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Short-Barreled, Short-Ranged Musket

From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the Blunderbuss proved a popular weapon for its intimidating appearance and man-stopping capability.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Edited: 5/15/2019
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Year: 1720
Manufacturer(s): Various Worldwide
Roles: Close Quarters Battle (CQB)/Personal Security; Frontline Infantry/Rifleman; Specialized Role;
Action: Flintlock
Caliber(s): Various
Sights: None.
Overall Length: 775 mm (30.51 in)
Barrel Length: 370 mm (14.57 in)
Weight (Unloaded): 4.63 lb (2.10 kg)
Rate-of-Fire: 1 rounds-per-minute
Effective Range: 50 ft (15 m; 17 yd)
Operators: Austria; Belgium; Denmark; France; Germany; India; Italy; Mexico; Netherlands; Ottoman Empire; Poland; Portugal; Russia; Sardinia; Spain; United Kingdom; United States
The Blunderbuss (born of the Dutch word "Donderbus", appropriately meaning "Thunder Pipe" or "Thunder Gun") came to prominence in the early part of the 18th Century (1701-1800) and was more akin to the modern day shotgun than a "long gun" musket or heavy pistol of the time. As such, she excelled in close-in fighting, be it within the confines of naval warfare or walled nature of the urban environment, where her spread of shot could inflict maximum damage to targets at close ranges. Its manageable size, coupled with its spread shot, ensured some level of accuracy for even the novice user and its appearance was rather intimidating to those unfortunate enough to be staring down the business end. As with modern shotgun firearms, the Blunderbuss also made for an excellent security-minded weapon and soon found popularity amongst all matter of operators - military, civilian and, of course, criminal parties - by the middle of the 1700s. Even George Washington championed the Blunderbuss for Continental Army "Dragoon" units of the burgeoning American military as opposed to the carbine musket - a "carbine" this being nothing more than a full-featured long gun of lesser overall length, proving suitable for horse-mounted handling. In fact, the short-form version of the Blunderbuss came to be known as the "Dragon", giving rise to the term "Dragoon" for such gun-wielding cavalrymen. Dragoons went on to form specialized units of mounted infantrymen within their respective armies during the end of the 17th Century and into the middle of the 18th Century - in a way, becoming an evolutionary step of the fabled mounted knight of the Middle Ages. Their use of Dragons soon gave way to the widely-accepted carbine musket. The Blunderbuss was also known as the "Blunderbess".

The Blunderbuss existed in two distinctly notable forms - a short, pistol-like form (the aforementioned "Dragon") and the more identifiable medium-sized, shotgun-like version. Both versions were muzzle-loading firearms - that is, loaded from the barrel end as opposed to an open breech at the rear of the gun body. Blunderbuss operation was actuated by a flintlock arrangement requiring use of a swiveling "cock" that held a piece of flint stone. Loading involved filling the barrel with an appropriate level of gunpowder, forcing cotton wadding down the barrel and adding shot (lead balls) before finally stamping the contents down with the supplied ramrod. Shot could be made up of lead balls or any sort of projectile that easily fit the caliber of the barrel. Gunpowder was then supplied to the open pan along the side of the gun body and the weapon was "cocked" for firing. With a pull of the trigger, the cock-containing flint was scrapped against a metal fixture to generate sparks, these sparks falling into the pan of gunpowder and igniting the contents within. The force of the internal explosion would send the projectiles out of the flared end of the barrel in a "spread" fashion.

Construction of Blunderbusses, of course, varied throughout its decades of use and each were based on regional construction methods, user requirements and field usage. Some were completed with brass barrels while others were finished with steel versions and, still others, particularly navalized versions, were covered over in heavy protective finishes to help combat the corrosive effects of the salty sea against the temperamental wood and metal construction of these guns.

Traditionally, the image of the Blunderbuss featured a bell-shaped (or "flared") muzzle for the spreading of shot with the barrel set within a solid wooden frame. The frame contained the working components including a compressed spring, the cock with flint stone and gun powder pan (also known as the "flash pan" or "frizzen"). The cock was set to the right hand side as was the open pan. The trigger was set underneath the body of the gun and protected by an oblong trigger ring. A shoulder stock assisted in containing the inherently violent recoil of such a short, powerful weapon and also served to provide a rifle-type hand grip. A ramrod was fitted underneath the barrel for ramming shot contents down the barrel when loading/reloading. Overall length was shorter than any available musket of the time which lent itself well to rising use worldwide - some examples measuring between 14 and 30 inches long with a variable-length barrels to boot. Pistol forms, of course, were shorter than their full-length Blunderbuss counterparts. Caliber was equally variable as well with some Blunderbusses fielding a 2.5 inch flared muzzle opening. Military Blunderbusses additionally sported fittings for the use of a bayonet.

Despite its military applications, the Blunderbuss will forever be associated with its use by privateers and pirates of the high seas. Understanding the form and function of the Blunderbuss in such a role and the reader immediately understands the ideal nature of the weapon in the close-fighting environment involved with a boarding action between rival ships. Even the British Royal Navy found value in such a weapon that it issued Blunderbuss-type weaponry to its sailors for that very role. The spread shot could be put to lethal use in such quarters as could its portability, particularly in fighting below decks. Once the gun was fired, the user could then close in on his enemy by way of blade (or bayonet if equipped as such) or use the butt-end of the Blunderbuss as an effective club of sorts. Since reloading of flintlock weapons was generally time consuming, it made sense to provide the soldier with both firearm and blade at this point in history. British use of the Blunderbuss even extended into land-based protection of convoys and mail service for her coachmen operating between destinations where bandits roamed. As a proven weapon worldwide, it was not surprising that colonists in the Americas also kept Blunderbusses for protection against all matter of target - needless to say, use of Blunderbuss-type weapons was quite global, particularly noted for its use in European Armies.

The tenure of Blunderbuss survived into the 19th Century to which by this time the carbine had staked its claim on the modern battlefields. Regardless, many still held their Blunderbusses in higher regard due to her inherently excellent man-stopping qualities and in-the-field ruggedness. Nevertheless, the Blunderbuss - the imposing weapon with the funny name - would still go down as one of the most recognizable firearms in history and live a long healthy life in the romanticized pirate tales to follow.

Variants / Models

• Blunderbuss - Base Series Designation; full-length version.
• Dragon - Pistol Form; shortened overall design.
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