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Thread: Early Alaska Guns

  1. #1

    Default Early Alaska Guns

    I am assuming that popularly carried firearms in western states during 1890 through 1910 were in Alaska. But, what were the favorites, or most noted? I am not a gun history buff, and do not have a lot of experience. I just would like to know what everyone was carrying in early Alaska. Thanks for the help.

  2. #2
    Member hodgeman's Avatar
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    Default Interesting question!

    I believe you'll find that the common rifles in use up here were the same as other Western States for the time periods you mention. Mostly what people had on hand when they headed up. Several good books by early Alaskans make mention of particular makes or models. I'm sure you'd find a real hodgepodge of stuff but the most common ones would be the most common ones in general circulation.

    Several caches have been found in my area from that time period, one with a .30 caliber cleaning kit. A couple of the homestead museums I've been in had a '94, and a Krag and one had an '03 Sprringfield but I'm guessing thats on the late end of your date range and a couple of decades later it would be very common.

    I found a dozen or so fired .30-30 cases (marked 30 WCF) on Shemya Island a couple of years ago. The headstamp indicates they were made between 1894 and 1903. Who knows who left those there- American or Russian are both possible.

    I found a single 30-40 Krag casing up in the Steese/ Davidsons Ditch area last year. Certainly possible from your time period although later is certainly feasible too.

    Rearden's book about Frank Glaser (a bit past your date range but applicable) specifically mentions multiple rifles but Frank was something of an oddity in that he was a genuine rifle nut and used dozens throughout his career.

    Niven's book "Ada Blackjack" specifically mentions Krag carbines purchased by the Stefannson expedition in 1921 in Nome- most likely surplus.

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    Member gunbugs's Avatar
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    The UAF photo archives contain a wealth of interesting photos from the time period you are talking about. I believe most of this is available online. Many of the miners and outdoorsmen are pictured with their firearms. Probably you could do a search for "hunting" and come up with a pretty large sample. Winchester 92's 94's &95's seem to have been common. Most I've seen in the photos have little to no blue left, and these rifles aren't very old.

  4. #4

    Default I may be wrong but.....

    You get far enough back you will find the model 94 25-20 Winchester rifles. You can also find the old model 99s in 303 savage. Some of them are still floating around.There are discussions of how the 303 Savage was a better gun than 45-70s which were loaded down. Many Alaskan natives had muzzleloaders during this period. I have found rimfire cartridges and have heard of old Savage 25 caliber rimfire rifles being found. The 45 Colt SAA are found through out the state. They were the handgun of choice. They are discovered every once in a while from hiding places where they were placed to "disappear".


    Different calibers are popular in different parts of the state.
    The Kenai Pennisula is known for modified model 71s by Fuller Johnston and old Man Cooper who created 450 and 50 Alaskan caliber big bore rifles. There are also many mausers that seem to have been sporterized.

    Copper River and Fairbanks area seemed to produce many Sporterized 1903A Springfields that were often carried by guides and were tuned to a very fine degree. Some old model 54s and model 70s are also out there and they seem to be chambered for 06.
    Homesteaders often used winchester 94s in 3003 caliber(30-30) with the old 190 grain round nose bullet to shoot every thing.

    Mat-Su seemed to have an emphasis on mausers and Husquvarna rifles. Many of the people came up from Minnesota country and used 8 mm Mausers. There are a lot of 30/06s in this area as well. Sometimes a swede 6.5X55 pops out of the woodwork as well.

    There are many guides from Western Alaska who used these 03A Springfields. Some of them actually did the smithing. Many of the old ATG scouts who lived in the area also used 30/06s.

    Kotzebue used to be a center for hunting in the late 1950s and 1960s with an actual demand for 300 Weatherby(The old modified rifles by Roy Weatherby) and 338 Win Mags. There were also many 722 Remingtons built in 222 and Winchesters in 22 hornet. I have even seen old Sakos that were built on FN Mauser actions.

    The Anchorage Sheep hunters from the 1950s and 1960s like model 70 Winchesters in 264 Win Mag. That was the favorite set up by sheep hunt fanatics of this period. The FN Mausers in 270 Win come in second with this group. I can tell you that probably 40% ran with the 264 Win mag.

    I know less about SE but I do think that I have seen 30-40 Krags, 06s and some British 303 Enfields from this area. Sometimes you also hear about 1886 45-70 lever actions that were great bush guns.

    Some of the more articulate backwoodsmen and Women had the 338 Alaskan Model 70. I know that Fred Rungee, an old sourdough from Slana area, has a well travelled Pre-64 Model 70 in 338 Winchester Mag with a peep. It has a compass mounted in the buttstock. It has wood that has been reworked several times but is still very nice. Too me, that is the penultimate Alaskan gun.
    Many note that Joe Want's gun Old Nan in 375 Weatherby mag might be a prototypical Alaskan Gun.
    Still others like those modified 450 Alaskans.

    I might be off a bit.
    Many guides have other preferences and we are talking Pre-60s back to turn of the century, but I made a stab at it. Michael Petrov from Anchorage knows much more than I do.

    I do try to find out about old timers and their favorite flavor of guns.

    Sincerely,
    Thomas

  5. #5
    Member hodgeman's Avatar
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    Default

    This is a great question and some great responses so far. From 1890-1910 the most predominant action type would have certainly been a lever and with a few exceptions likely chambered in a blackpowder cartridge. America didn't really fall in love with the bolt action until after WWI although there were a few floating around. Winchester easily made a half dozen models during those years and numerous calibers, most of which are long forgotten today. Winchester is notable because of their existence today but there were a bunch of other folks turning out guns and few lasted through the Depression.

    You might also have seen a smattering of big old single shots that were extremely popular on the plains during the period of 1850-1890s- the Sharps, the Ballards, etc. but you just don't hear much about them. My guess is most folks were looking for something smaller and more portable for defense and "opportunity hunting" rather than a dedicated hunting arm. I think the hunting of that period was somewhat different than what we'd see a just few years later prior to WWII with dedicated sport hunters exploring Alaska and Canada. Of all the western arms the 1873 and 1892 were likely the most popular with miners and trappers despite being what most considered underpowered as a hunting arm.

    Your time period is really interesting- just a few years prior and you'd see lots of singles and just a few years later you'd see predominantly bolt actions.

  6. #6

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    The only real old time Alaskan hunter/trapper I knew had a Springfield 1903 stuffed with W-W 220 gr silvertips, and a Winchester .22 pump.

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    Unhappy

    I think the problem is most of the folks who came to Alaska from 1890 to 1910 probably left shortly thereafter and took their guns with them. Most of the "antique" guns we see have been brought up much more recently and really aren't associated with Alaska. The '03 springfield was the new rifle on the block and Krags were just being surplused. As a previous poster mentioned, bolt guns weren't really taking hold in the commercial market until after WW1. Peter and Paul Mauser didn't really market their rifles to the civilian market until the late teens. They were interested in large military contracts, hence the rarity of genuine commercial mauser sporters of the period and the dead common military variations from about 1893 to 1935. Most of the bolt action '03, krag, and Mauser sporters date to post WW2 when these guns could be bought for 5$ and chopped by anyone with a hacksaw and a drill bit.

  8. #8

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    Thanks for all of the information. I was just trying to get a feel of what guys were bringing up. Everyone has provided a lot of good information.

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    The arctic has had guns traded up this way since 1820 when a schooner named Sylph came up this way to trade.

    According to my late fatherinlaw, in his youth (1903 -2007) Winchesters, and Marlin levers were popular as were pump Winchesters and Remingtons.
    He said there a few muzzle loaders around when he rememberd, but none in use that he saw, just old trusty retired rifles laying in a corner or two.
    Reloading has always been popular.

    .22lr, .22wrf and .25-20, .25-35 were very popular, and over the years I have aquired a few.

    I once dug up a brass Henry reciver with a barrel stub when Mining in Candle Ak one summer. Seems we hit a trash pit with the junk it was in. I hang my keys on it.
    During WWII, the Eskimos were organized and armed as Militia, then into the ATG, and they gave the men all rifles. After the war, they kept them ....as it should be, eh? Anyhoo, most had a M-1917 in 30-06 and a few had pre ATG rifles, Winchester 95 in 30-40 Krag as well as old Krags. I have a 95 Carbine and a 1917 from the ATG . These were very very popular and the 30-06 has a diehard fan club up this way.
    I have a BerdanII Carbine my fatherinlaw traded from a Chuk-chi Eskimo in the late 20's.and kept. Had to run it down and buy it from an inlaw when he passed, but its safe now
    If you can't Kill it with a 30-06, you should Hide.

    "Dam it all", The Beaver told me.....

  10. #10
    Member Big Al's Avatar
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    The WINCHESTER model 95 was chambered in the .30-03 and no model 94 could ever handle the power or length of the .30-03. The original loaded bullet was the 220 grain cupola nickel bullet. I have seen many 1885's WINCHESTER single shot . The big change in highly collectible firearms in Alaska came about from the pipe line days when the great stuff went south with returning home pipe liners. At one time just about anything you can name was found here in great abundance and relatively cheap, the 1970's changed all of that. A lot of highly desirable single shot target rifles made there way to Alaska, but have been sucked up. The Savage 99 was vary high on everybody list.

    I can not think of a more diverse place for firearms than what Alaska once was. You name it and it was once here. Everyone coming to Alaska brought a firearm, it was just that way here, once upon a time.
    "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tryants." (Thomas Jefferson

  11. #11

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    The very first guns to show up in Alaska were probably the 1766 Charleville, a 69 caliber smoothbore. Along about the time Shelikof arrived with a crew armed with those, the Tula arsenal in Russia started turning out its own variation with a dog lock, also in 69 caliber smoothbore, but it's really doubtful any of those made it into eastern Russia in time to outfit his crew for departure.

    I'm aware of one archeological dig at a small trading post from the era between the US purchase and about 1900 which turned up the remains of three rifles, two 1873 Winchesters and an 1886, but they were too far gone to determine caliber. Unearthed side by side, they were probably a cache of some sort.

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    Quote Originally Posted by strangerinastrangeland View Post

    I once dug up a brass Henry reciver with a barrel stub when Mining in Candle Ak one summer. Seems we hit a trash pit with the junk it was in. I hang my keys on it.
    I had the pleasure of visiting Candle on a few occasions. That place was a real living museum of treasure...especially when Riney Berg was there.

    My father bought a 92 winchester in Juneau in the 50's (mfg. 1905) I've always wondered when that rifle came to AK and who brought it....If they could only talk! Great thread...Louis
    Louis Knapp

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    Great thread!
    Makes you wonder if folks from that era bantered and argued as hotly as we do on which caliber and bullet will down a charging Griz at 20 paces, or which one is the best all around caliber for caribou, moose etc. By the warmth of a fire with a good drink I'd imagine...
    Kind of puts things in perspective when you think of the powder and bullet technology they had and people seemed to do just fine with what they owned.
    I wish those simpler times were upon us again. <sigh>


    Mountaintrekker

  14. #14

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    The Knooty shop in Salcha has quite a collection of guns. Worth stopping at. Unfortunately they are pretty high up on a wall.

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    Member sayak's Avatar
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    Default Some old photos

    Yep, a bolt or two, largely levers.
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    Member sayak's Avatar
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    Default Another

    George parks at Homer, circa?
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    Member sayak's Avatar
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    Default Yet another

    Macho man.
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    Member sayak's Avatar
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    Default Still another

    No Gortex.
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  19. #19
    Member sayak's Avatar
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    Default And finally...

    A sourdough
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  20. #20

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    Here's a picture of my great grandfather in Alaska, it's one of the few where he's not holding a rifle.
    I think 1900 is not correct, it's more like 1896-8. One of his favorite rifles in that time period was a 1892 Winchester in 32-20.




    In the book 'Raised on Snowshoes' (?) the author talks alot about her Krag and her sisters '03, in the 1920s and 30s.
    It doesn't matter what you miss them with.

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