Caution: The Coolest Gun I’ve Shot

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posted on May 2, 2012
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This is the view through the “American Rifleman Television” remote camera as we fired the most impressive gun of the season for the third quarter of 2012. Thanks to Jim Supica, Phil Schreier, Doug Wicklund and Matt Sharpe of the National Firearms Museum, I can now say I have shot what I regard as undoubtedly the coolest 18th century gun extant. The Nock Volley Gun is one of the most unusual service firearms of the Napoleonic era. It was a flintlock with seven barrels, one central barrel with six more surrounding the latter, sort of like a pepperbox. The difference, of course, is that all seven barrels fire at once with the Nock—it only happens to the extremely unlucky (or careless) with a Pepperbox. Think of a Nock as a deliberate chain fire waiting to happen.

The gun, devised by Britain’s James Wilson and built under contract for the British Royal Navy by gunmaker Henry Nock of London, was intended to be used to clear the enemy’s rigging and quarterdeck. A contract was set by the Board of Ordnance in 1780 for 500 guns, and there was said to be another for 100 in 1787. The gun was a great idea, until you caught your own ship on fire, which, together with excessive recoil, led to the Nock Volley Guns being withdrawn from service or conveniently dropped overboard and listed as “lost to enemy action.”

The National Firearms Museum has one (the same one used by Richard Widmark in John Wayne’s “The Alamo”), and the Museum staff allowed us to shoot it for “American Rifleman Television.” We are trying some new things this season, including using a forehead-mounted GoPro, and shooting some very interesting guns from the museum collection.

Loading this thing was a team effort, and we used undersized, patched .44-cal. round balls, 21 grains of FFF and FFFF for a primer. Honestly, it wasn’t too hard on the shoulder. Turkey loads out of a lightweight 12 gauge, 3 1/2-inch shotgun are far more punishing. Just lots of flash, smoke, bang and then a moderate push. Jim, Doug, Matt, NRA Publications’ Christopher Olsen and I all shot it, and we have behind-the-scenes video thanks to Christopher’s iPhone.

Look for the Nock Volley Gun as the “I Have This Old Gun” for the season opener when new episodes of American Rifleman TV make their debut on Wednesday July 4 on the Outdoor Channel.

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