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    "The Leading Trap Gun of America" Archived Message

    Posted by Harvey McMurchy on October 31, 2014, 8:09 pm

    By 'Crocus' April 7, 1888 American Field
    “Mr. Harker shot his Parker,
    Gaucho used his Scott,
    But a neighbor with his L.C. Smith
    Came in and raked the pot.”

    “The Sportsman's Directory and Year Book”

    It would be difficult to confirm that claim made in 1893. Sporting Life did not begin to provide detailed reports of shoots, including the competitors with the guns, shells and powder they used, until 1895. It is very likely the majority of guns were of British make until the McKinley Tariff 1890. The Tariff set the average ad valorem rate for imports into the United States at 48.4%. “Sporting, breech-loading double-barrel shotguns” had a 35% ad valorem PLUS an import duty of $1.50 if priced less than $6; $4 if $6-$12; and $6 if priced more than $12.

    The Tariff contributed to the “Panic of 1893” in which 500 banks closed, more than 15,000 businesses went bankrupt, and the Philadelphia and Reading, Northern Pacific, Union Pacific, and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroads failed. An estimated 18% of the workforce was unemployed at the Panic's peak, especially in the west and in farm states as the price of wheat and cotton fell. A series of strikes followed in 1894, the worse being the Bituminous Coal Miners’ and Pullman strikes. The U.S. economy, and U.S. gunmakers, did not begin to recover until 1896.

    In 1895, Will K. Park, gun editor for Sporting Life began to aggressively promote American makers’ guns in a series of editorials.

    February 16, 1895 Sporting Life (spelling is as published):
    “During the past three years on visits to such sporting clubs as Larchmont, Carteret, Tuxedo and Riverton, we have noted the peculiar fact that out of 20 or 30 guns on the grounds at one time there will possibly be one gun of American manufacture. All the others are “Crown Grade Grenier's,” “Premier Quality Scott's,” “Purdy's” and other foreign makes.”
    “The remarkable state of affairs, which is not creditable to American manufacturers, would indicate that there is something lacking on their part. We know that men with “hobbies” are willing to spend much money to gratify their “hobby;” but we are not willing to concede, if only from a patriotic sense, that American manufacturers are unable to satisfy their countrymen's “hobby” in guns.”

    Indeed, as reported in the March 16, 1895 issue of Sporting Life, 13 of the 15 competitors in the Riverton Handicap of March 8 used a British shotgun:
    “It may be interesting to some to note the guns and loads used, and we give it below. It was a lamentable fact that of the 15 guns used only one American make was represented. This was a special pigeon gun of the Parker Brothers' manufacture, and was a beautiful weapon in every way, and was owned by Mr. Post, whose score of 93 on a hard lot of birds did not show that the shooting power was lacking.”
    “All the guns were 12 gauge, and it was noticeable that not a full pistol-grip stock was among the number, and most of them were the straight-grip "pigeon gun" model, nine being of this description, and six of the half-grip style.”
    The make of guns used:
    Capt. A.W. Money - Greener, George Work - Purdy, Post - Parker pigeon gun, Jim Jones - Scott, John B. Ellison - Scott, Fred Moore - Purdey, Leonard - Westly Richards, Mott - Crown grade Greener, J.S. Robbins - Greener hammer gun, R. Welch - Purdey hammer gun, Downing - Scott, J.K. Palmer – Francotte, Edwards - Scott Premier, J. Wolstencroft - Greener, and Eckert - Scott Premier.

    By the middle of 1895, U.S. makers’ guns were being used more than British guns, and at the head of the parade was Hunter Arms Company’s L.C. Smith.

    1895 (3rd) Grand American Handicap at Live Birds in April, won by J.G. Messner using a Parker. The guns used were: Greener – 17, Smith – 11, Parker – 6, Francotte – 7, Scott – 3, Lefever, Purdey, and Winchester repeater – 2 each.

    About half the guns used at the ”First DuPont Grand Smokeless Championship Handicap Live-bird Tournament” October 1895, were American made. Fred Gilbert (L.C. Smith) and Charles “Hayward” Macalester (Purdey) tied at 25; Gilbert won the shoot-off 5/5 to 4/5. Charles Wagner (Parker), E.B. Coe (Smith), Capt. John L. Brewer (Greener), and A.H. King (Scott Monte Carlo) tied at 24; Wagner won the shoot-off taking 3rd place.
    Guns used: Smith – 13, Parker – 8, Greener – 11, Lefever – 6, Francotte – 4, Scott – 3, Remington – 3, Colt, Grant, Boss, and Purdey – 1 each.

    March 1896 Grand American Handicap at Live Birds:
    “O.R. Dickey, of Boston. Mass., winner used a very handsome Parker Bros, hammerless gun, of the pigeon model, and his load consisted of 50 grains, or about 3 1/2 drams by measure, of American ‘E.C.’ powder, 1 trap wad, one 3/8 inch pink felt, one 1/4-inch pink edge, and 1 1/8 ounce of No. 7 chilled shot in the United States Cartridge Co.'s "Rapid" shells, 2 3/4 inches in length.”
    Guns: Smith – 23, Greener – 21, Parker – 16, Francotte –10, Lefever – 7, Scott – 4, and Winchester – 4; Remington, Purdey, and Colts – 2 each; Lang, Hollenbeck, Westley Richards, Grant, and Lancaster –1 each. In all there were fifteen different makes of guns represented, and just over half were of American made.

    “E.C.” Powder Co. Tournament May 1896: The match consisted of 100 targets, unknown angles, from known traps; 100 targets, unknown traps and known angles (commonly called “expert rules”); and 50 pair of doubles. Fred Gilbert won using a Smith; J.A.R. Elliott was 2nd using a Winchester 1893 and E.D. Fulford 3rd with a Greener.
    Guns: Smith – 42, Parker – 32, and Winchester repeaters –16.

    The promotion and popularity of Smith guns at the traps seems to have paid off for Hunter Arms.

    August 22, 1896 Sporting Life:
    “The Hunter Arms Company, of Fulton, N.Y., is having a good trade in high priced guns, notwithstanding the dullness of times. The high grade ejector made by this company seems to meet with favor among sportsmen who desire a good gun, and they are getting a trade in this line that once went to England. The Hunters report that they are making more high priced guns than ever before.”

    November 14, 1896 Sporting Life:
    “The Hunter Arms Company, of Fulton, N.Y., perhaps enjoyed the best trade of any American gun makers during the past two or three years. The gun which they make—the “L.C. Smith”—is the most popular of any gun made in America, and having the right men back of it, held it to the front, and despite the hard times have run their factory with a full force of men, and on full time. This, we believe, is more than any other company can say, and it speaks volumes in favor of the L.C. Smith gun.”
    “The trade in high-priced foreign guns has suffered considerable in the last two or three years, as the class of men who formerly bought imported guns and paid a big price for them, found that an American gun costing one-half the money gave just as much service and shot just as hard and close as the imported weapon. The foreign gun showed a fine finish of parts, balanced nicely and shot well, but the cost was always a bar to the average sportsman purchasing one, as few men who are obliged to work for a living feel like putting $300 or more into a gun with the present condition of times.”

    The pinnacle of Smith success occurred at the 1902 (Last) Grand American Handicap at Live Birds in Kansas City, as reported in Sporting Life.
    “This was the first time Harvey McMurchy, of the Hunter Arms Co. ever participated in a Grand American Handicap. He said it was about time the L. C. Smith gun won this event, even if he had to do it, himself. He come all the way from California just to shoot in the race, and brought Phil Bekeart with him; to help win the prize. Both fell down, but "Mac" did not mind it when Hirschy, Spencer and Heikes won in one, two, three order, all using L. C. Smith guns.”
    “With the record-breaking score of 78 straight kills, Mr. H.C. Hirschy, of Minneapolis, Minn., shooting Winchester Factory Loaded Shells, won the Grand American Handicap at Live Birds for 1902, the first prize of $688 and a valuable silver trophy. During the tournament Mr. Hirschy shot at 102 birds, shooting through the entire week without a miss, a record never before equaled in this great shoot. He killed 12 straight in the sweep on Monday, 12 more on Tuesday, 8 straight in the G.A.H. on Wednesday, 8 on Thursday, and on Friday 9 more, completing the 25 straight. Then 10 more in the tie the same day, and on Saturday he finished 43 straight to win making a total of 102 straight.
    He used an L.C. Smith gun, 3 1/4 drams Hazard smokeless, 1 1/4 ounces No. 7 chilled shot in Winchester factory-loaded Pigeon shells.”
    “Rolla Heikes, of Dayton, O., winner of third place, had a host of friends who were rooting for him for all they were worth. Rolla started poorly on Monday and Tuesday, but settled himself on Wednesday and went straight. No one in the tie killed better birds than did Rolla, and two of his kills were wonders. His twenty-eighth in the tie was one of the finest kills made on the grounds, a fast rising outgoer which required the greatest judgment to cover and it fell dead nearly to the outer boundary. This shot brought continued applause from the hundreds who saw it. Rolla killed several of the kind of birds which had driven less skillful men to the mourners bench. He was using a L.C. Smith gun, 3 1/4 drams E.C. powder, 1 1/4 oz. No. 7 chilled shot in U.M.C. Arrow shells.”
    “The choice of guns shows 390 of the American product, of which fifteen different makes were given. The imported weapons number 62 and there were fourteen different makers represented in the lot. This is a great victory for the American gun manufacturers, as the percentage of guns used is very much in their favor. Last year there were 56 imported guns, with 200 shooters, or 28 per cent. This year there were only six more foreign guns, a total of 62 in a field of 456 shooters, or 13 per cent. The total number of foreign guns was about equaled by the number of Winchester repeating guns used.”
    Guns: Smith – 114, Parker – 105, Winchester – 61, Lefever – 21, Remington – 2, Ithaca – 4, Stannard and Syracuse – 3 each, Colt – 2; Baker, Montgomery Ward, Young, Baltimore – 1 each.

    Hunter Arms continued the "Buy American" theme into the early 1900s catalogs:
    Appreciating that many good Americans purchase foreign guns and pay high prices for them because they have been unable to secure the desired class of workmanship in this country, we have organized in our factory the most elaborate and complete system for the finest work that could be found the “round world round.” Believing most thoroughly in the great superiority of American mechanics, American machinery and American system, we have here gathered the most experienced in each department. The factor of expense has been entirely ignored in the reorganization of our present system, so we can now offer a product the result of years of experience both as to workmanship and inventive genius. Having chosen the best as to material and workmanship, we are satisfied that the sphere of influence of the L.C. Smith will extend more and more among the purchasers of a strictly high-grade gun.
    Desiring to meet every legitimate demand of the up-to-date sportsman we have broadened our policy until we make more grades of guns than any manufacturer in America.
    Trusting you will be willing to place your confidence in a strictly American system, made perfect by the most careful study of the needs of the present day sportsman, we remain
    Yours very truly, THE HUNTER ARMS COMPANY

    After 1900 however, trap shooters were increasingly shifting from double to single barrel guns; especially the Winchester Model 97 (with which Charles Spencer ran 563 straight 16 yard targets in 1909) and Model 12, Remington Pump (used by W.E. Phillips to win the 1912 Grand American Handicap and Jay Graham to take Gold at the 1912 Olympic games), Remington Autoloading Shotgun (used by Jeff Blanks to win the 1907 GAH and Fred Harlow the 1908 GAH). Francotte (imported by Von Lengerke & Detmold) and Greener Single Barrel Trap guns had been introduced in 1895, and in 1912 Schoverling, Daly and Gales began to market the Charles Daly SBT. Hunter Arms produced their own Single Barrel Trap in 1917 to compete with the Lefever (introduced in 1905), Baker (1909), Parker, and Ithaca guns.

    F.E. Rogers won the 1906 and Harvey Dixon the 1911 Grand American Handicaps with Smith doubles. Bart Lewis, Mark Arie, and Frank Troeh won Doubles Championships with Smiths, but most of Arie’s money was won with a Marlin Model 28 pump, and Troeh’s with a Winchester Model 12. The era of domination by double guns at the traps was ending, but from 1895 until about 1905, there were no more popular guns among the “Top Guns” than Smith guns.

    More information

    Top Guns at the Traps

    Harvey McMurchy, Hunter Arms & the L.C. Smith Pigeon Gun

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