for you. The rifles we tested were basically what have traditionally been known as squirrel hunting Kentuckies, and they sure would be dandies for just such a job. However, Hatfield can turn out a muzzle-loader in .45 or .50 caliber as well. They can also make half-stock rifles if your firearms interest runs in that vein.

A Grade I Hatfield is priced to retail for $295. Grade II versions sell for $395, and the Grade III will fetch $495. Their custom rifles start at $1,000 and can be as fancy as you like.

For more information on any of Hatfield's fine muzzle-loaders, I suggest you write or call them. They'll send you a free color brochure and will be glad to discuss any ideas you may have on a personalized Kentucky rifle. After all, what American home is complete without a classic Kentucky longrifle over the fireplace, and what could be better than one that you can enjoy shooting? Yup, Hatfield makes Kentucky rifles that look and perform...just like the real McCoys!
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Title Annotation:evaluation
Author:Spangenberger, Phil
Publication:Guns & Ammo
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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