Why Troops Hated the Brunswick Rifle

Although the author did take a turkey with this .69-caliber (14-gauge) version of the Brunswick design, the 2-groove rifle was so innacurate as to be inappropriate for this size game.


  Of all the guns imported by the embattled Confederate States of America, the one held in worst regard was the British 2-groove Brunswick rifle.  This sentiment was also felt by British and colonial units who were issued the gun.

  Now that I have had a chance to shoot the Brunswick rifle that I described in an earlier post , I can see why.  (Post and video below).  Used with either shot or ball, the gun did not shoot accurately enough to make precision shots on a man at 50 yards.

  The gun’s designers thought it held high promise. This was supposed to be a gun that would shoot as well as the American rifles used in the Revolution, incorporate the newest trends in arms design and be a low-cost combat rifle that could replace the smoothbore 1842 musket. The 1842 was the percussion version of the historic Brown Bess that, with progressive improvements,  had been in service for a century.

  The Brunswick rifle was fitted with a new back-action lock, two sights (one that could flip up for longer range shooting), a strong bayonet fitting, a patch box, a patent breech to allow easy detachment of the barrel for cleaning and  a reduced-caliber sub-chamber in the barrel for more efficient ignition of the powder charge. These improvements added to the novel 2-groove rifling system were  to produce a “new world standard” combat arm.

  Using the issue sights, my gun consistently shot more that a foot to the left at 50 yards and would not have touched a man at 100. In addition, the sub-chamber tended to gum up with black powder residue  which resulted in hang fires or misfires. The back-action lock’s trigger pull was so hard that  it was difficult to do precision shooting at any range. In short, although the gun would function (at least most of the time) I could not hit anything with it. Even the original flintlock Brown Bess was more accurate, which was not saying much as this gun had no rear sight.

  Not even when sent to Nepal on the fringes of the British Empire, was the gun any better regarded. There was a .69-caliber smoothbore version (14-gauge) of the Brunswick design that had a better reputation.  The rifles were put into storage, and the brass patch boxes were salvaged to recover the metal.

  British ordinance officials did learn, and their next rifle; the .58-caliber Enfield, was a world-wide success.

6 thoughts on “Why Troops Hated the Brunswick Rifle

  1. Pingback: Index of First 150 Post, New Intern « Backyard deer hunting

  2. You are aware that you need to use belted balls in the Brunswick Rifle? You don’t mention anywhere in your article. My Nepalese Brunswick shoots very well with the correct ammunition.

    • Dear Phil,

      I sure am. In my particular gun the belted balls shot no better than the round ones until I lapped ridges out of the bore which were cutting up the patches. Then I got reasonable accuracy. I have another barrel now from a salvaged gun that looks like it is better done than the first one. Unfortunately, these barrels are not interchangable on these hand-made guns. I will have to construct a gun around that barrel and lock to try it out. I have a series of videos on YouTube that document my going through the process. Look for my videos on the Brunswick rifle and you will see some of my experimentation with it.

      It is interesting that out of the tens of thousands of balls recovered from the Nepalese arsenal, there was not a single belted ball among them. I conclude that they mostly shot these with the same balls they used for the Brown Bess and 1842 percussion musket.

      The barrels from the Nepalese guns are very variable in quality, apparently depending on the individuals who made them and/or when they were made. These workmen did better and better with all of the English-pattern guns that they made as time progressed even to the point of making some home-grown designs. They also made their own gunpowder which was from period reports weaker than that available from England. Anyone should be very cautious about shooting any of these guns. Blowing percussion nipples from the nipple seats is a real possibility because of the soft steel used to make the hand-forged breech sections. I have also seen barrels that were “sprung” where the ribbons of steel from which they were forged became un-welded and un-twisted – looking something like a corkscrew. I find no indications that the Nepalese proofed their barrels, as did the British.

      The heavy balls, heavy powder charges and slow reloading did not help the troops who were issued these guns. In general the guys who used these guns were physically smaller, although stronger, than most people are today. They were really beat up by these guns.

      Jeff Tanner in England produced my molds. Where did you get yours? One of my videos shows me casting these bullets.


  3. I shot My Brunswick this weekend with a .680 patched round ball at the Friendship Ind. shoot and hit the 100 yard gong 6 out of 9 times. I was using 85 grains of 3F black powder. I don’t know what your load was but mine was pretty much dead on a 100 yards!

    • What ever you did with your rifle, keep doing it. These rifles are highly individualistic. Mine was a terrible round-ball shooter before I lapped the bore. After I lapped the bore and had the belted ball mold made, I did not do much more shooting with round balls. Next time I have the gun out I will try again. Since then I have purchased another Nepalese Brunswick barrel that looks much better rifled that they one I shot. One of these days I will put it together on a new stock and try it. Historically special bullets of either Minie Type or belted balls were made for this rifle which implies that they gave better performance. It would be interesting to see how your gun shoots with both patched-round and patched-belted balls.

  4. John, which of these have you shot? I have a better-made Nepalese barrel and one day I will have this built into a gun. Perhaps this one will do better.

    British Brunswicks shot fine for the period and were made for decades for a reason. The Nepali ones are of a very different barrel quality. Confederates hated the Brunswick as they did not buy the belted ball as well and tried to use .70 Minie in them. Russians loved them. Their Finnish marksmen were feared in the Crimea with their Belgian Brunswicks using the Russian studded conical rounds. With a good barrel and a patched belted ball they are great out to up to 300 yards, and further with Russian rounds. Slow loaders though. British Rifle regiment loads were just powder then patched (issued as belted ball ready wrapped in waxed calico) belted ball. For rapid fire standard musket cartridges with which a man should get off 4 per minute minimum.

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