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Author: Mark Nelsen
It’s no wonder that the Traditional Hawken is Cabela’s best-selling muzzleloader rifle: The design is true in detail to its namesake, with a few exceptions, and both flintlock and percussion models are available, as well as left-hand models for southpaw shooters
Years ago, when I decided to get into muzzleloading, the options were simple - choose a flintlock or a sidelock percussion gun. For me, the choice was a simple one. I wanted the reliability and ease of a percussion gun. Don’t get me wrong - I love shooting flinters, and I have great respect for those dedicated buckskinners who take their pan-and-frizzen shooters to the field each year to harvest a deer. But for me, I wanted to start with a percussion gun.
With Christmas coming, I dropped plenty of hints to my now wife, then fiancé, about which gun would make a great gift. To my surprise, she was listening and Christmas Day found me fondling my new Cabela’s Traditional Hawken. It’s a classic gun that took me immediately back to the 1830s, when adventurous men roamed the West in search of beaver pelts. Of course, I knew the original St. Louis Hawkens were flintlocks and that mountain men of the fur-trading era preferred flintlocks to the percussion guns, but holding that fine rifle made me feel like I was standing in Jacob and Samuel Hawken’s shop in old St. Louis.
It’s no wonder that the Traditional Hawken is Cabela’s best-selling muzzleloader rifle: The design is true in detail to its namesake, with a few exceptions, and both flintlock and percussion models are available, as well as left-hand models for southpaw shooters.
Heft any model of this rifle and you can feel the weight of quality craftsmanship. At about nine pounds, this is no wimpy muzzleloader. The 29" octagon barrel blends beautifully with the walnut stock. The lines on this firearm are very clean and functional and should suit even the most discriminating black-powder enthusiast. The buttplate, patchbox, trigger guard, latch pin, forend cap, ferrules and ramrod fitting are all polished brass, which gives the gun a very expensive and handsome look.
About the only thing on this Hawken that gives away its true age is that instead of old-style buckhorn rear sights, (which require you to actually file the sight to make rather permanent adjustments), the Cabela’s Hawken includes an adjustable rear sight and dovetailed front blade. The adjustable sights make this Hawken ideal for target shooters and hunters. And if you like, there are even high-tech fiber-optic sights available as an after-market add-on. With some trepidation I made this change a few years ago, adding a rear fiber-optic adjustable ramp sight and a fiber-optic front blade. My older eyes appreciate this change, but it was hard to pull off the old sights after so many years of having them set just perfect for big-game hunting.
I’ve found the Hawken to be a great meat maker. Like so many of the mountain men of the 19th century did, I’ve nicknamed my shootin’ iron - "Centerpunch". "Good ’n’ Plenty"; "Old Reliable," these are just a couple of the names you might hear reading through the journal of a mountain men or attending a modern-day rendezvous.
It doesn’t take long to work up a field load for the Hawken either. What I like about the 1"-in-48" rate of twist that comes standard in both the .50 and .54 caliber, is that you can shoot patched roundballs or conicals with equal success.
I now have three Hawkens, one in .50, .54 and .58 caliber (the .58 caliber is no longer available). All of these guns are fine shooters. I use the .50 mostly for shooting patched roundballs and range work. I use the .54 and .58 exclusively for hunting. While both guns shoot roundballs and conicals with great precision, you might need to adjust powder charges for optimum performance. As an example, I shoot 120 grains of loose black powder, Pyrodex, Clean Shot or Clear Shot in my .58 when using patched roundballs. I use Hornady .570 diameter roundballs with pre-lubed Wonder Wad patches. When I switch to a conical out of the gun, most often a 525-grain, .58 caliber Hornady Great Plains bullet, I have to back down the powder charge to about 95 grains for consistent patterns. But by using these two distinct loads, I never have to change my sights or my hold. The gun simply shoots in the same place with each load.
My hunting experience has been varied with these guns, but one thing is constant - these rifles put meat on the table! I shot my first deer the season after my Christmas Hawken arrived. At that time, my state didn’t even have a special muzzleloader season, so I hunted with the smokepole during the regular firearm season. I took a fat doe at 45 yards with a patched roundball, and the load, ball and gun performed flawlessly. I was hooked, and I still am today.
Since that first hunt I’ve used the Hawken(s) for pronghorn and elk as well as other deer. I was most impressed with the way the .58 caliber Hawken performed on my first blackpowder elk hunt. Using my standard conical load, I had a quartering away shot at a decent 5x5 bull on opening day of the muzzleloader season. We’d called that bull out of a wallow, across an open meadow. I knew the bull was at my extreme distance for a comfortable and reliable shot, but I also trusted my Hawken. The bull was 113 steps away when I shot. He was 173 steps from where I took the shot moments before, when I knelt down to touch his wallow-soaked mane and admire his antlers.
I’ve added a few touches to my Hawken, which is something you may or may not want to do. I replaced the factory nipples with the aftermarket "hot" nipples that are available. I like their performance with all types of caps, and I’ve never had any problems with hangfires or misfires. And then there’s the decorative tack work I added to the stock - just to help take me back to the days of Jim Bridger and the annual trapper’s rendezvous.
If you’re looking for a new challenge, looking to extend your hunting season or if you want to get into the world of rendezvousing, the Cabela’s Hawken is an affordable, reliable choice that’s sure to give you years of memories.
Click here for more information on the Cabela’s Traditional Hawken.