Tuesday, January 17, 2012

From "The Art of English Shooting"

by Farida Mestek

I think it was as long ago as September that I had an idea for a Regency-set story with a shooting party in its centre. With that in mind I plunged myself into research and practically gobbled the first two books on the subject that I found. However, then things began to slow down and the shooting party idea started gradually drifting away from me. Personally, I blame the book I got stuck reading. It is called simply “Shooting” and provides very detailed information about a lot of aspects of the sport but, unlike the previous books, I find it very difficult to read and I have this annoying habit of not starting a new book unless I finished the old one.

However, on present occasion, I had to take a break from this habit and this book in order to do a blog post and so I took up another – “The Art of English Shooting” by George Eddie, Gent.. It's an old book with “s” looking like “f” but it has many advantages: it's very short (about 40 pages), understandable despite the old-fashioned language, concise but at the same time informative. And it provided me with just the kind of information that I need to know in order to imagine my main heroes before, during and after the day's sport in some detail. I think that it is important to understand the mechanics even if you're not going to use them in your story and today, I'm going to present to your attention some of the points that I found useful. For one, I think that it is very important for any young sportsman to know exactly how to check the gun and see if it's any good:

The internal goodness of a Piece (gun) can only be known by trial, without which no new one should be purchased. For the purpose of trying a gun, the following hints may suffice: 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 seventy 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: if you find you have thrown any at this distance into the card, you may safely conclude the Piece is a good one; or if you have missed the card, perhaps through unsteadiness, and thrown a tolerable sprinkling into the sheet, you may have the same good opinion of the gun; but if you find none in the sheet, and are sensible of having shot steady, 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, if you are determined to have one of the best sort, which certainly is most advisable: and this trial may be reckoned altogether sufficient for a gun that is recommended by any gunsmith as a first-rate one.

I can almost see it. I think it would make a fine background for a scene between friends or brothers – a kind of a bonding moment at the gunsmith's where one can advise or instruct the other or they might just have a friendly debate over which gun is better or some such. Another important thing that every sportsman, especially a new one, should learn is how to look after one's gun once it is purchased:

… 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; 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 or a bit of linen 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 linen rag; 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.

I don't know if anyone (but me) finds these facts interesting or useful, but I think that there is something fascinating about the subject. I can certainly hope to be able to use this information in my books, because then I will finally be able to take my male characters out and into the fields for a change of scene. I would definitely recommend “The Art of English Shooting” for everyone who wants to know about the subject but doesn't have a lot of time to spend in perusal of bigger volumes. There are many other things, but I will write about some of them next month :-))

Farida Mestek is the author of “Margaret's Rematch” (newly edited and with a gorgeous new cover), “A Secret Arrangement” and “Lord Darlington's Fancy” - romantic stories set against the backdrop of Regency England. You can learn more about her books at her blog Regency Sketches.


  1. Those are interesting procedures to determine if a gun is worth the purchase.
    I have tramped through two different firearms museums behind my brother and husband with a little of the information rubbing off on me. I still struggle with all the little individual parts of a gun.

    Thanks for the share!

  2. For those who are in England, there is the Bath Breech-loader Society--I think that's their name--and one can go out with them and learn to shoot one or several of their historic pieces. They have a 14-bore that was used at Waterloo (I've learned on that one), but they also have earlier weapons, including a 4-bore from 1680.

    Before the invention of the 'rifle', the barrels of shotguns were smooth, which meant that the ball bounced its way down the barrel--that's the action one has with a musket, so the chances of hitting what one is aiming for is a bit of a laugh. You really have to learn to be steady. With the technical advances made in the late 18th century, particularly by Joseph Manton, wherein the barrels were rifles so that the ball as it was expelled would spin, that's when one starts getting an accuracy of aim.

    The most famous and well-known perhaps of these new inventions is the Baker Rifle which is what the 95th Rifles (think the Sharpe novels) use and their accuracy changes everything.

    Back at home, the shooting guns that were the most sought after were made by Joseph Manton and were called, simply, Mantons. Though he also made side arms and duelling pistols.

  3. That should read, "wherein the barrels were rifled..."

  4. Nice overview of this historical sport. Reminds me of the film "Gosford Park" and the alarming things that can happen when protocol is not followed.

  5. Thanks so much for this post. My historical novels have had guns, and cannon, shot, and grenado fire, but the research has been randomly found. I am very pleased you named the book, and have already downloaded it. This is great stuff, although my era is 1660's and this is 1777? if my Roman numerals are correct. So, thanks again.

    1. Hi Katherine, I'm glad I could be of use. I don't think that things changed so very quickly at the time and you can use the info in this book for your consideration.

  6. I was surprised to learn the following when I shot a breech loader last year. Firstly I was told that you don't put the rifle butt into your shoulder because if there is an accident you could break your collar bone. Instead the rifle butt goes into your upper arm - just bellow your shoulder. Secondly the rifle kicks back into your arm giving you a very impressive bruise on your arm. Of course one is shocked by the sharp and sudden bang you hear as soon as you pull the trigger, but this is soon displaced by the shock of how hard the rifle kicks into your arm. There is really nothing like it.

  7. Thanks for the information - I've been looking for a good resource on just this very subject, and finding this post has been very helpful.


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