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Cabela's Hawken Black-Powder Carbine at Cabela's

Cabela's Hawken Black-Powder Carbine

Author: Dan Carlson

During the last muzzleloader deer season, I left my Optima in-line muzzleloader rifle in the gun safe and went out with my new sporterized Cabela's Hawken .50-caliber caplock carbine. It's not that I don't enjoy hunting and shooting with inlines, nor do I have any problem with those who do. It's just that I've determined that I enjoy the more primitive experience of using antiquated technology to try and bring some venison home.

Cabela's Hawken Black-Powder Carbine
My Cabela's Hawken Carbine was made in Italy by Investarm. The compact rifle measures 45.5" long with a 28" barrel and weighs in at about 8 lbs. loaded. It's very much like the Hawken rifles coveted by mountain men and professional hunters in the 1800s operationally, but there are a few added modern conveniences. Mine has a rubber recoil pad, sling swivels and a rear sight that's adjustable for windage and elevation.

Cabela's Hawken Black-Powder Carbine
You'll often hear about "rate of twist" when discussing the barrel of a muzzleloader. Older flintlock Pennsylvania and Kentucky rifles were often produced in smaller calibers ranging from .32 to .45, and they shot patched round balls more accurately than the smoothbore muskets the British used during America's War of Independence. As settlers pushed further west and larger game was encountered, the .50-caliber ball became a "mid-sized" projectile with bores widening even more until the centerfire cartridge came along. If you're considering joining the ranks of us "front stuffers," you'll want a muzzleloader with a rate of twist to match what you'll be shooting. The 1-in-66 or 1-in-60 rate-of-twist rifles are best suited for shooting patched round balls up to .50 caliber, but really do best with .36- and .45-caliber balls. Keep in mind that a .45-caliber projectile is considered the minimum for harvesting big game in many states, though small-game hunting with a .36-caliber flintlock can be a lot of fun. Faster rates of twist are desired for heavier conical lead projectiles and modern sabot-equipped bullets. My Hawken has a 1-in-48 twist and does well with .50-caliber conical lead TC Maxiballs, though I could shoot patched lead balls with it if I wanted to. A fast 1-in-28 rate of twist would be desired for shooting modern sabots and longer projectiles.

Cabela's Hawken Black-Powder Carbine
When I go muzzleloader hunting I carry three speed loaders. These are small plastic cylinders pre-loaded with a pre-measured amount of powder and a projectile. They eliminate a few steps in the reloading process so that if I'm organized, I can get off a second well-aimed shot in just under a minute by the time I pour the powder, seat the bullet with the included ramrod and cap the nipple with a No. 11 cap, steady my aim on shooting sticks and fire. It's amazing to think of mountain men taking on grizzlies, moose, bison, mountain lions or other dangerous animals when there's that much time between shots, but I'll wager they had systems of their own for faster reloading.
My Hawken is reasonably accurate for a traditional muzzleloader and I'd have no problem using it on deer, elk or antelope out to 100 yards. Putting pre-lubed lead conical bullets into a six-inch circle at 100 yards while shooting off sticks was fairly easy. Like any firearm, it takes practice and getting used to, but once you're dialed in, things fall into place nicely. Unfortunately, by the time I got sighted in and the weather cooperated this last season, there were no deer to be found on the land I had permission to hunt. I'm glad I had one advantage that the mountain men didn't. I was 10 minutes from a small-town restaurant when my hunt was over, whereas no game meant no meal 140 years ago.
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