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Wild Beasts and Their Ways, Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America — Volume 1   By: (1821-1893)

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Wild Beasts and their Ways

Reminiscences of Europe, Asia, Africa and America

by Sir Samuel W. Baker F.R.S., F.R.G.S., etc., etc. Volume 1



Forty years ago our troops were armed with a smooth bore musket, and a small force known as the "Rifle Brigade" was the exception to this rule.

The military rifle carried a spherical bullet, and, like all others of the period, it necessitated the use of a mallet to strike the ball, which, being a size larger than the bore, required the blow to force it into the rifling of the barrel in order to catch the grooves.

Sporting rifles were of various sizes, but they were constructed upon a principle generally accepted, that extreme accuracy could only be obtained by burning a very small charge of powder.

The outfit required a small mallet made of hardwood faced with thick buff leather, a powerful loading rod, a powder flask, a pouch to contain greased linen or silk patches; another pouch for percussion caps; a third pouch for bullets. In addition to this cumbersome arrangement, a nipple screw was carried, lest any stoppage might render necessary the extraction of the nipple.

The charge of powder in ordinary use for a No. 16 bore (which carried an ounce spherical ball) was 1 1/2 dram, and the sights were adjusted for a maximum range of 200 yards. Although at this distance considerable accuracy could be attained at the target upon a quiet day, it was difficult to shoot with any precision at an unmeasured range owing to the high trajectory of the bullet. Thus for sporting purposes it was absolutely essential that the hunter should be a first rate judge of distance in order to adjust the sights as required by the occasion. It was accordingly rare to meet with a good rifle shot fifty years ago. Rifle shooting was not the amusement sought by Englishmen, although in Switzerland and Germany it was the ordinary pastime. In those countries the match rifle was immensely heavy, weighing, in many instances, 16 lbs., although the bullet was exceedingly small.

The idea of non recoil was paramount as necessary to ensure accuracy.

It will be at once perceived that the rifle was a most inferior weapon, failing through a low velocity, high trajectory, and weakness of penetration.

In 1840, I had already devoted much attention to this subject, and I drew a plan for an experimental rifle to burn a charge of powder so large that it appeared preposterous to the professional opinions of the trade. I was convinced that accuracy could be combined with power, and that no power could be obtained without a corresponding expenditure of powder. Trajectory and force would depend upon velocity; the latter must depend upon the volume of gas generated by explosion.

The rifle was made by Gibbs of Bristol. The weight was 21 lbs., length of barrel 36 inches, weight of spherical belted bullet 3 ounces, of conical bullet 4 ounces, charge of powder 16 drams. The twist was one full turn in the length of barrel. The rifling was an exceedingly deep and broad groove (two grooves), which reduced the difficulty of loading to a minimum, as the projecting belt enabled the bullet to catch the channel instantly, and to descend easily when wrapped in a greased silk patch without the necessity of hammering. The charge of powder was inserted by inverting the rifle and passing up the loading rod with an ounce measure screwed to the end; this method prevented the powder from adhering to the sides of the barrel, and thus fouling the grooves.

An extraordinary success attended this rifle, which became my colossal companion for many years in wild sports with dangerous game. It will be observed that the powder charge was one third the weight of the projectile, and not only a tremendous crushing power, but an extraordinary penetration was obtained, never equalled by any rifle that I have since possessed.

This weapon was in advance of the age, as it foreshadowed the modern Express, and the principle was thoroughly established to my own satisfaction, that a sporting rifle to be effective at a long range must burn a heavy charge of powder, but the weight of the weapon should be in due proportion to the strain of the explosion... Continue reading book >>

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