While doing research, I found a little book on handling guns in England. It has a long title, which seemed to be the norm in those golden, olden days. Today, with all the gun control that abounds the news media, a good look at how an 18th century Englishman viewed the proper handling of guns (pieces), what shot to use, and which dogs are best, would be a nice topic to blog.
The following information will also aid the reader or author when coming to a point in the story where a gun is used, loaded, or whatnot. It’s the details that make a story believable.
The full title is,
The Art of English Shooting; Under the Following heads: Of the Knowledge of a good Fowling-Piece. The ordering and managing the Fowling-Piece. The Appendages of the Fowling-Piece. The Choice of Powder, Shot, and Flints. Of Partridge Shooting, with the Choice and ordering of Pointers. Of Pheasant Shooting, with the ordering of Spaniels. Of Woodcock Shooting. Of Snipe Shooting. Of Water and Fen-Fowl Shooting; and the Use of proper Dogs. Of Upland Winter Shooting.
Not finished yet. The title continues as,
With the Necessary Observations for the Young Sportsman, when out and on Returning Home.
Now, we're done.
The book was authored by George Edie, Gentleman. Printed in London for J. Cooke, at Shakespear's Head (as spelled in the book), in Pater-noster Row (also as spelled in book). MDCCLXXVII (1777), Price One Shilling.
It is a mere 34 pages. The copyright page is interesting, too. It states:
"This Pamphlet being entered in the Hall-Book of the Company of Stationers, and at the Stamp Office (according to Act of Parliament) whoever pirates the whole or any part of it, shall be prosecuted as the Law directs."
The more research I do the more alike we are to the ones we write about.
Now, for the guts of the matter:
By late 18th century, manufacturers of fowling pieces had made great improvements, but bad guns were still available. The young sportsman must be aware of this prior to making his purchase.
“Of the Knowledge of a good Fowling-Piece.”
To determine a good modern piece (as in 1777), the barrel must be... "of a tolerable large bore, and very smooth, with a handsome outside, and the length from three foot to three foot six inches; the lock rather small, with good and strong springs; the stock neat, not too much bent in the butt; and, on the whole, the Piece to rise light and handy to the shoulder..." Brass was recommended over steel, since it's easier to clean.
The internal parts of the Piece cannot be "well done, dear fellow" until one tries it out. Prior to the purchase, the young sportsman must fire it.
Keep in mind the following when you fire the gun you wish to purchase: "tack a large sheet of brown paper, with a card in the middle, on a clean barn-door, or some such place, that the degree of scattering may be the better observed; stand at about the distance of 70 yards, and try at first the common charge of a pipe of powder, and a pipe and half of shot; and, to do the gun justice, be as steady as possible in your aim..."
Once the gun is fired, and shot hits the card, you can be assured you will purchase a good gun. If you know your aim was steady, yet you still missed the card, try this:
"...try then an equal quantity of powder and shot (which some barrels are found to carry best) at the same distance, and if you then miss giving the sheet a tolerable sprinkling, refuse the Piece, as being but an indifferent one.
For the second, or more indifferent sort (gun), let fifty-five or sixty yards be the distance of trial, and a judgment formed according to the above rule: but it must be observed, that as some Pieces carry a larger quantity of powder and shot than others, so it will be adviseable to try three or four different quantities..." before you are certain of the best shot for that gun.
With the selection and purchase of a Piece, the next thing is to take care of it. This will keep it working for a good many years, and be a fine inheritance for your son or daughter.
"...it is necessary the inside of the barrel, the touch-hole, and the lock be kept clean; and the springs and moving parts of the lock properly oiled.
The barrel should be washed at least after every eighteen or twenty fires, where the best sort of powder is used; but if the gunpowder is an inferior sort, then the barrel will require the oftener washing.
The best method of washing a barrel is, by taking out the britch-pin (breech-pin today); but as this can seldom be conveniently done, take the barrel out of the stock, and put the britch-end into a pail of warm water, leaving the touch hole open; then with an iron rod, with tow (fiber of the flax plant stem; not recommended today. Bits could break off and left within barrel) or a bit of linnen rag at the end, draw up and down in the syringe manner, till it is quite clean; changing the water, and rinsing the inside, as the foulness requires: when the barrel is perfectly clean, its inside must be dried by tow, or linnen rags; and when this is done, it will be proper to put it in a red-hot iron, of six or eight inches in length, (which any blacksmith will furnish) and move it up and down to dry any remaining damp: the outside of the barrel should be well dried, and a little oil rubbed over every time of cleaning. "
This is true for today’s black powder guns (except the red-hot iron part). While researching for TWINS, I needed some expert advice. As a result I went to gun shops, especially those with antique gun collections. These proprietors were very nice, and showed me their guns that dated quite a' ways back, but never to the 17th century which is my time of study.
Today the fowling piece is a shotgun, and the breech-pin refers to the method by which the barrel can be removed from the stock. The breech end is closest to the trigger. The iron rod today is called a cleaning rod with a cotton patch attached to the end.
With the barrel removed, this booklet states to insert the breech end of the barrel into the water. The cleaning rod is then moved up and down the barrel from the muzzle end. This forms suction, and brings water up and down with the cleaning rod. This method cleans the barrel of powder and all residues.
To keep the cleaned barrel from rusting, it must be dried inside and out. With no blacksmiths to contact, there are no rods to put into a fire and get red-hot. Today, the barrel can be placed in a slightly warmed oven or in direct sunlight to remove any dampness.
As a result of so much study, my husband purchased a black powder pistol for me, a replica of 1851 Navy with cartouches. (Happy Valentine's, dear.)
I learned when used several times, the gun gets very dirty. To clean it, my husband dismantles it, and puts most of the parts into near boiling water to have a good soak, which I found pretty amazing, and the last thing I expected. It'll rust, right?
Once cleaned, and the barrel swabbed out, everything must be dried, and oiled. Keeping guns clean and ready to shoot is hard work. Husband and I made a bargain: If he cooks, I'll clean up no matter how many dishes, pots and pans he uses. With guns, I'll shoot the gun, but he has to clean up afterward.
End of Part I.
Next installment: The Appendages of the Gun
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