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The blunderbuss was an interesting and useful self-defense gun whose development peaked in the late 1700s. The distinctive belled muzzle helped to speed loading, but did little or nothing to scatter the shot. Mostly, these guns were made as short-barreled flintlocks that could be easily handled by sailors in close combat on crowded ship decks or by coachmen.
Often pistols and blunderbusses used in naval warfare were not equipped with ramrods. During a fight on a crowded ship’s deck there was no time to reload. Everyone carried with a pike, sword, ax or spear, and there was nowhere to safely reload a gun on a ship’s deck. Marines, used as snipers in the rigging, could reload, but the sailors fighting on the deck below could not. After being fired, sailors often dropped their guns and grabbed a cutlass. There was more of a possibility that multiple shots might be fired by coachmen, and their guns were sometime equipped with attached ramrods that would be less likely to be lost. The most complex of these guns also had spring-loaded bayonets.
Blunderbusses were made in all sizes, from pistols to guns intended to be mounted on walls or small boats that might have 2-inch bores and swivel mounts. Although some large blunderbusses had shoulder stocks, they could not be successfully shoulder fired without the recoil throwing the shooter off the top of the wall if the gun came loose from its mount. Even the more usual 10 and 12-gauge guns were most commonly fired from the hip and braced across the body. Some guns had tapered bores while others were were of uniform caliber, except for the enlarged muzzle.
When writing a segment for my coverage of black-powder guns for the 2014 Gun Digest, “Self defense guns then and now,” a blunderbuss was a logical gun to include; but I had only a photo of an original Rigby until Sportsman’s Guide offered a .54 caliber blunderbuss kit. I purchased the gun, put it together and this gave me a blunderbuss, albeit in percussion and of smaller than usual caliber, to work with.
I did the Initial shooting at a POMA outdoor writers’ conference in Tunica, Mississippi. I, and everyone else, enjoyed seeing and shooting with the gun. The load I used was 70 grains of Hodgdon’s Triple Seven powder, a hand-cut thin cardboard wad, a charge of about 30-grains by volume of cream of wheat, another wad, no. 8 lead shot and 12, .177 air-rifle pellets and an over-top card wad. You can see the video at: http://youtu.be/qdjAEE4QJqA.
Even though it only had a .54-caliber 16-inch barrel, it patterned the shot fairly well, but hits were about a foot high. To get the gun ready for small game I first used a load of no. 6 lead shot and then mixed no. 6 and no. 8 shot to thicken the pattern. To date I have taken five squirrels with this gun. The first one was shot from the top of a pecan tree. It ran to another tree, and I finished it off with a knife. The second, third and fifth squirrels were also from trees. Although not instantly killed by the mixed load of shot sizes, they fell from the trees and expired. The fourth was shot on the ground at about 12 yards, and killed instantaneously.
In short, this gun shoots exactly like you would expect a cylinder-bored 28-gauge (actually 29-gauge) gun to shoot. At 10-yards it gave an even pattern of shot which very quickly thins as the range increases. Because of the small bore, shot larger than about a quarter-inch, .25-caliber, will bridge across the bore, be difficult to load and not seat firmly on the powder. When I loaded the air-rifle shot these were dropped hollow base first one by one down the barrel and layered in with a cream of wheat buffer. For a non-lethal charge, dried soy beans or lentals would be about right; although these could blind and penetrate skin.
As I am a hunter, my question was, “Could this gun, strange and wonderful looking as it is, actually be used to kill game.” The first obstacle was to raise the comb so that I could aim over the bell-shaped muzzle and hit closer to the point of aim. I used some cardboard to increase the height of the comb and this significantly raised the shot pattern. I felt confident enough that I could use the gun to take out three backyard squirrels and produced another video which may be seen on the wmhoveysmith Channel at: http://youtu.be/xE0088fBeQY.
My conclusion is that, “Yes, a person could have used this gun to take small game; provided that he raised the comb, worked up a good load of smallish shot and could get very close to his target.” Squirrels are small targets with tough hides. Often hits were clumps of three shot that were fairly close together. No. 6s penetrated the hide, broke bones and passed deep into the squirrel’s body. No. 8s were not so effective, but would go through the hide and break small bones. No. 7 shot is not commonly seen, but would probably be the optimum size in this gun for squirrels. For doves and quail, no. 8s would be the best choice. I would always take a secondary tool, like a knife or .22 pistol, for rapidly killing wounded squirrels.
Dogs are also useful, provided they are under control. Diana, even though she loves to squirrel hunt, wants to find and chase everything away long before I arrive. This is fun for her, but does not put many squirrels in the bag. She will ultimately learn, but for now I keep her on a leash and only release her after I shoot. If she gets out of the house before I do, I can fairly well give up on getting close to any squirrels.
When alerted, the squirrels either freeze on the sides of limbs, run into the nearby woods or disappear into a hollow branch. A small set of binoculars is handy to confirm that what you are seeing is a squirrel on a limb and not just an odd-shaped knot on a branch. When I hunted these squirrels, the trees are still thickly covered in green leaves which makes squrrels difficult to see once they stop moving.
If you are wondering what happened to the squirrels, they were eaten. I often make a squirrel stew or squirrel dumplings from them. If interested, I also have a YouTube video up on this at: http://youtu.be/nOfhw1ZqTIw.
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