EPU Gun of the Week

Hawes Favorite

Originally posted December 6, 2015.

This week's Gun of the Week is a little different.

Hawes Favorite, right side

This is a Hawes Favorite (though it doesn't actually say Favorite anywhere on it) .22-caliber rimfire pistol. I believe they were made in the 1960s, but the design is much older; the Favorite is a copy of the venerable J.A. Stevens No. 35, which was available as both a pistol and a small rifle starting sometime around the turn of the 20th century. Since .22 rimfires are (obviously) rimmed cartridges, and it's a single-shot so there's no feed mechanism to care about the length of the ammunition, it will fire .22 Short, .22 Long, and .22 Long Rifle rimfire cartridges, which are all the same apart from the length of the case and, consequently, the amount of propellant they hold. Technically, it's meant for .22 LR and will handle the lesser cartridges because they're smaller (in much the same way that a .44 Magnum revolver will also readily fire .44 Special and .44 Russian, but that's another show).

It might also chamber .22 Magnum, but if the gun's chamber is within normal tolerances, those cartridges shouldn't physically fit; they're too long and have a slight taper that the smaller ones lack. I haven't tried it, because if it did work it would be stupidly unsafe. .22 Magnum develops much higher pressures than this old action, which was developed for .22 LR, is designed to withstand. Remember, these guns were made after .22 Magnum's introduction in the early '60s, but the design dates to around 1902.

Mechanically, the Favorite isn't a terrifically complex or interesting firearm. It's a break-open single-shot with an old-fashioned single-action trigger. You push the button on the lefthand side of the receiver, and that frees the barrel to tip down, which tips the chamber up, like so:

Hawes Favorite, open, with .22 LR cartridge

I should pause here to note that I did it slightly wrong to take this picture. The Favorite has a spring-loaded firing pin, which only comes forward to fire the round when the hammer hits the back of it. It's designed to return to its rest position after firing, even though the hammer is still down, so that it doesn't protrude into the chamber, but with any system like that, it's possible for the spring to fail or the pin to stick. As such, I really should have had the pistol on half-cock before I opened it. I didn't bother, because I wasn't really going to load it, but if I had left it with the hammer down, loaded a round, closed the action, and the firing pin had stuck forward, the round would've fired as soon as I closed it, which is not what you want to happen. Putting it on half-cock is a way of making doubly sure that can't happen, and is a basic safety precaution for this kind of gun that I shouldn't have neglected, even though it was unnecessary. (It's about developing habits, you see.)

So, there's my confession for this one; I could have re-taken the picture and no one would ever have known, but I figured I could make it what the modern education jargonists call a Teachable Moment instead. :) I'm not sure now why it isn't half-cocked in the "open" shot, since it clearly is in the left-and-right shots where it's closed. They were clearly all taken in the same session. That was long enough ago that I don't remember now. Anyway, moving on.

Hawes Favorite, left side

While I'm giving lessons, I should probably explain what half-cock is. This is a feature of many single-action... er... actions, which is just about what it says on the tin: there's a notch in the lockwork that holds the hammer partway between down and cocked. (In practice it's usually not literally halfway; in fact, in some cases it's only very slightly back.) This originated back in the day of ignition systems that had to be primed by hand before firing, like flint and percussion locks, where you needed the hammer to be out of the way (so that you could prime the pan of your flintlock or cap your percussion lock), but having it at full cock and ready to fire was obviously not a good idea. Sometimes these early, not-very-reliable lockworks would fail and the hammer would come down from half-cock anyway, hence the expression "going off half-cocked." Later, the half-cock notch became the standard way of setting up the triggers on single-action revolvers, because on most early designs, the firing "pin" was really just the face of the hammer, and would stop the cylinder from turning when you wanted to reload.

(If you go back to the 1895 Nagant page and look at those photos, you'll see that the Nagant's hammer is like that as well, but it doesn't need half-cock because it has a later, more sophisticated solution to that same problem, namely, the hammer rebounds automatically to a sort of "quarter-cock" position when you release the trigger after firing. But that's a double-action thing, mostly, and another gun.)

Anyway. The Hawes half-cock is not strictly necessary because of the separate, spring-loaded firing pin, but it's still a useful piece of insurance and I shouldn't have neglected to use it in the photo.

Also of note in that photo is the bit you can see poking out of the bottom of the chamber with the action open. That's the extractor, which cams backward automatically when the gun is hinged open, and as its name suggests, it pulls the spent case (or unfired cartridge) out of the chamber so that you can get hold of it easily and take it the rest of the way out. The Hawes does not have an ejector, which is a device designed to throw the empty completely out of the gun. Some break-open guns do have them, or more probably combination extractor-ejectors (which are usually just extractors with slightly longer travel, so that if you break the action vigorously enough the empties will fly out), but with the Favorite, you have to pull the empty out and discard it manually. (Unless you're shooting .22 Short, which is so stubby the extractor becomes an ejector more or less by default.)

There's not a lot else to tell about the Favorite, really. It's made of inexpensive materials; the grips are plastic meant to have a vague resemblance to ivory (I've also seen examples online with wood grips, as well as brown plastic wood-look and black plastic) and the barrel assembly is made from what I think is aluminum painted to look like blued steel. If you look at the muzzle (always making sure it's empty and open, of course), you can see the steel barrel liner:

Hawes Favorite, muzzle detail

I should note that this doesn't mean it's in any way unsafe; a good, sturdy aluminum barrel with a steel liner to preserve the rifling is perfectly sufficient for .22 rimfire, and the receiver is nice and substantial, probably far more substantial than it really needs to be. These were inexpensive but not cheap, if you see what I mean.

The sights are pretty good for a design this old, since the gun was originally intended as a target-shooting pistol. The rear sight is adjustable for elevation, although the mechanism for doing so looks fairly awkward, and it has that nice big shrouded front post you see above. The grips look a bit awkward to the modern eye, but it was meant to have the same sort of handling as a 19th-century single-action revolver, and it does that fairly well. It's meant for one-handed shooting, because that was how all pistol shooting was done back then.

I don't know much about the Hawes Firearms Co., other than it was evidently an American company that badged and sold firearms made abroad. This used to be a fairly common thing. It's hard to read the markings on this one as they are fairly badly worn, but you can see them here:

close-up of markings on left side of Hawes Favorite

It says:

(serial #) MADE IN GERMANY .22 LR

I've seen it claimed online that the guns sold by Hawes were actually manufactured by the German firm of J.P. Sauer & Sohn, which is today known as half of the Swiss-German arms consortium SIG Sauer, but I have been unable to confirm this.

At any rate, whoever made them, they were not a high-end prestige product and were evidently pretty popular in their day. You can still find them online for a few hundred dollars; they are not firearms of extreme scarcity or significant collector value. Which brings me on to the real reason why this is today's Firearm of the Week.

This right here, this particular well-worn Hawes Favorite, is the first handgun, and second firearm of any kind, I ever shot. Now I'm going to digress again to fill in some backstory.

I was taught to shoot probably 30 years ago by my paternal grandfather, who has been mentioned here on the Forum and in my works before. He was a member of the Army Reserve competitive rifle team in the 1950s, an outdoorsman of long standing, and until 2001 he lived in a tiny town in the far north where you could just go out back and shoot into the earthen berm behind the house, and nobody gave you a problem about it. As far back as I can remember, there was a rack of rifles and shotguns in my grandparents' living room, and I actually can't remember being told not to meddle with it, not because I never was, but because it was that long ago.

Back in those days, the early-to-mid-'80s, he and Gram ran a hunting lodge up there, and he'd set up a proper outdoor firing range out there for the use of clients in-season. I used to go up there and stay for a week or two at a time, two or three times a year, when school was out. One day when I was about 12 (I should note that this was a fairly late start time in this part of the woods at the time), I asked during one of these visits if he'd show me how to shoot. He started me off on a single-shot, bolt-action .22 rifle that had belonged to one of my aunts when she was little, and so had already been fitted out with a kid-sized shoulder stock and so on, and when he was satisfied that he'd managed to pound basic safety practices into my head, he allowed as we might move on to bigger things.

I opted to go for smaller things instead, which is where the Favorite came into it. At the time, he owned three handguns: the Favorite; a Sturm, Ruger & Co. .22 automatic (the kind that retroactively became the Ruger Mk I once the Mk II came out); and a Ruger Super Blackhawk, which is an enormous .44 Magnum single-action revolver. The Ruger auto, he had for plinking, but the other two were working guns. By the time I came along, Gramp had more or less given up hunting large game, as it was too much like work, but every year he would strap on his snowshoes and do some fur trapping to make some extra money for the household, to fill in those fiscal gaps between the various hunting seasons when they didn't have any clients in. He carried the Favorite and the Blackhawk when he was working his trap line—the Favorite to dispatch trapped critters, and the Blackhawk in case he crossed paths with a bear. (Fortunately, the latter never happened.)

You can see a lot of that mileage on the gun itself, and the rest on the holster he made for it, which still exists:

Hawes Favorite in homemade holster, right side

Hawes Favorite in homemade holster, left side

I eventually graduated first to the Ruger automatic (which is also a .22, but more complex to operate), and then to the Blackhawk (which is not that scary to shoot if you load it with one of the milder .44 cartridges; we always shot .44 Special in it, to preserve our wrists, the gun, and nearby windows), but I started out with the Favorite, and would return to it off and on over the years. Even after I got old enough first to receive guns of my own from him and Dad as birthday and Christmas gifts, and then eventually to just buy them myself, I'd take the Favorite out for a few rounds on most of my visits north.

My grandparents moved to a more settled area in 2001, so that they could be closer to doctors' offices and whatnot, and getting out to shoot became a little trickier, though it was still possible right next to their new house at some times of the year. (I have an anecdote about myself, Gramp, and my cousins Mike and Al from that period that I must remember to include in the GotW about the gun that was involved in it.)

A couple-three years ago, when I was up visiting, we got to talking about the old days at the range out back of the old Oxbow Lodge, which had recently burned down. I remembered the Favorite and asked if Gramp still had it; he went and got it out of the drawer it was in, and I was pleased to see that it was just the same as it had always been. The weather that day wasn't good enough to go down to the gravel pit and it was the wrong time of year to be shooting by the house, so I went to give it back after I'd renewed acquaintances.

"Maybe you'd better take that with you," said Gramp, and then, gazing wistfully out the kitchen window at the woods, he added wearily, "I'm not going to need it any more."

I was startled, not so much by the offer as the context. A while earlier, on another visit, he'd given me his Lee-Enfield rifle, which I had been coveting for years, justifying it as thinning out a rifle collection that was getting a bit unwieldy (particularly as a shoulder injury had made it hard for him to use long guns anyway, and the SMLE is not what you would call a lightweight piece of equipment). He only had the three pistols, though, and the way he'd said it was so... final. Now, I knew he was 82 or 3 by that point, and vanishingly unlikely to strap on his snowshoes and go out a-trapping again; he probably hadn't done that since they left Oxbow in '01. We had all known that for years. But to have him just sort of up and confront it like that was... well, it was a little bit shocking.

It wasn't too long after that when they moved out of their house and into assisted living, and Gramp had to give all of his guns away, several more of them to me, but the reality that the day for that had arrived didn't strike me nearly as sharply as the day when we both had to admit we knew it was coming. If that makes any sense.

I realize that's kind of a downer to end on, but it's something I think about every time I see this gun, along with all the other history it has, and it's been on my mind more than usual since Gram died back in October. (She used to get so exasperated with us, out shooting up the back yard while she had customers inside the house. Some of the smörgåsbord people were city folk From Away, not the usual hunters-and-trappers crowd, and she was convinced that we were going to scare away the fish, particularly when we broke out the .44. :)