My interest in Kentucky longrifles began when I was ten years of age. At that time, I was introduced to a collection of old originals in my home state of Minnesota. I graduated from high school in 1959 and continued my post secondary education in Great Britian. During the six years I lived in the United Kingdom, I spent a number of days at the Tower of London Armory renewing my love affair with the American longrifle. The Brits had captured some of these during the American revolution and they are now being preserved by various museum curators. 1965 found me immigrating to Canada and pursuing a 35 year career in communications with British Columbia Telephone Co. My dream of collecting an original longrifle was seriously impaired due to the responsibility of managing a young family and the seemingly endless struggle to make a home in a new country. So, being unable to "collect" one, I decided to "make" one. My first attempt was from a kit from "Numrich Arms" which spurred me on to build one from "scratch". So I bought a couple of books from ads that appeared in Muzzle Blasts publication. They were "Longrifles of Note", "Recreating the American Longrifle", "First Edition", and "Kentucky Rifles and Pistols 1750-1850". Armed with these books and an inherited skill to work with my hands, I began my gun making career in 1972.
By 1978 I was flying to North Carolina to meet some of the top gun makers of the day. I brought with me one of my latest rifles to be critiqued - and it was! However, I was royally hosted by Jim Chambers, John Bivins, Earl Lanning and Bud Siler. While in North Carolina I also had the chance to examine a number of old originals and to document their specifications. Upon returning to my home in British Columbia, I found myself equipped with much needed information and technical details to carry on with recreating the Kentucky rifle. I continued to focus on building "from scratch" and not from a kit. If I was to be the author of a fine rifle, then I wanted as much of "me" in the piece as possible. So I began investigating the task of doing my own rifling. After several years of experimentation with an old modified rifling bench and lots of disappointment mixed together with some sucess, I was able to offer handcut longrifle barrels for sale. The style of rifling was somewhat similar to what the Old Masters did, which meant "deep" cut grooves. My handcut barrels are still being used today after thousands upon thousands of rounds being shot through them. The normal grouping shot at 100 yards with "H. Toenjes" handcut rifling is one inch or better. I have some proof targets which exhibit "same hole" grouping at 100 yards. I have also been known to "recut" existing rifling which will put a smile on the face of the client on the firing line.
In recent years, my attention has turned to creating presentation grade cased sets. This includes fancy case, rifle or matched pistols and a complete set of shooting accessories.
I am self-taught in the realm of engraving and silver wire inlay. The latter is my specialty. I inherited a gift to work with my hands, so my favorite place is at the bench making beautiful guns by hand from raw materials. I do not pretend to be in competition with "mass production" or "high tech". In fact, a sign in my shop reads "I specialize in low tech".
I've won a number of first places at local gun shows, been accepted into the American Custom Gunmakers Guild at Reno NV, displayed at the NRA show in Seattle and had my latest cased set examined by Charlton Heston, president of the NRA in 2001. There have been articles published about my artisanship in the following publications: Langley Times, August 1982, Rendesvous & Longrifles, September 1982, B.C. Outdoors, February 1983, The Blackpowder Report, November 1984, Muzzle Blasts, July 1989, Kamloops Daily News 1992, Waffen Magazine, June 1992 and August 1996, and Kamloops This Weeks, January 1998. Also there are several pages featuring my work in the latest issue of "Gun Digest", the 2010 edition # 64, pages 50 through 51, front cover of "The Gunmaker" mag. winter 2010 with article inside and a two page feature in " American Tradition" mag. summer 2011. During the 1980's I was the "amorer" for the Fur Trade Volunteers at Historic Fort Langley, B.C. which included small artillery and in 2005, I was the amorer and one of the actors in the History Channel's documentary entitled "Commanche Warriors". I have also had several understudies attend my shop from time to time in past years.
Now that I am firmly planted in the Black Hills of South Dakota with a new shop/studio, and considering the stage of my gun making career, I will continue to focus on recreating presentation grade cased sets with the odd restoration along the way to make life interesting. I belong to the following organizations: ACGG, FEGA, CLA, NRA, NMLRA,
Contact Hugh Toenjes at:
24657 Medicine Mt. Rd,
Custer, SD 57730
phone number: 605-673-4072