The Shooting bag
By Dan Lambert
Originally published in the GA CoHT newsletter - October 2003
This monthís article brings up to the end of this series of articles covering the common bags used in the eighteenth century. Just because itís the last article in the series, doesnít mean that itís subject is less significant. This monthís subject is, in fact, one of the most important bags used in the colonial period. Without it, the colonies would have never been able to expand, and the native peoples of this continent would not have been able to defend themselves from the onslaught of the white men.
To close out this series, I want to share a little piece of history with you. It is one that I was gifted with by a fellow Living Historian several years ago when I was just beginning my search for my 1750ís persona.
Like many others, I had been searching for a shooting bag that fit into the 1750ís. My problem was that every bag I found was a creation meant to fit a buckskinner of the 1840ís persona. I had found that the shooting bags that seemed popular were all creation of active imaginations and what folks today would like to have had if they had lived in the period. Very few of them were anything like what I was told would be correct for the late 18th century, much less the 1750 time frame.
The other problem I had was that most of the ones that I found that appeared to be the correct style, were aged to look like they were two hundred years old, and priced as if they were, too.
Shooting bags of the 1750ís in the American Colonies were typically relatively small, and almost universally plain. The bag wouldnít have pockets inside, or a pocket on the front, back, or flap. They might be decorated, but not in the lavish style of later years. They were simple, working pouches, created to carry the essentials for shooting, and nothing more.
My little gift of history is much like what Iíve described, and it has provenance to the period of the F&I War. It was found stuffed in a small brass kettle, along with a small, plain powderhorn, and buried in the ashes of one of the buildings at Fort Conestoga. The bag I carry is made from a pattern taken directly from the Fort Conestoga pouch.
The bag is made from a single piece of leather (mine is about 8 oz. vegetable tanned) that is folded and stitched along the sides to form the pouch, and the flap simply folds over to close the bag. There is no closure button, and none is needed. There is no welt to cut and fit, so the bag is very simple to make. A saddle stitch is the best stitch to use.
Iíve enclosed a pattern so that you can see how the bag is shaped and the relative size of the bag. This is a very close copy of the original, so I know that this shape and size are correct. I feel sure that there would have been minor variances is exact shape and size, but the concept of a very simple, small bag is the essential thing.
The pattern is drawn on a one-inch square grid so you can duplicate the pattern almost exactly if you choose. The width of the bag at point B is 7.9 inches. The height from line A to Line B is 6.8 inches, and from line B to point C is 6 inches. To make a pattern to use to cut your leather, take a paper grocery sack or heavy brown wrapping paper thatís large enough to cut a 20Ē x 8Ē pattern from. Thatís also about the size piece of leather you will need to make the bag.
Starting at one end of your piece of brown paper, draw the pattern on to the paper, and then fold the paper at the A line and make sure you have enough paper to make it back up to the B line. Fold or cut off any excess length past the B line, then, with the paper folded as described, cut out your pattern.
When you are satisfied with your pattern, transfer it to your leather. I traced around my pattern with a pencil to transfer mine. If you make an error with a pencil, itís easy to correct and doesnít leave a mark that will show on the finished pouch. Check the transfer closely to be sure that you have a good guideline to follow when you cut. When you are satisfied with the quality of your transferred pattern, cut the leather. Take your time and double-check yourself here. When you feel like you have it just right, check again. Good leather is expensive, and you want to make sure this piece doesnít turn into a large scrap.
Using the 8 oz. leather I had, it was easy to use a heavy-duty pair of shears to cut the leather out. Use whatever you are comfortable with that will give you a good, clean edge when youíre finished.
As I said, I used a piece of 8 oz. vegetable tanned leather for my pouch. The key here is that you want a good, flexible piece of leather, but it also needs to be sturdy. The bag will be sewn together inside out, then turned to make the finished pouch. You donít want it to be so sturdy that you canít turn it, and it wouldnít be good to have it so stiff that it irritates you side when you carry it for long hunts.
With the leather cut out, itís time to make a shooting pouch!
Lay your leather out with the finished sides facing one another, and the pouch portion folded along what was youíre A line. The leather in the pouch section should be doubled up to the B line, and the edges should match up well.
Using your saddle stitch, start at the fold of the leather and sew along one side of the pouch all the way to the B line. Repeat for the other side. I made my rows of stitching about 3/16 inch in from the edge to prevent it from pulling out when the pouch is loaded.
When you have finished stitching up the sides, simply turn the bag right side out. If the leather is too stiff to allow you to do this easily, soak it in water until it is soft enough to turn, then let it dry well before proceeding to add your strap.
The strap can be woven hemp, leather, wool, or a number of other materials appropriate for your chosen time and locale. What is important is to make the strap short enough to keep the bag hanging well up under the arm. This is how the bag should be properly carried, and is the reason that no closure is required to keep your shooting needs in the bag.
When properly fitted you can run through the woods carrying your firelock, and the bag and horn under your arm wonít flop around and either beat you or get tangled in something. At the same time, when you reach for something in your pouch, you should be able to reach it with one hand, that being the one under which arm you carry your shooting gear.
Because you will normally carry the bag so high under your arm, you will probably want to angle the attachment points for your strap a little bit to prevent the strap from pulling the bag out of shape, or trying to tear it. I used a dyed, woven hemp strap I bought from the Silver Shuttle for my pouch. By stitching it on at a slight angle outward from the top of the bag, mine hangs and fits well.
Iíve now carried my pouch for well over five years, and see no reason to change either my shooting pouch or the essentials it contains. I carry a few round balls, some patch material, sometimes a turnscrew or worm and little else. My powder measure and touchhole pick hang from the strap, and I have a patch knife sewn to the strap.
I carry a few flints in a belt pouch along with a sergeantís musket tool. A larger bag of roundball is in my haversack, should I need them, but the eight or ten balls I carry in my shooting pouch are enough for most hunts and to help me fend off rampaging natives and thieving whites.
I sure hope that your piece of history serves you as well as mine has served me. Mine has become a trusted friend!