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Paul Horolan timber speargun

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popgun pete

Well-Known Member
Jul 30, 2008
The large variety of speargun designs in earlier times reflected the environment that they were used in and the species of fish sought. An example of this are spearguns used in tropical waters where the fish the locals are interested in are not necessarily big ones and they cannot easily be cornered in reef structure thus requiring a straight shot to bag them. Keeping the energy expended vs energy acquired in foodstuff consumption means few shots as possible are required. As aiming not to miss requires a long barrel and spear the guns need to be slim profile to have wand waving ability with small course corrections usually required as the oblivious but perpetually nervous prey change course in their own hunt for sustenance.

In Hawaii Paul Horolan crafted his own unique timber guns to meet these requirements, their most notable feature being a combined timber grip and butt stock that worked as a rear paddle to brace against with the inner forearm. Thus the long gun can be shifted with one hand for minor aiming adjustments. These great looking guns have all their parts crafted by Paul. Because of the large buoyancy incorporating a large weight of stainless parts is largely offset by all that lumber. When making my own timber guns it seemed appropriate to also use a wooden butt stock to offset the all metal mechanism weight, but I never attempted such glorious timber work as we see here. All metal mortice trigger mechanisms were common in timber guns.
Hawaiian speargun timber stock 1.jpg
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The Horolan guns use a single-piece trigger with a long trigger arm that provides more space for multiple fingers on the trigger. The metal shroud muzzle is a form of hoop muzzle to allow a tabbed shaft through and the rubber band strands are anchored in hinged metal links.

A passive metal spring line clip controls the shooting line, you can see it on the LHS of the upper grip.
Horolan gun 4 2007.jpg

Horolan gun 5 2007.jpg

Horolan gun 6 2007.jpg

Horolan gun 8 2007.jpg

Horolan gun 9 2007.jpg

Horolan gun 7 2007.jpg
The spear and muzzle, note that the shaft wishbone tab also serves as a line slide stop.
Horolan gun spear.jpg
With a bit of image manipulation we can put the spear in the Horolan gun. It is notable that the sear box mouth is raised above the gun top deck and that the spear rides above it. This is reminiscent of the Sampson gun where to defeat spear initial column bending deflection under band load acceleration which could then bounce off the barrel tube creating subsequent inaccuracy a large gap was used between the spear and barrel. The Sampson gun also used a 3/8" diameter shaft just to make sure a large hit could be delivered with shaft momentum at the target, something the Horolan gun does not need, using a far slimmer and faster spear at medium range targets, the gun already reaching part way to the fish.
Hawaiian speargun timber spear inserted.jpg

Sampson gun added for reference purposes.
Sampson gun Short Tom.jpg

Hurricane Corsair and Sampson Gun, the latter followed the former.
Hurricane Corsair and Sampson Gun lineage R.jpg
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I had come across Paul Horolan some years ago when investigating the progression of underwater weapons from the earliest days. Many divers made their own weapons as production spearguns were either unavailable in their locality or would not be suitable for what they had in mind. With the right skill set and imagination they often created their guns from first principles. One of these talented individuals appears to be Paul Horolan. My fellow investigators John Warren and Ron Mullins pooled our info and checked out the most promising weapons with a unique aspect to them, being senior divers we had seen a lot in our time in the sport.

The first Horolan speargun we saw was this one, here is John’s presentation of it.
Horalan_spear_details (2).jpg

Horalan_speargun_details (2).jpg

We can see that this gun has a pin that the trigger pulls down to fire the spear rather than a sear tooth rolling out of a spear tail notch. This system does not require a sear box roof as the shaft is basically hanging on a hook and pulling the trigger the spear tail is essentially wiped off the hook as the pin descends. This is very similar to the reverse tooth guns as shown in the trigger mechanism rules diagram.
reverse tooth trigger.jpg
Reverse tooth and pin restrained guns were a valid solution for many early guns, in fact another one is the Australian made "Mare Dama" which was a cast alloy frame speargun. However any similarity ends there. Mel Brown who manages the AUF Spearfishing Museum supplied the images of this strangely futuristic looking gun, however that would only be if you knew zero about spearfishing, but like everything back then it was a product of its time.
Mare Dama Speargun 004.JPG

Mare Dama Speargun 003.JPG
More images of Paul Horolan’s earlier gun judging by its use of copper elements for spear and trigger mechanism. It is interesting to note the Japanese pre-war rollerguns similarly used brass parts, another copper based alloy. The advantage is these parts don’t grow with rusting as steel does, but are much softer, hence are limited for use as spears against tougher prey.
A Google search on Paul Horolan turned up nothing, so I decided to check for an obituary in Hawaii and this came up. There were a few results for a “Paul Horolan”, but I think that this is the most likely one. I have not retrieved the entry yet, so for now this will have to do.
Paul Horolan obit.jpg
Master speargun builder John Warren who specialised in using the Prodanovich high capacity handle for shooting game fish has kindly provided the text for his web page on Paul Horolan which is no longer up, being part of the former Rocknfish website.

Hawaiian Speargun - Paul Horolan
All photographs provided by David Preston, Oahu, Hawaii.

David Preston from Oahu, Hawaii recently brought a very interesting speargun to our attention. This specimen appears to be hand built from oak wood and preserved with many layers of varnish. It has a rifle like 'stock' behind the hand grip. The grip is in an elevated position assuring accurate trajectory of the arrow when fired. Streamlined appearance is joined with several traditional Pacific island speargun details. This is a very attractive and functional gun. It's origin was mysterious, but with some research and collaboration from world-wide spearfishing experts, the origin of this interesting piece seems to have been established.

The gunbody is 54" in length and 1" in width. The handle has additional koa wood laminated onto it. There is a rubber pad on the gun butt. The spearshaft is 1/4" in thickness and appears to be made from carbon steel (probably heat-treated spring steel obtained from a 'Hinge Gun'. The overall length of the spearshaft is 56 1/8 ". Over all length is 64 1/8". This information has been provided by David Preston.

This nicely crafted piece of functional equipment was a mystery, until Ron Mullins contacted his friend John Iwaniec on Oahu, Hawaii. We were fortunate because John was definitely the right guy . A year ago, John had been introduced to a 75 year old man named Paul Horolan who has been making these spearguns in a town near Pearl Harbor. One of John's close friends owned one of these guns himself. He recognized a similarity between the spearguns John had made and the ones which were originally made by Paul Horolan. The introduction between the gentlemen speargun builders was destined because they both had converged upon a successful ergonomic design - the rifle stock attached to a rear-handled wooden gun. On another page, you will see the similarity between the speargun made by Paul Horolan and the speargun made by John Iwaniec.

Details of Paul Horalan's Hawaiian speargun

The Paul Horolan speargun uses a mix of design elements which have been seen from the Pacific Islands to Japan. Note the trigger is a bent piece of stainless steel rod which forms a round hook. This hook protrudes through the flattened, spring steel spearshaft. The trigger is spring loaded with a stretched length of natural latex rubber tubing, secured with a knot below the trigger guard. This pre-tension assures the trigger will be in place when the spearshaft is introduced below the copper shaft keeper. Two bands are hooked to the single 'tab' brazed upon the spearshaft in front of the shaft keeper. When the diver pulls the trigger the stainless rod is pulled down from the hole in the shaft and it can fly free to it's target.

The bands are attached to this gun in a manner which more closely resembles the small Japanese rollerguns we have seen. Strong D-rings hold the bands. There is a continuous stainless steel strap which secures the D-rings to the front of the gun without weakening the wood with a large hole. Note the ligature on both of the bands. The two bands are made from a single length of black speargun rubber.

Spearshaft details of the Paul Horolan Hawaiian speargun
This spearshaft appears to be spring steel, much like which is used in the 'Hinge Guns' commonly used around the shallow reefs of Hawaii. The spearshaft is 1/4" in diameter, relatively thin in comparison to most of today's guns. No doubt the arrow really was quick. Double wings helped secure the impaled fish. A stainless steel slide ring was used to retrieve the shaft. heavy monofilament line was used to secure the fish.

We are grateful for all the quality photographs that David Preston of Oahu, Hawaii has provided us with. The excellent quality of these images allows us all a visual window by which we can discover work by one of the old master speargun builders from Hawaii, Paul Horolan.
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