Shooting A Martini-Henry Beyond 300 Yards

2015-05-06 17_15_45-The Mk I Martini-Henry_ Shooting at Longer Ranges - YouTube

The YouTube channel britishmuzzleloaders consistently puts out excellent content in areas of firearms history that rarely receive much attention. Most recently, he took his .577/.450 Martini-Henry out to the range, to shoot at ranges of 100, 200, 300, and 400 yards. What does shooting an old blackpowder* breechloader at these ranges entail? Watch the video embedded below to find out:

Not being a shooter of much blackpowder, I got a lot out of watching this video, as I do all of britishmuzzleloaders’ productions. It’s not a stretch to say that blackpowder firearms exist in a whole other universe apart from smokeless firearms. The use of that propellant dictates almost every feature of the firearm and its ammunition, from the neck length (to accommodate generously-sized wadding), rim, barrel length (to keep the acrid smoke away from the shooter, among other duties), and bore diameter, and even implies what cannot be done, and what isn’t of any use (could one imagine even attempting to design a self-loading rifle for blackpowder, when even a breechloader such as the Martini-Henry begins to struggle and choke if shot at its full rate? For that matter, what use is a device like a flash hider, when your rifle smokes like a chimney after every shot?).

*And they are actual blackpowder loads, not using black powder simulant. I was very impressed with britishmuzzleloaders’ attention to detail in loading his Martini-Henry ammunition, which is covered in another of his videos.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • iksnilol

    Well, regarding a self-loader; You could make something like a street sweeper. A DAO revolver thingy + electric ignition so you don’t need to mess around with primers.

    • Wetcoaster

      Even if that delays fouling of the chamber, you’ll still have issues with fouling in the bore. I’m sorta curious how the first machine guns did it since I think their introduction dates overlapped with the switch to black powder. You might need to stick with something like the Gatling guns in .45-70 to provide more endurance before fouling stops the weapon.

      • Tassiebush

        Some rifling systems seem to have been less fouling prone. Lancaster rifling which was spiraling ovals is a good example. There was some sort early cartridges system that had a greased wad in front of the projectile to scrub bore as it was fired which apparently stopped fouling from accumulating too. Heavens knows how that could be used with a repeating arm though.

        • Wetcoaster

          The intricacies of rifling are interesting – like how the British went from the shallower rounded Metford rifling for blackpowder .303 rounds to the deeper squared Enfield rifling because the smokeless cordite wore out the rifling too fast – or that Enfield rifling for whatever reason prefers flat-base bullets over boat tails

          • Tassiebush

            Yeah specific rifling system is definitely a topic we take for granted. Barrel wear is main reason I’ve read for Enfield rifling replacing Metford.

        • iksnilol

          How susceptible to fouling is polygonal rifling?

          • Tassiebush

            I’m not sure.

      • iksnilol

        Maybe go with smoothbore? I know, sabots and blackpowder isn’t the thing people usually think of but it might work.

        • Zebra Dun

          Rifling was invented by people trying to stop fouling by black powder in smooth bores I believe.

          • iksnilol

            I thought it was made to extend the range?

          • Tassiebush

            The theory goes it was introduced to give fouling somewhere to go and that better long range accuracy was noticed as a side effect. Rates of twist would have been refined from there. There’s a story about a early gunsmith being accused of witchcraft over it. People suspected it was enchanted by a pact with devil. To test this a silver (silver was associated with god) bullet was tested which failed to perform (most likely due to subtly smaller projectile) and with that he was condemned.

    • Tassiebush

      Sounds like an electronic version of the Puckles gun.

      • iksnilol

        To me it seems like another stupid-but-not-actually-so-stupid idea that I need to write down in my book of stupid-but-not-so-stupid-ideas (yes, that’s the title of it).

  • Obligatory:

    • ScoreDude

      Join the British Army! Have a Martini-Henry be fired at cyclic, with the muzzle 12 inches behind your ear! Join today!

      • Yes, modern armies have definitely solved the issue of noise being a problem in combat.

        • jake

          I’m sorry, but you made me laugh my ass off. You cheered up my morning.

        • iksnilol

          Yup, when we have gunfights nowadays the last thing we want to do is wake up the neighbours.

          IIRC the Finns are fans of suppressors on infantry rifles.

    • iksnilol

      Thank goodness we have automatics nowadays.

    • valorius

      Definitely my favorite war movie of all time. Ive seen it probably 100 times.

      The blu ray version on a high def TV totally transforms the movie.

      • Indeed. I have always been amazed at how the Zulu were able to put up such an incredibly resistance to the might of the Empire. They were truly formidable warriors and brave opponents.

        • Andy

          Zulu is an empire on the rise, on its way to conquering the entire south Africa.

          Then the British show up with their interpretive technology and ruined everything.

          • Indeed. If you read about how a Zulu warrior was raised, you will see echoes of ancient Sparta. Incredible feats of endurance and strength were required, and even with technology several hundred years more advanced than theirs, they still managed to put up a fight against the Empire.

    • Phil Hsueh

      Great movie, on of my all time favorites. But it’s not entirely accurate, at least no in the depiction of the uniforms, the British troops in Africa didn’t actually wear those nice white belts and helmets, they actually dyed them with tea as an early form of camouflage.

      • But they had immaculate teeth back then, just like the actors right?

  • Jonathan Ferguson

    The first production Maxim MGs & Maxim’s lesser-known prototype self – loading rifle, were all designed to fire BP cartridges. It can be done, it’s just much less suitable than smokeless.

    • It cannot really be done to any meaningful degree of success. Blackpowder is just too dirty and corrosive.

      Didn’t stop some from trying, though.

      • Jonathan Ferguson

        I was responding to “could one imagine even attempting to design a self-loading rifle for blackpowder”. The British army introduced the Maxim in 1889 and 1892 in .45 Martini-Henry and .45 Gardner-Gatling, both BP cartridges. They weren’t rifles, they may not have been used extensively, and they have a crew to overcome the inevitable reliability issues, but they were nonentheless designed, produced, issued and used. At the Armouries we have an example of Maxim’s prototype self-loading rifle, again designed to use BP.

        So yes, one could imagine it, even if smokeless was clearly the way to go.

  • valorius

    “If it’s a miracle color sergeant, it’s a short chamber boxer martini point four five caliber miracle.”

    “And a bayonet sir, with some guts behind it.”

  • Tassiebush

    It makes me wonder how much fouling was caused by the .303 blackpowder compressed charge load used in the Lee-Metford rifle. Not sure if it was used in an automatic machine gun.

  • Zebra Dun

    That slug going by must have left the impression of a bus just missing you.
    Good video!

  • Zebra Dun

    The literal description of a lead hailstorm.

  • Cleophus

    “When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come down to cut up your remains, just roll to your rifle and blow out your brains, and go to your God like a soldier, a soldier of the Queen!…… Love Kipling!

  • Jeff Heeszel

    He wasn’t wearing period-accurate ear plugs. FAIL!

  • Tassiebush

    That’s fascinating about bullet shape contributing to wear!