Among the wonders which have been accomplished in all lines of invention and manufacturing during the last 30 years, although some may have been more remarkable, certainly none have been more interesting to the enthusiastic sportsman than the evolution of the modern shotgun. All of the older members of the sportsmen's fraternity did their first shooting with the old double-barreled, muzzle-loading, cylinder bore, and doubtless thought it a perfect shotgun. In that comparatively short term of years they have watched step by step the introduction of the breech loader, the rise and fall of various grips and actions, have seen the pin fire give way to the center fire, and the cylinder bore to the choke, and lately have laid aside the hammer gun to take up the hammerless and the black powder for the nitro. In the endeavor to ascertain what constitutes a safe gun it may be well to consider the causes of various accidental discharges which may be laid to faulty construction of the gun.
Going back to the old muzzle loader we had a fruitful source of accident in the fact that after discharging one barrel, the shooter would neglect to lower the hammer on the second, which in various ways was accidentally discharged while reloading the first. With the introduction of the breech loader accidents of this kind were rendered impossible, but there still remained the most numerous class, those connected with the hammers to guard against. Accidents were frequently caused by carrying the hammers down on the firing pins (and there were some who foolishly insisted that this was the safe way to carry a gun) when if the gun was dropped or anything struck the back of the hammers, it was discharged almost as surely as though it were intentionally fired. The rebounding lock removed this danger and another step in the direction of safety was accomplished. There still remained the greatest danger, and that was the hammers catching on brush, clothing, or other objects, and drawn back so that when suddenly released the gun was discharged. This was more liable to occur when the hammers were down, or at half cock, than when full cocked, for the reason that in some guns the hammers would not raise far enough back of full cock to slip past the notch when released.
This fact was one reason advanced by that contingent who always carried a gun empty, or loaded and at full cock. Another was that it was easier and quicker to break the gun as a temporary safeguard, or even unload it, than to lower the two hammers separately, also avoiding the danger of a hammer slipping while lowering it, or getting onto the wrong trigger. The best point they advanced was that it always required one to be very careful with a loaded gun, as it was always cocked, maintaining that there was no real safety in half cock as one was apt to be very careless with a gun when halfcocked, believing it to be perfectly safe, and sometimes would think they had lowered the hammers when they had neglected to do so.
So it is evident that in the breech loading hammerless the sportsman has the safest gun he has ever handled, and the question now before him is which of the numerous makes now on the market is the safest, and therefore the gun he wants. Although always called hammerless, strictly speaking they are hammer guns with internal hammers, which are automatically cocked by opening the gun. With such guns an accidental discharge may take place in two ways, by the trigger being pulled unintentionally, or by the hammers being released through a break in the mechanism of the lock, or jarred off through rough handling, a blow, or a fall, or one hammer jarring off when the other barrel was fired. To prevent accidents of the first description the gun is usually provided with an automatic safety which blocks the triggers as soon as the hammers are cocked, so that they cannot be pulled until the safety is pushed up or off safe. Safeties are obviously the most important point in the make-up of the hammerless gun, and in selecting a gun should receive the first and most careful attention.
The common automatic trigger safety such as is described above caused great annoyance from the fact that at any time, and especially when firing rapidly, one was very apt to forget to push up the safety and lose his shot thereby, which brought down unlimited wrath on the safety that was altogether too safe. Some remedied this by removing the safety entirely, and soon the manufacturer endeavored to meet the demand by supplying a safety that was rendered independent, that is, thrown out of automatic action by the turning of a screw or a third notch in the safety slide. Here we had "confusion worse confounded," the shooter sometimes having his safety automatic and sometimes independent, and the more he changed it about the more confused he became. The chances were that someday he thought it was automatic and on safe when really it was independent, and the thing went off unexpectedly and perhaps someone got hurt. In the majority of cases the safety was soon turned into the independent notch and left there, defeating the object of the automatic safety, and in some guns rendering the safety entirely useless. When in the field and momentarily expecting a bird to rise, the gun must be carried cocked and the safety up, or the shooter stood no show. At such times the gun is carried in front at a "ready," and the only way the trigger could be accidentally pulled is by some object, such as a brush, entering the trigger guard. Whenever there is any danger of this, one will instinctively place his hand around the guard in such a way as to prevent it. When not expecting a shot, and still not wishing to unload the gun, the triggers may be blocked and released again quite as easily and quickly with an independent as with an automatic safety.
"While for years manufacturers had racked their brains for the best method of blocking the triggers, they had totally ignored the danger in the only other direction, that is, from jarring off. No gun had any protection in this respect until the introduction of the New Baker Hammerless. The makers of this gun had evidently watched the development of the hammerless very closely, and profiting by what experience had proved to be the mistakes of their competitors, overcame the difficulty by their ingenious automatic firing-pin safety. This automatically blocks the hammers so that they cannot fire the gun until the safeties are automatically' withdrawn by the act of pulling the triggers. No matter by what means or with what force the hammers might strike the firing-pin blocks, the gun cannot be discharged unless the triggers are pulled. Thus danger of accidental discharge is in one way absolutely prevented by automatically blocking the hammers, and when the triggers are also blocked by using the independent trigger safety, the gun is as safe as any gun will ever be with powder in it. In fact it seems impossible that it could be accidentally discharged. On account of the danger of jarring off, sportsmen have been afraid to order, and manufacturers did not like to put out guns with light trigger pull, a quality essential to good shooting with some and desired by many others.
As a matter of quicker or more convenient reference, the most prominent American arms are herewith presented under alphabetical arrangement. The reader can make comparisons and draw his own conclusions. The author refrains from an expression of opinion or endorsement of any special guns, cartridges, etc.; for that would be treading upon dangerous ground and possibly elicit protests and contradictions. However, under FARROW ARMS, the author's ideas are set forth at some length. His ideas as to requirements for the best military or sporting arms have been acquired by actual experience in the field in Oregon, Idaho and Montana, where for many years he commanded Indian scouts, served with his command through numerous Indian campaigns, and extensively hunted game of all varieties.
Farrow, Edward S. American Small Arms; a Veritable Encyclopedia of Knowledge for Sportsmen and Military Men. New York: Bradford, 1904. Print.
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