Author Topic: Feather holder on toe of rifle  (Read 1507 times)

Offline JamesT

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Feather holder on toe of rifle
« on: April 27, 2019, 04:54:15 AM »
I have been searching for documentation on the use of a feather in the toe of the stock for a vent pick.  I cant find anything that states that these were actually used in this manner other than modern reference.  It would make sense that was the purpose of these holes but who can share some proof of this? It seems to appear on southern arms exclusively but has anyone seen them on rifles from other areas?

Offline David R.

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #1 on: April 27, 2019, 05:01:34 AM »
I’m sure this was discussed before but I’v never been successful finding anything with a search. Seems like someone mentioned original rifles with feather remnants in them?
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Offline JamesT

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2019, 05:27:10 AM »
I'm sure it was as well. I used the search feature but could not find a previous thread. I dont doubt the use of this hole to stow away a feather but why not store it below the cheekpiece? Seems odd to have tbe feather protruding from the stock. Looking for evidence of this from rifles four d with a feather or writings of such. Thank you in advance.
James

Offline JamesT

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2019, 05:29:12 AM »
found not four d

Offline Sequatchie Rifle

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2019, 03:46:19 PM »
I checked some of my rifles and found remains of feathers in four of them.
« Last Edit: May 13, 2019, 01:23:54 PM by Sequatchie Rifle »
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Offline Notchy Bob

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #5 on: April 29, 2019, 05:54:12 AM »
I'm sorry I can't cite chapter and verse, but I have seen these "feather holes" and I read some about these in the past.  I think the first reference I saw was in an article by Harry Merklee in Muzzle Blasts, maybe in the mid to late sixties.  I believe he said blue jay feathers were preferred but I don't recall why.

In any event, while it may be splitting hairs, the feather was not used as a vent pick but as a vent plug, to keep powder from filling the vent and leaking out during loading.  I suspect a feather quill from a small bird would be ideal as a vent plug... Tapered on the end, nonabrasive, flexible, compressible, and readily available.  I'm sure the flintlock shooters in the crowd will agree that it's best to have the vent open, so the main charge detonates from the incandescent flash of the priming.  If the vent is full of powder, you essentially have a fuse, resulting in a slight hangfire. 

However, I've lately seen several references in old literature to "self priming" flintlocks.  Obviously, this refers to a vent large enough to leak powder from the main charge into the pan.  While it may surprise some of us modern folk, this was actually considered an advantage to some people in the military and on the frontier, because it eliminated the need to prime as a separate step in loading.  John Palliser specifically recommended a "self priming flintlock" for running buffalo, and Berkeley R Lewis mentioned it in his book about American military small arms.  I've seen a couple of other references I regrettably can't recall at the moment.  For both of these references, note that really accurate fire was not necessary.  Buffalo were shot from horseback at point blank range, and military muskets were fired in volleys.  Hangfires would not have been much of a problem.  I am aware that some of the old "manuals of arms" for military muskets called for tearing the paper cartridge open and priming and closing the pan before loading, but Lewis did mention self-priming flintlocks in the military context, so I mention it here.

I have a hypothesis that the ability of some flintlock guns to self-prime may be the reason the northern natives held on to their flintlock Northwest guns so far into the percussion era...  If a flintlock gun primes itself during loading, you don't have to handle percussion caps in freezing weather, with gloves on or with cold hands.  The other thing is a large vent is less likely to get clogged.  I have experienced a few misfires with percussion guns, attributed to a clog in that tiny flash hole in the base of the nipple.  I suspect I'm not alone in this respect.  I have found that a well-built flintlock, even with a plain, bored touch hole, is just as reliable as a percussion gun, provided the shooter takes the trouble to maintain it.

Anyway, getting back to the original topic, those very large vents we frequently see in original flintlock firearms may not necessarily be burned out.  They may have been made big for a reason.  If you close the pan and the vent leaks powder, you have a self priming flintlock, which saves a step in loading but may result in a hangfire.  If you don't want the pan primed during loading, either for safety or just to keep the vent clear, you plug the vent with a feather, which you pull out later and then prime the pan in the "conventional" way.   

Best regards,

Crooked River Bob
"Should have kept the old ways just as much as I could, and the tradition that guarded us.  Should have rode horses.  Kept dogs."

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Offline WElliott

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #6 on: April 29, 2019, 06:18:28 AM »
Excellent post, Notchy Bob.
Wayne Elliott

Offline JamesT

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #7 on: April 29, 2019, 11:26:26 PM »
Thanks for all the replies. Very interesting

Offline Tanselman

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #8 on: April 30, 2019, 12:29:50 AM »
I really enjoyed Notchy Bob's response. Every once in a while a small revelation is posted on this site, and this is one of those times. I've always thought it strange that most original vent picks were iron or steel pins, but the use of a feather quill has also been mentioned for years as a "vent pick." Those are two really different materials, one rigid and sharp on the end, the other softer, more prone to bending, and more rounded on the end.

I purchased an original flint longrifle out of Kentucky years ago with wire loops under the cheekpiece and the remnants of a "moth eaten" feather still in the loops. The feather had the full quill intact, but only bits of the vane or fluff remaining...which seemed left on the quill to hold it in the wire loops. The feather's quill was of smaller size, as previously suggested, from a moderate sized bird's wing. Now it finally makes sense...metal vent picks to dig out /clear flash holes, and softer feather quills to plug the flash hole when needed. Kind of neat when something long discussed is finally explained in a way that makes good sense. 
Shelby Gallien

Offline WadePatton

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #9 on: April 30, 2019, 12:49:28 AM »
I've seen a feather in an original.  But I don't recall where.  (fixed, see edit)

Not relevant really, but I use them because birds are messy and leave feathers all over the forest floor.  They are not durable, so you'll want some spares if you're considering adopting the habit.


edit: Here's an original: http://americanlongrifles.org/forum/index.php?topic=10720.0

I had to use "site specific search" to dig it out.
« Last Edit: April 30, 2019, 12:53:09 AM by WadePatton »
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Offline Longknife

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #10 on: April 30, 2019, 01:44:58 AM »
I've seen a feather in an original.  But I don't recall where.  (fixed, see edit)

Not relevant really, but I use them because birds are messy and leave feathers all over the forest floor.  They are not durable, so you'll want some spares if you're considering adopting the habit.


edit: Here's an original: http://americanlongrifles.org/forum/index.php?topic=10720.0

I had to use "site specific search" to dig it out.

Just be careful of the feathers you find on the forest floor for in my state many feathers  are illegal to possess!
Ed Hamberg

Offline Turtle

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #11 on: April 30, 2019, 02:40:33 PM »
 I also plug the vent anytime the gun is loaded but un primed. This is for safety and to keep moisture out of the charge.--they may have done the same.

Offline WadePatton

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #12 on: April 30, 2019, 04:36:21 PM »
I've seen a feather in an original.  But I don't recall where.  (fixed, see edit)

Not relevant really, but I use them because birds are messy and leave feathers all over the forest floor.  They are not durable, so you'll want some spares if you're considering adopting the habit.


edit: Here's an original: http://americanlongrifles.org/forum/index.php?topic=10720.0

I had to use "site specific search" to dig it out.

Just be careful of the feathers you find on the forest floor for in my state many feathers  are illegal to possess!

Yes this comes up each and every time this discussion happens. And when we start getting tickets, fines, or jail time for such possession I'll start fretting over it.  I've never had a game officer check my gun or my tackle ever in my life.  So I take my risks maybe.  I remove the DO NOT REMOVE tags too.   :P    We all take risks, and I'm not trying to make light of a wildlife reg, the point of which is to don't KILL the birds.  I don't kill the birds, they lose feathers naturally (sometimes even without death), and I don't introduce their remains into commerce. My scavenging has nothing to do with their presence on the planet. Of course we all have to do as we see fit and understanding risks is a good place to start.  Don't pick up feathers if you don't care for such exposure.

In TN one might legally use European (house) Sparrow or European Starling or Pigeon feathers (and a few others). Link: https://extension.tennessee.edu/publications/Documents/pb1624.pdf
« Last Edit: April 30, 2019, 04:49:43 PM by WadePatton »
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Offline mbriggs

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #13 on: April 30, 2019, 08:19:21 PM »
Here are a few Toe feather plugs found on North Carolina Longrifles.




David Kennedy Bear Creek School Rifle

 



Mecklenburg School Rifle signed L H





A second Mecklenburg School Rifle signed L H.

Michael
C. Michael Briggs

Offline Notchy Bob

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #14 on: May 06, 2019, 08:03:16 PM »
I have been searching for documentation on the use of a feather in the toe of the stock for a vent pick.  I cant find anything that states that these were actually used in this manner other than modern reference.  It would make sense that was the purpose of these holes but who can share some proof of this? It seems to appear on southern arms exclusively but has anyone seen them on rifles from other areas?

Well, here is the period reference, from An Essay on Shooting from 1789.  I wish I could take credit for this, but it was unearthed by Keith Burgess, of the Woodsrunner's Diary blog.  Here is the link:   Touch-Hole Feather.

I'll quote: " …whether the practice is to prime before or after loading the piece, it is highly proper, after every discharge, to prick the touch-hole, and what is still better, to guard against all remains of fuse or squib, to insert into the touch-hole the feather of a partridge's wing, which will not only clear it of these dangerous remains, but if the piece is delayed to be re-charged, will take away all humidity that may be contracted there."

The entire text of An Essay on Shooting is available online, for free, via HathiTrust.  Here's the link:  An Essay on Shooting

I did a little reading in this text, and was astonished at the amount of period-correct information for shooters.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
"Should have kept the old ways just as much as I could, and the tradition that guarded us.  Should have rode horses.  Kept dogs."

from The Antelope Wife

Offline JamesT

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #15 on: May 06, 2019, 08:50:59 PM »
Thanks for the link. Looking forward to reading it!
James

Offline Arnie Dowd

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #16 on: May 06, 2019, 11:52:19 PM »
Gentlemen -  something which has not been mentioned in this thread is that sometimes there are two holes perhaps an inch +/- apart  -  maybe an extra feather ? or ?  I checked and in my small group I have three iron-mnt'd, Southern rifles that have two holes simply drilled into the bottom of the stock, plus one which has a hole through a silver escutcheon and then a second hole approx 1" to the rear simply drilled into the stock.  Thanks to everyone for all the info and comments.  Arnie

Offline T*O*F

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #17 on: May 07, 2019, 12:46:59 AM »
Quote
Yes this comes up each and every time this discussion happens. And when we start getting tickets, fines, or jail time for such possession I'll start fretting over it.  I've never had a game officer check my gun or my tackle ever in my life.
Unlike many here, you are not a reenactor or rendezvouser.  I have been to several events where game wardens showed up looking for contraband items, including game animal hides not legal to take in a particular state unless proper documentation was had to prove their origin, eagle feathers which only native Americans can possess, and other such items.  These events occurred in IL, IN, and TN.  I know of one man who was arrested for having an undocumented wolf hide; and another who had turkey feathers so expertly dyed and painted to fool them.  He was released after they were tested.  I used to wear a found oriole feather in my hat, but removed it upon learning of the bird law.
Dave Kanger

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Offline kentuckyrifleman

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #18 on: May 16, 2019, 04:06:55 PM »
Unlike many here, you are not a reenactor or rendezvouser.  I have been to several events where game wardens showed up looking for contraband items, including game animal hides not legal to take in a particular state unless proper documentation was had to prove their origin, eagle feathers which only native Americans can possess, and other such items.  These events occurred in IL, IN, and TN.  I know of one man who was arrested for having an undocumented wolf hide; and another who had turkey feathers so expertly dyed and painted to fool them.  He was released after they were tested.  I used to wear a found oriole feather in my hat, but removed it upon learning of the bird law.

 :o

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Offline Bob McBride

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #19 on: May 16, 2019, 06:19:56 PM »
Unlike many here, you are not a reenactor or rendezvouser.  I have been to several events where game wardens showed up looking for contraband items, including game animal hides not legal to take in a particular state unless proper documentation was had to prove their origin, eagle feathers which only native Americans can possess, and other such items.  These events occurred in IL, IN, and TN.  I know of one man who was arrested for having an undocumented wolf hide; and another who had turkey feathers so expertly dyed and painted to fool them.  He was released after they were tested.  I used to wear a found oriole feather in my hat, but removed it upon learning of the bird law.

 :o

The Founders are spinning in their graves.

Amen to that.
-Bob

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Offline Majorjoel

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #20 on: May 16, 2019, 09:09:34 PM »
I have owned a few Pennsylvania made flintlock longrifles that had these holes and believe they were constructed to hold a metal vent pick with a small finger handle on them.  Most of these original picks have been lost  over time.   There are a few very rare examples out there that still hold on to their picks.

As for feathers, it is kind of one of those "nature always provides" scenario's where like finding rocks that can make sparks, kept frontiersmen in fresh game and alive in hostile places. 
Joel Hall

Offline WadePatton

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Re: Feather holder on toe of rifle
« Reply #21 on: May 16, 2019, 11:33:49 PM »
Thanks for the info Dave.

I'll remember that if I ever go to a big event. Possession is 9/10 of the law.

from the link to the Southern gun I posted above:





« Last Edit: May 16, 2019, 11:37:10 PM by WadePatton »
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