Mark Novak of Anvil Gunsmithing is one of the most passionate people at the IV8888 Range Day event. Even if you don’t have an interest in antique guns, the wild stories of how Mark both finds and restores his latest projects will have you hooked. One of many “gun-tubers” at the media-focused event, it is easy to see why he has quite the following.
Every year, Mark comes back with something truly unique and never disappoints.
William Moore & Co. Double-Barrel Percussion 8ga Shotgun
From across the range, the long barrels of his Victorian-era 8-gauge shotgun could be spotted. I was chomping at the bit to shoot it. A double-barrel percussion shotgun isn’t your everyday range gun and finding one that works is pretty rare. When Mark first came across this relic, it was in pretty bad shape – like most of his projects. The Damascus barrels were barely held together with two solder points and some plumbers glue, just some of the obstacles that had to be handled to bring this gun back to life.
Enthusiastically, Mark can tell you every detail of his restoration process, even the reasoning behind the fresh smell of stain on the stock of his Enfield No. 4 Mk 2. As always, unexpected issues make meeting deadlines a race. Restored for a movie prop company, you can easily imagine a stagecoach driver throwing down the reins and grabbing this double-barrel shotgun.
I mean, when was the last time you got to shoot a black-powder shotgun? It was an epic experience. This William Moore & Co. double-barrel percussion 8ga shotgun dates back to the 1840s and takes 200 grains of black powder and 3 ounces of shot. That is nothing to mess around with because of how cumbersome and, honestly, how dangerous loading this gun can be. Mark only let a few people shoot it. I was one of the chosen few. Tediously, he extracted the wads from an old can along with the projectiles and various loading components. Waiting for the neighboring booth attendee to finish his cigar, the black powder cautiously came out. Making sure the 150-year-old shotgun was good to go, a crowd assembled to witness this antique launch some lead downrange.
“Don’t pull both triggers at once,” Mark cautioned. “I know you are a good shot, but that will knock anyone over.” He cocked back the hammers and handed over the hefty shotgun. One trigger after the other, the powder ignited and fired downrange with a large plume of smoke and enough recoil to knock the shooting glasses off my face. It was hard not to laugh wildly after. The recoil was actually very manageable. The most difficult part of shooting this shotgun was handling the weight and length of the barrels. The slippery fresh foregrip didn’t help.
M1941 Johnson Rifle
Next in the lineup came a military classic, the M1941 Johnson Rifle, which came about a hundred years after the William Moore. Innovation did a lot over the years as this gun has a short-recoil semi-automatic system. An interesting bit of history about the Johnson is that it was made as a backup gun by Melvin Johnson in case the M1 Garand didn’t make it into service during World War II.
The M1 beat out the M1941 and only about 10,000 were made. This particular one has been restored to immaculate condition and shot extremely reliably throughout the weekend. It is pretty exciting to be handed a clip of .30-caliber ball ammunition and a hefty WWII battle gun. Unlike the M1, the Johnson did not eject a clip, an advantage to some soldiers, and has a magazine with a higher capacity of 10 rounds, which can be reloaded even if the bolt is closed.
Enfield No. 4 Mk 2 Turned Into a Rancher Truck Gun
Last came the freshly refinished Enfield No. 4 Mk 2. Made in 1953 after WWII, it “has the collectibility of a glass of water,” but it sure is a cool gun to see and shoot. Mark has modernized this particular Mk 2 by shortening the barrel for a new practical use. A rancher requested this modification so he could have major-caliber firepower that would fit in his truck. Typically, this gun comes in at almost 4 feet long. Chopped down to a 16 ⅜-inch barrel, it was made as short as it could go and still ensure a 150-grain bullet would not tumble. Always thinking about “the next guy,” Mark noted the 3/8-inch extra length was an extra allowance in case the rifle needed to be re-crowned in the future.
As a newbie to this gun, I was shown how the bolt takes a little “extra” to push it forward. In an era when the Mauser action was more common, having a bolt that cocked on the forward push offered great speed for experienced users. I expected the .303 to sport some heavy recoil, but it was surprisingly quite a peach to shoot. Habit would have modern shooters wanting to remove the magazine, however, it is actually designed to be topped off with strip clips. The No. 4 Mk 2 proved extremely accurate as I easily hit every target the micrometer sight was set on. After the eclectic 8 gauge, the Mk 2 was my favorite to shoot.
Mark always has a crazy restoration project going on. So if you’d like to check out what he’s working on, head on over to his YouTube page for Anvil Gunsmithing. We love seeing people who are passionate about “the old stuff” and breathe life back into guns that otherwise would have rusted away. True gunsmithing is becoming a rare skill, and watching and talking with Mark is a true treat. Can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!