Dipper Gourd Powder Horn


Junior Doughty

I decided to replace my cow horn powder horn for something lighter and smaller for two reasons: At an empty weight of nine ounces the horn was a little too heavy to tie to a strap on my possibles bag, and I had too many straps and cords around my neck. It was also too bulky to easily fit inside the bag. I wanted a horn, a powder container, small enough to fit inside my possibles bag and/or light enough to tie to one of the straps.

This past spring, 2001, I noticed that the local Feed & Seed store sold dipper gourd seeds. Bells rang and lights flashed. A dipper gourd powder horn! Cool! So I invested 75¢ in a packet of seeds. I planted some in a corner of my yard and gave a few to a friend, luckily as it turned out.

My plants grew to about six inches tall and got lawnmower-ized. After a few weeks of tender love and care they again grew to about six inches tall and got automobile-ized. More love and care finally produced revitalized plants, but when fall arrived I had a grand total of one gourd growing on my plants. And I gave it so much love and care it grew way too big for use as a powder horn.

Gourds drying
Doesn't everybody hang gourds and squirrel tails from their front porch?
Luckily, my friend gave me two gourds from her plant. That's them in the photo and hanging from my front porch. Both are softball-sized, and they have hung there for about a month. Both were green when hung, and the stem was green on the left one but brown on the right one. In other words, the one on the left was picked too soon.

The one on the right is in the black mold stage and ready for cleaning. I suspect that the black mold/gourd relationship is a symbiotic one in that the mold sucks the remaining moisture from inside the gourd, and the gourd provides moisture and nutrients to the mold. Whatever the case, the black mold/gourd relationship is a universal one.

The gourd began drying from the neck down. It starting turning brown at the point where the stem became the neck, and the brown color slowly, day by day, enveloped the neck and spread down the neck to the body. Then one morning all green had disappeared, and the gourd was brown. At that point I could shake it and feel the seeds inside move like a lump.

At or near that point, the black mold appeared as a small, jet black spot on the body of the gourd. In a few days it enveloped probably 70% of the surface of the gourd. At that point I could shake the gourd and feel and hear the seeds inside rattle. When the black mold stopped spreading, it was time to clean the gourd.

I added about 1/2 cup of bleach to a sink of lukewarm water, then added the gourd. The mold was confined to a thin outside layer of the gourd which came free with the mold attached. I quickly discovered that the fastest way to remove the moldy layer was with my fingernails. In no more than ten minutes, the gourd was clean and a uniform tan color.

Intending to leave the neck long because I thought it would look cool that way, I took a hacksaw and carefully cut the neck in two just below the stem. The neck was filled with a soft, tissue-like substance which I easily removed with a little pick tool normally used for picking out pecans. I then upended the gourd and rattled out some of the seeds.

Guts removed The remaining seeds and inside tissue needed a different step for removal. In my driveway, I selected about 25 little pea-sized pieces of gravel, a palm full maybe. I rubbed them between my hands and blew on them several times in order to remove sand grains. Then I dropped them down the open neck and started shaking the gourd.

In a couple of minutes of shaking, out came every thing inside the gourd. I separated the gravel from the seeds, dropped it down the neck again, and shake rattle and rolled for a couple of more minutes, trying to remove loose strands, etc., from the inside of the gourd.

From left to right, you see the gourd, the seeds and tissue-like substance, and the cut off stem.

It was time to install the stopper.

Installing the stopper What you see in this photo is a Dixie Gun Works 1" O.D. x 1/2" I.D. Brass Horn Base Plug & Bushing, #NA3800, $3.50, 2001 catalog page #300, ready to be epoxied inside the gourd neck. You simply smear a little epoxy inside the gourd neck and around the knurled brass bushing, then ease the bushing inside the neck. The bushing and plug are fitted for an O-ring, but one isn't provided. To make an absolutely water tight connection, I spent 40¢ for an O-ring at Ace Hardware.

If you're thinking that sounds like an easy way to make a stopper for a gourd canteen, you're right. That might be my next project.

When the epoxy dried, I rubbed beeswax on the gourd to give it a waterproof coating. I could have painted it with polyurethane inside and out, but a 1/2 pint can was $3.96 and I'm cheap—ah, frugal.

The last step was to install some sort of leather thong as a way to attach the gourd horn to my possibles bag and to prevent loss of the brass plug. In the process of doing that, I dropped the gourd horn. The neck hit the edge of my table and cracked like an egg.

No wonder it cracked, I decided when I surveyed the damage. The neck was eggshell thin. Good thing it happened at my table instead of in the deep woods.

A little bigger than a coffee cup The neck was noticeably thicker near the body of the gourd. So I cleaned epoxy and gourd material from the brass bushing, and I cut the gourd neck off much closer to the gourd body. To strengthen the shorter neck, I used a screwdriver blade and layered epoxy inside the neck. I then epoxied the bushing into the new opening.

For size comparison, here we see the completed gourd powder horn beside my coffee cup. Speaking of cup, the gourd holds about 1 1/4 measuring cups of Pyrodex P. In terms of the 10 gr squirrel load for my .32 caliber muzzleloader, that's in the neighborhood of 300 rounds, or, ummm, ah, 298 squirrels in the pot.

Here's a side view with a rule for absolute size comparison. As you can see, the diameter of the gourd body is about 4".

The leather on the bottom provides an attachment point for the leather lacing, but it also provides a measure of safety in case I drop the gourd horn and it hits a rock.

The last thing I did was put a daub of epoxy on every knot. I also put a little bead of epoxy all the way around the brass bushing/gourd end junction. I could probably submerge that gourd horn in the bottom of a swimming pool, and it wouldn't leak a drop.

Side view

Here we see the gourd horn attached to a strap of my possibles bag and ready to go squirrel hunting. On the other strap you see powder cartridges. When I kill a squirrel or miss a squirrel and it gets away, I refill all my used cartridges from the powder horn. I keep four loaded cartridges attached to that strap. (Click here to learn how to make cartridges.)

Empty, my gourd powder horn weighs exactly three ounces, or, 1/3 as much as my nine ounce cow horn powder horn. Six ounces saved doesn't sound like much to brag about, but when you have walked a mile toting a muzzleloading rifle and its accouterments and a jug of water and a pocket full of snacks—and a couple of squirrels—you're much aware of every single ounce.

Ready to go squirrel hunting

I think my little dipper gourd powder horn is a jewel. To me, it looks like something you could rub and out would pop a Genie. If it was a she Genie and she looked like the one on the old TV show, that would be fine with me. She'd surely say, Oh, rub me, Junior, oh, ruuuuuuuub me!


NOTE: The first person to whom I proudly showed my little gourd powder horn tested its strength with his thumb.

Result = big hole = goodbye little gourd powder horn.

To prevent this from happening to your gourd powder horn, (1) after cleaning out the inside of your gourd let it dry for one week, and, (2) then spend $3.96 and liberally coat the inside of your gourd with polyurethane.

To view a Javascript pop-up window showing how I did that to my new gourd powder horn, click here.

Update 2004: My problems in 2001 with too-thin gourds were due to premature removal of the gourds from the vines. Leave your gourds on the vine until the stems are brown and dead and the gourd is at least 1/2 brown. A fully developed gourd means a gourd with thick and sturdy walls. There is no need to coat the inside with polyurethane.


Check out Gourd Central or the American Gourd Society for complete gourd info.


Copyright 2001 by Junior Doughty

HOME   Back To The Make It Section