Want and need seldom coalesce as conveniently and enjoyably as they did March 30, 2016. In the process of writing a Revolutionary War novel, I had questions about the process and feel of firing a flintlock musket of that period. Such an experience is not readily available.
By happy coincidence Colonial Williamsburg, about an hour from where I live, recently inaugurated a flintlock firing program. I inquired and found the requirements simple and suitable. So, while my wife photographed the sheep, flowers and people in Colonial Williamsburg’s historic area, three other gentlemen and I were transported to the new black powder firing range.
Williamsburg’s program is convenient, safe and well-presented. Each two shooters are paired with an instructor, while the remaining costumed attendant acts as range safety officer. State-of-the-art noise reduction headsets are provided. Weapon and range safety was explained and enforced. Each participant fire both a modern Brown Bess-style musket and a smaller-gauge fowling piece. Actual loading include the participant as much as safety (and insurance considerations) allow.
The pairing of shooters meant that only two weapons were in use at a time. The session pacing was leisurely enough to assure safety and questions while allowing sufficient firing. Each shooter fired each weapon three times, then was allowed three additional shots from the weapon of his or her choice.
My group experienced both a hung fire and a misfire, the bane of colonial marksmen, which provided more learning opportunities. (A hang fire is the weapon not firing, in this case due to primer fouling. A misfire is a delayed ignition: the flints sparks and the primer ignites, but the primary charge hesitates, igniting (in this case) half a second rather than the usual tenth of a second.
That short hesitation between ignition and firing is the biggest difference between flintlocks and modern weapons. The recoil approximates a medium-bore shotgun. That and the reduced accuracy due to the smooth bore and loose fit of the ball. Despite that, all four participants bored a credible number of .62 and .75 inch holes in their respective targets, which participants keep, along with a certificate and pewter shot, as a souvenir.
Walking Duke of Gloucester street is pleasure enough for many visitors to Colonial Willimsburg, but a variety of hands-on programs are also available. Firing a flintlock is a historically appropriate experience for many.
If you’re interested, consider going soon. This program is obviously expensive. Customer support will determine its continuation.
(The opening photo was not of participants in the flintlock firing program, but it was interesting seeing them learning to handle flintlocks.)