Smoothbore or Rifle?
Someone asked me recently which did I recommend, smoothbore or rifle. They also wanted to know about advantages & disadvantages & what calibres I would recommend, & what do I use & if I had a choice what would I purchase. The choice you make depends on several factors; what are you used to using, do you have a personal preference, what sort of country are you using this gun in, what game are you likely to encounter? So baring this in mind, I will do the best I can to answer the question, smoothbore or rifle?
I have used both, rifle & smoothbore. In the Territory where there was a lot of open ground I hunted Buffalo & wild boar with a .50 calibre rifle. Here in New England I use a .60 calibre/20 gauge flintlock fusil with a 42 inch barrel in forest & woodland & hunt small game such as rabbit & larger game like goat & wild boar.
The smoothbore is more versatile than the rifle, in that it is easier to load, you do not have to wipe the barrel in between shots, you can use bird shot, swan shot (buckshot), or round ball, or any combination of two of these. You do not need to use a patched ball, in fact the smoothbore was not originally shot with patching. It uses wads or wadding which is easier to come by in a wilderness situation. If for some reason you were to run out of lead, then you can use other projectiles wrapped in leather or cloth to protect the bore. Disadvantages of the smoothbore are: not as accurate over long distances. Maximum accurate range is generally accepted as being 50-75 yards. I have never shot game at a distance greater than 30 yards with my fusil, & usually the distance is from point blank to 25 yards. But in target practice I have shot accurately out to at least 50 yards.
The author’s firelock English fusil in .62 cal/20 gauge with a 42 inch barrel.
The rifle is generally accepted as being accurate out to 100 yards, some claim accuracy out to 200 yards. Even with a rifle I have never shot game at these distances, I prefer to get in close. Just as the smoothbore comes in a variety of bore sizes, so does the rifle. A good middle of the road calibre in my opinion is a .45 fullstock. This calibre with good placement will take small game such as rabbits, & larger game such as goats & wild boar. For larger game such as buffalo I recommend a .50 or .54 calibre. I have a lovely little .32 calibre flintlock which will take small game like rabbits, or larger game like goats, but I would not take on large pigs with it at any distance. However, it is very economical using very little lead, & only requires about 14 grains of 3FG gunpowder.
Disadvantages of the rifle are: harder to load, you need to wipe the barrel on most rifles between shots or it is possible to get a ball stuck in the barrel, unless you are prepared to sacrifice some accuracy & reload with just a ball & no patch. You can’t use shot in a rifle without leading up the rifling, & you are limited to what you can use as a projectile should you run out of lead. Rifles have heavier barrels & tend to be heavier to carry than a fusil but probably no heavier than a large musket such as the Brown Bess.
Author’s .32 calibre Mountain Rifle with double triggers & an extended ramrod.
Survival Note: Someone suggested that in a modern day self defence/skirmish situation they would rather have a modern firearm than a flintlock gun. Given the choice I would tend to agree, but there are other considerations. (1) other aspects of the flintlock make it a more viable proposition as a survival firearm, (2) one must also consider all of a woodsrunner’s equipment & take it into account. And (3) no matter how fast a person can shoot, it all comes down to one shot in the end. If your first shot does not count, then there is a good chance that the rest of the magazine won’t do any better than the first if fired rapidly with no clear view of the target. If I were using a modern gun against a muzzle-loading gun in a skirmish, I would not consider myself any safer just because I had a modern gun.