A history of firearms shows human dogged determination in getting it right at the risk of life and limb for the early practitioners. First the barrel. Early barrels were oak staves wrapped with iron hoop, just like wine barrels. The handguns used a barrel shaped iron cylinder, they were smooth bore like a shotgun, may or may not have an aiming, notch, post or painted line and were fired by fuse. Chance played an important part in hitting anything, thus they were generally employed against masses of infantry or cavalry. Many times, the propellant, being black powder was mixed on site or just previous to battle. It was just the loose constituents; charcoal, saltpeter and sulfur. Put it in a container in proper portions shake and load. Primarily the projectiles where rock, shaped into spheres later, but just a chunk of rock initially or perhaps arrows. Go with what you know, arrows from bows and rocks from slings.
Early Gun & Cannon Projectiles
Later these ingredients where mixed with water, dried and broke up into various grain sizes. Even iron projectiles where used, especially in cannons, but eventually the malleability and cast ability resulted in the round cast lead ball. All early personal ordinance, guns, where smooth bore. Accuracy behind 40 yards was ‘iffy’ at best. To be able to ensure hits, the military fought rank and file, hence the stand up across from each other, then fire away then resorting in a little “stick and stab” bayonet conflict.
Rangers Used Spiral Grooved Rifles
During the Revolutionary war it began to change. A group, Rangers, were chosen for their marksmanship with the rifle. The rifle had spiral grooves that spun the ball and stabilized it so accuracy to 300 yards was not uncommon. Rangers would snipe officers, noncommissioned officers (sergeants and corporals) and artillery crew, unsporting and dishonorable behavior according to the English. By the time the Civil War rolled around rifled muskets where common if not ubiquitous.
22 Rimfire Ammunition
But another phenomenon was on the horizon. Instead of the match, a lighted smoldering piece of cord or some form of flint ignition, guns used the cap. The cap contained an impact sensitive material that would light on receiving a blow from the hammer. Rain was no longer as much an issue given paper cartridges and caps as in the day of flint. Remember the adage “kept your powder dry”. But progressive firearms and ammunition manufactures took it a step forward. Enter the humble rimfire cartridge, this marvel is over a 150 years old, the 22 rimfire. Cartridges changed everything, environmentally resistant packaging and even a single shot rifle could out shoot a “muzzle stuffer” 6-10 to one, a dramatic increase in firepower. So, the rifling, priming and cartridge was a major shift in warfare to come. Only one major component was missing, and that came on the scene in the 19th century, smokeless powder.
Smokeless Powder VS Black Powder
Black powder is an inefficient propellant. When burned 60% is solids, the smoke and carbon fouling. Only about 40% is converted to heat and gas to push the projectile out the barrel. Smokeless powder is over 90 percent efficient, that is why about 1,800 feet per second is about the max velocity limit for black powder with velocities over 4,000 feet per second available with smokeless powder. To up the power you had to increase the mass of the projectile, with spherical bullets you had to go to bigger caliber. The English Browne and Bess of the Revolutionary war was .79 caliber, over 3/4th of an inch. Dangerous game ball firing guns were 4 gauge shotguns for African and Indian continent game hunting. Smokeless is nitrated cellulose. First products were nitrated cotton, hence the term “gun cotton”. Double base powders also contain a dab of nitroglycerin. So not as much smoke, cleaner shooting with more power. Truly the modern cartridge is a marvel of simplicity.