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NEARLY 60 YEARS of gunmaking are represented in CarlHanneken's first and latest muzzle loaders.
He hand carved and filed the pistol at age nine. The York rifle in the center is one of his more recent
creations. Below are the chunks of iron and maple that he will form into a Hawken rifle.
Muzzle Loaders Are Way Of Life
For This Champion Gunsmith
YBY KRIC CARLSON
ou would think that anyone who'd fired as many
bullets as Carl Hanneken?and had as many
fired back?might be tired of guns.
As a World War II machine gunner on a B-17,
Hanneken flew 150 missions over Nazi Germany. He
once bailed out when his plane was shot down behind
enemy lines. He caught a bullet in the leg while eluding
capture for three months before reluming to England for
Hanneken's legs still carry shards of shrapnel from an
anti-aircraft shell that burst just be
low his seal. Even now, he can't
walk through an airport metal de
tector without setting off the
Yet to this day, nothing stirs the
soul of this industrious Shallottc
retiree like the smell of gunpow
Black powder, that is. Ignited by
a chunk of flint striking a piece of
metal and exploding in a fiery
flash and a cloud of smoke, pro
pelling a homemade bullet down
the barrel of a homemade rifle and
squarely through the bulls-eye of a
target 50 yards away.
Antique firearms are more than
just a hobby for Hanneken. They
are his life's passion. He's made
more than 250 muzzle-loading ri
fles and 50 pistols and has restored
more than 75 original weapons. He
is the 1989 North Carolina Muzzle
Loading Rifle Champion. And two
weeks ago in Charleston he won
the 1993 South Carolina
Taking top honors at both
Carolina matches was a goal
Hanneken set for himself after he
and his wife Gloria moved to s88**8?88*?8888?58^
Brunswick County 10 years ago. Shooting muzzle load
ers had always been a favorite pastime back in Dayton,
Ohio, where he learned to make his own guns and often
competed against national champions.
"This is my form of relaxation, my therapy," said
Hannckcn as he poured a measure of black powder
down the octagonal iron barrel of a ,50-caliber flintlock.
It's one he built from his drawings of a rifle made in
York, Pa., around 1700.
"1 used to come out to the range all tensed up from a
long day of work and I'd be about to go bonkers," he
said. "After a few hours of this, my hostilities are all
gone and I'm cool. I can face the world."
With the rapid, relaxed precision of a half-century's
"It's a great
It's good for you.
I don't know of
anyone who ever
shooting guns in
cxpericnce, Hanncken places a strip of cloth across the
muzzle and lays a shiny lead ball in the divot. He taps it
just below the surface and deftly slices away the excess
"patch" before ramming the load down the barrel.
Stepping to the firing line, he gours a few grains of
powder from a deer's antler into the priming chamber,
then closes it and cocks the flint-mounted hammer.
Raising the rifle slock to his cheek, he pauses momen
There is a bright flash, a satisfying "KA-BOOM" and
a puff of white smoke as a neat round hole appears in
the black paper circle down
"It's a great diversion. Almost
a meditation," Hanncken said as
he rammed a cleaning patch
down the barrel. "To shoot com
petitively, you have to wash your
mind free of everything and con
centrate on nothing else but what
"It's good for you," he said. "I
don't know of anyone who ever
went bad shooting guns in com
Hannekcn has been around
guns for as long as he can re
member. Raised on a farm, he re
members shooting as "a way of
life" and hunting season as a time
when "the delicacies of winter"?
venison, pheasant, quail, rabbit,
duck?graced the family dinner
As a youngster, he started
hanging around the nearby work
shop of Sam Tobias, a world
renowned gunsmith who put the
boy to work refurbishing antique
firearms. At the age of nine,
Hannekcn retrieved an old barrel
and some discarded wood and
metal from Tobias's scrap pile.
Using nothing but a metal file and some woodworking
tools, he fashioned a small flintlock pistol that became
the first of many muzzle loaders in his impressive col
lection of antique originals and reproductions.
Hanneken has built, restored and repaired muzzle
loading firearms for customers from across the country.
He realized another goal when he made the rifle used by
the winner of the United States Muzzle Loading Rifle
Each rifle he makes is custom-fit to the shooter's
body and takes between six months and a year to com
plete. His hand-carved stocks arc often intricately inlaid
with sterling silver. At a selling price of between $600
and S 1,000, Hanneken figures he makes about "10 cents
STAFF PHOTOS BY ERIC CAKISON
WITH A PLIFF OF SMOKE and a loud retort, champion marksman Carl Hanneken of Shallotte un
leashes another .50-caliber ball from his homemade reproduction of a 1700flintlock rifle.
an hour" at his craft. But that's not why he builds guns.
"I do it for the love of it," he said. "If I set a dollar
value on my time, you couldn't afford it and I wouldn't
While he might consider making you a muzzle loader,
Hanneken suggests that beginners start out with a manu
factured gun. A good one can be had for about SI30.
"Then all you need are powder, patching and bullets,"
he said. "You can shoot for a month for what it would
cost to buy a single box of modern ammo."
When Hanneken makes a gun for himself, it's usually
an exercise in historical engineering. He likes to figure
out how the old firearms worked and how early gun
smiths went about building them with the tools of the
day. These projects often lake him to museums, where
he makes sketches of the original weapons, and to li
braries, where he reads about the men who designed
His research has given Hanneken a wealth of infor
mation about the development of firearms. He notes that
the "minie ball" used in Civil War muskets was not
named for its size?which is quite large?but for its in
ventor, French Army Capt. Claude Minie.
Most people assume that what we now call bullets?
with a brass shell, a primer, gunpowder and a slug in one
package?were not invented until after the Civil War.
But Hanneken notes that they were not used in that con
flict because the warring governments refused to pay the
Smith and Wesson company for the patent rights. He can
even show you a six-shot, cartridge-loaded revolver with
the date 1859 engraved on the cylinder.
He also points out?with unabashed pride?that to
this day, the record for a group of five shots fired from
1,000 yards is still held by a muzzle-loading rifle.
Hanneken was studying to be a tool maker when
America entered World War II. At age 17, he went over
seas with the 8th Air Force. After a stint in North Africa,
he was transferred to England, where he rode in the bel
ly turret of a B-17, firing ,50-calibcr machine guns at at
lacking German fighter planes. He was credited with
shooting down two Mcsscrschmidt 109s and helping to
bring down a third.
One day his squadron was sent to bomb the subma
rine pens at Bremen. The group encountered heavy anti
aircraft fire and Hanneken's plane took a fatal hit.
Hanneken could not remain in his turret for the crash
landing and was ordered to bail out with the tail gunner.
It would be seven months before they returned to
"The only reason I'm alive today is because of my
Boy Scout training," said Hanneken, who had earned his
Eagle rank and would later become a respected scout
master. "Everything I learned came in handy and helped
The two men spent the next three months behind ene
my lines, hiding from the Germans and making their
way on foot across hundreds of miles of hostile territory.
Out in the countryside, Hanneken, the Ohio farm boy,
showed his partner how to burrow into haystacks at
night for warmth and how to uproot frozen turnips and
thaw them out for food. When they passed through a
town, the Brooklyn-born tail gunner took the lead,
showing Hanneken how to survive in an urban environ
"We found a place to hide and he took off," Hanneken
remembered. "A half-hour later he came back with
bread, meat and fresh clothes."
Eventually they reached the Rhine River and were
taken in by one of Gen. George Patton's armored divi
sions, but not before Hanneken was shot in the calf by
an unseen enemy. Although he was decorated with the
Purple Heart, the Air Medal and the Distinguished
Flying Cross, Hanneken remains modest about his
"All of those medals and a dollar will get you a drink
in any bar," he said, priming the pan for another shot.
"KA-BOOM!" goes the flintlock as another neat
round hole appears in the black paper circle.
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