Hunting season is in full swing throughout Maine and, in just a couple of weeks, deer hunters with muzzle-loading firearms will be taking to the woods. For these sportsmen, it’s not so much about bringing home the venison as it is about the equipment, the history and the thrill of reliving the challenges encountered by hunters of an earlier time.

Hunters may use reproductions of the old weapons, but many of them are also gun collectors who know every detail of the makers of old firearms and the products of their gun shops.

C.F. Nason is a name connected with gunmaking in Lewiston. Charles F. Nason, who was born in Greene in 1835, established a business in Lewiston in 1852 and worked there until 1887. His percussion rifles and double-barreled shotguns are prized by collectors but Nason also gained a measure of national fame for his personal prowess with his firearms.

It was early September of 1878 when the New York Times reported that Ira A. Paine, a national shooting champion and resident of New York, had been beaten by Nason in a pigeon-shooting match that included two other Lewiston marksmen.

Details of the match taken from the Lewiston Journal said, “The exhibition given previously by Paine of his wonderful accuracy in different kinds of shooting had given a marked impression of his ability to our sportsmen, who regarded his shooting with much admiration.”

This was a trap-shooting match in the original and true sense of the term. Pigeons were released from cages, either singly or in pairs, at distances of 21, 26 and 31 yards.

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“Nason used a choke-bore 10-pound shotgun of his own making,” the story said. Paine, the champion from New York, used a lighter gun and lighter powder charges. Paine said his gun had been discharged 37,000 times, and it was claimed that the barrels in his gun were much worn, giving some advantage to Nason. However, the wind was down, and the birds flew up slowly from the trap, favoring Paine’s light gun and charges.

Nason and Paine were tied after turns at shooting single birds. They each hit a total of 12 birds at the three distances. Paine’s worn barrels may have cost him when they shot at pairs, and he missed a few.

“Nason dropped his bird every time, making some magnificent shots, and winning the full score of 10 birds,” it was reported.

At the end of the afternoon, Nason had killed 22 of the 25 birds he targeted, and Paine hit 19. The other two contestants from Lewiston were E.E. Pomeroy, whose score was 17 birds, and C.W. Curtis, with a score of 16 birds.

About 100 years after Nason’s gunmaking days in Lewiston, Rose O’Brien, well-known writer in the Lewiston Evening Journal, told in 1962 how a local gun collector obtained one of Nason’s prized rifles and brought it back to its birthplace.

Nason’s exquisite half-stocked target rifles with octagonal barrels carried engraved plates marked “C.F. NASON, LEWISTON, ME.,” punctuated on each side with an eagle logo.

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There was another sporting item that Nason invented and produced. His advertisement in the 1883 Maine Business Register listed him as “Gun Maker and Dealer in Fishing and Shooting Tackle.” He made a new style of collapsible landing net for fishermen, and it was said that the spring-steel idea he incorporated was a natural for a gunsmith, coming from the use of such springs for triggers.

O’Brien said one of Nason’s shops was located right at the end of Main Street. It was a small frame building and “it stood … sagged is really the word … at the Lewiston end of North Bridge,” she wrote. “It was torn down, finally, to make room for the cement abutment on the right side of the bridge coming from Auburn.”

Nason wasn’t the area’s only maker of historic firearms. There was the Kentucky half stock made before the Civil War by Abel Spalding, a blacksmith in Buckfield. And there’s “the Mechanic Falls gun,” one of the first cartridge guns made by the Evans Repeating Arms Co., a small firm that started in the town of Norway.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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