Among the musket’s limitations was its inaccuracy. Because the inside of the barrel was smooth—thus the designation as a “smoothbore” musket—the musket ball left the muzzle without spin. Like a baseball pitcher’s knuckleball, the bullet tumbled randomly during flight, buffeted by even the tiniest breath of wind. Because of that indiscriminate tumbling, the path of the bullet proved frustratingly unpredictable.

Military professionals estimated that soldiers armed with smoothbore muskets could only reliably hit targets within about 40 yards, which limited the effective range of the musket dramatically. In part because the smoothbore musket was so intrinsically inaccurate, soldiers of the 18th century seldom took target practice. Marksmanship was an extraordinarily difficult talent to cultivate with a smoothbore; most soldiers dispensed with it altogether.


“Gun lock,” Lock for French M 1728 musket, Courtesy of the National Park Service, Museum Management Program and Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, Gun Lock, GUCO 13 (accessed September 6, 2012).


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