The Firing Line Forums

Go Back   The Firing Line Forums > The North Corral > Black Powder and Cowboy Action Shooting

Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread
Old January 8, 2020, 08:57 PM   #1
bamaranger
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 9, 2009
Location: North Alabama
Posts: 7,157
Why the "long rifle"?

There's a longrifle show in our area this weekend, and a pal and I are going to attend. Got me to thinking though, why the LONG rifle? I've read the material, considered the usual comments, but the longrifle seems to me not a product of "form follows function", because the rifle is in fact so LONG. It did not take much time, with the expansion west, for rifles to shorten considerably. So what led the PA/KY, Appalachian 'smiths to craft these lengthy pieces for the frontiersman? Most of us have spent enough time afoot in the woods, to agree that the shorter a rifle is, the handier it becomes. Consider the typical 'woodsman carbines", the M94, the 336, the Rem 7.

The usual discussion considers accuracy with the longer sight radius, more efficient use of powder (?), ease of off hand shooting (balance?), higher velocity, likely other logic I've not heard. But the rifles were reliant on a long and slender ramrod, and had the long barrels would seem difficult to manufacture and maintain. And getting through any type of cover would be a chore.

I read once where a noted gun scribe thought the long barrels were conducive to resting off a convenient tree limb. Perhaps too, the woodlands of the 1700 were more open and mature and the long rifle was not as burdensome as it seems in the new growth forests of today.

I've shot a longrifle or two, never owned one or spent any time with one. What am I missing, and what other logic is there?
bamaranger is offline  
Old January 8, 2020, 10:54 PM   #2
ThomasT
Senior Member
 
Join Date: January 22, 2009
Location: Texas
Posts: 2,638
I think you hit all the correct high points for a long barrel. A look at the Lyman BP manual shows that the longer the barrel the better the velocity especially in the smaller bores. The bigger bores pretty much seem to reach max velocity with barrels around 30" but there always exceptions. Black Powder while it explodes is a slow burning powder and keeps pushing for a long ways and a longer barrel just takes advantage of that.

And I have read that even up to the turn of the last century guns with the longest barrels sold the fastest in a gunstore. Shorter barreled carbines and rifles must have been a carry over from the second world war. But thats just a guess.

And I bet those early hunters tried to hunt the woods with the most undergrowth they could find. I have been in several big woods with no undergrowth and saw almost no game. Not compared to the woolly stuff with browse and hideout places for rabbits and birds.
ThomasT is offline  
Old January 9, 2020, 09:22 AM   #3
Doyle
Senior Member
 
Join Date: June 20, 2007
Location: Starkville, MS
Posts: 7,111
Ranger, I think it had a lot to do with the powder itself. When muskets started out as the very primitive matchlocks (think Mayflower era), the powder of that time was extremely crude. It was more suited to cannons than muskets. Muskets needed that long barrel to get the velocity up. As the musket evolved into the flintlock era, the powder hadn't changes that much. By the time westward expansion started, powder had improved and now shorter barreled rifles became more practical.

I'm no expert, so I can't say for sure - I'm just kind of reading between the lines when I examine history.
Doyle is offline  
Old January 9, 2020, 11:53 AM   #4
5whiskey
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 23, 2005
Location: US
Posts: 3,230
I think looking back at it from what we know now it’s hard to understand. 100 yard shot with an amateur and a 250 dollar Walmart rifle today is a chip shot. Back in the 18th century, a well placed shot at 100 yards was no amateur move. Smoothbores CAN be accurate to that distance... but it required knowledge and skill. Most smoothbores were probably limited to 50ish yards or so if one needed an accurate shot for hunting.

Long rifles came to be for most of the reasons you already hit on. Mostly I think because a smaller bore diameter was desirable to conserve lead. The longer barrel allowed for some decent velocity, and subsequently energy, gains with smaller bores. This added to the feasible max effective range. Longer sight radius’s also made the rifle easier to shoot accurately out to that max effective range. Cumbersome and heavy as they may be, increasing the max effective range of the average shooter from 75 yards to 150 yards was quite the evolution at the time.
__________________
Support the NRA-ILA Auction, ends 03/09/2018

https://thefiringline.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=593946
5whiskey is offline  
Old January 9, 2020, 11:57 AM   #5
jcj54
Senior Member
 
Join Date: February 28, 2011
Posts: 111
Carbines

Were to meet the need of mounted troops. The Dragoons of the Napoleonic wars used short barreled muskets, the US mounted troops of the 1830's were armed with carbine versions of percussion conversions of the 1819 Hall. The Spencer Carbine was a Civil War cavalry weapon. After the Civil war lever action carbines were very prevalent for those on horseback in the west. So carbines are not as recent as the immediate post WW2 era.

Last edited by jcj54; January 9, 2020 at 02:05 PM.
jcj54 is offline  
Old January 9, 2020, 12:04 PM   #6
Hawg
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 8, 2007
Location: Mississippi
Posts: 15,332
Long rifles began around 1730 and were not muskets. Powder was not yet pressed so it took more powder to get the same velocities that powder produced after 1780 gave. Longer barrels gave a longer burn time and a longer sight radius made for more accurate shots.
Hawg is offline  
Old January 9, 2020, 01:43 PM   #7
T. O'Heir
Senior Member
 
Join Date: February 13, 2002
Location: Canada
Posts: 11,931
"...think Mayflower era..." Matchlock used regularly were long before 1620. Matchlocks date from the 14th Century, in China. About 100 years later in Europe.
Anyway, BP requires the long barrel for a complete burn of the powder.
"...carry over from the second world war..." Nope. The Boer War. Money required to provide a long barreled rifle for the PBI(Poor Bloody Infantry) and a Carbine for cavalry. The No. 1 Mk I Lee-Enfield, AKA the SMLE was about that. Gave the Brits a rifle both the PBI and Cavalry could use.
"...woodlands of the 1700 were..." Only in some places. It's more about the amount of 'up' and 'wet' involved, but the Bush was thick with undergrowth.
"...getting through any type of cover would be a chore...." Not when you're following game trails like everybody else. North American Natives had thriving trade relations between the assorted tribes long before Columbus got lost on his way to China. Mostly river traffic but there were extensive trail networks all over.
__________________
Spelling and grammar count!
T. O'Heir is offline  
Old January 9, 2020, 02:36 PM   #8
Jim Watson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 25, 2001
Location: Alabama
Posts: 16,255
The Jaegers and British got along without extremely long rifle barrels in the 18th century.

I figure one reason for long musket barrels was as a handle for the bayonet.
Jim Watson is offline  
Old January 9, 2020, 03:07 PM   #9
SIGSHR
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 13, 2005
Posts: 4,395
Yes, a long musket barrel allowed for a better defense against cavalry. In the English Civil Wars the pikemen had the mission to defend the musketeers against a cavalry charge, the bayonet rendered the pike obsolete and simplified drill and tactics. The British Square, e.g.
Plus-no chronographs back then, a lot of what they did was "by guess and by golly" and that elusive factor called "experience"-Kentucky windage, e.g. Perhaps some noted the long flash and figured that a longer barrel would burn that powder inside where it could do some good. And, as noted, powder often varied widely in quality.
SIGSHR is offline  
Old January 9, 2020, 07:37 PM   #10
105kw
Senior Member
 
Join Date: June 30, 2017
Location: Columbia Basin Washington
Posts: 173
Ok, my question is what is a "Longrifle Show"?
105kw is offline  
Old January 9, 2020, 08:49 PM   #11
2damnold4this
Senior Member
 
Join Date: August 12, 2009
Location: Athens, Georgia
Posts: 2,451
Didn't Pennsylvania/Kentucky rifles tend to be of a smaller caliber than the earlier Jaeger rifles and later Hawken style plains rifles? A smaller ball would need to go faster to have the same power of a larger ball. I wonder if the price of lead on the frontier was higher when the long rifles were being made.
2damnold4this is offline  
Old January 10, 2020, 12:02 AM   #12
Hawg
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 8, 2007
Location: Mississippi
Posts: 15,332
Quote:
Didn't Pennsylvania/Kentucky rifles tend to be of a smaller caliber than the earlier Jaeger rifles and later Hawken style plains rifles?
They ran from around .28 caliber up to .62 but most of them were between .40-.48.
Hawg is offline  
Old January 10, 2020, 12:25 AM   #13
bamaranger
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 9, 2009
Location: North Alabama
Posts: 7,157
longrifle show

Think gun show, but limited to traditional, sidehammer muzzleloaders, with the bulk of those being of the longrifle persuasion and many of those original, antique rifles. If I understand right, there will also be be a large assortment of accessories like bags, pouches, blades, etc. \

It's an annual thing, held at Joe Wheeler state park, sponsored by ( I think) the AL Longrifle Collectors Assoc. I cannot find the flyer for it at the moment but that is the broad picture. Never been, but looking forward to same.
bamaranger is offline  
Old January 10, 2020, 03:56 AM   #14
Old Stony
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 31, 2013
Location: East Texas
Posts: 1,674
For the majority of my target work and hunting, I prefer a long rifle. For hunting, I can get more performance from a heavier load of powder and the longer sight radius adds to the accuracy for me. The shorter and longer guns both have their places in muzzleloading...and it might just come down to personal preference.
Old Stony is offline  
Old January 10, 2020, 07:23 AM   #15
105kw
Senior Member
 
Join Date: June 30, 2017
Location: Columbia Basin Washington
Posts: 173
Thanks for the explanation
105kw is offline  
Old January 10, 2020, 11:34 AM   #16
reinert
Senior Member
 
Join Date: September 28, 2008
Posts: 505
A good thread...

Ned Roberts, in his fine, fine book, "The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle," explains it this way:

"The American flint-lock rifle with its slender stock, its long, carefully rifled barrel using the patched round ball, came into use in this country early in 1700 and gave a degree of accuracy that had never before been known. The rifles that had been made in Europe during the preceding century, principally by the German and Swiss rifle-makers, failed absolutely to meet the requirements of the American pioneer who was then attempting to conquer a great wilderness. Those arms were too heavy, too large bore which was wasteful of both powder and lead, difficult to load as it required an iron ramrod and a mallet with which to drive home the naked round ball. After a few shots they fouled and leaded so badly that no one could guarantee to hit a man at 50 yards the first shot with them. They were really inferior as a practical arm and less accurate than a well-made smooth-bore using the round ball. What our pioneer needed was a comparatively small-bore rifle using a ball weighing about half an ounce that would shoot ACCURATELY (caps mine), have good killing power up to about 150 yards, not waste powder which was scarce in the Colonies, that could be easily and quickly loaded, would have a light report when fired so that the sound would not reach the ears of lurking Indians, and an arm that balanced well so as to make accurate off-hand shooting as easy as possible.

This meant that the rifle must have a long barrel containing as much metal as possible to absorb the sound when fired, the bullet must be lubricated in some way to facilitate easy and rapid loading and the rifle must use small charges of powder and lead as a sufficient quantity of these must be carried upon the person to last for long periods of time when in the wilderness and many miles from a source of supply. About 1710 there came to the eastern part of Pennsylvania many German and Palatine Swiss, many of whom at home had been rifle-makers and were ingenious, skillful workmen in both iron and wood fabrication They soon grasped the idea of the type of rifle that was needed for use in the Colonies; the pioneers and these gunsmiths consulted and experimented, making changes and improvements here and there as experimentation suggested, until about 1730 there appeared an American rifle so far superior to any that the world had before known that it was in a class by itself, and for about one hundred years maintained its superiority as the most practical, most deadly accurate rifle at ranges up to about 150 yards that had been produced...

Never before had the world known a REALLY ACCURATE (caps mine), practical rifle for use in hunting, or war, or by the pioneer settler in the wilderness. Here was the birth of the rifle that was destined to later make history, to conquer the great wilderness from the savage Indians and wild beasts, to establish eventually a new, independent nation and still later to be developed into the superbly accurate target rifle of 1845 to 1895. And even today, 1947 (so dated when written), in spite of all our boasted improvements of smokeless powders, metal cased bullets and high velocity arms, we have yet to produce a more accurate rifle..."

Also from Ned on the patch for the round ball:

"Who invented or designed the "patch" for the rifle bullet? No one knows just who this person was, but it certainly was a master-stroke in the improvement of the accuracy and ballistics of the rifle as well as ease of loading the arm. More improvements were gradually made in the construction of the rifle, particularly in the shape of the lands and grooves and the fitting of the patched ball to the bore so that it was easily loaded without deforming it, which combined to bring the typical American flint-lock rifle, later called in the dialect the "Kaintuck," or properly the Kentucky, to its highest development by about 1760."

If your interest in muzzle-loaders and their history is a bit more than just passing curiosity, Ned Roberts' book, "The Muzzle-Loading Cap Lock Rifle," is one I highly recommend for the firearms section of your personal library. It's readily available these days when last I looked. It's a real and factual trove of information from a true, American firearms Icon.

Happy New Year, TFL folks!

reinert
reinert is offline  
Old January 10, 2020, 02:15 PM   #17
JN01
Senior Member
 
Join Date: May 16, 2005
Location: E Tennessee
Posts: 821
Quote:
Originally Posted by 105kw View Post
Ok, my question is what is a "Longrifle Show"?
Shows featuring the 18th-19th Century American longrifles. Here's some on the events tab: https://www.longrifle.com/
JN01 is offline  
Old January 10, 2020, 08:28 PM   #18
Jim Watson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 25, 2001
Location: Alabama
Posts: 16,255
Attended a muzzleloader show today.
A bewildering variety of flint and caplocks old and New.
Much fine workmanship on display.
Jim Watson is offline  
Old January 11, 2020, 12:18 AM   #19
bamaranger
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 9, 2009
Location: North Alabama
Posts: 7,157
Yes indeed!

I'll add that all those with tables and displays were extremely anxious for folks to ask questions and in a lot of cases, handle the firearms on display!. A very passionate bunch of folks about their hobby and the art and craftsmanship associated with the longrifle. Great bunch of folks.

That was in stark contrast to the vendors at a lot of contemporary gun shows I've attended who would do little more than grunt and look annoyed if questioned.

Watson was his usual intelligent self and in a pretty good mood as well!
bamaranger is offline  
Old January 12, 2020, 06:45 PM   #20
HiBC
Senior Member
 
Join Date: November 13, 2006
Posts: 6,769
Its also a factor that a reload may be required while its in your best interest to keep an eye on the game or adversary(s) you are shooting at.

And this reload needs to be done efficiently as your foe or potential food are likely putting you under time constraints.

With the butt placed on the ground,a rifle long enough to place the muzzle someplace around your chin to your nose accommodates your eyes keeping one on pouring powder and seating ball while the other keeps track of the fellow coming at you.,or which way the deer disappeared.

With a longer rifle,a lingering ember causing an unexpected discharge is more likely to send the ramrod in front of your nose instead of under your chin and out your noggin.

Folks who traveled by foot might prefer the longer rifles. Those on horseback were more likely to use a shorter rifle.

On foot,your rifle can carry pointed down the trail. On horse,its likely across the trail.

A longhunter flyng a pair of moccasins might be concerned with how much lead he could carry. He woud have more 32 to 40 cal round balls in a pound of lead.The smaller ball was less likely to pass through,so could more likely be recovered and re-cast.

A man n horseback with a packhorse could afford to feed a 45 to 54 or even 58 cal. Out West he might be favoring lethality facing elk,bison,Grizzlies,and men who resented his presence.

This tended to show up on early vs late Hawkens,for example.

Last edited by HiBC; January 12, 2020 at 07:02 PM.
HiBC is offline  
Old January 13, 2020, 11:36 AM   #21
Wyosmith
Senior Member
 
Join Date: December 29, 2010
Location: Shoshoni Wyoming
Posts: 2,714
As a full-time gunsmith who makes 95% of my living from the making of muzzleloaders, I have become well educated on the history and function of the old arms.

The #1 factor in the"growing" of the rifled barrel from the short "Jaeger" styles made and brought over by German and Swiss emigrants in the early to mid 1700s was the fact that the powders available in Europe were quite refined and very high quality, but those made in "the colonies" were somewhat crude and often fill of impurities. DuPont started the manufacture of American Powder to a sight standard in the USA in Delaware, but that was not until 1802. There were some makers of powder in the colonies that could produce very high quality, but only in small batches as compared to what was made in Europe.

Early gun makers in American found that by making a barrel longer, the less-than-perfect powders available in America had more time to burn and could give as high a velocity (sometimes higher) then what you could get with European rifles and powders, but the rifled barrels of between 42 to 50 inches long. The average length of a Jaeger type rifle barrel from the areas of what is now Germany and the Czech Republic was about 27" to 32" long.

With the added length also came the benefit of a longer sight radius which made precise shots easier. In Europe, rifles were not yet thought of as weapons of war as much as they were toys of the rich. Shooting matches and hunting were not something the average citizen could do in most places in Europe. (that has not changes much in most of Europe to this day)

In the frontier of American not hitting your target usually meant not eating, and it may mean not living.

So the Long-rifle was a development of need, not style. The style followed the need, not the other way around.

The fancy artwork that came later was simply the market competition of every free market. If I can make a prettier rifle then the guy down the street I may get more business because my skills are more evident. By the end of the American Revolution, gun making was a business that was becoming far more specialized. There were entire shops that specialized in long making or barrel making, and some that made mostly castings for butt plates and trigger guards, an in so doing the market for gun makers was opened up to a far larger degree because a maker could now buy major components and he himself could then specialize in the assembly of the rifle instead of also having to be a foundry-man, wood man, artist, black-smith, rifle-barrel maker and lock smith. Such were the skills of the Pre-Revolution American gun maker. He was most often the most educated and skilled man in an area because he "could do everything" -but make many rifle.

As the shops began to specialize even the old masters saw the opportunity to make more rifle using high quality American barrels and there was then competition from Europe and England for the better locks for the first time. No longer could the importers charge higher prices for locks then what could be purchased in the States, so healthy competition was established and in the days before labor unions, real capitalism was the norm. If lock A was the same quality as lock B and lock B was less expensive, smiths bought lock B.
Or of lack A was a higher quality lock then Lock B, but both cost the same, lock A sold and lock B didn't.
(that how it would still be today if not for bribes from large corporations and involvement of government officials who can be bought, with all items on the market)

As far as barrels go, by the era of the 1770s the American made rifle barrel had set a new standard of quality. There were many made in Europe as good, but may others were considered good enough is they could reliable hit a 4" circle at 30 paces every time. Plenty good enough for game brought to bay by dogs and shot from horseback at close range. The American barrel on the other hand was considered "good enough" when you could hit the head of a squirrel with it at 100 feet 100% of the time. So some European rifles were very accurate, but most American rifles were very accurate.

With the higher velocity afforded by the long barrel, they also had accuracy at longer distances too, and that proved to be noteworthy for a man on the frontier. In a very few battles of the Revolution it proved to be a very dangerous factor against the British, but it was not until the last battle of the war of 1812 that the world (starting with the British) really had to admit the rifled barrel was going to be the way of the future. The severe mauling and horrid defeat of the British in the Battle of New Orleans was so dramatic that they could no longer avoid the truth of the technology.

The Swiss German gunsmith was the one that brought the concept of rifling to the world but it was the American Rifleman that showed the world how effective it was, not just for hunting and target shooting, but for battle when needed.
Wyosmith is offline  
Old January 13, 2020, 11:56 PM   #22
jspappap
Member
 
Join Date: January 20, 2013
Location: Fredericksburg Va.
Posts: 89
Great Read

Wyosmith, Thanks much for the short, concise explanation. I read all the posts on this site every day. Im 74 years old and learn much from guys like you., Keep posting .

Last edited by jspappap; January 13, 2020 at 11:57 PM. Reason: add name of wyosmith
jspappap is offline  
Old January 14, 2020, 12:52 AM   #23
Armed_Chicagoan
Senior Member
 
Join Date: July 18, 2013
Location: Albany Park, Chicago
Posts: 776
Woods may have had far less undergrowth in the 1700s. I remember reading once that there were few or no earthworms in North America before European settlers brought them in root balls. Because of this forests were very different, especially in northern states, with little to consume the fallen leaves. These fallen leaves prevented a lot of undergrowth from taking root.
Armed_Chicagoan is offline  
Old January 14, 2020, 11:06 AM   #24
Jim Watson
Senior Member
 
Join Date: October 25, 2001
Location: Alabama
Posts: 16,255
Quote:
the less-than-perfect powders available in America had more time to burn and could give as high a velocity (sometimes higher) then what you could get with European rifles and powders
An old article about the Mountain Men at Rendezvous said they were glad to pay "the hellish price of a dollar a pound for English Diamond Grain powder."
Jim Watson is offline  
Old January 14, 2020, 12:56 PM   #25
Wyosmith
Senior Member
 
Join Date: December 29, 2010
Location: Shoshoni Wyoming
Posts: 2,714
"English Diamond" was a powder imported in the 1830s. I am not sure how far back from then it was imported, but it was sometimes brought out to the Rendezvous by the fur companies. The cost of $1 per pound was very high, but much of that was not the cost of the powder in the port. It was the cost of the powder at the rendezvous. I assume that is was made in England for many years before that time, but I can't prove the availability of that specific powder being imported much before 1820. That is not to say it was not imported earlier, just that I am unaware of any bill of lading that still exist to prove it.

The black powders we can buy today are far fewer in numbers than what was available in the late 1700s and early 1800s (and also better then much of what was made in American then) and until Dupont set up his factory, the best powders mostly came from Europe. As I said above, there were a very few American makers that produced powder as good an any out of Europe, but the batches were made a few hundred pounds at a time instead of by the multiple tons, as they were in Europe, so "the good stuff" was rare no matter what , and from any source------ until about 1815.

A long barreled rifle shooting good European powder would do better in velocity then it would with crude American powder, just as the gain would also be there shooting the American powder in the long rifle compared to the short "Jaegers". But a long barreled American rifle firing American powder would do as well or better then a short barreled Germanic rifle firing German, Austrian Swiss or Italian powder. Adding that extra 14 to 18 inches of barrel made a world of difference if you had to use the crude powders.

The "growth" of the longrifle from it's ancestors the Germanic rifles, was because the American powders were what was available at a cost the American rifleman could afford, but also because for the most part, American powders were all he could get even if money were not hard to come by. No trucking, fed-ex or ups in those days.
Wyosmith is offline  
Reply

Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 03:57 AM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.
This site and contents, including all posts, Copyright © 1998-2018 S.W.A.T. Magazine
Copyright Complaints: Please direct DMCA Takedown Notices to the registered agent: thefiringline.com
Contact Us
Page generated in 0.16265 seconds with 10 queries