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Shooting A Vintage Ketland Fintlock

posted Dec 10, 2011, 3:07 PM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Dec 11, 2011, 5:52 AM ]
Like many muzzle loaders, I periodically get the itch to shoot a flintlock.  Most of the muzzleloading shot-gunners who participate in NMLRA events either currently have, or once had, a flintlock shotgun.  However, the vast majority of the group shoot their flintlock gun sparingly, if at all.  For many, the flintlock shotgun is a source of endless misfires, flashes in the pan, and hang-fires.  However, for a lucky few, the flintlock gun is a beautiful instrument, which rarely misfires and has a lock time which rivals that of a percussion gun.  I my mind, I was convinced that I would have one of those super reliable flintlocks.

    For me, finding the right flintlock shotgun was not an easy task.  The only current source of new flintlock side by side guns is Middlesex Village Trading Company. These guns are Indian imports and are of a relatively modest price.  While I have not personally shot one of their guns, I do not believe that the Middlesex Valley gun would be the supper reliable flintlock that I was looking for.  On the other side of the price spectrum, there are a number of high quality gun builders who current produce single barrel fowling guns.   For example, Jim Chambers produces a number of different "fowling" guns.  Guns by these well known makers tend to be expensive, but they have a well deserved reputation for quality and reliability.  If you want a sxs flintlock, you are going to have to go to a truly custom gunsmith. 

While several well known makers of flintlock guns are producing single barrel "fowling guns", I am not found of styling

of most of the available fowling guns.  For example, Jim Chambers makes what he calls the English Fowler/Officers Fusil which is representative of the period of 1750 through 1770.   The Chambers' English Fowler is pictured to the left.  This is typical of most makers fowling guns which are historically accurate for the Revolutionary War period.  Fowling guns from this time period tend to have long heavy barrels, full stocks and low combs.  For example the Jim Chambers' English Fowler has a 41 inch barrel.  I have no problem with the historical accuracy of theses guns.  On the other hand, a 41 inch barrel does not make the gun particularly well suited for a round of skeet. I have shot similar guns at various shoots, and personally I think that the traditional Fowler from the Revolutionary War period handles like a fence post.  

A couple of years ago, I happened across a picture of two prototype Manton style flintlock sporting guns made by Doc White of White Muzzleloading.  Doc White had built two similar guns a number of years ago. The first gun was a 12 gauge Fowler with interchangeable chokes. The second gun was a 54 caliber, 1-66 twist rifle for shooting round balls. Doc described the guns as being modeled in the tradition of the classic English half stock sporting guns of the early 1800's with Manton breeches and fast firing quality locks.  I immediately knew that this was the style of flintlock which I was looking for. A picture of one of the Manton prototypes is pictured below/

Over the last couple of years have been accumulating parts for the flintlock gun which I planned to model on the Doc White's Manton prototypes.   However, before I got around to starting work on the flintlock, a vintage gun on an auction site caught my eye.  The auction was for an original Ketland 20 gauge late style English sporting flintlock   The gun was almost exactly what I had in mind for my flintlock.  It had a half stock with a late style waterproof lock.  The lock was engraved with the name Ketland & Co.  The only major flaw was that a piece of stock was missing near the nose cap.   I turned out to be the only bidder on the gun. I might have overpaid, but I really liked this gun.

One of the things that attracted my interest was the fact that the gun was engraved with the name "Ketland."  The Ketland is a name is closely associated with English flintlock guns and locks which were imported into North America.

From the mid-1700's through the mid-1800's, three generations of the Ketland family were heavily involved in the North American gun trade.   The Ketland gun-making dynasty as started by Thomas Ketland who lived from around 1740 to 1816.  . Thomas Ketland was a Birmingham, England gun maker and is known as one of the first craftsmen to produce really fine, high-quality firearms.  However, the Ketland name is not associated with North American gun market because of the craftsmanship of the senior Mr. Ketland. Instead, the Ketland name is generally recognized due to the large number Ketland branded guns and locks which were imported to this side of the Atlantic.

As was typical of Birmingham "Gun-makers of the time, Ketland did not usually manufacture the parts for their guns or even assemble them.  Instead, parts were manufactured by independent specialist sub-contractors and assembled by "fabricators" or "setters-up". The "makers" role in the process was limited to the commissioning and marketing the completed guns.   The Ketland firm began trading oversea around 1790.    Following the death of the elder Thomas Ketland, the Ketland firm operated under several names over the years; including Ketland & Walker and Ketland, Walker & Adams.. The company continued in business until 1831 when it filed bankruptcy. 

The Ketland guns which were imported into North America were generally of lower quality than what would be sold in Great Britain.  Guns for the North American market were generally very plain with the name Ketland stamped into the lock.   Ketland did commission some guns for the British market.  However, hunting and wing-shooting in England during this period of time was a sport generally reserved for upper class.  Consequently, the market for shotguns was more limited and the potential customers generally had the means to purchase a quality guns.  During the early 1800's, guns manufactured in Birmingham were not particularly well regarded among the London sportsmen.  As following quote from Peter Hawker indicates, most of the guns and parts coming from Birmingham where not considered of high quality.  

Many wiseacre abuse all the heads of the trade [the London Gun Trade], and swear, that they can always get the best of guns, at a quarter of the price, from Birmingham! This may be, provided a person has such interest there as to get picked workman for the whole process of his order; but, in general, the immense business carried on at this place is for the wholesale line, and only requires to be in the rough; from which circumstance, the workmen are not so much in the habit of finishing, as those employed daily for that purpose.

Instructions to Young Sportsman by Col. Peter Hawker (
Second Edition 1816).

As noted above, guns and locks intended for the North American market were very plain with little or no engraving, and the makers stamped on the lock. Guns intended for the British market would generally have some level of engraving, and the Ketland name would definitely be engraved rather than stamped,  My Ketland was engraved, which meant that it was probably intended for the British market.  While the gun would have more ornamentation than its American cousin, it would not have been considered a high grade gun by London standards.

A couple of weeks after the auction ended, my newly purchased Ketland flintlock arrived in the mail.  The lock functioned correctly and the entire gun appeared to be mostly sound.  Other than a small crack in the stock around the lock

and a missing sliver of wood near the nose cap, there were no visible defects in the barrel and the bore cleaned up very nicely.   The proof marks on the bottom of the barrel are pictured to the left.  Based on what I have found on the web, these appear to be the private proof marks of Thomas Ketland of St Catherine St, Weaman Row, Birmingham which were used from 1766 to 1810. However, I am far from an expert on English proof marks.

Compared to a modern lock, the mainspring on the original Ketland lock was weak.  In addition, even with the flint mounted in the bevel up poison, the flint struck in the bottom quarter of the frizzen.   Conventional wisdom would suggest that this lock would not be a good sparker.   After double checking to make sure that the gun was unloaded, I mounted a Ricard Pierce "Missouri Long Trek Flint" in the jaws of the hammer.   Theses flints are hand knapped from Burlington chert (a flint like stone found in the Missouri area) by Richard Pierce. Conventional wisdom not with standing, the original Ketland lock sparked quite well with white Missouri chert.  Next,  I put a few grains of priming powder in the pan and gave it try.   The lock ignited the priming charge five times in a row.  

The next step was to actually fire the old gun.   When I checked the wad sizes I discovered that the bore is a little larger than a twenty gauge.  Consequently, I had to wait another week until a supply of 18 gauge wads arrived in the mail.  In the interim, I gave the lock a good cleaning and lubrication. I also polished the lock pan to remove the built up residue. Since the lock seemed to sparking well, I did not touch the frizzen.

 My first shot was fired without any shot (just 42 grains of reenactor powder and an over the powder wad). A careful examination of gun showed no damage, so I decided to shoot some test patterns.  I was taking it easy on the old gun with a 5/8 ounce load of shot with an equal volume of reenactor powder (42 grains). Here are my test patterns:

 Shot: 1
10" dia:.12
total: 172
 Shot: 2
10" dia:.91
 Shot: 3
10" dia:.122
 Shot: 4
10" dia:.78
 Shot: 5
10" dia:.84
 Shot: 6
10" dia:.130
 Shot: 7
10" dia:.153
 Shot: 8

As can be seen from the pattern, the first shot produced a classic doughnut hole pattern.  I was a little concerned until I took the second shot, which produced a nicely distributed pattern.  The first pattern appears to have been a result of the fact that the gun had probably not been fired for close to 100 years.

Here are the averages from Shots 2 through 8.  I excluded shot number one since it was not representative of the other patterns.

Overall the vintage gun preformed quite well.  There were a number of times the priming charge failed to ignite the main charge.  However, the old lock ignited the priming charge every time but two.  With a little work, this old gun should be a reliable shooter and a lot of fun.