|March - April 2004
Volume 36, Number
The Tikka Model T-3 Hunter .25-06 Remington features a Burris 6x Fullfield scope with Tikka rings and bases. Photo by Stan Trzoniec.
We are now in a rare realm, a place
where the gunmakers name is not a household one and where the quality of his work
surpasses even the most famous. George Daw of Threadneedle Street, London, established his
business in 1780, and by 1889 his illustrious company was gone.
Mr. Daw invented and
made many wonderful things. Generally, as were many of Britains finest, Daw tended
to be known for double-barrel arms, but to my delight, he also made single shots and
single-shot rifles at that!
There are two sides to
fine arms, the wood and steel themselves and the people. The world of fine British
sporting arms is populated by some wonderful people, who, combined with the arms, can add
up to memorable adventures and stories. My Daw is the product of one of them.
Imagine walking down
the isle of a very large antique arms exhibition and looking up to see a fellow clearly
blocking your passage and he has his arms folded with a very devious smile on his
face. That in itself was okay, but when he said, Do you want to see it first, or
just write the check? Of course, if you look first, it costs more and you will buy
it. Good grief, Charlie Brown! I was trapped like a rat in a rain barrel. Sometimes
it is a very bad, or perhaps a very good, thing to have fine-arms dealers know your taste
too well. I had no idea what it might be and certainly would have not predicted what it
was in a thousand guesses. So I, with the glee and anticipation of many Christmases, wrote
As the rifle began to
slither out of the slip case, the good fortune in my blind plunge was instantly apparent.
First, I had never seen anything like it (nor have I seen anything like it in the
following 20 years)! The wood was well beyond what you normally see on sporting rifles of
that period; it was a screaming piece of Circassian walnut. Beyond the wood came the
deep-brown, gorgeous, heavy, Damascus, octagonal barrel. The action was totally
unfamiliar, but it was sleek and racy with a graceful underlever to open and was covered
with elegant, bold scroll engraving. The last straw was the muzzle. This was no overweight
smallbore; this one had a hole to match its stature! In essence it was a G.H. Daw best
quality, 16-bore single. . . central-fire breech loading rifle.
Those last words are
not the frivolous use of bold type that you might think at first. You see, previously
there had been some breechloaders, but they were pinfires. Suddenly two makers, Mr.
Lancaster and Mr. Daw, had invented a way to light shells in the center, just like we do
today. What I had succumbed to, what I was holding in my hands at the moment, was not only
a spectacular rifle, but also a very historic one. It was one of the very first centerfire
arms on earth.
So, lets see this wonder, look at its
details and then, yes, we will shoot it and then take it hunting. We begin with a rifle of
rather unusual stature, for a British sporting rifle. It weighs in at a hefty 11 pounds,
or considerably more than many double rifles of its caliber. The barrel is octagonal with
the usual graceful, very gently swamped contour for balance but measuring 1.190 inches at
the breech, 1.130 inches in the middle and 1.160 inches at the muzzle. Going back to the
percussion era, Daw believed thick (and usually short) barrels contributed to accuracy.
When he made the Jacobs muzzleloading double rifles, they had very heavy contour barrels.
Essentially a pair of 24-inch barrels weighed 8 pounds, or about double the norm. The
results of shooting these wonderful engines did little to dispel the heavy-barrel theory.
General Jacobs fired at a 40x50-foot target at 2,000 yards a mile and one-seventh.
He made 13 out of 14 hits! This rifle was 32 gauge (.52 caliber), four grooved and used 69
grains of powder with a 575-grain bullet. Lest you think that is an ordinary feat, try
your pet plastic-stainless-with-a-scope rifle at 2,000 yards some day! But, I diverge. Our
16 bore has a 30-inch thick barrel because Mr. Daw believed in substantial tubes and could
prove it. The bore has four wide, shallow grooves and equal lands with a twist rate of one
in 36 inches. This is quite fast for such a large bore, as one in 100 inches is correct
for a roundball.
This, combined with my
knowledge of Daws thinking, said it would want a bullet of considerable length and
The rest of the rifle
follows British traditional lines. The stock is straight-hand with an iron
pistol grip. This is the kind of grip found on percussion rifles and, in my opinion, the
most elegant and beautiful way to make a gunstock. It has the lines and grace of a
straight, English stock with the control of a full pistol grip. Its forend is slender with
a buffalo horn tip.
While we are on the
subject of the stock, there is a wonder about it I previously described in an article
about Little Things that made exceptional guns. The early Daw guns came with
an extra firing pin (or set for doubles) and a spare extractor neatly inletted under the
steel buttplate. At first we ask, Why? If we were going to the far corners of
the earth, it would seem to make more sense to have spare springs, maybe even spare sights
and maybe the pins, but spare pins and an extractor! Why, why, why?
To answer the question
we have to think in context of this rifle, of the time and technology that it represented.
At that moment, centerfire strikers and extractors were almost as unknown as rocket fuel.
Yes, you see, no one knew what a striker or extractor was! So, Mr. Daw simply put in an
extra, just in case. The extra pin, nut and spring are missing from mine, so, apparently
the need was a real one.
the barrel is another Daw invention and wonder. This is the rear sight. It appears to be a
normal ladder sight, until you look closely and actually use it. First the
precision is exceptional with a V that matches the front sight nicely. There are actually
four different V notches, each with a gold center line. One can
be used with the ladder folded down at 50 to 100 yards. Next is the bottom level of the
inside of the ladder that is marked for 100 yards. It is used with the elevation slide up
a little way, which effectively forms an aperture sight. The top of the slide then is used
normally, for ranges from 200 yards to 800 yards, with the very top of the ladder having
its own V for 900 yards.
The Daw action is also
interesting. It uses a push-forward lever that hinges in front of and wraps beneath the
trigger guard. While several breechloaders came to use a lever that looks like this, the
bolting system on the Daw is unique. The locking mechanism is wonderfully
simple, consisting of a single, round bolt that moves back and forth parallel to the bore.
It locks into a round recess that is part of the underlump system, below the chamber.
Additionally the barrel seats down into the action itself, which adds strength to the
action bar and also offers lateral support. So, there we have it a relatively
heavy, sleek beautiful sporting rifle. It needed ammunition!
The chamber is a
standard 16 gauge, 2 3/4 inch and, once again, no, not for brass cases because it is old.
(Brass cases would not be invented for many years.) Fortunately, several years ago I had
obtained a good supply of new, primed, paper,
16-gauge shells from Germany. So the grand, old Daw would not have to endure the indignity
of plastic hulls.
I will not bore you
with the loading efforts that failed. Essentially this is a very powerful rifle, and as
the twist indicates, it wanted plenty of lead. The answer was to make an unusual bullet
mould. I chose a tapered bullet with H&H style grooves because they perform so well in
shallow rifling with black powder. You see the end result, a hollowpoint monster weighing
950 grains. This combined with 85 grains of FFg GOEX powder and a wad column consisting of
a .135-inch card, 1/4-inch felt, 1/8-inch felt and a .060-inch vegetable fiber wad made
the rifle very happy.
Too, it was very close
to the original loading because the bullets regulated to the sights at least
to 300 yards, where I declared myself the winner.
It is fascinating to see how time flies. This
rifle and I have been great friends for many years, and as I began to tell you its story,
I remembered that quite long ago it went elk hunting. The Daw hunt turned out
to be as unusual as the rifle itself. We had worked through several ridges and pockets
While I had seen some
elk, I was far less adept at sneaking up on them, in the thick stuff, than I am today.
Perhaps there is some good in the patience and wisdom of maturity. At any rate, the elk
won for a day or two. On the third day the old Daw wanted to hunt some open country, so we
moved higher into the open pine and meadow world.
This day also seemed
as if the elk were going to win, or at least it appeared that way because by 2:00 p.m. when we stopped for lunch, we had yet to see
our first elk. It was a fine day, however, and I was actually musing over the fact that
catching an elk would amount to work, that having a dead elk to deal with would really
spoil my carefree stroll through the mountains. It was a day made even more fun because it
was a family affair. My son went along as did the bird dogs. Well, there was one Labrador
who enjoyed any kind of outing with a gun in hand, the prospect of a little kidney fat and
liver notwithstanding. And then there was the wee black puppy who mostly rode in somebodys
arms, or in a day pack, when his big feet and short strides wore him down. He went just
because he was about to be a real hunting dog and being an elk hunter was a fine way to
We had just finished
the apple, shouldered the packs and gotten into full stride across the 200-yard meadow
when a big lead cow elk more or less materialized out of the trees on the far side. The
world was as bare as a pool table, with the occasional black stump here and there. Of
course, none of them were close enough to hide behind, and the elk were coming straight at
us, at a pretty fast walk.
What to do? Well, when
trapped in Rome I settled quietly into a sitting position and the old Lab, a
veteran of any kind of hunt you can imagine, snuggled right against my side. The elk kept
coming as if nothing were wrong. It took a few moments to realize, but a sitting black dog
looks quite a bit like a burnt pine stump, and they kept coming. It was fun to feel the
old guy begin to quiver beside me, just as he had hundreds of times when the geese were
getting real close to the piece of burlap we were lying under.
The old Daw was on my
knees with the 100-yard aperture sight up, and the elk kept coming. It became
a real dilemma when they crossed the 100-yard mark: whether to ruin the moment with
gunfire or to just keep watching the marvelous sight that was unfolding. There were about
100 of them, with a few big, fat dry cows in front, some mothers with calves and a few
I made up my mind to
take a shot, just because it would be impossible to explain to the dogs, or Mr. Daw, why I
had not. But I decided the shot would be of my choosing. I wanted to be sure not to shoot
through the intended one and hit another, because the almost 1,000-grain bullet was
thoroughly capable of traversing an elk or two. Also, because I had all that horsepower, I
wanted to use it to full advantage. So, it was a front-on shot, at a dry, at less than 50
yards, or nothing. I marked the spot on the trail and gently pulled the hammer to full
cock and they kept coming.
The thin front sight
settled into that hollow place in the front of her chest just as she took the slight turn
in the trail that made her perfectly aligned with the bore. Some shots lock into your
memory, and this was one of them. I do not recall ever having delivered such a decisive blow. As
the trigger moved, the smoke leapt what seemed most of the way to the target. The sound of
the powder was met by a tremendous slap as the big lead hit home.
It was difficult to
believe what I was seeing in the blur of the smoke. The elk appeared to be lifted bodily
into the air, turned a full somersault backwards and landed without a twitch. The old dog
left as if to retrieve, and the little fellow would have followed at his best pace, but he
was held in wiggling check until we were absolutely sure there were no dangerous kicks
left. Soon though, he had the elk by the ear, tugging with all his might. Elk hunting is
very grown-up business. Of course, it is not possible to hold enough rifle in your hands
to tip an elk over, but it surely looked as if the ancient Daw had some magical powers.
In the end we look upon a glorious rifle, one
that has stood the test of time, in spite of being obsolete only a few years after it was
made. It represents the finest work of mankind, the origins of centerfire and perhaps some
very powerful spirits. It is, as they say, a very good thing.