There are dozens of shooting ranges and clubs in Western Washington and all over the United States. As early as 1466, shooting clubs were formed in Switzerland and, by the 15th Century, Schutzenfahnlein companies in Germany and the Swiss cantons boasted flags depicting crossbows and target rifles. Before long, many armies were combining pikemen with units of smoothbore musketeers that were almost accurate at 200 hundred yards to break up squares of massed troops. By the 1600s, weapons with grooved rifling began to show up on European battlefields.
Since that time, a rifleman culture, developed in many countries at once, culminating in the United States where civilian and military shooters have participated in competition together and shared knowledge and technology for many generations. The difference between a rifle and the earlier smooth bores is that the lead ball grips the rifling, resulting in spin that produces accuracy at ranges three times the distance of the smooth bore muskets.
During the Thirty Years War (1618-35), King Gustavus Adolphus II of Sweden was wounded by a Polish sharpshooter. The Dutch Republic soon began to export firearms, touching off an arms race that never really stopped.
See also Seige of Leyden.
The advantage of rifles over muskets at long range soon became evident, but the necessity of forcing a large ball against tightly fouled grooves made early rifles difficult to load quickly. The English Civil War (1642-48) was one of the first wars in which firearms were to predominate. Matchlock rifles began to appear but the most significant impact of the English Civil War on firearms technology may have been the influence of those times on a generation that was born a hundred years later in England‘s American colonies.
Men like Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams were raised on concepts of law, government and liberty that were set in motion by Parliament’s Roundhead militias that opposed Royalist claims to the “divine right” of kings.
American woodsmen came into contact with German and Swiss mercenaries armed with rifled firearms during the Seven Years War. By the time of the Revolutionary War, Americans demonstrated that a smaller ball fired from a long rifle was deadly at distances of 400 yards.
But see Ferguson Rifle.
The new American rifleman wasn’t a sporting man like the early Swiss and German shooters and he wasn’t a religious fanatic like some of Cromwell’s Roundheads. The new breed had learned to reject elitism under the lash of British officers during the French & Indian War and had studied tactics fighting alongside and against native American warriors.
Firearms technology and history conspired in early America to favor carrying, shooting and working with rifles and other shooting equipment. In Europe innovation shifted to huge enterprises like Krupp Arms, forever associated with progressive Germany’s 20th Century concepts of national socialism. In the United States, on the other hand, individual men like John Browning, proved that individual freedom trumps big government and every weekend there are Washingtonians in competitions all over the state perfecting long range shots that are still heard around the world.
Major Patrick Ferguson patented this breech loading flintlock rifle in England, 1776. Only about 200 were made. The number ‘2’ stamped on the trigger guard distinguishes this one from the others.
Walnut, iron, brass. L 124.5 cm, L (barrel) 86.4 cm
Morristown National Historical Park, MORR 2375
See more on the design of the Ferguson Rifle.