A pleasant man stopped by asking to hunt on the place. He explained that he uses black powder, and his bullet can only travel 70 yards. He sounded confident in his assertion. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to teach a computer course for gunsmithing students half a lifetime ago, I might have believed him. I did make the comment that I had watched a movie about a guy named Quigley, and he seemed to have shot a bit farther than 70 yards. His response was that he uses round balls.
It wasn’t like I was being paid to educate him. So he left with a no hunting answer – and yet the incorrect statement, and the confidence bothers me. He isn’t making an Alec Baldwin quality mistake – but the error remains. A round ball leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to aerodynamics. That’s why the minie ball (invented in 1849) replaced the round ball when the war between the states came along. Still, it’s not like a round ball rifle has a 70 yard range – my math tells me that if I can put a 50 caliber roundball out of the barrel at 1800 feet per second, I have a projectile that, if I sight in 3 inches high at 50 yards, will be pretty much on target at 125 yards.
There’s the Civil War story of General Sedgwick – Confederate sharpshooters were firing from around 1000 yards away when the general said “Why are you dodging like this? They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.” He was apparently unfamiliar with the Whitworth rifle and the fact that the Confederacy had at least 20 of them. There is no record of the Confederates hitting an elephant that day, but one marksman did hit General Sedgwick.
Tim Murphy is credited with a 350 yard shot from a flintlock at the battle of Saratoga, in the American Revolution, that ended the career of the Scots general Simon Frazer. There are arguments as to who actually fired the shot that took the general out and what the range actually was – but it would take another 75 years before the minie ball was developed.
Black powder has been effective for a long time.