Windham: Where did the name ‘Long Tom’ come from?

The name Long Tom has a history that goes back 155 years or more. My Long Tom is well over 100 years old and is still lethal on turkeys. The old vintage guns still do the job.

I happened to be reading Wednesday’s copy of the North Platte Telegraph’s Connect while sipping coffee recently with some fellow outdoorsmen and noticed an auction that listed items from the estate of the late Bob Spady. One of the items listed was a Long Tom 12 gauge shotgun. I pointed this out to a friend of mine and he asked, “What is a Long Tom shotgun and where did the name come from?”

Another one of the guys at the table remembered his grandfather talking about turkey hunting when he was a young man in Missouri. His grandfather told him he always hunted his birds with his old “Long Tom” shotgun, but he never really explained what a Long Tom shotgun was, nor did he ever remember actually seeing the gun.

The term “Long Tom” is a generic moniker that has been around for some 150 years. It most likely originated during the Civil War. The Union Army had some field artillery pieces that were called Long Toms. These were big field cannons, firing 64-pound projectiles, and they could shoot them over a mile.

The nickname came from the cannon’s ability to shoot such long distances. The name carried over in the military and related to artillery pieces during World War I and II. In the Korean War, U.S. forces used a 155mm Howitzer that was actually named the Long Tom. These cannons could launch a 98-pound projectile a tad over nine miles.

In the realm of hunting, the term Long Tom has been generically applied to any single shot, long barreled shotgun. There are only a couple of companies that make a shotgun like this today. Most of the time, the name refers to antique shotguns, many of which may be a century old or more. Long Tom has also been “applied” to rifles and/or anything that could shoot long distances.

About 100 years ago, Long Tom was a trade name for a single barreled shotgun sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co. These guns were manufactured by Crescent Firearms for Sears before 1930.

When these shotguns were first made, the longer barrel was used to create higher velocities in the barrel and longer shots. With older, slower burning powders, the longer you could keep the powder burning inside the barrel the more pressure and velocity you could build up. That’s why barrels were 36 to 40 inches in length. Today’s modern powders solved this problem.

A longer barrel also acts like a choke to a certain degree. It keeps the shot together longer and that can contribute to a tighter pattern down range. Here again, modern shotshells and interchangeable chokes are generally superior in downrange performance to the shotguns of old.

Long Toms are for the most part, a segment of firearms history and part of a bygone era. For me, they are just fun guns to hunt with. I have hunted turkey with my 115 year old Long Tom. It is an Iver Johnson, single barreled, solid rib trap gun. Out to 50 yards or so it is quite lethal with a standard load of No. 6 shot. The last turkey I killed with it was 47 yards away and the old gun hit with authority.

Most of the old single-barrel shotguns seen today were what I call “work guns.” There was nothing fancy about these shotguns — plain wood, plain barrels. You carried them with you everywhere and shot whatever game presented itself. Whatever you shot was often your next meal.

My Iver Johnson was made for trap shooting rather than hunting. It has a little higher quality wood than the average gun, some checkering on the stock and forearm, a rare solid rib on top of the 32-inch barrel and better quality sights along the barrel’s rib. Being a model made for trap shooting, it has a slightly tighter choke on it than a “regular” shotgun of the same style. The tighter choke is perfect for turkey hunting.

Perhaps the “Long Tom” style of shotgun is best known from pictures and cartoons associated with the Hatfield and McCoy feud. I remember one cartoon that showed the shotguns with barrels that were twice as tall as the cartoon character. While they may not have really been that long, this style of shotgun is definitely different than contemporary shotguns.

They may be old fashioned, but these guns can still hunt and they can still take game. Take a look in your Granddad’s closet sometime. You just might find one of these guns.

Industry news

Pay close attention to Remington Arms Company in the next couple of weeks. I have written about Remington’s financial problems before, but the end may be near for this 204-year-old American company.

Despite cutting some $775 million in debt through a 2018 bankruptcy, Remington has continued to face high interest costs, lagging sales and problematic operational issues — like the troubled launch or its Model 51 pistol and dropping its venerable Model 1100 shotgun from its lineup. The company has also faced expensive litigation in claims related to mass shootings where the perpetrator used Remington rifles.

A very surprising part of the story is who appears to be the leading bidder at the moment to purchase Remington’s assets out of chapter 11 — the Navajo Nation. Of course, any bid for the company would be subject to competing offers and require bankruptcy-court approval.

A bankruptcy sale would give a potential buyer/new owner the chance to purchase Remington free from legal liabilities and allow the company to get a fresh start. I’ll keep you posted on this one.

Have a great time in Nebraska’s outdoors!

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