“Rapid Fire” and “Musket” are words that you do not normally see together. For the sake of a challenge, I’ve been working into my Saturday shoots a “speed round”, where I see how many shots I can get off in a minute. So far only two I am sad to say, but I am creeping closer to three the more I practice.
The rate of fire for muskets is generally believed to be two to maybe four shots a minute. The best rapid fire I’ve seen to date is this guy:
One primary thing to point out here. He does NOT have bullets in the cartridge. My experience its that you can’t throw a ball in the cartridge THAT fast down the barrel. The ramrod is called a ramrod because there is ramming involved. It takes a little more than just gravity to work to get a ball down the barrel.
I’m the tall guy here…
Keeping this in mind, I’ve reduced the ball size so I can more rapidly seat the bullet in the barrel. This means that I can leave the bullet in the cartridge without fear of jamming. I’ve moved from my standard .69 cal to my pistol cal of .57. This reduces my accuracy but increases my rate of fire.
Now back to the video. I am IMPRESSED with his ability to rapidly return the ramrod back into the musket. This by far is my most challenging aspect of rapid fire. The hole is small, and if you rush it, you just burn seconds. Why return the ramrod you ask? If you leave it behind during a battle, then all you are left with is a fancy Pike. 18th Century soldiers were trained to return the ramrod.
Tomorrow I will try my hand at rapid fire once again.
Some other notes:
I start with an unloaded musket. I am not sure if the first shot of a pre-loaded musket would count toward the rate of fire. Please comment below if you know.
I am leaving the bayonet off for this exercise. I have left it on in the past. The blade actually does help guide my loading, but inevitably I end up cutting my hand. Its just not worth it. I use a mouse for a living–I know, First World Problems.
I’ll try to get some video tomorrow.
Improving my rate of fire will take time. Like any sport, it is really all about muscle memory and focus. Eventually I want to be able to make a video with proof of three shots a minute. Maybe I’ll actually hit the target, but lets just focus on one thing at a time shall we?
Here is a clip of me fidgeting around a bit. Obviously still work to be done here:
Shot four times. Hit paper twice at 50 yards. Again, this was with a smaller calibre, so accuracy was not the goal.
This was my grouping at 50 yards after taking my time and using .69 calibre bullets.
In return for a few dollars he owed me in travel expenses he put together this fine workbench:
I provided the materials from a local construction scrap heap. He built it.
The best thing about this workbench is that it was built to match my height. At 6’6″, I am not accustomed to furniture, cars, desks, chairs, or anything in particular (other than a basketball hoop) built with my height in mind. It still feels odd to step up to a workbench and not crouch over. Fine work Mr. Freeman! At last, I have one item in my house built in proportion to my height. Kudos to Wesley and cheers to all the unrecognized craftsmen of this world–you folks are a lost breed.
Saturday morning began with formation and drills. After about two hours, I was able to mentally grasp the basics of marching and maneuvering in tight ranks. Yet even though the concepts were clear, it was obvious that a certain amount of time would be required for the physical motions to become second nature.
As a result, marching and maneuvering did not get easier as the weekend progressed. Every motion demanded and act concentration and focus. Missteps effected everyone in close proximity. Even marching in a straight line proved to be a struggle as I found myself shuffling in order to step on the correct foot and avoid kicking the person in front of me.
By the close of the weekend I figured my brain was just wired to walk in the opposite manner of most people. I was sore from locking my body straight and shuffling my feet to find the correct footwork. Unfortunately, my familiarity with group choreography did little good in formations this tight. I did my best to cope by learning to follow the rhythm of the marching drum and take it as they say, one step at a time. The others in the troop kept me in line as well, repeatedly reminding me to assume ‘trail arms’ when I was busy concentrating on walking.
Formation drills drove home the importance of maneuvering during the 18th century. Unit cohesion, battlefield mobility, and concentrated fire was the ultimate goal. These tight formations had but one primary goal– to maximize the effectiveness of the musket.
For those familiar with modern day firearms, safety etiquette requires that proper distance from another person be observed when discharging a firearm. Only an accident or a joke in poor taste would result in discharging a firearm a few inches away from other person.
18th century reenactment offers an entirely different experience.
Firing and reloading shoulder to shoulder was a requirement for a soldier of the line. If you happened to be a bit taller than your comrades, you would be positioned in the second row where you were expected to fire OVER the shoulder of the man in front of you.
This type of firing was a unique experience, and one that I recommend if you are a fan of firearms. It is the only real way to experience the combat effectiveness of the musket.
Firing as a concentrated mass becomes less a single act of an individual and more of a coordinated action of a larger whole. For someone living within the context of a highly individualistic 21st century mindset, this is truly a step into the past. In short, the unit becomes a collective fire-breathing, smoke spitting, shotgun blast.
The British Line moonlightcourt.com
It is easy to understand how a well drilled foot unit can be the most effective and powerful weapon on the battlefield. However, effectiveness like this takes training. Now I understand why troops drilled 40 hours a week.
I consider myself somewhat competent at loading and firing my musket, yet during the chaos of a “battle” I often behaved like a rank novice. I found myself reloading my musket using all sorts of improvised motions.
A number of factors played into my inconsistency:
While firing and reloading in close quarters, there is a great deal to keep in mind. The musket must always be pointed away from others (until firing at an enemy unit). The torso cannot be tilted as it would interfere with the man next to you (watch those elbows!) Most importantly, if you were in the back row, you had to make sure you did NOT step too far away from the row in front of you. This mistake would result in the the muzzle discharging too close to faces and ears.
The pressure to reload and fire on command was palpable when facing a wall of enemy troops trying to do the same a few short yards away. I will not pretend to understand what sort of emotions soldiers experienced during an 18th century battle (or for any battle for that matter) but I can understand to some degree the difficulty involved in maneuvering and firing in the mists of a noisy, smokey and chaotic environment.
Only the muscle memory acquired from constant drilling could alleviate the pressure and chaos that interferes with the smooth operation of a musket. Now I understand why they drill…and drill…and drill. The importance Baron Von Steuben cannot be underestimated.
I am not necessarily a Civil War enthusiast, but being from the south (and living on the foothills of Kennesaw mountain) it is nearly impossible to ignore. Plus, I love a good black powder party, and these fellas know how to make some smoke.
So as a Rev war guy, I prefer to look at it like John Buchanan who, were he to name the next Civil War a movie, would probably title it “Revolutionary War Part Two: Unfinished Business”.
Today I stepped up to the big boy table and shot the 50 yard range for the first time. Very happy with the results. Started off hot. Below is the result of four shots–one missed the paper all together, and the other three were good enough to drop a lobsterback at 50 yards.
50 Yards. 2 shots dead center, one bottom right.
As the day continued, things went downhill a bit. One would assume that as the fouling builds up, a tighter fitting ball would increase accuracy, but no. I struggled with my flints most of the afternoon and as a result, my accuracy suffered after a number of misfires. Next time I will be sure to hit the range with at least a couple of new sharp flints. Here I am firing above the target:
Thanks to Greg Clark for the colorful commentary here (I would write something snarky about him if he wasn’t 6’5″ and quite the marksmen)
As usual, Saturday evenings I listen to the Braves on the radio while cleaning my Charleville. All clean and ready to go.
Out shooting today. I’ve made some strives with my 1777 Charleville! First off, thanks to the power of YouTube, I’ve discovered the best way to make a cartridge. I created a template using the recommended paper (Walmart packing paper actually). Now the same amount of powder and paper will be loaded every time. This technique is so nice that it makes for ‘rapid’ reload and allows the paper to remain wrapped around the ball as it is loaded in the barrel. A tighter fit means tighter groupings!
My French Grenadier Cartridge Box
Secondly, I’ve added more powder to the charge. I was using 80 Grains of FF Black powder, however Matt Murphey informed me that military charges (at least for the Brown Bess) were 120 Grains. Since the Charleville is a slightly smaller caliber than the Brown Bess, I bumped it up to 110 Grains. This took some adjustment. I basically needed to accommodate less for bullet drop.
The First Six Shots
Target (the larger holes are mine)
This is from 25 yards. For those of you who ever shot a smoothbore musket, you know that aiming is a relative term. I was aiming for the center of the target, which I have a pretty good grouping of 5 here. However I feel obligated to explain the top right shot.
Misfiring is somewhat common for a flintlock (however not as common as you would expect). From my experience, the primary cause for a misfire is the flint failing to adequately spark the frizzen and ignite the powder in the pan. So during an hour or so of shooting I will pause to readjust, clean or replace my flint at least once or twice.
Not a big deal, however there is one drawback to misfires–they REALLY mess with my head. When you expect a large BOOM and get a quiet ‘click’, it throws things off. On top of this, adjusting the flint after a misfire can be a bit um…delicate to say the least. Tweaking a fully loaded firearm with a pan full of powder can test my nerves. As a result, I’ve discovered that if I misfire more than once, it affects my aim proportionally.
So that top hole in the target? Yea, that is a shot after 3 misfires in a row. Three ‘clicks’ when I expected a BOOM…Thats my story and I’m sticking to it.
VERY exited about my shoot today. Now that my methods are becoming more systematic and consistent, I expect my accuracy to eventually improve. I want to move to the 50 yard range soon, but I still need to try and figure out a way around the range rule that states you must be sitting when shooting from the 50 yard range (this rule is the sad result of irresponsible/inexperienced gun owners not respecting their firearms. If anything, the attention that the Charleville demands has taught me a respect for firearms– but thats a post for another day).
The barrel can get very hot after only a few shots.
Since purchasing a 1777 Charleville in November of last year, I’ve scoured the intertubes for any and all information on the function and maintenance of my firearm. YouTube has turned out to be a reliable source for both knowledge and inspiration. One channel I continually return to is Matthew Murphey over at Murphey’s Muskets. The self proclaimed “King of Black Powder” makes a pretty serious case for royal lineage with a whole catalog of excellent videos.
Matt’s enthusiasm is contagious and his knowledge is extensive. On top of this, the King is a dang good shot. A really good shot.
Muskets not accurate you say? Watch some of his videos:
80 yards? You kiddin’ me? I’m still struggling at 25 ugh.
Matt generously taken the time to answer a few questions for Twistification
What got you into black powder rifles and muskets?
I can’t remember the first time I saw a musket, but I can tell you it had an effect on me. When I was barely 8 years old I would spray WD-40 down the barrel of my Red Rider BB-gun so I could pretend that it would smoke like a musket. So, I’ve been hooked for a long time.
What are the most common misconceptions about muskets?
That they are inaccurate. Are they capable of 1 MOA at 100 yards? No. However, hitting a man at 80-100 yards with a smoothbore is no problem if you are using a period cartridge and use proper trigger pull and resist the impulse to twitch. Rifled muskets have an effective accuracy of up to 300 yards.
What are some basic guidelines you have for people interested in taking up black powder firearms as a hobby?
Don’t go cheap. If you do you will just pay for it later down the line. Any flintlock worth having is going to be expensive; accept it and save and get a quality piece. You will be much happier. Period BP guns and accoutrements are expensive, but after you have acquired those items it’s cheap shooting and a lot of fun! Oh, and huge gun/ammo scares do not affect your supply. 🙂
In your opinion what was the most effective 18th/early 19th century musket/rifle?
During the 18th Century the Brown Bess* was undisputedly the most effective musket the world over. Its quality and effectiveness were put to the test in different climates and battlefield conditions world-wide, creating the British Empire. Even if you don’t like the Brown Bess its effectiveness cannot be denied.
What was the finest made 18th/ early 19th century black powder firearm?
Here again the Brown Bess was the finest musket available from 1730 to about 1800. By that point U.S. weapons started catching up with the Tower of London in quality of arms. By the time the M1812 came around, British and US muskets were neck and neck.
What is the most frustrating rifle/musket you’ve ever shot?
Reproduction muskets from India are by far and away the most frustrating pieces available to the black powder community today.
What is the finest rifle/musket you’ve ever shot?
I would say that it’s an even tie between the Brown Bess* and the M1812
What is the most shocking thing you have discovered about weapons of this era?
How effective they can be when married together with 18th century tactics!
What is the hardest thing about black powder weapons?
Cleaning them when you get home.
In your opinion, is there a notable historical event that proved the effectiveness of black powder weapons or were examples of effective deployments of this type of weaponry?
I would say that both the American Revolution and the Civil War are testaments to these weapons and how effective they can be employed. The Civil War especially shows us how devastating these arms can be. At Gettysburg, Union ordnance workers reported that 4.5 million rounds of rifle musket and smoothbore ammunition were issued and not returned. Chamberlain’s official count for the 20th Maine at Gettysburg was 16,000 rounds.
What is the strangest question you ever got about black powder?
I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten a really strange question. Most people ask pretty legitimate questions.
Do you have a ‘prized possession’?
I’d say my wife, but she’s not a possession.
What is your proudest accomplishment as a marksmen?
I can’t say I have a proudest moment! Ringing a 12″X12″ steel plate at 1,000 meters with a rifle is a real rush! However, ringing a 12″X12″ steel plate at 100 yards standing up with a smoothbore musket is quite a rush as well!
Matt would of been a good sniper choice for Daniel Morgan at Saratoga. I wonder how adept he is at tree climbing…and time travel.
In hindsight, what is the dumbest thing you tried to do with a black powder firearm? (come on, we’ve all done something!)
I don’t know about “tried” since I did it successfully, but the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done is tap-loading. Don’t try that one at home.
*Note From Matt: Just as an FYI, I would like people to know that the Brown Bess is just a nickname for the King’s Pattern Musket. At the time they were used, they would have been referred to as “[year] pattern musket” or “pattern [year] long land/short land.”
Twistification thanks Matt Murphey!
Be sure to check out Matt’s Videos here or find him on Facebook by searching Murphey’s Muskets.