H. Koon & The Snake Charmer

H. Koon & The Snake Charmer

Although we may not always consider a firearm to be a tool, it can sometimes be created with a very specific job in mind. Some examples of what we mean are guns like the AR7 Survival Rifle or perhaps the early Punt Guns. The AR7 was designed for Air Force pilots, and was built to be easily assembled and disassembled, storing its components perfectly inside its stock, and it could float just in case the aircraft ended up in the water. The Punt Guns were built with huge barrels, and were mounted to boats for the purpose of taking down entire flocks of game birds with a single blast from the muzzle. Of course that one was long before migratory bird laws were enacted.

However, the gun that we are referring to here was built with more of a personal defense job in mind. Though it was precisely the same type of problem-solving thought process, it was not as extreme as the Punt Gun, or meant for the military like the AR7. The Snake Charmer designed by Homer “Jeff” Koon of Dallas, Texas was intended to be an easy to carry and effective weapon for ranchers, fisherman, or anyone else that may stumble upon venomous snakes lurking in the swamps and pastures of the southern states. It is a simple little single-shot shotgun with a unique and convenient design.

The threat of poisonous snakes has been a burden to those living in the South since the earliest days of documented settlements. Koon's intention was to build a gun that could easily be toted along by anyone that needed to quickly dispatch these slithery threats. So, there were a few factors that he had to take into consideration when piecing together his early design. The gun had to be resistant to the elements, reliable, easy to carry, and most importantly effective.

The gun that he created is a lightweight (just 3.4lb), single shot break-action .410 Bore shotgun, measuring only 25-5/8” long with a stainless steel barrel and plastic furniture. The rear of the buttstock slides open to reveal a shotshell compartment, which holds four additional shotshells for easy transport. This little gun is ambidextrous and has a thumbhole stock that can effectively be fired by anyone and with only one hand if needed. Koon achieved all that he had hoped for with the Snake Charmer - It was the lightest shotgun on the market, it was resistant to the harsh southern elements, and it was designed with only a few moving parts to assure its long-term reliability.

Homer “Jeff” Koon was no stranger to firearms at the time that he began his endeavor to build this small serpent-killing tool. He had already designed other guns and founded several other firearms companies, but none had ever achieved any truly remarkable success. Today, his first two company names Ranger Arms of Gainesville, TX and Alpha Arms of Dallas TX, are long gone. Although, variations of the names are currently being used for seemingly unrelated businesses. The guns that were made by Koon’s earlier companies still occasionally appear at auction, and if in good condition, they can fetch a premium price. This could stand as a testament to Mr. Koon’s involvement with quality crafted firearms.

His third company Omega Arms was possibly Koon’s first real claim to fame. He established the business around his invention of the Omega Rifle, a very high-end hunting rifle, of which he only built 1,000 before he sold the rights to an aerospace company, called Hi-Shear. Although, Hi-Shear had only produced a limited amount of what they named the Omega III Rifles before shutting production down, Koon was able to personally gift one of the first rifles built by the company to actor John Wayne.

Today these guns are very rare mainly because Hi-Shear had recalled many of them for some unknown reason shortly after production, which leaves an estimate of surviving Omega III guns in circulation to be somewhere around 100 rifles. So any attempt to find one would surely be accompanied by a very high price tag, especially if one could be proven to have belonged to the likes of John Wayne.

Anyway, back to that perfectly constructed snake-killing tool chambered in .410 Bore. When other companies saw the Snake Charmer, they knew Koon was on to something. After finding some immediate success with the compact takedown shotgun, he was able to sell the rights to it to Sporting Arms Inc. of Dallas.

A little while after obtaining the rights, the company moved production to Littlefield, Texas and introduced a new version of the gun with a manual safety. They designated it as the Snake Charmer II. Later they introduced a version with a flashlight equipped forend and called that one a Night Charmer. Finally they seemingly abandoned Koon’s original concept altogether and built a full-length version without the small thumbhole stock and labeled it the Field Gun. That gun had none of the allure or purpose of the Snake Charmer and saw little success in a market that was already flooded with full size shotgun options.

Operations for the Snake Charmer II were eventually sold to the well-established French firearms company named Verney-Carron. They contracted out the manufacturing of the shotgun to a U.S. based manufacturing company for a short time, but after lackluster sales they ended the production in 2009.

We have read that production of the Snake Charmer II is continuing in Turkey and that they can still be imported by E.A.A. (European American Armory), however, we found no reference to these guns anywhere on the E.A.A. website.

But, as we said, other companies saw the value in Koon’s original design and a couple have gone ahead and created their own versions. H&R 1871 offers two lines of guns that have obvious lineage to the Snake Charmer. The first is the Tamer, which comes in either 20 gauge or .410 Bore. The Tamer is longer and heavier than the original Snake Charmer, coming in at 6 lbs. and 34-1/4” overall. It features a composite stock and a nickel finished barrel and receiver. However, out of the H&R attempts, it bears the closest resemblance to Koon’s shotgun and it does offer a nice side of stock mounted shell holder feature on newer models.

The H&R Survivor series comes in a choice of heavy-barreled rifle in .223 Rem. or .308 Win., or a .410 Bore/.45 Colt configuration. This gun has the thumbhole grip and storage for additional rounds like the original, and looks quite similar at first glance, but has the addition of some H&R tweaks. The gun comes with a rifled barrel and polymer stock, but it has an increased weight of 7lbs and the length grew by more than 7” to 36” overall. So, it really doesn’t offer the same compact and lightweight convenience that was intended when the first Snake Charmer was designed. Although, the option of rifle calibers makes it a cool little survival gun if snakes aren’t your main concern.

Rossi Tuffy shown with ATI aftermarket stock

Another option available is the Rossi Tuffy, which provides a much closer resemblance to the original Snake Charmer. The Tuffy is a .410 Bore that stays true to the small compact intentions of the original serpent killer. Weighing just 3lbs and measuring about the same as the original, it is an affordable and durable gun that will provide the function and feel of the real Snake Charmer. It also comes equipped with several safety features including a manual safety, transfer bar, and the Taurus Security System.

The Tuffy is offered in a stainless or blued finish and can be easily modified with a tactical look and adjustable stock with aftermarket parts available from ATI (Advanced Technology Industries). The current year model in the Rossi catalog shows that they have added a few improvements by increasing the stock storage capacity to five shells and they’ve incorporated a visible indicator to easily check stored shell capacity. We can also attest that the powerful ejectors that Rossi boasts in their ad on this little break action function just about as good as any we’ve seen, casting out spent hulls with ease and efficiency.

So with that, we will leave you to ponder this bit of information about the cool little shotgun designed by Homer “Jeff” Koon more than 30 years ago. If you are planning on hiking, fishing, or venturing into venomous snake territory for any reason, you will be hard pressed to find a better tool for the job. If you’re not heading into the swamps, but would just like a smaller than average long gun, this type of lightweight firearm can still make a terrific introductory shotgun for young people, and they are a whole lot of fun to shoot.