Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What is the proper way to fire a Blunderbuss?

SPIKE TV reran their Pirate vs Armored Knight episode of Deadliest Warrior. I've written about this before and I agree with the outcome (the pirate won). This time I'm going to take examine how the blunderbuss is used.

In the episode, they went to test the blunderbuss against a ballistic gel target but it misfired. Later someone explained that this was caused by the way the expert tried to fire it. He was shooting with it braced against the hip and he tilted it a bit to the right so that the curve of the butt would fit better against his hip. The explanation was that tipping the pan let the prime to spill out, causing the misfire.

Since I got a blunderbuss, I've been trying to figure out the best way of holding it. I have heard that it is fired from the hip since the blast will spread out, anyway. When you hold it against your hip then you you either have to tilt it a bit or have the top edge of the butt jammed into your hip.

I will have to check this out when I'm somewhere that I can actually fire but I don't think that it is tilted enough to spill the prime. In addition, the frizzen holds the powder in the pan. There is less than a second between the pan being opened and the spark falling on the prime. Given the shallow angle, I don't see how this could cause a misfire. The exception would be if the flint was too long and the pan was not closed tightly while at half-cock.

But this still leaves the question - should it be shot from the hip? I don't think so for several reasons:

First, the stock is the same as on a musket or rifle - pieces that are fired from the shoulder. If it was meant to be fired from the hip then the butt would be flat enough to sit comfortably against the hip. A flat butt works fine against the shoulder so there is no reason to have a convex stock unless it was meant exclusively for the shoulder.

Second, these guns were used by sailors, coachmen, and dragoons. Sailors are likely to have a rail in the way. Coachmen are sitting and could not easily rest it against his hip. Dragoons fought either mounted or on foot. When mounted, the horse would be in the way. I can't imagine the blunderbuss being used from the hip by any of these people.

Third, even shotguns need to be aimed. When firing from the hip you can fire in the general direction of our opponent; from the shoulder you can aim it right at him. Granted, the shot will spread out, but probably not as much as you think. Friends who fire shotguns say that you have to be aiming pretty close to your target. A blunderbuss has a shorter barrel and a wider bore so it will spread faster but you still have to aim within a foot or two or your target. To be fair, I will admit that Gunny hit his targets while shooting a blunderbuss from the hip on Lock and Load. I will point out that he hit them at hip level which might not be as effective as higher up.

So where did the firing from the hip idea come from? I suspect that it is a movie myth by way of the shotgun. There are lots of things that cowboys do that do not work in real life. They fan their gun. This is rapid-firing by holding down the trigger while pulling the hammer back multiple times with the flat of the hand. You can empty your gun quickly but you can't aim at all. For years, gangsters have been holding their guns sideways with the barrel to the left of the hand. This looks mean but you cannot aim this way and it can cause the gun to jam. A few months ago someone opened fire on some police with a machine pistol. He only got off three shots before it jammed because he was holding it sideways.

I can see why someone would prefer holding a blunderbuss or shotgun against the hip. These weapons have a good kick and will bruise the shoulder more than the hip. Also, it looks cooler to fire from the hip. It gives the impression that you are so good that you don't have to aim. In a real battle, I would always shoot from the shoulder.

One last point - during the footage of pirates taking a ship I noticed people firing their blunderbusses one-handed like an overgrown pistol. This is possible when firing blanks but I would never try this with it actually loaded. The recoil is likely to pull the gun out of your hand and hurt you. (I have fired my carbine this way from my boat but even loaded, it would have a fraction of the kick of a blunderbuss.)

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