Fond du Lac resident Ray Groff expected windy conditions and a good bite when he set out on the waters of Lake Winnebago last week. What he did not expect was that he would dig up a piece of American history.

“It was around 11 a.m. on Sept. 4 and as soon as I saw the barrel I knew what it was,” Groff told Action Reporter Media.

The antiquated firearm had been sitting on the bottom of the lake for over 200 years before the angler came along. He did not reel in the heavy, 47-inch-long gun but instead found it dangling off his anchor.

“This is crazy. It’s like one of those tall fish tales,” he recalled thinking.

The firearm’s bore shows signs of its great age. Rust had eaten away much of the barrel and a large section of the wooden stock had completely rotten off. The object was coated in a layer of invasive zebra mussels. Remarkably, the original piece of flint included with the musket was still in place, half-cocked, as if waiting to be shot.

Groff speculates that the gun may have once belonged to a trapper from the area 200 years ago, or was maybe a prized possession of the Winnebago Indians that used to live there. Around that time there was a small French fur trading post along the Fond du Lac River run by the explorers Augustine Grignon and Michael Brisbois. The two men would buy furs from trappers as well as trade with the local Native American tribes, exchanges which may have included this particular item.

Whatever the case, Groff says the rifle is a catch of a lifetime and will be proudly displaying it in his home. It will be unaltered except for a layer of sealant.

“I’m not going to start messing around with it,” he said.

An interview with Groff can be seen below:

Image screenshot of video on

  • fliteking

    Very Cool. Would go on my mancave wall as is.

  • nightsinger

    Not a rifle. Smoothbore fusil – Northwest trade gun.

    • OutdoorHubEditor

      Whoops, you’re. Using “rifle” was wrong here. Thanks for catching that, the article’s text has been updated.

      • timmcguire

        Are you sure it didn’t have a rifled barrel? I’m no expert on this, but flintlock firearms with rifled barrels were pretty common by 1800.

      • z-man

        I’d like to get a closer look at this thing, but it appears that no part
        of the barrel is hexogonal, as was the case for rifles 200 years ago.
        I’d also like to know the make and model, it will help better date the
        piece. But back then, they didn’t yet have the technology to be able to
        clamp a round barrel in place to be able to rifle the inside of the barrel……hence the required hexogonal part.

      • Gun Builder Nut

        Look close, the breech area does appear to be octagonal (hexagonal is basically unheard of) But the round faced, English style lock would certainly be commonly found on a smoothbore trade gun

  • Skyking

    Don’t alter it, but do have an expert and historian check it out.

  • Duane Peterson

    I would proudlr display it on my wall.untouched of course.

  • Robert L Wiltfong

    Good find Great for you man

  • ractivist

    Imagine the fella who lost it and the significance of that two hundred years ago.

  • hawkeye

    Very likely sill loaded!

    • Russell Smith

      Unlikely, the hammer is in the fired position.

  • hawkeye

    oops make that STILL loaded.

  • Charlie

    I have a replica in 20 ga. and enjoy shooting it. The gun itself was so useful: it could be loaded with ether a round ball or shot, whatever the occasion called for. I wouldn’t be surprised if x-rayed it showed loaded.

  • BW56

    You can always trade in a piece of American history at a local gun buy back for a $50 food gift card and keep a bad gun off the streets out of criminals hands. NOT

    • redshirt

      This gun was probably used in a “paddle by” shooting.

  • Karl

    That gun is an early to mid 18th century gun, and is going on 300 years old. If the flintlock is held in place by three screws, it pre-dates the American Revolution. It’s of English manufacture, too. It probably has a load in the barrel, too.

    • Russell Smith

      Look at the position of the hammer, it has been fired.

      • Dan

        They didn’t walk around with the hammer back. It would be in this position loaded or not.

      • Mark Drinkard

        Might just not be primed .9 out of 10 of these old guns especially pulled from a lake are still loaded

  • Karl

    You have a treasure there. It’s a very early English gun 1730’s or 40’s. The flintlock is probably held on by three screws, making it a very rare (today) trade fusil. There’s only one other example in that condition that I know of. I wonder why the original owner dropped it. The rest of his canoe is probably in the same area.

  • Jon Dough

    Best I can see from the video, that probably a 20 gauge. c.1800-1830 Northwest Trade Gun, most commonly used by the tribes over all other ‘fusils’ -as they were commonly called… and most native Americans usually obtained them from, the Hudson’s Bay Company in trade for fur -that was their job. The majority had approximately 40 to 41″ long barrels -though some were sold, shorter. 38″ 36″ and shorter yet…. I prefer 36″ myself…. It truly must have been the most common gun in North American in all of the 18th century…

    Many were built in England (especially those HBC ‘marked’, -look for a ‘sitting fox’ stamped into the top barrel flat near the breech ) -and marketed) -but there were many American makers as well, Henry E. Leman of Lancaster, Pa. most notable. To this day these ‘trade guns’ there ARE the BEST survival gun on earth. They will shoot ANYTHING that you can stuff down the barrel,.. ( if you know how,) you can make your own gunpowder, and you can find flints or pyrites on side slopes, to cause the frizzen to make sparks to touch her off… .Its all you need to put meat in the pot… I have shot round stream pebbles out of these things (and Bess’s as well ) many times….

    How do I know this stuff? There isn’t room here to tell you about it. I just do.

    • Ron kindred

      I have a Long rifle, (cap lock converted) with the makers engraving (in script) of “W. Martin” on the barrel.
      I haven’t been able to find any information about the maker. Would possible be able to provide an info on a W. Martin gun maker. It’s a family air loom out of Indian.

      Ron Kindred
      Rochester, NY

  • would’nt you love to know the rest of the story?

  • Jack Mehoff

    So he said rifle. Big freakin deal. get a life losers. Just be happy for the guy instead of being a know it all ass.

    • Hal Johnson

      Well said.

  • more than likely its a Charleyville smoothbore. Looking at the Lockplate design, shape.. If it’s in the position that he found the hammer and frizzen in, It was fired. I have to wonder if it’s older than 200 years, could be 250. as the Butt is missing it’s hard to tell. It doesn’t look English. Then if you figure out the bore size, .69 would be a French Military Musket.Which France also provided the Rebel Americans during the American Revolution. It may well have been dropped later like in the mid 1800’s or later still. Often used for shotguns as many weren’t grooved. took too long to load a rifled Musket. .

  • vladislav

    ya`ll realize that the guy who carried that trade gun might still be at the bottom of the lake !