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View Full Version : My semi-annual gun question... historical this time!



Captcha
04-23-2017, 03:26 AM
I swear, I DO learn from each question I ask. But there's so much to learn!

This time... it's 1855 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. My female character has little to no background with guns (born and raised in New York City) but she's become accustomed to at least the sound of hunting rifles as she's travelled westward.

She hears gunshots from about fifty feet away, through a thin shed wall and a thicker log cabin wall.

Would she be able to distinguish between the sounds of a revolver and a rifle?

JNG01
04-23-2017, 05:32 AM
I swear, I DO learn from each question I ask. But there's so much to learn!

This time... it's 1855 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. My female character has little to no background with guns (born and raised in New York City) but she's become accustomed to at least the sound of hunting rifles as she's travelled westward.

She hears gunshots from about fifty feet away, through a thin shed wall and a thicker log cabin wall.

Would she be able to distinguish between the sounds of a revolver and a rifle?

If it's 1855, you're before the era of metallic cartridge ammunition. So the rifle is probably a rifle-bored musket, and the revolver is most likely a black-powder percussion pistol, like the 1851 Colt Navy or Colt Dragoon.

There would be a difference in sound between a black-powder pistol and a rifled musket, but it would not be as night-and-day distinct as the difference in sound between a modern pistol and a modern rifle. So, if your character knew what to listen for, it's plausible that she could tell the difference.

Captcha
04-23-2017, 05:46 AM
If it's 1855, you're before the era of metallic cartridge ammunition. So the rifle is probably a rifle-bored musket, and the revolver is most likely a black-powder percussion pistol, like the 1851 Colt Navy or Colt Dragoon.

There would be a difference in sound between a black-powder pistol and a rifled musket, but it would not be as night-and-day distinct as the difference in sound between a modern pistol and a modern rifle. So, if your character knew what to listen for, it's plausible that she could tell the difference.

Okay, that's another area I was going to have to research - the musket and black-powder percussion stuff... does that mean that the people would be carrying powder around in a separate container? Or would there be the paper charges or whatever those were?

I don't need to know a lot about this, but... I need to know more than I do! I read the gun sites, but it's hard for me to wade through the lingo that gun people seem to take for granted.

Would it even make sense for someone in my setting to talk about ammunition, or would they just be talking about having to buy powder and shot, or something?

JNG01
04-23-2017, 06:01 AM
A percussion-cap black powder firearm can generally accept loose powder and ball, or those same components wrapped into a paper (or sometimes foil) cartridge.

They would probably talk about needing to buy powder, or ball (ball included both round balls and conical minie balls), or caps, depending on what they were low on. I don't know for sure but I imagine that there were probably at least some pre-made paper cartridges commercially available.

JNG01
04-23-2017, 05:49 PM
Just for reference, and to be clear, those 'cartridges' would generally not load into the gun all in one piece the way modern ammunition would. For a musket cartridge, for example, to load the shooter would bite off the part of the cartridge that contained the ball, then pour the powder from the opened cartridge down the bore, then push the paper-wrapped ball into the muzzle, then push the ball home with the ramrod, then turn the rifle around and put a percussion cap on the nipple.

I think some of the very, very early LaMat and S&W revolvers had bored-through cylinders that would let you put the cartridge in all in one piece, but the Colt revolvers I believe had to be loaded from both ends of the cylinder--power in the back, ball in the front.

WeaselFire
04-23-2017, 07:47 PM
Would she be able to distinguish between the sounds of a revolver and a rifle?

Short answer: Not likely. I shoot black powder and at a range I have trouble knowing what is shooting without looking when it's in the open a dozen feet away. There are a few giveaways, such as rapidity of shots. Bang - Bang - Bang is going to be a revolver, or three rifles, while a rifle will sound more like Bang......................... Bang.................... while the shooter reloads. That may help you write what you need.

The next issue will be your date. The major historical firearm changes were just beginning in your time frame. Muzzle loaders were just being phased out. Colt's revolvers were less than a decade old and the Sharps rifle had just been developed. There weren't the surplus guns from the Civil War available and the major westward expansion really hadn't begun yet. You'd see a fair number of rifled muskets, a smaller number of Colt revolvers and some guns from the Mexican-American wars like the Colt Walker Revolver or Patterson revolvers. The main long gun in that war was a smooth bore flintlock, the Brown Bess for the Mexicans and similar for the Americans, but many of the pioneers in Texas fought with their hunting guns, Kentucky Long rifles or Mississippi rifles for example, and the Mexicans used the British Baker.

Keep in mind the California territory had only been a US property for a half dozen years or so, and there were probably British arms available in the area from Mexican sources. Also, almost every pioneer had a shotgun by then, it was one of the main hunting guns of the era. You might take a look at the NRA museum online for some info on the firearms:

http://www.nramuseum.com/guns/the-galleries/the-american-west-1850-to-1900.aspx

Jeff

Captcha
04-23-2017, 10:02 PM
Short answer: Not likely. I shoot black powder and at a range I have trouble knowing what is shooting without looking when it's in the open a dozen feet away. There are a few giveaways, such as rapidity of shots. Bang - Bang - Bang is going to be a revolver, or three rifles, while a rifle will sound more like Bang......................... Bang.................... while the shooter reloads. That may help you write what you need.

The next issue will be your date. The major historical firearm changes were just beginning in your time frame. Muzzle loaders were just being phased out. Colt's revolvers were less than a decade old and the Sharps rifle had just been developed. There weren't the surplus guns from the Civil War available and the major westward expansion really hadn't begun yet. You'd see a fair number of rifled muskets, a smaller number of Colt revolvers and some guns from the Mexican-American wars like the Colt Walker Revolver or Patterson revolvers. The main long gun in that war was a smooth bore flintlock, the Brown Bess for the Mexicans and similar for the Americans, but many of the pioneers in Texas fought with their hunting guns, Kentucky Long rifles or Mississippi rifles for example, and the Mexicans used the British Baker.

Keep in mind the California territory had only been a US property for a half dozen years or so, and there were probably British arms available in the area from Mexican sources. Also, almost every pioneer had a shotgun by then, it was one of the main hunting guns of the era. You might take a look at the NRA museum online for some info on the firearms:

http://www.nramuseum.com/guns/the-galleries/the-american-west-1850-to-1900.aspx

Jeff

Good info, everybody - thanks!

(I FINALLY feel like I got a grasp on modern firearms, and then I had to go and try a historical story. Aaargh!)

GeorgeK
04-23-2017, 10:09 PM
Agree with other posters but would add that it would depend on what firearms one is trying to distinguish. A Colt Walker sounds very much like a Zouave musket, but a 31 caliber Colt Dragoon has an easily distinguished higher pitch than a musket. Some people also used light loads or heavy. If under fire and trying to reload a revolver, there's a good chance of a mix of light loads and heavy from the same revolver if using a powder horn instead of paper cartridges. If the character is well versed in firearms AND the terrain and how the sounds bounce, And there were a mix of firearms she could pick out there were some muskets and some smaller revolvers



This time... it's 1855 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. My female character has little to no background with guns (born and raised in New York City) but she's become accustomed to at least the sound of hunting rifles as she's travelled westward.

She hears gunshots from about fifty feet away, through a thin shed wall and a thicker log cabin wall.

Would she be able to distinguish between the sounds of a revolver and a rifle?So, we know that she's not familiar with firearms other than the occasional hunt. She's not familiar with the local terrain. So something that's a heavy load 150 feet away she might think is something with a light load 50 feet away. Sound does really weird things even to the point of sounding like it's coming from the opposite directions. The longer the sounds go on the less likely that the direction will be misidentified.

Also with the cap and ball weapons you can hear a distinct cap sound from the powder igniting hence the, "KerPow," then instead of, "Pow," today

Jason
04-24-2017, 03:08 AM
I swear, I DO learn from each question I ask. But there's so much to learn!

This time... it's 1855 in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. My female character has little to no background with guns (born and raised in New York City) but she's become accustomed to at least the sound of hunting rifles as she's travelled westward.

She hears gunshots from about fifty feet away, through a thin shed wall and a thicker log cabin wall.

Would she be able to distinguish between the sounds of a revolver and a rifle?

The above answers regarding distinguishing between a rifle and a pistol are pretty good. I'm not sure I'd buy into the premise that a woman that grew in up NYC pre 1855 had little to no experience with firearms. During the colonial days and into the 19th century, even larger metropolitan areas like NYC were not like the large cities of today where guns are more carefully legislated. Nearly everyone owned, or was aware of/familiar with firearms. So, to say that a girl that grew up in pre-1855 America had little to no background with guns solely because she grew up in NYC just doesn't sound right to me...

Maybe my understand of historical America is inaccurate, but that's my 2

Captcha
04-24-2017, 03:16 AM
The above answers regarding distinguishing between a rifle and a pistol are pretty good. I'm not sure I'd buy into the premise that a woman that grew in up NYC pre 1855 had little to no experience with firearms. During the colonial days and into the 19th century, even larger metropolitan areas like NYC were not like the large cities of today where guns are more carefully legislated. Nearly everyone owned, or was aware of/familiar with firearms. So, to say that a girl that grew up in pre-1855 America had little to no background with guns solely because she grew up in NYC just doesn't sound right to me...

Maybe my understand of historical America is inaccurate, but that's my 2

She was upper-class, so she'd have led a pretty genteel life. And as far as I can tell there wasn't quite the same "going shooting at the country house" mentality in New York that there was in England.

But I could be wrong, for sure. I'm still at the pretty early stages of research for this one...

Jason
04-28-2017, 08:17 AM
Okay, that makes more sense now, if she led a genteel life where things were more "protected"...very aristocratic. :)

I'm actually intrigued by the story line now - let me know if you need a beta :)

Captcha
04-28-2017, 02:02 PM
Okay, that makes more sense now, if she led a genteel life where things were more "protected"...very aristocratic. :)

I'm actually intrigued by the story line now - let me know if you need a beta :)


Thanks! I'm just writing a proposal for a spec piece so I have no idea if it'll ever get written, but I appreciate the offer!