Night Hawk Stories... Entry 1
Jerome Wilson's Tennessee Long Rifle
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jerome Wilson, a master machinist and one of the real craftsmen of our society, has built black-powder rifles since 1943. Wilson spends a huge amount of time in building a rifle and carefully pays attention to the quality he puts into whatever project he starts. Although Wilson doesn't sell his rifles, they stay in high demand because of the loving care and intricate woodwork and metalwork put in each one. He handcrafts all of his weapons and even makes his own screws and springs.
An avid shooter, Wilson loves building black-powder rifles, for himself and his wife, Mildred. His love for the sport has led him to build his own shooting range, where his club meets every other week to shoot black-powder rifles and compete in throwing tomahawks and knives. Wilson's passion doesn't stop with rifles. He also enjoys building cannons and any type of device that uses black powder and shoots a projectile.
ANSWER: Competitors use this rifle to shoot in "Over the Log" matches. The contestants get on the ground, and then put the barrel of the rifle over a log to shoot. A cross mark on a piece of paper makes the target, and the gunman shoots from 60 yards. If you can't hit a postage stamp each time you shoot from 60 yards, then you really don't need to enter the match. These rifles shoot accurately, and I have a lot of fun shooting them.
QUESTION: What part of building this rifle proved most difficult?
ANSWER: I had the hardest time building the stock of the Tennessee long rifle because I made it from curly maple. The gun barrel had a length of 60 inches; so, I had to make the stock about 74 to 76 inches long. You have a hard time working with curly maple because you have to use a file and sandpaper to make the barrel and trigger mechanisms fit in the stock. Oftentimes when you work with curly maple, you can't use a saw or a planer. Sometimes only files and sandpaper can give you the shape you want.
ANSWER: I didn't drill it. The late Hacker Martin of Tennessee drilled it for me. Martin was a famous gunsmith. He drilled the barrel with a brace and bit one turn at a time, just like his great-granddaddy did. When I checked the barrel after he had drilled it, the barrel was only 1/1000 of an inch off, from top to bottom. Martin was an amazing barrel driller.
QUESTION: What material makes up the side plate?
ANSWER: I made it out of sheet silver. I designed the side plate, cut the silver with a jeweler's saw and engraved it myself. I also cut the star on the side of the stock and inlaid it. I put the brass butt plate on and made the lock and hammer.
QUESTION: How long did it take you to build this gun?
ANSWER: I think I put about 380 hours of labor into building this gun.
QUESTION: What made you decide to build this gun?
ANSWER: I had a hard time passing biology under a particular professor at Clemson University. He would bring black-powder guns to school and polish them during class. As a member of the rifle team, I thought I could shoot pretty well. One day in class I asked him whether he could hit a stop sign at 50 yards with that old rifle, and he invited me to go out and shoot with him the following Saturday. He shot a Tennessee long rifle, and I shot a conventional rifle. When I saw how accurately that Tennessee long rifle shot, I knew I had to have one of them. So, I began to build one. I shot regularly with the professor, got an A in the course and made this rifle.
ANSWER: I load it with 3F black powder and .375 caliber lead ball.
Talk to Wilson about old rifles and how he handcrafts them by contacting him at 812 Water Street, Allendale, South Carolina 29810, or calling 803-584-3163.
Tomorrow: Wilson's Schuetzen Rifle