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Thunder Gun

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Originally intended for military purposes, the bell-mouthed, short-barreled blunderbuss takes its name from donderbuschse, German for "thunder gun." While the enlarged muzzle of the typical blunderbuss, like this London-made Alexander Wilson flintlock pistol, was quite impressive, in actuality the wider mouth of the barrel did very little to spread buckshot patterns at close range.

But the funnel muzzle greatly aided with loading the smoothbore barrel, especially on galloping horseback or when one was clinging to the wind-tossed rigging of a ship. A handful of powder and a measure of shot could be quickly and efficiently tamped down beneath wadding layers. The barrels of many blunderbusses were made of brass and some even had turned "cannon" muzzles in emulation of larger pieces of artillery. Carried by ship captains, mail coach guards and highwaymen alike, a blunderbuss presented an intimidating profile, no matter what its size.

Reprinted from America's 1st Freedom, December 2004.