Going Seriously Old School

Ever fired a matchlock? While I have handled them, no one has ever let me shoot one of these 16th century guns. For the next season of “American Rifleman Television” we are doing a four-part feature series on the development of firearms from the discovery of gunpowder to today. For that series, we borrowed a matchlock musket from Dale Shinn in California. A replica, it is an authentic copy of the kind of matchlocks used during the founding of the American colonies in Jamestown and Plymouth.

The simple cock or serpentine holds a piece of smoldering slow match in front of your face—thus the “match” part of matchlock. Know the punts you use on Halloween? Think of that held in the jaw of in front of your face. There is open pan of gunpowder right in front of your nose (later ones had a cover so your powder would not fall or blow out). There is no sear, when you pull the trigger, it simply draws the serpentine with the slow match back to the open pan of powder and, if all goes well, you can hold the match there long enough to ignite the priming charge of powder in the pan. If you let go of the trigger, the match goes forward out of contact with the pan. I must say drawing a burning piece of rope closer to your face with an open pan of powder in front of your nose takes a little getting used to.

We shot high speed footage for the show, and seeing as we had to clean it anyway, many of the staff shot it, including Assistant Editor Joe Kurtenbach. Look for it on the Outdoor Channel.

Matchlock Firing

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1 Response to Going Seriously Old School

Harry P wrote:
November 30, 2012

Ever fired a matchlock? Yes, I have. Many decades ago, I worked at one of the larger “Natural History” museums in the U.S. and buried among the hundreds of thousands of specimens & physical objects that had been collected & donated from around the world, were a number of things that were not in keeping with the generally liberal sensibilities of the educational & research staff members. One of the more controversial curators, however, was more pragmatic about life & our culture and because among other things, he was a hunter, we became friends. Over time, he showed me some of the marvelously crafted swords, pikes & edged weapons that were part of the collection but not really “admitted to” by the museum administration & rarely made part of their displays. He also showed & taught me about the number of original matchlocks they owned. He knew about them because for a good part of his life, he had collected such things himself. Months later, at the farm in which he & his family lived, I had the opportunity to not only examine his collection but fire a couple of pieces from it. I realize that such an act would be considered heresy today but as I said it was a long (very long) time ago & he was also very knowledgeable in regard to the materials & metallurgy involved. In consideration of an even longer-ago period of time, the ones he owned & that we fired were Asiatic, and while I think the Chinese used some of theirs into the 1800’s, these might have stemmed from, or actually predated, the timeframe of your replica. I have considered myself to have been extremely fortunate in regard to the number of historical, collectable & just plain neat firearms I have handled (and even shot) in my life but that afternoon on the farm, holding & firing something that went that far back in time & was so important in regard to how guns impacted the world, is something I will never forget. If the phrase “holding history in your hand”, ever applied to something I did, it was on that day.