FULTON — Firearms enthusiasts and history buffs from across the country are once again set to descend on Fulton for the ninth annual Hunter Arms Homecoming, a celebration of the renowned shotguns once produced in the city.
Hosted by Friends of History in Fulton and the L.C. Smith Collectors Association, the Hunter Arms Homecoming invites collectors, shooters and anyone interested in history to gather and share information about L.C. Smith and Hunter Arms guns, and compete in a four-event shooting competition using the prized firearms that were produced in Fulton from the 1890s to the middle of the 20th century.
The two-day event is scheduled for Aug. 23 and 24. There will be historical displays at the J.W. Pratt House, the shooting competition at Pathfinder Fish and Game Club, and a banquet at Tavern on the Lock Restaurant.
Event organizer Les Weldin said the event has been growing year after year and attracting L.C. Smith enthusiasts from across the country.
“It’s becoming more popular for people to come in and look at the numbers and quality of the guns that are displayed,” said Weldin, a member of the L.C. Smith Collectors Association and Friends of History in Fulton. “And on the shooting aspect of it, more shooters are showing up.”
Weldin said the annual homecoming is a way to celebrate and promote the history of both the city of Fulton and the unique Hunter Arms and L.C. Smith guns, which represent a bygone era and draw interest from collectors around the world.
The J.W. Pratt House Museum is scheduled to open to the public at 10 a.m. Aug. 23, with the Hunter Arms collections on display until 5 p.m. The museum will reopen Aug. 24 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In addition to the museum’s Hunter Arms collection — which includes several firearms, engraving tools, historical advertisements, company catalogs and bicycles and fans made by the company — several collectors plan to display their own unique Hunter Arms and L.C. Smith firearms.
The Saturday shoot at Pathfinder Fish & Game Club starts promptly at 9 a.m., with registration beginning at 8 a.m. For the second year in a row it includes a sporting clays event in addition to the trap, skeet, and five-stand events of prior years. Firearms used in the events were manufactured prior to 1951, with some dating back to the 1800s.
The shooting competitions are open to anyone shooting an L.C. Smith or Fulton gun, Weldin said.
Weldin said each individual who participates in the shoot or puts their L.C. Smith shotguns on display receives a souvenir. The mayor’s award, Hunter award and people’s choice award are given out for the Pratt House displays, and first-, second- and third-place awards will be presented in each of the four shooting competitions.
“We encourage people to come to the Pratt House and look at the displays and vote, and also to come to Pathfinder to watch the shoot,” Weldin said, noting there is a small entrance fee for participants but the public is welcome to attend both the shooting events and the Pratt House.
The awards banquet is scheduled for Aug. 24 at Tavern on the Lock, with a cash bar at 6:30 p.m. and dinner at 7:30 p.m. Reservations are required.
Over the years, the event has attracted visitors from as far away as Alaska and California. Collectors and competitive shooters assemble to admire the firearms and piece together the history of the company and their individual guns.
The Hunter Arms Company began in 1877 when W.H. Baker and Company started making the Baker Three-Barrel Gun in Lisle, New York. Baker formed a partnership with Lyman Cornelius Smith — whose name would be linked to the firearm for more than a century — two years later to begin manufacturing the weapon in Syracuse. By 1888, Smith had taken over the company and sold it to John Hunter Sr. of Sterling.
In 1889, a Fulton factory was completed and the Hunter Arms Company was manufacturing L.C. Smith firearms in the city. Production of the L.C. Smith guns remained in the city until the late 1940s when a section of the first floor of the factory collapsed, and was not rebuilt.
For decades, the Hunter Arms factory was located on the east side of the Oswego River in Fulton, just north of where the Oneida Street Bridge is. More than 500,000 L.C. Smith guns were produced in 25 different grades and variations at the Fulton factory, from a basic field grade to the deluxe grade, which have intricate, customized etchings and gold inlays.
Local officials and historians said the company employed around 400 people at its peak and played a major role in the city’s economy. The Fulton factory also produced fans, which are still produced under the Hunter name in Tennessee, and bicycles.
Over time, the shotguns became a coveted collectors’ item, and the L.C. Smith Collectors Association was formed in March 2003. The guns have become valuable collectors’ items over the years, with some valued at more than $200,000, according to historians.
Weldin, who purchased his first L.C. Smith gun 15 years ago, said the firearms are special because of their quality. They were known as the gun that “never shoots loose” because of a unique design that includes a rotary locking bolt. Plus, the more expensive grades were adorned with ornate engravings.
Being a lifelong Fultonian with an interest in history, Weldin said the firearm piqued his interest and “it’s just grown from there.”
For more information about the Hunter Arms Homecoming, contact Friends of History in Fulton at 315-598-4616 or firstname.lastname@example.org.