One for the Birds

Page 6 of 12

long flinlock designed to shoot birds

In the 1800's, a "fowler" was a smoothbore gun that today we would call a shotgun. These fowling pieces were intended for birding and wildfowl shooting. Generally, they were long slender guns. The specimen illustrated is over five feet long and has a 50 inch barrel of about 20 gauge.

The average shotgun today has a 28" or 30" barrel. Long barrels were considered necessary to give the indifferent black powder of the day more time to burn to full strength and hence, it was thought, shoot farther and harder.

Clark and Lewis made note of more than 130 species of birds during the course of the expedition. Most of these were shot, examined, measured and described.

Lewis did not mention his "fowler" in the journals. Not until 1807 do we learn that he had a specific bird-shooting gun, when he documented the financial records of the expedition and asked for reimbursement for "one Uniform Laced Coat, one silver Epaulet, one Dirk & belt, one hanger & belt, one pistol & one fowling piece, all private property, given in exchange for Canoe, Horses &c. for public service during the expedition."1

1. Donald Jackson, ed., Letters and Documents of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1783-1837, 2nd ed., 2 vols (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1978), 2:428.

Funded in part by a grant from the National Park Service, Challenge Cost Share Program.