Colonial Williamsburg to Open Public Musket Range

Nathaniel F
by Nathaniel F

Visitors to Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, may soon be lining up for a unique attraction: Shooting Revolutionary War-era muskets at a period-correct shooting range. reports:

Williamsburg, Va. – Soon you could be able to shoot an 18th Century weapon in the heart of Colonial Williamsburg.

Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum and soon it will be getting even more hands on.

A common theme here is to have more entertaining and engaging and hands-on experience.

It may look like just woods now, but hopefully this fall it will be home to one of the area’s first-ever musket ranges. It’s just one of many proposed changes coming to Colonial Williamsburg.

In addition to a petting farm and an archeological simulation, guests could soon have the chance to feel like real-life colonial soldiers.

“We think that giving them the opportunity to handle the device, feel the weight of it, the noise, the smell, the recoil, it will provide a fun, enjoyable and of course, educational experience,” says

Shooting an 18th century black powder musket would be one of the most hands-on experiences they’ve ever offered.

The range is subject to city approval and we hope, ideally to begin work on it in the fall. It would not be the type of environment that people associate with a modern day firing range.

In true colonial fashion, the range will be as historically accurate as possible with 6 to 8 lanes where guests get a one-on-one lesson in loading and firing the musket.

Hognose of also weighed in on the upcoming attraction:

One way they’re going to do that? Have a replica of a Colonial militia shooting range, where people who may never have fired a gun get one-on-one coaching through loading and firing a period-type musket, under the tutelage of a costumed rangemaster/interpreter. Here’s a video of a Williamsburg performer explaining the musket to tourists; that’s good, but giving them their own hands-on has to be better.

We have a saying in the Army:

I hear… and I forget.
I see… and I understand.
I do… and I remember.

And that’s as true teaching tourists about gun-drills past as it is teaching recruits about gun-drills present. Eh?

In true colonial fashion, the range will be as historically accurate as possible with 6 to 8 lanes where guests get a one-on-one lesson in loading and firing the musket.

t’s going to be like it was back in the day. Now that is cool. This is also a good move for a theme park. People can learn a ton about colonial life and the Revolutionary War sitting in their armchairs, staring at a glowing screen. But you can’t learn the feel, the smooth stock and steel, the grit of the powder, the recoil, the smells of a Brown Bess or Charleville musket without picking up the firearm and loading and firing it, and you can’t do that in the virtual world. So activities like this enhance the theme-park advantages of Williamsburg.

via Williamsburg gearing up for first-ever musket ranges |

Williamsburg also sponsors real history, both in terms of investigation and in a regular magazine. Here, for instance, is a magazine article on why Colonial-era military units used muskets, not more-accurate rifles. (BLUF: muskets produced high volumes of fire, which suited European infantry tactics, and were effective bayonet handles, ditto). And here is one that covers British shenanigans relative to Williamsburg’s powder magazine, which the British regular forces disarmed in April, 1775, even as they were having problems doing the same thing to the Massachusetts and New Hampshire colonists. Protests against this British action were led by Patrick Henry, who actually accomplished rather more than one line of one speech.

Shooting a blackpowder musket is a very different experience from shooting a modern firearm. Flintlocks are dirty, uncomfortable weapons that belch smoke and can’t hit the broad side of a barn at 100 yards (literally!). In other words, I’m sure the new attraction will be a total blast.

Nathaniel F
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. He can be reached via email at

More by Nathaniel F

Join the conversation
  • MR MR on Jun 09, 2015

    Taking a page from Vegas. And Cambodia.

  • Dittybopper Dittybopper on Jun 10, 2015

    Flintlocks are not dirty and uncomfortable to shoot. Well, maybe a little dirty. But I question the wisdom of rifles taking a minute to load. I shoot primitive biathlons with a transitional long rifle, and using period correct loading methods I can shoot twice within a minute if I'm not too careful about actually aiming. If I weren't concerned with hitting the targets, I could probably shoot 3 times a minute. Granted, that's still slower than a smoothbore, but rifles aren't necessarily inherently slower if used with the same kind of ammunition as a musket: Paper cartridges and undersized balls. This is what the British did with their Baker rifles to make them shoot faster on the line, and they could use a more careful measure of powder and a tightly patched ball for accuracy when acting as skirmishers.

    The failure wasn't so much a technological one as a failure of imagination, both on the part of the riflemen, and of the commanders who employed them.