blunderbuss n : a short musket of wide bore with a flared muzzle
EtymologyDutch donderbus, "thunder gun".
A blunderbuss is a muzzle-loading firearm with a flared, trumpet-like barrel which discharges lead shot upon firing. It is a kind of fowling piece or shotgun.
The term blunderbuss is a corruption of a word of Dutch origin, namely donderbus, a combination of the Dutch terms donder (thunder) and bus (gun), or German donnerbuechse, meaning the same thing.
Most of these weapons are mid-sized, being smaller than most shoulder-fired arms, but larger than a pistol. Although fitted with a butt, the dimensions suggest that most were not really intended to be fired from the shoulder and were instead fired from the hip.
The compact dimensions of a blunderbuss would facilitate use in small spaces (e.g. on a ship, or in a house) and would also make storage easier. For those requiring an even smaller weapon, blunderbuss pistols were also produced, though these are now less common.
The blunderbuss was in use in the 17th century, and is the weapon most commonly pictured in the arms of the Pilgrims. Flintlock blunderbusses were used by Catherine the Great's forces during foreign wars to expand Russia's territory. In the UK, the weapon was often issued to guards on mail coaches or those tasked with operating Turnpikes — cheapness and ease of use were no doubt major factors in this. General George Washington wrote to the Board of War on April 4, 1779, stating: "It appears to me that Light Blunderbusses on account of the quantity of shot they will carry, will be preferable to Carbines, for Dragoons, as the Carbines only carry a single ball especially in case of close action." They were also often used by homeowners to defend their property, and these were often equipped with spring-loaded bayonets. It was also a common weapon of choice among pirates when boarding ships.
The funnel-shaped barrel (either round or elliptical) is not designed to enhance the ballistics of the weapon, but serves to facilitate loading ammunition into the muzzle. This makes it much easier to refill a blunderbuss with shot in situations where this would not normally be possible. The American National Rifle Association carried out some experiments with antique blunderbusses in the 1960's and discovered that the flared barrel had no effect on the spread of shot; shot did spread, as in any other shotgun, but not to the same extent as the barrel. A steel barreled Blunderbuss can fire projectiles such as gravel or nails instead of lead shot, but brass barreled Blunderbusses were the most common. The softer brass metal made shooting steel projectiles out of these brass barrels dangerous. Blunderbusses were often supplied with gang-moulds by their manufacturers, allowing the user to make his own shot in the field.
By its nature, the blunderbuss is not a very precise weapon nor one which could fire very far. It has seen most of its use as a means of self-defence, as the spread of shot meant that one did not need to be particularly skilled in aiming to wound or kill intruders or attackers. It has also seen use in hunting, where the aforementioned spread of shot allowed a greater chance of hitting small fast-moving animals, such as rabbits or birds. It was used in a military setting for both cavalry and naval forces as a boarding weapon. It was more effective when the goal was not to hit a specific target, but rather any one of multiple targets, such as for crowd control.
External linksThe great turkey hunt of James Whitworth (2007)
blunderbuss in German: Espingole
blunderbuss in Spanish: Trabuco
blunderbuss in French: Tromblon
blunderbuss in Finnish: Väkipyssy
blunderbuss in Polish: Garłacz
blunderbuss in Russian: Мушкетон
blunderbuss in Swedish: Muskedunder