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Action Shooting History Part 1; Lock Time, Caplock, Ferguson Flintlock, M1819 Hall Rifle & More

Various mechanism have been introduced in firearm designs throughout history. Lock time is a term used in internal ballistics which refers to the time between the sear release and initiation of the primer. In modern firearms the initiation is by the firing pin. However, not all historical firearms used cartridges or firing pins. Early firearms were fused or had a simple touch hole. The ancient firearms use rocks as projectiles, and were equipped with a fuse or touch hole. So, for our purposes we will refer to lock time as time sequence between commencement of an igniting source (match, trigger or fuse) and the ignition of the propellant. The quicker the better.

Muzzle Loading Rifles & Shotguns

The slow match, a cord soaked in potassium nitrate is ignited and burns at a slow smoldering rate. Pulling a lever or trigger in later models pivots an arm, subsequently called a serpentine holding the match into the priming pan, igniting the pan contents that touched of the main charge. Along with the flintlock these firearms had extended lock times. A wheel lock uses a chain-spring to rotate a serrated wheel that spun and dropped a flint in contact, like a huge cigarette lighter. The primary problems were a high failure rate in rainy conditions, hence the quote “keep your powder dry” and the fact the shooter had to contend with a flame flaring close to his eye and face. It is no wonder accuracy suffered. These weapons had a robust breech or barrel plugs. But the intimidating problem was that these were all were all muzzle loading weapons. To reload you had to stand, in the open, in plain sight. Not good. A tree might provide cover, but in open territory you are exposed. Not a problem for the hunter or target shooting, but decidedly unhealthy in combat.

Caplock & Flintlock

Generally long lock times do not contribute to accuracy. With the introduction of the cap lock the flaming facial distraction was done away with, and the system had a superior lock time. Well built, but slow, including high exposure reloading techniques. The Ferguson was a flint lock breechloading rifle. The trigger guard was a lever used to drive a vertical, screw or bolt like breach. A ball was inserted into the barrel chamber, followed by slight overcharge of powder. The trigger guard was cranked to close the breach, shearing off the any excess charge. Cock, prime the pan and fire. This could be from behind cover and had a relatively high rate of fire of 6 rounds a minute and used by the British in the Revolutionary War. It was used in only two major battles. Only about a 100 or so rifles where available. It took 4 gunsmiths laboring 6 months to produce 100 rifles. It cost 4 times as much, and was dropped from usage, replaced with the standard Long Land Pattern musket, better known as the Brown Bess.

M1819 Hall Rifle

Another attempt was the Hall. It spanned the period from flintlock to cap lock. The M1819 Hall rifle was adopted by the US Army and much of the production from the 1820’s through the 1830’s and was stored at the Harper’s Ferry Armory. Many were subsequently converted to cap locks. John Brown’s raid in 1859 seized numerous Hall breech loaders for a short time.

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