A blackpowder shot from history, all yours for the taking


The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is opening up a musket range to the public in Williamsburg, Virginia, on March 19th and 20th. That’s right, if you are visiting the Revolutionary War re-enactor/museum complex in Williamsburg, you can attend the public range, and fire a reproduction Brown Bess Flintlock musket, as was used in the Revolutionary War. The history side of me is going crazy with envy at this moment of time, because very rarely do we get to shoot the firearms used in the conflicts we study, but even rarer is it offered to the public in this fashion. Of course, anyone who can legally purchase a firearm, can find a modern reproduction flintlock, and take it to the range. However in this case, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is putting on a live fire range, where the public can purchase tickets, learn about the making and use of the kinds of muskets used during the Revolutionary War, and then load, and prime one for a live round. Unfortunately the tickets are going for $119 per participant, so a little hefty on that end. But, for tourists in Virginia who might come from overseas or not have easy access to taking a flintlock rifle out to a range, this could be a fun opportunity to learn about these older firearms. If you can’t make it, or don’t want to participate in the range, I would highly recommend visiting the Yorktown battlefield/museums in the area, also run by the Foundation. They are extremely interesting, and the re-enactors certainly know their stuff when it comes to talking about life in America in the 1700s.

On a side note, I wish flintlocks were more prevalent these days within firearms training. Reason being, is that they are perfect firearms to teach new shooters correct follow through technique. This is because on most flintlocks, there is a delay between the trigger being pressed/hammer falling, and the actual ignition of the powder that propels the ball down range. This delay is usually about half a second or even a full second, but it is absolutely enough where if the shooter flinches or jerks the trigger, the entire rifle will sway off target so they won’t hit the target, or at least hit what they were aiming at. Thus, when shooting a flintlock, you have to have excellent follow through in order to successfully hit the target. A modern day equivalent of this would be a “hang fire” malfunction, where the ignition in a modern day cartridge is delayed from when the primer is struck, often due to faulty manufacturing or a bad round. But replicating this would almost border on the unsafe, as a hang fire in of itself is a malfunction.

Colonial Williamsburg’s educational musket range celebrates its grand opening March 19, for the first time offering Revolutionary City guests an opportunity to learn about and operate the types of firearms that won independence and supported life and livelihood in early America.

Guests learn from costumed interpreters about the history of flintlock weapons, particularly in colonial Virginia, their mechanics, use in hunting and defense, plus safety and proper handling.

“We provide guests an engaging, educational experience that immerses them in the period of our nation’s founding. The educational musket range embodies that, but on an entirely new level,” said Peter Seibert, Colonial Williamsburg director of historic trades and skills. “For decades our guests could learn about these pieces and watch them being operated. Now they can really experience them – the weight, the smell, and the sound – not to mention how challenging their operation was for people whose lives often depended on it.”

Guests will able to prime and fire replicas of two of early America’s most important firearms: a “Brown Bess” British short land service pattern musket and a fowling piece, a precursor of the modern shotgun.

The range’s Brown Bess replicas reflect the variety manufactured between 1768 and 1804 within a broader category spanning from 1717 and 1815. They are the type of musket used by both British and American soldiers during the American Revolution.

Muzzle-loaded fowling pieces were used to hunt ducks and other waterfowl in Tidewater Virginia and for farmland pest control. Notably, during the period they could be legally owned by free blacks for the latter purpose.

The range is accessible only by ticketed guests via a shuttle from the Williamsburg Lodge. Admission includes instruction, safety equipment firearms, ammunition, and targets.

To participate, guests must reserve spaces in advance and present photo ID to purchase tickets on-site. Tickets are $119 and are available to guests ages 14 and older. Children under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. Additional information is available at Colonial Williamsburg ticketing locations and hospitality properties, online at www.colonialwilliamsburg.com or by calling 855-296-6627.

Much thanks to Marina Q. for the tip!

Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


  • BattleshipGrey

    It’s a great idea, but the price is steep. I hope they do well and that the participants enjoy themselves. For $119 though, I’d want to shoot one of these… actually, I hope to save up a few thousand someday and buy my own.

    • two guns, ammo, range access, instructor, targets 119 is what one would spend on many gun ranges across the country. So its actually not that steep when you add everything all together.

    • M.M.D.C.

      I would love to have a cannon. Here’s a drawing of reenactors at Cowpens, SC.

      • Andy

        A buddy of mine just bought himself one, though it’s a Civil War model. Looking forward to shooting it, probably this fall.

      • Billy Jack

        Really wish they’d make a Colonial Cowpens resort.

    • Darrin

      I do know one of the factors in that price is if it was really “cheep” there may be some folks who would keep signing up to go back over and over-day after day. That’s not a bad thing but it would prevent new visitors from getting a slot.
      By the way, shooting high quality flintlocks is a-lot-of-fun!!!
      Darrin Mc

  • Blake

    …& The Revenant single-handedly inspires a flintlock renaissance…

    • Billy Jack

      It’s either that or bear rape.

  • WFDT

    I’m grateful that all I have to do to shoot my flintlock is step outside.

  • MrEllis

    Sounds fun, I have a percussion cap rifle.

    • codfilet

      Give a flintlock a try-you’ll soon have one or more of your own!

  • Major Tom

    This gives me really short notice. Otherwise I’d actually consider going there. Less than a week is not enough time to plan a trip to Virginia from Colorado simply for the purpose of firing a Brown Bess.

  • John

    My brother wants to try a Napoleon-issued musket at some point. He loves the styling.

  • iksnilol

    And I thought 500 Nitro Express was expensive.

  • Marcus D.

    I recently watched a rather old film on PBS documenting the making of a rifle by the Williamsburg gunsmith in residence, from the making of the barrel from a flat piece of iron, rifling it and finishing it, to the handmade clockwork, sand casting of the brass bits, all the way to to the making, finishing and staining of the stock. It is a very lengthy process. The man was a true artisan. One fascinating bit was the staining of the maple stock. The stain is not very dark; to darken it, the smith passed a red hot flat bar of iron near the surface, turning it a reddish nutmeg brown. I wonder if that works with modern stains?

    (And here I am, happy that I successfully completed a “95%” build of a Kentucky long rifle.)

  • jerry young

    I was at Williamsburg back in the mid 80’s they were hand making muskets and you could order one but the waiting list was about 2 years and about $2000 I wonder what they want today?

    • Ken

      Four year wait and $20k average I read somewhere.

      • jerry young

        well it looks like I’ll never own one, it’s been a long time since I was there

  • nick

    i shoot long range BP, in the warmer months up here. its a relaxing range activity, and a nice break from the “normal” stuff that goes on at our range . You get a nice , quiet , windless evening, and its just great. I build my own from kits, and there are many to choose from in all skill levels. Its a disciplined way of shooting that is all but lost now.

  • nick

    Oh, and shameless endorsement … i get my kits, supplies and rather excellent books on BP firearms from a company called “Track of the Wolf” everything you need, and top shelf service….they even ship to Canada!

  • valorius

    What…no C-Clamp grip? LMAO

  • Drunk Possum

    “Of course, anyone who can legally purchase a firearm, can find a modern reproduction flintlock, and take it to the range.”

    Actually, since it’s not considered a “firearm” by ATF, anyone can buy a BP rifle or handgun. Yes, even felons and other “prohibited persons”.

    From ATF website:
    “Because black powder firearms are considered antique firearms, the possession of a black powder firearm by a person subject to Federal firearms disabilities is not prohibited by the GCA. However, a person subject to Federal firearms disabilities may not receive and/or possess black powder firearms that can be readily converted to fire fixed ammunition by replacing the barrel, bolt, breechblock, or any combination thereof which are classified as “firearms.” Additionally, State law may prohibit the possession of a black powder firearm by persons who are not Federally prohibited from possessing them. Please contact your State Attorney General’s Office for information regarding black powder firearms.

    [18 U.S.C. 921(a)(3) and (16); 27 CFR 478.11 and 478.141(d)]”

    Just sayin…