Cameron County gunmaker crafts rifle for ‘Revenant’

DuBois, Pa. — When Ron Luckenbill was growing up, his father was known for his ability to fix things. He often repaired gun stocks. 

“It was a time when surplus rifles were being converted for civilian use,” he said.

Today Luckenbill, who lives in the Rich Valley area of Cameron County, is recreating historically correct muzzleloading firearms of unequaled quality. Two that he built were used in the movie, “The Revenant” – and it was not by accident.

Retracing the steps that led him first into a hobby and now a business, Luckenbill recalled that his full-time career took him to the Allentown- Bethlehem area. 

“While living near Kutztown, I got to know a number of individuals who were collectors and builders of traditional muzzleloading rifles,” he said. 

“At the same time, while taking part in turkey shoots at the Shartlesville Gun Club, I realized that to compete, I needed a good rifle.”

The Lehigh Valley was a hotbed for early rifle builders. Early production rifles were still available to be held and studied. This gave Luckenbill a good understanding of what was needed to produce quality long rifles and other firearms dating back to the 1800s.

As he continued to study and build long rifles, Luckenbill displayed his work at artisan fairs such as those held in downtown DuBois and at the Jefferson County Long Rifles events. He developed a reputation for superb  craftsmanship and uncompromising attention to detail.

Luckenbill was able to retire from his full-time career, and he continued to build long rifles. Then his daughter-in-law suggested a website be established to showcase his products. 

Reluctant at first, he gave in. Soon his work was being seen on a broader stage. And that’s how the movie industry found him.

A representative of the movie production company saw on Luckenbill’s website an Anstadt-style rifle that was for sale. However, it had been sold.

In conversation with the production company about the movie, Luckenbill realized the rifle being sought after was actually used in an earlier timeframe. For some time, Luckenbill and the prop manager had a number of in-depth discussions regarding the rifle they wanted to use in the movie.

After more than a few telephone conversations, Luckenbill convinced the prop manager that a Berks County style rifle would be the proper firearm that should be used in the movie.

 “Send me two,” was the request. However, handcrafted firearms of this type are built on an as-needed basis.

“At first I didn’t know if the short deadline of two weeks to produce the rifles could be met,” Luckenbill said. “But with working some long hours in the shop, within two weeks the rifles were produced and sent out for use in the movie.“  

But the fast pace of production was not aided by power tools. Most of the work is done by using hand tools. Luckenbill believes it’s a testament to old-world quality not found in today’s world of mass production.

The stocks he uses come straight from slabs of wood found in Cameron and Elk counties, Luckenbill said.

“Maple is the wood of choice, curly maple in particular. Curly maple is an anomaly that is found in about one in 1,000 trees,” he said. “The grain in this wood is beautiful and produces some wonderful stocks for rifles.”

Cherry is also used in rifle stocks produced in the New England area, Luckenbill noted. And walnut can be used to produce a more fancy stock. Ash and hickory were used by rifle makers in the south.

All of the wood is selected by Luckenbill then left to dry for a year or more before the rifle blank is cut.

The barrels come from a number of sources. “Some of the barrels I use come from Spruce Creek and some from a barrel maker in North Carolina,” he said.

“After working on enough locks and triggers, I knew that’s something I don’t want to produce. Triggers come from North Carolina; locks from Ohio.” 

The barrel on a Luckenbill rifle can be finished “in the white” or “browned,” which is a type of rust bluing that can range in colors from a rusty red to a plum color. The barrel can also be treated to appear as frosty white.

Stocks are treated by using dyes of various hues of red and orange to brown and black layered and sealed with Spar Varnish, along with a coat of wax.

“Of the 288 rifles I’ve produced thus far, they range in caliber from .45, .50 and  .54. The vast majority, about 85 percent, are .50 caliber.”

The rifle that Hugh Glass, an 18th century trapper and hunter, depicted by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie “The Revenant” is a true representation of the type of firearm Glass would have used or Luckenbill would not have built it. 

Dave Ehrig, of Mertztown, national chairman of the Longhunter Society and a member of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association’s North American Big Game Records Program, suggested the movie will make a difference.

“‘The Revenant’ and the rifle may have a significant impact on muzzleloading rifles and hunting, which can serve to revive an interest in the use of blackpowder firearms,” Ehrig said. “The potential could match or exceed what the movie ‘The Hunger Games’ did for archery.” 

Categories: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *