Musket Safety

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All musketeers must undergo drill and safety training before a public display takes place. This is not only for the safety of the public, it is for the safety of the musketeer and others around him or her. Before a musketeer can be issued with gunpowder for the first time he/she must prove to the musket officer they are safe and competent. This will require a short test called the twelve shots.


BASICS

A musketeer should be thinking about safety right from the start. For example, your bandolier should be the last item of equipment that you put on because if something goes wrong, you'll probably want to get rid of it as quickly as possible: you don't want to have to get a snap sack or water bottle off before you can remove your bandolier.

Get used to the idea that you should never place anything across the open end of the barrel of your musket. This means that you should never stand with the gun resting on the ground and a finger or a thumb over the end of the barrel: if you habitually do that, you might do it when the gun is loaded and if it goes off, you'll probably lose a finger. For the same reason never stand with your chin resting on the end of the barrel.

Apart from the fact that you're protecting your fingers, if you hold the gun when it's resting with the stock on the ground by holding it with your hand round the barrel, you'll get used to the feel of the scouring stick being in its proper place. If you ever grip the gun and the scouring stick isn't here, you're more likely to notice its absence which should lead you to make sure that it isn't still in the barrel.

When you're collecting powder, you should never smoke within the area of the powder issue.

Never use more than a single charge of the powder issued for the event. Every musket barrel has been through a proving process to confirm that it is safe with a known amount of a specific explosive. If you over-charge or use a non-standard explosive, you run the risk of a catastrophic accident.

WHAT CAN GO WRONG?

There are two common causes of injury caused by musketeers in a battles: the scouring stick can be left in the barrel and the gun can misfire.

If a scouring stick is left in the barrel, when the gun is fired, the scouring stick will be fired like an arrow. It might seem too light to cause injuries but anybody caught by a scouring stick fired from a musket is likely to need medical attention. Get into the habit of going to the firing position and using the fingers of your left hand to feel for the scouring stick. If it isn't there, check to make sure it isn't down the barrel.

A misfire can have a variety of causes but the symptoms are always the same: the trigger is pulled, the match appears to make contact with the powder in the pan but the gun doesn't fire.

The temptation is to either close the pan ready to try again or to look at the pan to try to figure out what went wrong.

FOR YOUR OWN SAFETY, DO NOT DO EITHER.

If you have a misfire:

  1. Make sure the gun isn't pointing at anybody. When not at the present position, the loaded musket should be carried at the shoulder with the barrel pointing in the air, or at the rest with the barrel at 45 degrees pointing away from your body and over the heads of the people around you.
  2. Carefully remove the match.
  3. Turn the gun away from you so that the powder falls out of the pan onto the ground.
  4. Shake the gun to clear the powder from the pan.
  5. If the gun has still not fired, use a pricker to clear the route from the pan to the charge, re-prime the pan and try firing again when it is safe to do so.
  6. If the gun still does not fire but the powder in the pan is igniting, take your scouring stick and carefully slide it down the barrel. If there is an excesive amount of stick still protruding from the barrel and you don’t get the sound of an empty musket but a soft pressure on the scouring stick, there is still a charge down the barrel. If you get the sound of wood striking metal the gun has fired, you just didn’t notice.
  7. If the gun still won't fire, inform the musket officer of your situation. When you leave the display field and you are in a safe location, pour water down the barrel. You will need to use a worm to clear the barrel.


Remember that a misfire can be caused by the powder in the pan not igniting immediately (a hang fire), by the powder in the pan not igniting at all or by the powder in the pan igniting but not setting off the charge in the barrel (a flash in the pan). Your reaction to each of these occurrences should be the same: make sure you don't point the barrel at anybody; carefully remove the match; turn the pan away from you and empty the powder from the pan on the ground.

Remember, too, that safety is far more important than a good show so if you have any doubt at any stage, do whatever is necessary to keep yourself, other members and the public safe.

WHEN IT GOES WRONG

To see what can happen when it goes wrong, watch this video. At 7 minutes 29 seconds, watch the musketeer furthest from the camera just to right of the centre of the screen. As he gets up it looks as if a spark from his match sets off the powder remaining in his bandolier. He was not injured. Click here to see the video from Aldbourne: 2010.

Aldbourne 2010 musket accident.JPG