HOLDING A KENTUCKY LONG rifle conjures visions of Daniel Boone traversing the eastern Kentucky wilderness through the Cumberland Gap, his rifle in hand and a couple squirrels in his bag. The Kentucky long rifle was a work of art, but it was cherished more for its accuracy. It had a rifled barrel that improved its range and accuracy considerably, enabling hunters to harvest game more easily and helping to settle the Kentucky frontier.
There are only a few remaining artisans who build these beautiful rifles. I wanted to learn more about the Kentucky long rifle, so I contacted Mike Miller, a Tri-County EMC member who builds beautiful, historically accurate Kentucky long rifles in Edmonton. Living in an 1800s-era square log cabin with plenty of land to roam, Mike has immersed himself in the frontier life.
He greeted me at the door of his little rifle making shop, along with his beagle, Crocket. Mike insists that Kentucky deserves more credit for creating the Kentucky long rifle, and not just the fact that Daniel Boone carried one. Among the men that cleared a trail through the Cumberland Gap, Mike says, several were gunsmiths, including Daniel Boone’s younger brother, Squire Boone, who eventually set up shop at what is now the Falls of the Ohio. These gunsmiths had their own style and practices.
The Kentucky long rifle is known for its intricate carvings in the stocks and engravings in the metalwork that graces the rifle. “I wasn’t a natural engraver or carver in the beginning, and was told so by more than one of my teachers,” Mike says. “Eventually, through patient and diligent lessons from others, I picked it up.” He does all the engraving and carving on the rifles he makes, and says he owes much to those who helped him along the way.
Mike teaches a nine-day rifle making class at Western Kentucky University, which covers all facets of building a Kentucky long rifle. He also teaches occasionally at his shop, free of charge. “It’s my way of paying forward all of the lessons from master rifle makers that never charged me a dime,” Mike says with a smile. His favorite rifle style is plain, with few intricate lines, carvings or ornamentation. “These rifles are harder to get right than the more elaborate ones,” he says. “You can hide some mistakes with carvings in the stock, but with the plain rifle, all of the lines and fitment have to be spot on or it’s very noticeable.” Mike says it takes about a week to build a plain Kentucky long rifle.
I encourage you to walk the trail of history blazed by the Kentucky long rifle. You might even want to take Mike’s class and build your own—it’s a great way to learn more about the history of Kentucky. Learn more about what Mike calls “useable historic art work” at www.millerlongrifles.com.
KEN MCBROOM, an outdoors writer/photographer, created RamblingAngler.com. McBroom grew up in Lynchburg, Tennessee, and now lives in western Kentucky.