Building and Shooting the three-barreled Duck Foot Pistol

This three barreled pistol discharged all of its barrels simultaneously. This was an early attempt at a crowd control arm in the days before percussion revolvers were common.

If you are going to name a pistol after a bird, names like “Eagle” and “Condor” have connotations of power, but Duck? This is even less true when it is not even the whole duck that you are talking about. Who is going to feel particularly safe with something in his great-coat pocket called a Duck Foot Pistol?  You may recall that the rabbit’s foot charm was not particularly lucky for the rabbit when it was alive, and he had four feet. Imagine someone waving a duck’s foot in front of a crowd of angry sword-waiving sailors whose grog rations had been terminated.

Nonetheless, there was such a gun that made during the late 1700s and early 1800s that was sold to sea captains who might have to face down a mutinous crew or a tight group of armed men in close combat on a ship’s deck. At least ducks had something to do with water, and the gun had three barrels, like a duck’s three toes.  Somehow through the decades that name has stuck to this pistol-sized version of the volley gun. The volley gun contained multiple barrels that discharged at once and such guns were produced in sizes that ranged from pistols to cannon. Such guns are still occasionally used as props in movies about pirates and the Napoleonic wars.

As part of a series of an upcoming Gun Digest article “Self Defense Guns Then and Now,”  I decided to include one of these seldom-written-about guns in the mix and give it a serious evaluation along with police models of the 1858 Remington and Colt Revolvers.  Completed guns are not generally available, but a kit, made by  Classic Arms ( New Legacy Products of Hope, Indiana)  was sold by Dixie Gun Works. I bought the kit and built the gun.

The pistol consists of three steel barrels, a steel connector block vented to each barrel, a brass frame, percussion nipple, hammer-lock parts and a wooden block that is already inlet to the back of the frame; but not shaped. The buyer’s tasks are to shape and finish the pistol grip, fit and install the lock parts and blue and polish the metal. The most challenging part for most people will be to make the pistol grip without destroying it. With patience and skill these grips can be very nice indeed, but I was after something that was more functional than attractive.

As a first step, I tightened up the wooden block to the frame, clamped that into a vise and took a large rasp and starting working down the corners of the block. The walnut was nicely grained, but would have taken a very long time to shape by only using a rasp. My next effort with a chisel went much faster, with the result that you can see below.

Roughed-out grip after chisel work.

Fit of grip to gun.

After I had removed as much as I dared with the chisel, I took the rasp and smoothed the grips down. Now that the grips were shaped, I installed them to the rear of the frame to determine what additional wood that I would have to remove by sanding. Following that, I converted a hand sander into a bench sander by clamping it into my vise and proceeded to do the final shaping on the grips. Sanding with coarse, medium and fine grades removed the last of the chisel gouges. The grips were then coated with wood stain and a MinWax stain-finish combination. After this had dried I coated the grips with furniture wax.

  When I completed my assembly of  the pistol I had something that half-way worked in that I could not install the trigger spring to the extent that the gun would cock and function normally.  I sent it off to a gunsmith who had the drill press and bits to successfully install the spring (by drilling pilot holes in the trigger and frame) and smooth up the lock. Upon its return, I had a gun that would work after I reduced the diameter of the nipple so that the no. 11 caps would fire.  I shot the gun with its recommended load of  12 grains of FFFg black powder and a patched .350 round ball. I also worked with stouter loads and received improved accuracy and terminal performance, but nothing very confidence building. While better than no gun at all, the Duck Foot was/is best used a ranges less than 10 yards with the barrels held vertical so that an adversary would catch all three balls in different parts of his body. This would not likely to be instantly disabling, but could surprise him to the extent that you could escape to obtain a more effective gun or assault him with a knife.  It appears that those using these weakly-powered pistols were  also armed with a blade as a back-up defensive weapon.

 A caution when shooting these low-powered pistol loads is that balls/bullets will bounce back and may return to hit the shooter if the projectile impacts against a hard object such as a plank, rock or tree. Always test shoot these guns against a soft backstop or in other places where “bounce backs” cannot occur.   

A 3-minute video going through the construction stages is now available on YouTube at: I did a  follow-up  video on shooting the pistol in connection with the Gun Digest article, and this video is posted below.  I later obtained  improved results from this gun with additional load development, but even so, it remains a very specialized gun with limited potential uses.

6 thoughts on “Building and Shooting the three-barreled Duck Foot Pistol

  1. My dad had a replica Duck Footed Captain’s Pistol. Nearly identical to the one you constructed. Dad gave it to my husband when the Navy announced he was screened for command. “A Naval Captain should have a Captain’s Pistol.” It was another three years before he got to command, We still have it, and it was a challenge getting it through customs when we moved to Guam – his command’s homeport. We display it with other mementos from his command tour. Like the Naval Dirk one of his Junior Officers gave him as a parting Change of Command gift.

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