Hunting flintlock and wheellock guns, decorated with gold and silver wire inlay


Firearms appeared in Europe in the 14th century, but there is little evidence that they immediately replaced the existing projectile weapons that were in use. The inaccuracy of these early guns, and the noise and the smoke they produced, would have made them less successful as hunting weapons.

Improvements in gun making gradually made them more effective. Their use in hunting, until at least the end of the 17th century, had been restricted to birds at-rest as shooting at flying birds required an effective ignition system. By around 1700, flintlock guns designed to shoot birds on-the-wing had been developed.

The flintlock did have a problem though: the puff of smoke from its priming powder often gave the birds enough warning so as to avoid being hit. It wasn’t until the invention of percussion ignition, by the Scottish clergyman Alexander Forsyth in the 19th century, that there was a major breakthrough in smokeless ignition. Percussion ignition is still used today in modern small-arms cartridges.


Airguns of considerable power and sophistication were used both militarily and for hunting, as the absence of powder smoke and noise ensured their intended target was not disturbed.

Rechargeable reservoirs containing compressed air allowed for a number of discharges. However, the complexity and cost of such weapons meant that they did not achieve the same widespread use as the more powerful, and less expensive, black-powder sporting guns.

Hunting wildfowl with a Punt gun

Clicking on the image below will open the YouTube video player in fullscreen

Link to YouTube video about wildfowling

To read PDF documents you will need Adobe Reader. Reader
If you do not currently have it installed you can download Adobe Reader for free.

Did you know?

Waterloo telescope

The telescope carried by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo is in the Royal Armouries collection.