Shooting "Brown Bess."


June 17, 2003, 07:57 PM
I got to shoot a Pedersoli replica of the Brown Bess musket this morning. I shot one with some original parts years ago when I lived in downstate Michigan.

This one still had the barrel "in the white," but otherwise was the same gun, just 27 years younger. These muskets have never been my favorite to look at. I've always thought the French Charleyville was better looking. Both were used in the Revolution, however, so both have a certain something going for them.

The flintlock on the first Brown Bess I shot was noticeably slower than the action of the caplocks fired beside it. The newer musket was still slower, but less so. Both had lots of smoke and flame from the pan. The newer musket fired both times for me. The old one had one flash in the pan.

I took two whacks at a steel silhouette of a crow at about 25 yards with the Pedersoli. Missed the first time and hit it and left a big lead smear from the 75 caliber ball on it the second. The only sight on the Bess is wide and small and also serves as the bayonet lug so it makes for interesting decisions about where to hold.

Tonigh I'm feeling like a Pedersoli Brown Bess might be an interesting gun to have around.

Did I mention that I hit that steel crow with the second shot? (I've been mentioning that a lot today.)

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June 18, 2003, 02:48 AM
I fired a brown bess repro. before.. lots of heft and a lot of smoke and delay. The real trick is holding on target while the pan ignites the charge.

Have an uncle who swears he will take a deer with a Brown Bess.

All I can say is.. good luck and welcome to Black powder!

June 18, 2003, 09:19 AM
I've got one of those Pedersolis. It's a wall hanger right now but those .75 balls sure are calling out to be fired. :D

June 18, 2003, 02:18 PM
After you get "Bess," you also NEED :rolleyes: to get a repro Baker rifle...a Heavy Cavalry saber...and a buncha Sean Bean movies.:D

Gerald McDonald
June 18, 2003, 06:37 PM
Kor, somebody doing repops of a Baker? The Mexican sharpshooters at the Alamo used Bakers and the regulars were using Bess's. Read a good book called Texian Illiyad that gave some in depth on the weapons. Also said the Mexican powder was so poor the balls actually bounced off of several peoples heads.

June 18, 2003, 10:54 PM
that seems to be a recurring theme for the Mexicans
I read that in the Mex-American war, Mexican cannonballs would be so underpropelled that they would roll on the ground slow enough to be stepped around by our troops

on the Bess thought,
I would love a Long Land Pattern, the original Bess that is longer, heavier, uglier:D

June 20, 2003, 05:03 PM
I also have a "Short Land Pattern" Brown Bess made by Pedersoli. I have found it to be more accurate with a "buck & ball" load...that is, the ball itself will hit closer to the center of a bullseye at 25 yards with the buckshot as opposed to without. I have to aim my musket high & left to hit the center.

FYI, my B&B load is 100 grains FFg, one unpatched .735 ball, and 4 to 6 .36-cal. pistol balls masquerading as buckshot.

It's hard to beat a musket for fun when you want noise & smoke!

Jim K
June 20, 2003, 11:33 PM
While most original military locks are fairly slow, a good flintlock is almost as fast as a percussion lock. A common test of shotgun locks in England was to fire the gun upside down. Good locks were so fast that the gun would fire before the powder had time to drop out of the pan.

Common problems with repro locks are a weak frizzen (hammer) spring, a weak cock spring, and an insufficiently hardened hammer face.


June 21, 2003, 07:28 AM
Interesting how they would call the part that was struck the hammer rather than the part that does the striking. No wonder they lost the war (revolution). :D

June 21, 2003, 10:12 AM
I believe what Jim Keenan meant to say was "improperly hardened frizzen face". The frizzen actually produces the spark when struck by the flint held in the hammer. Freudian slip there. ;)

4v50 Gary
June 21, 2003, 10:45 AM
Besides looking at the Frizzen, you may want to check other things.

If your Bess is slow, the lock may need tuning. The tumbler (sear) must be cut perfectly flush where it bears against the inner surface of the lockplate. The innersurface of the lockplate itself must also be flush (and polished before hardening). Both are required to reduce friction and with it, sluggishness. The bridle to the tumbler must also be flush and the bridle must not be tightened down such that it binds the tumbler.

Of course, other issues include the fit of the tumbler to the sear and how freely the sear moves. It shouldn't bind against the lockplate either or the wood of the stock.

Another problem comes from balancing the strength of the mainspring against that of the hammer/battery/steel (to use the English equivalent of frizzen) spring. If the frizzen spring is too strong, the frizzen won't give under the impact of the flint. Likewise, if the frizzen spring is too weak, it must be adjusted (heated, bent for more tension and annealed followed by polishing) or the mainspring could be too strong. :rolleyes: That's one of the iffys that the lock assembler must contend with.

Check the tumbler and leg of the mainspring (where it applies pressure against the tumbler) for smoothness.

Then again, it could be something simple like the flint not being held tight enough in the jaws. While a lot of folks use leather, I prefer sheet lead (or a flattened lead ball). The advantage of leather (especially when applied wet to mold to the flint) is that it's lighter. The advantage of lead is that if really has a good bite on the flint (but disadvantage is that it's heavier and slows the fall of the hammer).

Congratulations on your marksmanship with the Bess. It's not as bad as Hangar (Advice to All Sportsman) or Busk (The Rifle and How to Use It) makes it out to be. Lawrence Babbits ("Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens") in a footnote describes how he struck a man sized target @ 75 yards 5 out of 6 shots. He speculates he would have struck it more had he used the traditional buck 'n ball load.

June 21, 2003, 10:48 AM
Great, y'all, thanks a lot.

Now I want a Brown Bess... :uhoh:

kentucky bucky
June 21, 2003, 10:58 AM
If you are have a delay in ignition it could be due to too much priming charge. The priming charge should never reach the touch hole or go above it. Remember gas is all that should ignite the main charge, not direct flame. Less is more!!! Just enough to get the job done. At best you will get minute-of-barndoor accuracy, but alot of fun!!!!!!

PS....Use a finer grain powder for the primer charge, i.e. 4f (or 3f in a pinch) The Revolutionary soldiers used the same as their main charge, but they didn't have a choice , did they??? You can use a rotary file on a dremel tool to deepen the pan if the touch hole is too low. Just be careful, it's easier to take it off than to put it back!!!!


Jim K
June 21, 2003, 02:56 PM
Hi, thisaway and guys,

No slip, Freudian or otherwise, not even a bra. I used the old terminology for what is now called the "frizzen", but which was called the "steel" or "hammer" at the time in which the guns were used. The cock was not then called the "hammer" because it didn't hammer anything; that term did not come into use until the percussion era.

As to priming hole placement, Bucky is correct. Many repro locks have the priming hole (touch hole) close to the bottom of the pan, when it should be about even with the top.

Like many other gun products, the repro flintlocks are being made to a price and with the makers knowing that they will not be used by serious shooters. But since a best grade English double barrel flintlock shotgun cost the equivalent of $10,000-15,000 in today's money, we are not likely to see many new high quality flintlocks on the market.


Ky Larry
June 24, 2003, 06:47 PM
I seem to remember reading somewhere that the Brown Bess was built more stoutly than other military weapon of it's day. The reason was the British valued the bayonet more than the lead projectiles to decide the issue on the field of battle. Any truth to this theory? Thanks.

4v50 Gary
June 25, 2003, 02:58 PM
Cold steel over musket fire.

18th Century and early 19th Century warfare relied on linear tactics (line up shoulder to shoulder to exchange volleys with one's opponents who were also deployed and fought in like manner). When one side was thought to be faltering, the bayonet charge would be relied upon to cinch the victory. Early cartridge boxes of the French-Indian War in America held as little as 9 cartridges. Later, they were increased to hold 18.

Note: Highlanders tend to fight differently and after a volley, would resort to their broadswords. It was thought that their tactics would be an effective counter to the Native Americans. However, Native Americans' tactics called for minimizing losses and they would retreat and lead their pursuers into an ambush. Grant's defeat during the Forbes Campaign (1758) is illustrative of the inadequacy of these tactics against the Native Americans.

The British of the 18th Century believed strongly that their discipline and training could prevail and this was not without justification. They whupped the rebels (Patriots) in most conventional battles (with exception of Saratoga, look at all the battles of 1777-1780). Even the vaunted rifleman was hapless before a bayonet charge and it was not until Cowpens that the musketman and rifleman tactically deployed effectively together. The singular failure of the British was at Breed's Hill (Bunker Hill). There they stopped to exchange volleys against an opponent that was safely fortified behind walls and entrenchments. Should have used the bayonet to drive them out instead (funny but that was the same mistake at New Orleans in 1815).

Late in the 18th Century, the British had finally learned the value of light infantry tactics (skirmishing) and of rifles (aimed fire). New tactics were adapted and based on German practices (5/60 Francis Rothenberg wrote one of the first manuals for the British on light infantry and riflemen). While more open order was adopted for light infantry and for riflemen, they were stilled taught how to fight in conventional manner (in Spain Light Division Maj. Gen. Robert Crauford formed his battalions into squares to ward off the French calvary) and the vast majority of battles still encompassed the conventions of linear warfare.

While bayonets could cinch a victory, it didn't necessarily when the opposition rallied and came at them again. King's Mountain is a good example of the bayonet driving off the opposition, only to have them return time and time again. We saw something of the same at Saratoga as Morgan's men were chased into the woods only to drive the redcoats back into the fields again & again.

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