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Here's a weird question - how long does it take to reload a flintlock weapon?

Discussion in 'Blackpowder' started by Dorrin79, Dec 16, 2003.

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  1. Dorrin79

    Dorrin79 Member

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    OK - I know very little about the practical use of old firearms.

    I know the difference between a matchlock, a flintlock, a percussion cap, etc, but I have no experience with any of them.

    I'm planning on running a RPG session over the Xmas break. The tech level of the world will be approximately equal to 18th century Europe.

    So, what kind of guns would the characters have access to? I believe flintlock muskets and pistols were the most common weapons of the time, while some people had rifled guns.

    About how long does (did?) it take to reload a flintlock pistol and/or long gun?

    Thanks for the input,
     
  2. SDC

    SDC Member

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    The fastest re-enactors I've seen could fire about 6 shots per minute over a short period; a more realistic figure for most users would be about 4 per minute. HTH.
     
  3. Frohickey

    Frohickey Member

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    ..and standing still, which means that its pretty much a single shot, then its bayonet action time. :D
     
  4. Bill Hook

    Bill Hook member

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    Also, wouldn't reloading be affected by the bore, smooth or rifled? Seems rifled bores would take longer.
     
  5. hillbilly

    hillbilly Member

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    On the show "Mail Call" a Revolutionary re-enactor fired his flintlock musket three times in 60 seconds, with R. Lee Ermey standing over him with a stopwatch.

    hillhill
     
  6. BenW

    BenW Member

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    Anyone ever hear of guys having powder ignitions by the time they get to dropping the 3rd or 4th powder charge down the hot barrel? I'd be a lousy Minuteman -- I always run a patch in between shots to make sure I'm not pouring powder onto leftover embers.
     
  7. Jim K

    Jim K Member

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    A few comments.

    Three shots a minute with a flintlock was going some; two was more common and the average soldier took even longer. Three shots a minute was fairly common with a percussion musket, but those were not in use in the 18th century (1700's).

    There were hunting rifles available in the period and even a few rifled military arms, but they were not general issue. There were even breech-loading military rifles (e.g., the Ferguson), but they were issued to special units who were trained to use them, sort of like the Special Forces of today.

    By the 18th century, wheellocks were considered museum pieces. They were expensive, hard to keep in repair, and had usually been the hunting arms of the rich. Some were issued to elite cavalry troops, but did not stand up well to the rigors of military service.

    Matchlocks, likewise, were in use into the period, but were superseded by flintlocks of one kind or another early on, as soon as the user could afford a more modern weapon.

    Most military flintlocks were smoothbored ("common musket" was the term) and not accurate even by the standards of that day. That, and the near impossibility of loading the musket from any position other than standing, dictated the tactics of the time, with lines of troops firing at one another, then charging with the bayonet.

    In the early period, the "plug" bayonet was common. This was simply a wood handled spike which was inserted into the barrel. Since the plug bayonet prevented loading the firearm, it was superseded by a bayonet with a band that went around the barrel, and this is the type used in the latter 18th century and well into the 19th century.

    Hunters usually used a flask to carry powder, two flasks being common. A small one held the fine priming powder, which was easily ignited; the larger held the propelling powder, which was coarser but burned slower and was safer than priming powder. (Fine priming powder in the bore could burst the barrel.) Balls were carried in a separate bag, usually a simple leather pouch, or even in the pocket.

    Hunting rifles were commonly used with a patch, which was a piece of cloth or leather which went around the bullet (ball) and served to seal off the bore and allow more of the force of the charge to be used to propel the ball. Patches were usually greased with animal fat for lubrication and to keep the powder residue soft. While the rifle was more accurate than the military musket, it was not considered suitable for military use because of slow reloading and because it (usually) could not take a bayonet.

    Soldiers carried cartridges, which consisted of the powder charge wrapped in a paper container. When firing, the paper was torn or bitten off, and the powder poured down the barrel, followed by the round ball (from which we get the term "ball" ammunition, meaning a simple inert bullet). In the early period, the concept of placing the ball inside the paper had not yet come into use. This cartridge supplanted the wooden cartridges or powder containers in use earlier; these latter are often seen hanging from the shoulder strap in pictures of the Pilgrims or other 17th century fighters. The paper was not normally put down the barrel because it would catch fire and ignite the grass in the area.

    Soldiers did not carry priming powder; part of the main charge from the cartridge was dumped into the priming pan. Since this meant that the main charge varied, it was another cause of inaccuracy. One trick used by both soldiers and civilians was to load the barrel, then "bump" the gun to jar some of the powder from the main charge out through the touchhole and into the pan, so it would become the priming powder. While often written about, this was strictly an emergency procedure and quite uncertain of function.

    The musket ball, unlike the patched rifle ball, was considerably smaller than the bore of the gun, making loading easier even when the barrel was fouled by powder residue, but also making the musket inaccurate as the ball literally "bounced" down the bore when fired and the direction it was heading when it came out was up to "Lady Luck."

    HTH

    Jim
     
  8. Balog

    Balog Member

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    I'd think it would be virtually impossible to reload and fire a flintlock in 10 seconds, even over a short period.
     
  9. SDC

    SDC Member

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    My experience involved watching someone use pre-loaded paper cartridges, instead of a flask, but he had no-problem loading and firing in 10 seconds; with fouling, I have no doubt that things would get considerably slower very quickly. His procedure was to bite the end of the cartridge off, dribble some powder into the pan and snap the pan cover down, then pour the rest of the powder down the muzzle and stuff the rest of the cartridge after it. Thinking about it now, I'd be somewhat hesitant about putting MY hand in front of the muzzle (in case of an ember in the barrel), but he seemed to have all his fingers. ;)
     
  10. 4v50 Gary

    4v50 Gary Moderator Staff Member

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    With practice, master gunsmith Wallace Gusler of Colonial Williamsburg was able to load and fire his flintlock rifle thrice in a minute. To achieve this speed, he used a loading block which held patched balls. Lawrence Batbits, author of A Devil of a Whipping claims to have been able to sustain a rate of accurate fire of 5 shots a minute with his reproduction Brown Bess. He missed on his sixth.

    Suggest you classify the skill level of your players. The more skilled, the more accurate and the higher the rate of fire. However, there must be a point for the rifleman that it does slow down since the rifle is more susceptible to fouling. I would allow for no more than 8 rounds before the speed reloading with the rifle slows down (and this depends on quality of powder, humidity, whether the shooter "blows down the tube"). BTW, your best rifleman will be like Lewis Wetzel (Death Wind) who would reload on the run.
     
  11. kentucky bucky

    kentucky bucky Member

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    Hey 4v50 gary

    Thats an Amen on the Lewis Wetzel. The guy never got the hype of some of the other frontiersmen, but his foes new he was good!!! Thus, his Indian name "Death Wind"

    NOTE: I've heard that in a big hurry/life or death type situation , old timers would load without a patch. This seems reasonable to me, it would cut down on valuable seconds when a Shawnee, etc. was approaching with his favorite war club. Trials have proven that the accuracy at closer range was acceptable. (especially considering the consequences of being too slow)
     
  12. rayra

    rayra member

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    Always hear, see and read references to 3 rds per minute for muzzleloaders.
     
  13. Dorrin79

    Dorrin79 Member

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    thanks for the advice, all.

    I think i'll go with a full round action for characters that are proficient in firearms, 2 rds for those who aren't.

    plus add a feat or something that lets you "reload on the run"
     
  14. Balog

    Balog Member

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    Dorrin79: what system are you using? The RPG's I'm used to generally treat a combat round as being = to 6-10 seconds. As we've seen, ten seconds is the minimum even an expert could hope to achieve. And that's "experts" from today.

    4v50 Gary: Two things.
    1. Where could I read about this Lewis Wetzel fellow? He sounds like my kinda guy.
    2. Did you ever receive the PM I sent you?
     
  15. Dorrin79

    Dorrin79 Member

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    D&D 3.5

    A combat round is only 6 seconds, but I'm not aiming for realism at the cost of simplicity and fun.

    Heck, the actual rules state that reloading a flintlock is a "move-equivalent" action, which means you can reload and shoot in every round.
     
  16. Balog

    Balog Member

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    I hear 3.5 is better than 3. Are you allowing all of the "class abilities" or are you attempting to have some level of realism? Maybe you could compromise and make it take two rounds. One to load, one to fire. Isn't that the way they do it w/ crossbows?
     
  17. 4v50 Gary

    4v50 Gary Moderator Staff Member

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    Also consider the time period too because that may reflect the level of training. Per Stephen Brummel, the British soldier at the end of the French Indian War was quite a fighter unlike his early 1755 counterpart (Braddock's defeat). I've read accounts of Napoleonic era musketmen who were quite proficient with their muskets too.

    If on the other hand you have the ordinary solider at the beginning of virtually any war, his regimental commander consider it a waste of powder & lead to practice. This applies even during the Civil War and Meade in 1864 actually ordered that every regiment fire 10 rounds.
     
  18. MrAcheson

    MrAcheson Member

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    A very fast shot could do 5 or 6 in a minute with a brown bess using paper cartridges. British spec for their infantry was 3 rounds a minute, but more experienced shooters could do better once they started ignoring the steps in their field manual they didn't need. Fixed bayonets slowed things down however as did rifling pre-minie ball.
     
  19. Bainx

    Bainx member

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    My one and only flinter is a copy of a Tower pistol.
    I love piddling around with blackpowder and take my time in reloading.
    Therefore, I gotta answer, I don't know the min. time I could reload but, I am going to work on it and see what time I can pull it off in.
    Thanks for the "food for thought".:)
     
  20. smokemaker

    smokemaker Member

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    I read somewhere that a regular british infantryman in the time of the revolutionary war was required to shoot 15 rounds in three minutes and three quarters (00:03:45??) If said limey leg could not accomplish this task, he was placed in the "awkward squad" until he could master it. My math tells me thats 4 shots a minute... with a 2nd model brown bess.
     
  21. Glamdring

    Glamdring Member

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    Just a word of about gun safety.

    Priming the pan before charging the barrel was the way the military reloaded, but that is not a safe thing to do.

    ***

    For your RPG are you dealing with typical small group of PCs & NPCs? Or military units?

    Units used techniques to allow some people to be shooting while others were reloading.

    IMHO a pair of horsepistols plus a blade of some sort would make more sense for indiviuals & small groups. Remember weather can cause real problems for muzzleloaders.

    If I had a long gun would rather have target/sniper quality rifle that was kept dry in a case.
     
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