British Military Flintlock Rifles 1740-1840

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JV Puleo
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Sun Feb 10, 2013 12:27 pm

It was a fairly common belief among some native populations that raising the rear sight of a rifle made it shoot "stronger." Something very useful to an army when their enemy is 200 yards away and their sights are set for 1200 yards.
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Pat Holscher
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Mon Feb 11, 2013 12:57 pm

I suppose an equally valid question would be why US civilian rifles of the period were comparatively small caliber, assuming that in reality they really were.
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JV Puleo
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Tue Feb 12, 2013 4:57 am

The usual answer given is that lead was expensive and difficult to get on the "frontier" but I know of no actual examination of period material that substantiates this. It is probably something Sawyer or Dillin wrote and highly questionable. None of the early authors on the subject had any training or even concept of objective historical research... it was all folklore.

We know they did believe that a longer barrel "shot harder" and that Revolutionary War period rifles were generally longer than their European counterparts so it may have been that the only way to make a long barrel (and still be able to carry the rifle) was to make the bore smaller... Or, there could be something to the lead question but if so, I doubt it had much to do with frontier living. Was lead mined in America in the 18th century? It certainly was later. By the 1830s the government owned huge lead mines, specifically to supply the military. That suggests that it had been a problem in the past so there may be something to the argument, but without more serious study its probably an unanswerable question.
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wkambic
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Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:14 pm

This last weekend I did a display for the U.S. Cavalry Assn. at the Smokey Mt. Gun Collectors Assn. show in Knoxville. The next two tables on the aisle were flintlocks of mostly the late 18th-early 19th Centuries. Most were original, but some were replicas of mostly pretty good quality. One thing I noted was that the rifle calibers were relatively small, in the .30-.40 range. Smooth bores were much larger, .50 and up. The pistols were up to .75 (a virtual "hand cannon" 8) ).

If I remember my physics correctly a roughly accurate equation is Force=Mass x VelocitySquared. You can accelerate a smaller piece of lead easier than you can a big piece. So if you want to get more "hitting power" make the bullet go faster. I don't know if early gunsmiths knew the equation but I'd bet they knew results of making stuff go faster.
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Philip S
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Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:33 am

Point-blank range of a rifle is the furthest distance a rifle can be shot without a need to consider elevation. Obviously, the longer this distance is the more practical the rifle is for hunting. The English author James Forsyth addressed this great advantage of the American longrifle:

“The far-famed American backwood’s rifle was pre-eminently distinguished in this respect; and hence the fame acquired by the men who used it for splendid shooting at short distances, that is, within the point-blank range. Any one with practice can learn to hit a stationary object the distance of which is known–the sight of the rifle being regulated accordingly; the difficulty lies in judging distance. But with the Yankee rifles no judging was required; at anything under 100 yards the aim was taken point-blank with the same sight, and consequently it made no difference whether the squirrel squatting on a branch, or the wild turkey’s head over a tree-top, was 20, or 50, or 90 yards away; only cover it truly, and down it went!” (“The Sporting Rifle and its Projectiles.” 1867. p. 10-11)

The secret to creating such a long point-blank range was a small projectile driven at a high speed. The long barrel maximized the efficiency of the black powder and the soft lead ball expanded to create a wound channel far larger than its size. Also note the small targets of a squirrel and turkey. Even eastern deer are not that big. Another factor was that in the forested east the need for long range is rare. Few shots are beyond even 50 yards.
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Pat Holscher
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Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:47 am

Philip S wrote:Point-blank range of a rifle is the furthest distance a rifle can be shot without a need to consider elevation. Obviously, the longer this distance is the more practical the rifle is for hunting. The English author James Forsyth addressed this great advantage of the American longrifle:

“The far-famed American backwood’s rifle was pre-eminently distinguished in this respect; and hence the fame acquired by the men who used it for splendid shooting at short distances, that is, within the point-blank range. Any one with practice can learn to hit a stationary object the distance of which is known–the sight of the rifle being regulated accordingly; the difficulty lies in judging distance. But with the Yankee rifles no judging was required; at anything under 100 yards the aim was taken point-blank with the same sight, and consequently it made no difference whether the squirrel squatting on a branch, or the wild turkey’s head over a tree-top, was 20, or 50, or 90 yards away; only cover it truly, and down it went!” (“The Sporting Rifle and its Projectiles.” 1867. p. 10-11)

The secret to creating such a long point-blank range was a small projectile driven at a high speed. The long barrel maximized the efficiency of the black powder and the soft lead ball expanded to create a wound channel far larger than its size. Also note the small targets of a squirrel and turkey. Even eastern deer are not that big. Another factor was that in the forested east the need for long range is rare. Few shots are beyond even 50 yards.
That raises a series of interesting points.

If they were generally hunting in fairly wooded areas, they may have taken the approach of trying to hit a barely exposed target fairly precisely. That would put a premium on accuracy. The German approach leaning on "knock down" power may have expressed, therefore, a different set of conditions. More exposed, but needing to be put right down.

The reference to multiple game animals is also significant, I suspect. The American hunter of that period may have been going out specifically for one thing, say a deer, but likely would have taken what ever was available. A person wouldn't want to really mash a turkey. That'd make a smaller rifle more desirable as well as a highly accurate rifle.

Game size is also interesting. The notes of the Corps of Discovery are full of surprise about the size of game animals in the West, when first encountered. All of the men on that expedition would have been familiar with game in the East, so their surprise is revealing. I'd guess they weren't trying to shoot things at any longer ranges, and they were certainly shocked by how much larger and tougher things seemed to be.
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Pat Holscher
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Wed Feb 13, 2013 8:56 am

wkambic wrote:This last weekend I did a display for the U.S. Cavalry Assn. at the Smokey Mt. Gun Collectors Assn. show in Knoxville. The next two tables on the aisle were flintlocks of mostly the late 18th-early 19th Centuries. Most were original, but some were replicas of mostly pretty good quality. One thing I noted was that the rifle calibers were relatively small, in the .30-.40 range. Smooth bores were much larger, .50 and up. The pistols were up to .75 (a virtual "hand cannon" 8) ).

If I remember my physics correctly a roughly accurate equation is Force=Mass x VelocitySquared. You can accelerate a smaller piece of lead easier than you can a big piece. So if you want to get more "hitting power" make the bullet go faster. I don't know if early gunsmiths knew the equation but I'd bet they knew results of making stuff go faster.
Well, only up to a point. You can invest a projectile with energy via speed, or via mass. And an element of that is that at some point light projectiles begin to decelerate closer to their point of launch, depending upon how much velocity was invested in them. That's why the 5.56 projectile of today has been found wanting in the open country of Afghanistan, and the 7.62 reappeared (along with other things). With the distances that we are apparently actually considering only being 100 yards, I'd think it likely that the heavy rifle bullet would impart more energy.

Smoothbores were all really big in those days, and that may have to do with their being inefficiently launched thereby requiring a big projectile to do much.
Pat

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Philip S
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Wed Feb 13, 2013 9:11 am

Smoothbores were all really big in those days, and that may have to do with their being inefficiently launched thereby requiring a big projectile to do much.
Forsyth said that smoothbores were popular because the large caliber roundballs would strip the rifling with the large charges needed to be effective on game.
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Sat Jan 25, 2014 11:32 am

I am remimded of an account I read of an 18th-century 'beef shoot" that highlights the scarcity of lead on the frontier- The shooting was done at targets, and the prizes were the rear quarters of a beef cow for first place, the hindquarters for second place, and the target backing log for third place. The backing log would have been full of spent lead that could have been recycled into new rifle balls. The fourth place shooter got the cow's hide and "lights and liver." Lucky him.
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