Experimentation in Musketry - Winter 2018
This past weekend we were fortunate enough to be able to hold a live shoot on private property and experiment with various types of musket balls and rounds that we had cast ourselves, earlier this year. The results of our experiments were rather shocking in terms of their damage and lethality.
The first round which was tried is that of a simple musket ball at both fifty yards and thirty five yards, as longer distances were not a safe option at the site in question. At a range of thirty five yards, we can say that over half of the rounds expended were able to land on a torso sized target, including inflicting severe damage on a fresh pumpkin. At over fifty yards, the results were still rather acceptable, with roughly a third of the rounds expended landing upon the torso sized target, though the remainder roughly appeared to land several body’s lengths to the right and left of the target. None of these results were unexpected, though we’ll be honest, it was quite fun trying to destroy the pumpkin.
The more interesting result came from our attempt at using both “buck and ball” rounds, as well as “fragmenting” rounds. The first of these, being “buck and ball” consists of 120 grains of powder with a single .69 calibre musket ball (in a .75 calibre Brown Bess musket), with three pieces of shot, in this case being .30 calibre musket balls. The first ball is tied off from the powder, with the next three smaller balls grouped together. The result of using these rounds, is that while the main ball wasn’t as accurate, it still hit the centre mass and was able to deliver an additional three smaller pieces of “shot” towards the forward direction and across a spread at roughly chest height. The effect of this round would have been completely devastating to a company of men, as not only the primary ball, but the smaller balls were still all able to penetrate the wood with sufficient force to continue its travel into the backstop.
Our third type of round, the “fragmentation” round, consists of a standard .69 calibre ball with a series of intersecting cuts as to permit the ball, in theory, to split, or at the very least, spread upon impact, increasing the damage to the individual on the receiving end. This round was horrifically effective in its intended purpose, in fact disturbingly so. While the other rounds simply punched through the target, often leaving a slightly larger exit hole, this round ripped through the target leaving a far larger hole and completely destroying the exiting side. The reverse of the target shows us a complete tear of the surrounding material and a far larger hole than that of the other rounds. The damage that this inflicted was far more than we anticipated, in fact, we expected the ball to merely go through, or bounce off.
While “buck and ball” rounds are very well documented in terms of their usage, by both the British and American forces, the “fragmenting” round is not, often merely being found in camp after an enemy forces has captured it. Our material notes that these “fragmenting” rounds may have been discovered in British encampments following evacuation of British soldiers throughout various sites in New York. These rounds may have been left behind to cause psychological harm, scaring the enemy into thinking that they may be used against them if they should encounter the enemy. While we do not know whether they were ever actually used in battle, the result if they were would have been so significant, that we can’t imagine a person being able to survive their wounds.
Having to walk through the forest to our location in the thick snow wasn’t easy, especially with period clothing and equipment, added to that, the strong wind made it extremely difficult to keep the powder in our pans at the full cock and to permit the sparks to hit the pan. We were able to see how difficult it would have been for the 8th Regiment of Foot, in Quebec City, to repulse the enemy in these conditions. If the cold was not a sufficiently difficult encumbrance to deal with, the wind would have made things far worse. It took some time to adjust our shots for the wind direction and some time to wait for a lull in the wind to get a shot off. For those men who would have had no choice but to fight in winter conditions, it must have been additionally difficult and terrifying, both from the risk of exposure and from the difficulties encountered in the smallest of routine tasks.
It is our hope that we can continue teaching our members the skills involved in shooting live and to be able to report our findings to you. A special thanks goes out to Arran Stewart and his family for permitting us to use the site in question, as well as his neighbours and the local police force for their cooperation.