Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Washington County resident takes aim at gunmaking

Washington County gun builder and craftsman Donald Davison hunts for the meat he brings to the table — and he does it with guns he crafted himself.
Davison makes buffalo rifles, muzzleloaders and powder horns and each piece he makes is a functioning work of art.
Davison enjoyed the 32 years he worked at Eastman Chemical in Kingsport, but when he retired, he decided to do all he things he never had time to do before.
He tried playing guitar, and then the banjo. He did all sorts of things, but discovered nothing gives him as much fulfillment as building muzzleloading guns and meeting others who share his passion.
“There’s more gun builders in this particular area than probably any other area, and the reason for it is a man named Lester Smith,” Davison said. “Lester lived in the old Austin Springs area, and he worked with the legendary grand master, Hacker Martin, who lived over on Cedar Creek and ran a grist mill, and then he carried on the tradition of making muzzleloaders.”
“Lester learnt me and some others,” Davison said of his teacher, “and then I have learnt a lot of people. After Lester died, I had to learn how to engrave the guns, and I do it all by hand.”
Just a few muzzleloader-building devotees practice the art of hand-engraving. Those men are part of a gun club that meets once a week.
“We shoot the buffalo guns and the muzzleloaders at metal targets,” Davison said. “It’s a real fine club up there — skeet and trapshooting, a rifle range. It’s real enjoyment.”
Club members teach interested people how to shoot muzzleloaders and buffalo guns, which were both used historically in this region
“Muzzleloaders were invented in the 1500s and were used throughout the Civil War, and even longer in the mountains,” Davison said. “Buffalo guns shoot cartridges and they were invented during the Civil War era, so their use overlapped for a period of time.”
According to Davison, shooting the buffalo guns initially presented a challenge for members.
“We didn’t know anything about loading them correctly when we first got started,” he said. “The powder charge and what you have to put on your bullet – it took us a long time to learn all of this and we did it together.”
Davison’s first experience with a muzzleloader came when he was 14, shooting squirrels with his grandfather’s gun.
He hunted with it for many years, but eventually, he needed to either repair it, or find a replacement gun.
“I took my granddaddy’s gun to Lester Smith and he said, ‘Well, Don, why don’t you make you one? You get your parts and I will help you, and learn you how,’” Davison said. “I was still working at Eastman, but I’d go over there on my off-days and he showed me how to do it. In turn, I feel obligated to show other people.”
Davison has learned a lot since then, has built some fine guns along the way, and still enjoys providing meat for the table using his own crafted guns.
“You see, I’d rather shoot a deer with a muzzleloader than a high-powered rifle that goes ‘boom – boom – boom,’ one right after another,” Davison said. “With that muzzleloader, you’ve got one shot. It’s just you and the deer.”
And it doesn’t even have to be the killing of a big buck to thrill Davison.
“I just love the sport of meat hunting. I don’t have to kill a great big buck to be happy,” he said.
His hunting keeps his freezer well-stocked with deer meat , much to his wife’s delight, he said.
“I’m lucky I’ve got a woman who loves deer meat as much as I do,” he said.