Accuracy of flintlock rifles


November 20, 2008, 01:59 PM
Planning on getting a flintlock rifle (although interested for many years, I am now doing something about it) I read the following comment on the use of the Baker Rifle in Wellington's Peninsula Campaigns: "The accuracy of the Baker Rifle can be attested by the actions of one Rifleman Plunkett of the 1 st Battalion of the 95 th Regiment. During the retreat to Corunna Plunkett shot through the head and killed the French General Colbert at an estimated range of 600 yards. On denying it was a lucky shot, he thereupon shot an aide-de-camp going to Colbert's assistance."

OK, lets assume windless conditions and the use of a familiar weapon by a very experienced and accurate marksman, coupled with superb eyesight and trigger control, how likely is this to have actually happened? Bearing in mind the "rainbow-like" trajectory of a patched round ball at that distance.

I am not arguing either for or against the likelyhood of 2 accurate shots at such long range. I simply find this very interesting and throw it open for discussion by BP shooters who are far more experienced than I am.

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November 20, 2008, 03:37 PM
Why not? Black powder shooters go after targets at some amazing distances all the time. 1000 yard shot are not uncommon. The trick there is seeing the target. Could I do it? Not at 1000 but 3 and 400 yard shots would be doable and at a target (not a game animal) I would attempt 500 and beyond.

Good barrels, good powder and balls, sure, why not?

I had an Italian Harper's Ferry 1803 and used it out to 400 yards on targets. Lots of fun waiting for the sound of the hit to come back. I am still waiting for the sound for some of my shots!

November 20, 2008, 07:43 PM
I spent a few minutes digging around the World Championship results. The original division of the Maximilian 100 meter prone flint rifle event was won with a 90. Meaning that about half the shots were within 2 inches of the center of the target.

Multiply that by five, and such shots are believable. At the edge of performance, and requiring luck, but believable.

November 20, 2008, 09:04 PM
The Baker rifle was very accurate for its time. However considering the crude sights, the size and distance of the target, this is a combination of luck (mostly) and skill. A human being at 500 yards is barely a speck on the horizon! Frankly I have shot an original Baker with high quality componants quite a bit. I seriously doubt any of them were capable of this kind of performance.

The Baker was loaded with special fine powder from the rifleman's horn instead of paper cartridges when accuracy was required. The ball was "patched" with a greased thin leather patch. Balls were anywhere from .590 to .610 depending on the contractor that supplied them. Leather for patching is anything but uniform, nor is the extent of lubrication.

Shooting my original Baker with .600 pure lead round balls and .025 Denim Patching over 75 grains of FFg (Goex) gave the best accuracy at 100 yards shot from a bench rest. My rifle had a groove diameter of .635 and a twist rate of aproximately one turn in 12 feet (144 inches --hard to measure this slow of a twist) The best accuracy attained when the bore was wiped after every shot with a damp patch and a dry one was five shots in 5-1/2 inches.

Loyalist Dave
November 21, 2008, 07:58 AM
Ah you have hit upon several problems with historic accounts. First, the range was estimated by the writer (as the account doesn't specify who estimated the range by default it is the writer), and you don't know how well the fellow was able to estimate range. Second, when accounts are found that pace-off a distance, they cannot account for uneven ground, and often over estimate the distance from the shooter to the target. Estimation is even less accurate than actual pacing. Third, while it is possible they had a spyglass observing the general when he was hit, being able to see him hit in the head at 600 yards is NOT possible with the naked eye. So either they saw him fall and thought he was hit in the head (perhaps the rifleman used that as an aiming point and assumed the rest), or they did see the general struck in the head (indicating he was alot closer than 600 yards). Fourth, I have the regulations for the Duke of Cumberland's Sharpshooters (reprint) c. 1804, and the British riflemen were expected to hit targets out to 300 yards, the target could be hit anywhere on its surface to count a "hit" and the target was 2' wide, by 6' tall. So lobbing a .600 caliber ball into such an area at say 400 - 600 yards is not outside the realm of possibility. NOTE the author does not specify where the aide was hit. So, hit the General in the head, and hit the aid in the thigh maybe.... a 36" spread. Hitting the General was probably not luck, but in the head..., was probably a case of, "Yeah, I meant to do that".


4v50 Gary
November 21, 2008, 08:49 AM
on the link Here ( for an article that I wrote several years ago.

November 21, 2008, 09:36 AM
When I make the so called impossible shots ...I always do a little dance and say ..of course I can do it again ...You just have to hold your mouth right when ya pull the trigger ....Surely I`m not the only one that does the endzone dance am I ?

Cap n Ball
November 21, 2008, 10:55 AM
RE. Flintlock accuracy by way of analogy from Dr Strangelove...

(making diving aircraft hands)
Well, sir, if the A/C's a really good man, I
mean really sharp, why he can barrel that
plane along so low - well you just have to
see it some time. A real big plane, like a
52, zig-zagging in, its jet exhaust
frying chickens in the barnyard ---
(almost feverish with
Has he a chance?.....Hell, yes! He has one
hell of a chance.

November 21, 2008, 01:57 PM
Thanks for the informative discussion. The consensus of opinion seems to be that such shots were possible, but there would need to be an element of luck.

Let us however salute Rifleman Plunkett for extremely good shooting!

November 21, 2008, 05:01 PM
I was at the range with my Dragoon and a couple of buddies; they were shooting their centerfire snubbies at 20 ft (notice, feet, not yards). I shot a few cylinders with the Dragoon at the same range and offered the buds a chance to shoot it, which they lept at. However, I only had enough powder and ball for one full cylinder, so we decided to each take two shots. They each did much better with the Dragoon than they had been doing with their snubbies (which I attributed to the weight difference), and to show off a bit when it came to my turn I took aim at a 150 yard gong. And hit it with the first shot. Unfortunately, I was unable to repeat the feat with the second (and only remaining) shot because the cap had fallen off the nipple and I couldn't find it. So naturally, I just holstered the gun, said, "Shucks, tweren't nuthin" and sauntered off to the car. Darned if I didn't discover my tin full of caps in my pocket when I got home.

November 22, 2008, 02:00 PM
Way to go mykeal! Think on your feet and quit while you are ahead.

November 22, 2008, 02:23 PM
Forgive me if I am boring anyone with my interest in history, but I have just come across an article that bears on Rifleman Plunkett, his famous shot and general soldiering in the Peninsula Wars.

The article speaks for itself and needs no commentary from me. If you would like to read it, the link is below:

November 23, 2008, 01:51 AM
In Wellington's Peninsula Campaigns, rifles were unusual in British service and the BP wasn't like modern BP. Plus the Baker still use round balls. They don't work well at extreme ranges. Mind you, that shot isn't entirely impossible. Then again, not all historical accounts are completely accurate either. Even in 1808, propaganda was alive and well.
"...A human being at 500 yards is barely a speck on the horizon!..." Um, no. The average torso is about 18" from shoulder to waist by about 13 to 15 inches. Not a huge target, but far from a 'speck'.
" my tin full of caps in my pocket when I got home..." That Murphy guy is such a rectal orifice.
"...boring anyone with my interest in history..." Not even a little. History is about as fascinating as anything gets. You wouldn't be able to buy a flintlock of any kind if it weren't for shooters being interested in history.
Smooth bore Baker copies exist, but they're sort of expensive and a nuisance to get an actual rifled barrel. $500US plus the $195 for a rifled barrel. The barrel doesn't come from the retailer either. You have to contact the barrel maker yourself. They have the sword bayonets too. $129US though.
Look into a Lyman rifle. They're a whole bunch less BS to get shooting.
"...that does the endzone dance am I..." Yep, but I hold a Queen's Commission. End zone dancing, in public, isn't allowed for Officers.

November 23, 2008, 02:39 AM
Get into modern rolling block Sharps "buffalo rifles" and you can watch 1000 yd competitions where they shoot off cross sticks.

The caliber is 45/90, paper patched lead conical.

These are not your everyday shooters . . .

November 23, 2008, 10:25 AM
Hi Sunray and others
Thanks for your input. I have found this a most interesting thread, but was more intrigued by the long distance shots than by any wish to get a replica Baker Rifle. I have already looked into this and decided that the expense and BS are too great. I am considering a Lyman Great Plains Hunter but will open a new thread and value comment there.

Do have a look at the Plunkett page; not only does it throw light on the shooting, but is a window on life in the early 1800's. Also an indictment of how nations dumped their heros after the war was over - nothing new here!

4v50 Gary
November 23, 2008, 11:32 AM
DuncanSA - as to accuracy, 200 yards against a man was quite common. Better shots firing from the prone or supine position were capable of hitting a man out at 300-400 yards. Here's a link to an incident.

Link. (

November 25, 2008, 01:44 PM
A patched roundball is one of the best ways to see firsthand what the wind will do. At 100yds, 1mph is worth roughly 1" on the target. At 600yds (wild guess) I'd think 1mph would be worth 18-24".

Loyalist Dave
November 25, 2008, 03:15 PM
I'd like to see a repro with the proper twist in the barrel give a distance experiment a try. Barber's book (c. 1804) says that the rifle had 1/4 turn as a twist rate, so in the Baker 30" barrel that would be a twist of 1:120, but the repro barrels I have found are 1:66. Maybe an original could be measured to see which is closer to the proper twist rate, and perhaps a rifle could be made with that and then tested!


4v50 Gary
November 27, 2008, 12:00 PM
LoyalistDave - the original Bakers were a very slow 1 turn in 120 inches. Because of the threat of a French invasion, a large volunteer militia in England movement that arose during the Napoleonic Wars. Volunteer riflemen (mostly middle class and gentlemen) armed themselves with civilian copies of the Baker which had a faster 1:66 twist. Guess what? They were more accurate than their military forebearers. It's kinda like having a civilian M-4 carbine with a match barrel which shoots better than the GI issue M-4.:p
November 27, 2008, 09:40 PM
This is a target I shot at 100 yds. 5 shots from a bench sand bag rest.
Gun was a 45 cal Flintlock of which I made. Rifle is a Hawken style with
a 32 inch barrel. Twist is 1-60 Barrel is .450 on the lands and .470 on the
groove. Load was a .454 dia round ball 90 grs. Goex FF Patch is .022 thick
pillow ticking lubed with "Teflon" Veloicy measured 2000 fps. This is not
the best I'm sure of what a Flintlock round ball will do, but it will give you
some idea.

November 28, 2008, 10:39 AM
Congratulations both on making what I am sure is a beautiful rifle and on excellent shooting. I have just bought a Lyman Great Plains Rifle in .50 cal which should arrive next week. While I am learning to drive it, and scattering round ball all around the range, I will hold your target in mind as an example of what can be done.

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