104 Yards, Strong Hand Only

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

A few weeks ago an active shooter shot up downtown Austin, but that’s not the interesting part, Chris Hernandez explains:

Sergeant Johnson shot him from 104 yards away, with one shot from a pistol, firing one handed, while holding the reins of two horses.

A few comments I’ve read online suggested the 104-yard pistol shot was an Austin PD conspiracy, because such a shot is impossible. I’ve also heard people say Johnson must be lying or exaggerating. You just can’t shoot someone with one shot, one handed with a pistol from over a hundred yards away.

My own experience and training leads me to a different conclusion. That shot would be amazingly difficult, but not impossible.

Most police officers never train to shoot past twenty five yards. I’ve worked for three departments, plus served as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo, and I can’t recall ever shooting a pistol at long range during police training. But I’ve taken a few pistol courses from private training companies. One of them was at Tiger Valley, near Waco, Texas.

The owner/instructor, TJ Pilling, lined us up on the pistol range one day and said we were going to have a competition. He told us to fire one shot at our targets, which were half-size steel silhouettes. We were at twenty-five yards, and we all hit. He backed us up to thirty-five yards and told us to fire again. We all hit. Forty-five yards. A few missed. Fifty-five yards. Only I and one other officer hit. Sixty-five. I was firing a .40 Glock 22, and aimed just over the top of the target’s head. I missed. The other officer hit.

TJ asked me if I aimed high. I told him I did. He said, “Aim center mass.” I did, and shocked the hell out of myself by hitting the target.

TJ walked us to a bay with a full-size silhouette target at 110 yards, and said, “If you have a 9mm, aim center mass. If it’s a .40, aim at the neck.”

The guys with 9mms started pinging the crap out of the target. I fired several shots standing and couldn’t get a hit, so I went prone and tried again. Eventually, after a spotter helped me walk the rounds in like a mortar, I made repeated hits.

I was, to put it mildly, surprised. I’d been a cop for twelve years at that point, and all my training had focused on shooting twenty-five yards and closer. I’d been in the military seventeen years but received almost no pistol training from either the Marines or Army. Conventional wisdom taught me pistols were last-ditch, close-in weapons, and shooting at someone even twenty-five yards away was stretching it. I had struggled to make accurate hits at twenty-five, had missed a target at that range more than once, and had seen cops and soldiers miss numerous shots even closer than that.

Small Caliber Rounds! What Are They Good For?

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

In today’s world of .22-caliber infantry rifles, it can be hard to remember that .30 caliber used to be small caliber, as this 1891 New York Times article makes clear:

In further comment, Captain Surgeon Marsh points out that, inasmuch as the resisting surface offered to the face of a small-calibre bullet has been thus reduced, the ball penetrates and passes through the tissues without having expended much of its energy in their destruction. Its track is so narrow that there is practically no destruction of substance in its path. Such a ball might pass through a large joint without touching the bones, or between the two bones of the forearm or leg without injuring them in the slightest, thus producing nothing more than a simple flesh wound, not grave enough to place the wounded man hors de combat.

A larger calibre ball, say of the Martini type, .45 calibre, striking in similar situations would inevitably shock the system and shatter the bones to such an extent as totally to disable the soldier for many months, if not for life. In adopting a lighter and smaller calibre ball there is sacrificed to a great extent the stopping power and shock possessed by the larger missiles.

A New Laser Age

Monday, December 15th, 2014

The nature of directed energy weapons — lasers — favors surface troops, Jonathan Jeckell explains:

The U.S. and Israel have had increasing success lately testing lasers to intercept missiles and artillery. We could be entering a new laser age — with huge implications for American military power.

But it could be a mostly defensive, ground-based laser age, to begin with. Aerial energy weapons need a lot more work and could lag far behind.

In December, the Army shot down 90 mortar rounds and several drones using a truck-mounted laser. The Navy is adding an experimental laser gun to its Persian Gulf base ship Ponce. The Army and Navy weapons work today. The Air Force, by contrast, is planning to install an energy weapon on jet fighters around the year 2030.


Unlike missile defenses using projectiles — which must fight against gravity and require storage space and sophisticated manufacturing — lasers require only the requisite energy and the ability to shed excess heat.

Lasers also move at the speed of light, meaning the target would have no warning or opportunity to maneuver before it strikes. Suddenly the energetics that have favored air power are reversed.

Historically the high ground lent decisive advantages in combat because gravity works in your favor. Anti-aircraft shells and missiles flying up to intercept aircraft must struggle against gravity to approach their target. They lose energy, and the ability to maneuver, as they ascend.

Meanwhile, air-launched ordnance uses gravity to its advantage, increasing its range so it can often strike first and from a standoff distance. This has been a major factor in helping aircraft fend off increasingly sophisticated air-defense systems.

Lasers will level that field, as surface forces will have effective lasers first. Placing energy weapons on planes runs up against serious constraints on the weight and space needed for shedding waste heat and providing energy to the laser. The Air Force Airborne Laser project, for example, used up nearly all the interior space in a 747 for a laser capable of shooting down just a handful of ballistic missiles.

Better lasers might eventually solve these aerial problems with more compact cooling and improved energy generation — but these advancements will also enhance ground-based systems that don’t suffer gravity’s constraints. With energy weapons, the conditions are set for air defense to leap ahead of air attack.

Use of Force

Monday, December 15th, 2014

Back when Todd G. was in law school, he had a wonderful opportunity to teach his classmates about use of force:

For a project in one of my criminal law classes I was invited by the DEA tactical training cadre to bring half my class (and professor) down to the FBI/DEA “Hogan’s Alley” force on force training village in Quantico, Virginia. This was during the time that Waco & Ruby Ridge were being investigated by DOJ and federal law enforcement UOF rules were under severe scrutiny.

Our group was put through a number of exercises ranging from the classic Tueller drill (attacker 21 feet away charges at you with a knife) to team room-clearing.

A few days later I had to present my paper to the entire class. The half that attended the force on force (FOF) exercises sat on the left side of the room and the other students sat on the right.

Just a few minutes into my presentation I brought up the danger of a knife wielding attacker. The right side of the room grew indignant immediately and argued that someone twenty-one feet away — the length of an entire room — simply couldn’t be a deadly threat to someone with a gun. Before I could even reply, the left side of the room erupted in angry shouts: “You’ve never been there!”

Next we discussed opening a closet door to find a stranger holding a pistol that was pointed down toward the ground. Again the students on the right side of the room insisted he couldn’t be threat because he wasn’t pointing the gun at anyone. And again the left side of the room lost its collective mind: “Do you have any idea how fast someone can point a gun at you from that position? It’s faster than you can see it and respond before you get shot!”

It was the easiest presentation I’ve ever given.

Outside Marksmen

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

One of the prison assets Carl from Chicago went to audit turned out to be a sniper rifle:

These guns were kept in storage at the armory, and they brought out the sniper to show me the weapon himself because they didn’t let other people touch it after he had calibrated the scope. The sniper asked me a question:

Do you know why they pick snipers out of the staff in the prison?

No, I said.

Because in Attica there was an uprising and the prisoners took over the yard and then the prison brought in outside marksmen to ensure they could not escape. During the melee the marksmen shot many prisoners but it turns out that the prisoners had changed clothes with the civilian hostages, so some of the individuals gunned down were actual guards or workers. Thus the snipers were prison guards from that facility because they could pick out the inmates from the guards and workers.

I said that if he ever saw me in his scope wearing an orange outfit, please don’t shoot. It wasn’t a joke.

Halifax Explosion

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

On 6 December 1917, the largest man-made explosion in history (to that point) took place, not along the front lines of ongoing Great War, but in a Halifax, Nova Scotia:

The French ship Mont Blanc had just been loaded with a cargo of high explosive in New York: over five million pounds of explosives and inflammables, most of it highly unstable picric acid (Benzol, an octane booster then used in aviation fuel, and guncotton, a primitive explosive, were also aboard). Mont Blanc intended to join a convoy from Halifax to England, but on its way in to the harbor collided with an empty vessel, Imo, that normally ferried humanitarian aid to Belgium. Imo, with a Norwegian crew, was wrong-side-driving out of the harbor as Mont Blanc stood in, on the normal inbound side of the channel.

The crew and harbor pilot of Mont Blanc abandoned ship and fled when their hazardous cargo took fire; the ship drifted to land, drawing curious onlookers, then exploded. The city was devastated, especially the shoreline, the shipyards and docks, and other ships making ready for the next England convoys on the 7th and 11th (a single convoy would leave on the 11th).

Most of the convoy ships were in Bedford Basin, the most protected part of the harbor when Mont Blanc blew up in what locals call The Narrows. Fortunately, Mont Blanc was not near any of the other explosives-laden vessels when it went up.

At least 1,500 hundred lives were snuffed out in the blast and the following tsunami, and hundreds more died in the days ahead. Hundreds of remains were never identified. Some lasting results of the accident were standardization of fire hydrant and hose threads (responding fire departments found that the decimated Halifax department’s hydrants didn’t match their gear), more advance warning required for hazmat transits, and stricter maritime rules of the road in the harbor. There was a long series of saboteur hunts, enquiries, criminal trials, and private lawsuits, but in the end no one was singled out as solely to blame, or punished. It was a terrible accident, but in the end, just an accident.

Halifax Ground Zero

The manifest of the ill-starred Mont Blanc bares the spoor of the probable cause of the disaster — picric acid. This chemical was the first high explosive; its name comes from the Greek for “bitter.” Discovered and initially developed in the 18th Century, it became a dominant explosive and shell filling in the late 19th, when it was discovered initially by British scientist Sprengel. Picric acid was more powerful than the explosive that would come to replace it in most nations’ armories, TNT.


Because unlike fairly stable TNT, picric acid and its salts — which form spontaneously on contact with common bases — are highly unstable; they tend to detonate when exposed to shock, friction, or flame. Picric acid corrodes metals and becomes more unstable in their presence, making it impossible to contain in metal cans or drums, and requiring special procedures for shell filling.

Before World War I, the German military had begun to shift to TNT. It was made by the same process that yields picric acid, just using a different feedstock; it’s only a little less explosive; and it’s vastly more stable. Over time all armies would follow suit, and fear of a repeat of the Halifax Explosion would be one reason (there were many other industrial and military accidents worldwide with picric acid that soured militaries on the chemical). Later, better HEs would be developed, both from the standpoint of stability and of energy, but it says something that TNT, which the Germans first put into shells in 1902, still is practically useful today.

The reason for going backwards in the power of explosive fillings was safety, and the far more stable TNT would have been unlikely to yield the Halifax Explosion. Even today, found Lyddite or Mélinite shells from WWI pose a threat.

End of Manually Operated Period

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

After the end of the Civil War, the US was at peace and had little use for new and improved weapons:

From Gatling’s original patent on 4 November 1862 to 26 June 1883, American supremacy in machine-gun design went unchallenged. It is of particular importance to note that from the adoption of the Gatling gun by our Army until the conclusion of this era, there was no threat of war to our country. This disproves the pacifist’s claim that once any nation has fully developed a superior weapon, war is inevitable to prove its effectiveness.

In this peaceful era, the Navy demanded perfection from the weapons tried. Some of the requirements placed upon these guns seem impossible when compared with our present-day system of testing.

It should be especially noted that at this time a Naval Acceptance Board functioned. This body of officers had the responsibility of seeing that any gun inventor could bring his invention to trial for purposes of adoption, and of extending to him all assistance possible to make his weapon reliable and effective. In fact, some of the suggestions offered helped in no small way the phenomenal success the guns later enjoyed.

The intense and wholehearted cooperation of these officers not only contributed to the mechanical accomplishments of the weapon under test, but undoubtedly furnished the inventor an incentive, since he knew that these officers would give him all the help in their power. That this procedure paid big dividends can best be judged by comparing these 21 years of progress with any other period in the continuous effort to produce weapons.

The establishment by the Navy in 1872 of the Experimental Battery at Annapolis, Md., showed the farsightedness of the officers responsible for weapon development. This facility handled all the firing of prototype weapons. And certain defects, inevitably present during initial firing tests, were required to be remedied before the weapon was allowed to go before the board for final trial at the Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. The unbelievable performances of machine guns tested there was due to their having previously been fired under the expert supervision of Naval officers at the Experimental Battery. Many of the defects were eliminated that would otherwise have caused the weapon to fail during the rigorous acceptance trials demanded by the Navy.

Some of the official records from these two firing ranges of the Navy reveal performances that no modern fiction writer would dare to credit to the present-day machine gun; yet they were actual accomplishments of this era.

Incidentally the Experimental Battery at Annapolis was the pioneer Naval Proving Ground. In 1890 it was moved to a new tract overlooking the Potomac River at Indian Head, Md., and in 1921 the present Naval Proving Ground was opened at Dahlgren, Va.

Though these tests helped gun design, they did not enrich the designer. One fact, standing out above all others, is that during this era a successful machine gun inventor was compelled to go abroad to market his weapon, although in every instance it was first offered to his Government.

While the United States had no need, and no immediate prospect, of using these superb weapons, foreign governments not only recognized their superiority, but made every possible overture to induce the inventors to leave home and market their discoveries abroad. With no incentive in this country to warrant any other choice, a steady trek of gun geniuses left America for Europe to establish factories–not only taking with them the “know-how” and top talent of the gun profession, but, in most instances, staffing their foreign factories with the highest skilled Yankee machinists they were able to hire. Their services were thus lost forever to their own country. And the factories they established abroad have been there so long that today they are thought to be of foreign origin, when in reality they were started by skilled American citizens, building a product unwanted at home. Necessity alone placed them on foreign soil to design and perfect the deadliest known instrument of war–the machine gun.

The weapons of this quarter century were all manually operated. Since it was always necessary for a gunner to aim the piece, there seemed no reason why he should not also furnish the power to feed and fire the gun. Mechanical advantage was utilized to enable the individual soldier to maintain sustained fire with a minimum effort.

During the latter part of this era, the weapons reached such a high degree of efficiency it was predicted there was nothing left to be improved. They were accepted as “invincible reapers of death.”

As has been the case throughout weapon history, when perfection in the nth degree seems accomplished, an “impossible” principle is suddenly made to work. Past ideas, years of heartbreaking effort, and standards of perfection are outmoded overnight; yesterday’s invincible weapon is today’s obsolete scrap.

Nordenfelt Gun

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

The multi-barrel Nordenfelt gun was hopelessly behind the times, but the firm did introduce one innovation far ahead of its time:

The Nordenfelt multibarrel guns as a whole were clumsy contraptions when compared with American-designed weapons of this era. However, the firm did one thing that justified its existence by introducing the rifle caliber armor-piercing bullet years ahead of its time. In fact, it was so revolutionary that it was rediscovered nearly 40 years later. Nordenfelt left no doubt that he had the modern-day AP round in mind when he described his projectile as follows: “The bullet of this kind of cartridge is formed of hardening cast steel with a sharp pointed head. Over this projectile, for the purpose of a gas check and for rotating the bullet, is placed an envelope of brass, which is choked into a cannelure around its base. Also on the base are several radial cuts, into which the envelope is set on firing. In place of a brass envelope a coating of copper may be deposited on the projectile by the electro-galvanic process, and thus any possibility of altered flight due to the stripping of the brass envelope is rendered impossible.”

This high-velocity armor-piercing projectile that had a speed in excess of 2,000 feet a second and penetrated 2 inches of solid iron plate at 300 yards was a distinct contribution to the field of ordnance.

A Whiff of Grapeshot

Monday, December 1st, 2014

As a young Brigadier General, Napoleon once dispersed a mob of Royalists with “a whiff of grapeshot” — although it’s not quite clear how to translate that very Anglo-Saxon phrase back into French. Une bouffée de mitraille?

The phrase likely sounds so Anglo-Saxon because it was coined by Scottish essayist and historian, Thomas Carlyle, in The French Revolution: A History.

Mitraille is the French word for grapeshot, and it is also the root of the French word for machine gun, mitrailleuse, because the original French proto-machine gun was a multi-barrel affair meant to deliver a volley of rifle rounds, as a new and improved form of grapeshot, and the term stuck, even as true machine guns arrived on the scene.

Mitrailleuse Reffye

To a modern audience, it’s always surprising that the European armies going into the Great War didn’t see the potential of the machine gun, but there’s a reason for that. The English hadn’t faced a civilized army with their Gatling guns, and the French experience with the mitrailleuse had been a failure, when they deployed it — as a kind of artillery — against the Prussians in 1870, where it was no match for actual artillery — Krupp guns.

A Different Kind of Custer Massacre

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

While the British were busy Christianizing the uncivilized world with the Gatling Gun, the United States was at peace and had little use for it:

There was nothing to warrant the expenditure of ammunition except an occasional Indian uprising, which was suppressed by the regular army. The old-line military men were still not inclined to accept anything as revolutionary as the Gatling. Although it is recorded that each detachment in the field had several of these guns on its allowance list, nothing can be found to show their use in the Indian warfare of the Western plains.

For the purpose of conjecture and discussion, it should be noted that when Gen. George Custer’s entire troop was annihilated at Little Big Horn in 1876. his headquarters had on hand four of the 90-pound Gatlings having a rate of fire of 1,000 rounds a minute. These perfected weapons were designed especially for animal transportation, and could be fired from horseback or from the ground on a tripod mounting. They were chambered for the Army standard caliber .45-70-405 infantry center-fire rifle cartridge. Had General Custer taken with him only one of the four that were available, the phrase “Custer massacre,” so well known to every school child, would have had a reverse meaning — as one can hardly visualize a more perfect target for a tripod-mounted machine gun than a band of Indians galloping in a circle.

Testing the Gatling Gun

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

The Gatling Gun underwent strenuous testing around the world:

The development of this type of weapon divided military men into two schools of thought. One believed that it should be an artillery support; the other considered it a special objectives gun for bridges or street defense. Neither recognized its true mission as an infantry weapon.

Many of the trials included its being fired in competition with howitzers and cannon. In each instance the Gatling placed more bullets in the target than did the artillery if allowed to fire as many bullets as the number of grapeshot fired. On the basis of these results, the gun was officially adopted by the United States Army on 24 August 1866.


Some of the European governments, in order to prove certain tactical points, subjected the weapons to most unusual competitive events. For instance, in Carlsbad, Baden, in 1869 there were pitted against the rifle-caliber Gatling, 100 picked infantry soldiers, armed with the celebrated needle gun and trained to fire by volley. The machine gun was to fire the same amount of ammunition as the 100 riflemen at a distance of 800 meters. The results showed that the Gatling put 88 percent of its bullets into the target, while the soldiers succeeded in scoring only 27 percent hits. Doubtless the difference would have been even greater had the firing taken place during the heat and smoke of battle.


The endurance of the Gatling gun seems almost phenomenal when judged by modern standards. On 23, 24, and 25 October 1873, at Fort Madison near Annapolis, Md., 100,000 rounds of center-fire caliber .50 ammunition were fired from one gun to test not only the durability of the 1865 model gun, but also the quality of the cartridges. Lt. Comdr. J. D. Marbin supervised these trials under the auspices of Commodore William Nicholson Jeffers, Chief of the Navy Bureau of Ordnance. Excerpts of the official report are given below:

October 23, 10:33 a. m., commenced firing in the presence of Chief of Bureau of Ordnance and others. Ten drums, each holding 400 cartridges (making 4,000), were fired rapidly, occupying in actual time of firing ten minutes and forty-eight seconds. The firing was then discontinued to witness experimental firing of the 15-inch Navy rifle. The firing of the Gatling gun was resumed in the afternoon, when some 28,000 cartridges were fired. Commenced firing at 8:50 a. m., October 24, the gun having been cleaned.

One hundred and fifty-nine drums, of 400 cartridges each, making a total of 63,600 cartridges, were fired without stopping to wipe out or clean the barrels. At the close of the firing, which extended over a period of five hours and fifty-seven minutes, although the actual time of firing was less than four hours, the barrels were not foul to any extent; in proof of which a very good target was made at 300 yards range before cleaning the barrels. On the 25th day of October the remainder of the 100,000 cartridges were fired. The working of the gun, throughout this severe trial was eminently satisfactory, no derangements of any importance whatever occurring.

Fun With Guns

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Collectors Weekly turns it eye toward fun with guns and the art of the arcade target:

Today, the notion that it was once considered perfectly normal to deliver a rifle filled with live ammunition into the hands of anyone with some spare change in their pocket seems absurd—a tragedy waiting to happen, followed by a costly lawsuit. Indeed, the liability issues surrounding the casual distribution of loaded weapons in public places helped kill .22 caliber shooting galleries, which were replaced by arcades designed to receive the less-lethal impact of air-powered BB guns and pistols that shoot pressurized streams of water.

Arcade Target Rooster with Star

Many people, though, still set their sights on those cast-iron targets from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which are collected as a form of Americana or folk art. In the eyes of at least one collecting couple, arcade targets may even be considered progenitors of the bull’s-eye paintings of mid-20th-century artists Kenneth Noland and Jasper Johns.

There are certainly people I wouldn’t trust with a loaded .22 short rifle, but it doesn’t seem especially crazy to let people shoot at a shooting gallery. I guess I’m old-fashioned that way.


Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

I’m reminded that Col. Jeff Cooper once suggested a system that “would make sure, first, that a riot would stop; and second, that only the leaders would feel the weight of social disapproval.”

Also, reading someone the Riot Act used to have a literal meaning that seems apropos.

Civilian Demand for Firearm Improvements

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

The American frontier provided a huge civilian market for cutting-edge guns — but there was no market for certain kinds of cutting-edge guns:

The Colt revolver and similar weapons enjoyed the confidence of the public as it began to push westward and demanded the best in weapons that money could buy. All the New England gun makers were operating at peak capacity. The war with Mexico had come to a conclusion, Texas was being settled, and gold had been discovered at Sutter’s Mill. Colt’s name was a household byword, but fine weapons were also being produced by many others. Among them were the Wesson brothers, Oliver Winchester, Elihu Remington, Henry Deringer, James Cooper, Edmund Savage and Christian Sharps. Their factories began to attract the finest mechanical skill. They invited competition, feeling it presented a means of showing their ability, and prided themselves on being able to present a mechanical solution to any firearms problem brought to their attention.

The industry was built on strict competition to meet public demand. There was practically no encouragement from the government by military orders for improved weapons.

After 36 years of civilian use had proved the reliability of the percussion cap, the army finally gave up the time-honored flintlock, but seemed content to advance no further. Many predicted that even this modern step was too extreme and the army would rue the day it had discarded the flintlock. General Winfield Scott is credited with outfitting a regiment of his own with flintlocks, after the adoption of the percussion system was approved over his strenuous objection.

Fortunately, civilian demand made up for the lack of military orders for the various firearms improvements. The market was practically equal to the adult population; for each male citizen, physically able to do so, usually owned and often carried some form of firearm.

During this period, the military ordered little more than the conventional small arms. For this reason guns like the Ripley were of little or no interest to firearm factories. The military would not consider such guns, and the civilians had no use for them.

Had there been an incentive, and a ready market, no doubt the head engineers of the big companies would have produced a reliable manually operated machine gun at this time.

Caseless Ammo

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Caseless ammunition has been the small-arms ammunition of the future for decades now, but it was also the ammo of the future in the mid-1800s, before we settled on metallic cartridges:

Christian Sharps’ self-consuming cartridge made of linen was introduced in 1852. It was made at his Fairmount, Pennsylvania, gun factory. This was a definite improvement over the fragile paper-filled envelopes previously used. The linen could be held in shape and would stand more abuse than the paper cartridge. That cartridges, in one form or another, were beginning to be used throughout the service is verified by a record showing the purchase of 393,304 paper cartridges by the United States Army in 1851.

Col. Samuel Colt collaborated with the Ely brothers of England in making further improvements on his patented self-consuming cartridge. This cartridge was made of a stiffer and more durable paper, and could be held to close manufacturing tolerances. The paper cartridge case was impregnated with a mixture of potassium nitrate. The explosion of the powder charge completely consumed the cartridge case. The percussion cap had sufficient force to rupture the paper and drive fire through to the powder charge.

Smith and Wesson of Springfield, Mass., in 1857 manufactured the first really successful rim-fire version of a metallic cartridge, self-contained and reasonably waterproof. This ammunition, with added improvements, to the present day is still produced by various American companies.

On 22 January 1856, the unusual method of housing both detonator and propelling charge in the base of a bullet was introduced and patented. The Winchester Arms Co. made a repeating weapon called the “Volcanic” using this odd principle. As the propelling ingredients were all contained in the bullet itself, there was naturally no problem of case ejection. This radical design was to compete with the impregnated self-consuming paper cartridge cases.

The volcanic bullet had a small charge of finely granulated powder, and a larger portion of fulminate of mercury mixture housed in a thin metal cup, all of which was protected from the elements by a thin cork insert. When the ball was fed into the arm, a spring-loaded firing pin was cammed forward and forced through the cork until it was brought to bear on the primer cup. A smart blow from the hammer ignited the detonating mixture, forcing the flame through the openings provided, and exploded the powder in the upper conical cavity of the bullet.

During the middle of the nineteenth century, the introduction of various methods of producing cartridge cases, the development of the conical bullet, and the idea of integrating the detonating cap in the cartridge were undoubtedly responsible for the rapid and radical designs of the innumerable weapons constructed to fire them.

Even skin cartridge cases were used successfully. They not only furnished a waterproof container, but also were easily made into the self-consuming case that seemed to be a military “must” of the day. To produce this cartridge case, pig’s intestines were used. After cleaning and while still wet, they were stretched over forms of the required cartridge dimensions. When dried, the powder and bullet were put in place. The skin case was then treated with a compound consisting of “eighteen parts by weight of nitrate of potassium, pure, and seventeen parts of sulphuric acid — pure, after which it was washed to free it from the soluble salts and excess of acids, and then dried by blotting… in order to render it perfectly waterproof, a light coat of shellac varnish was applied.”

It is easy to see how multifiring weapon development went hand in hand with cartridge design. As each different type of cartridge was introduced, inventors followed closely with a mechanical firing system, designed to use the new idea. No matter how radical a departure any new cartridge may have been from the heretofore accepted methods, there was a gun with an equally original design to shoot it.

The greatest problem in ammunition development was finally solved by George W. Morse’s invention in 1858 — the first true attempt at a metallic cartridge with a center fire primer and an inside anvil. It marked the most important step in the whole history of cartridge design. All other methods, experiments, and alleged improvements were but attempts to do what Morse successfully accomplished.