When it comes or Hollywood, the most overlooked pirate weapon is without a doubt the long arm. The long arms is any firearm designed to be fired with two hands. Such weapons include the rifle, musket, arquebus and blunderbuss. The long arm, especially the 17th/18th century musket is probably the most important weapon employed by pirates. The weapon was considered more important than the pistol and cutlass as well as the cannon!
While many of the muskets used by pirates were the same land or sea service weapons employed by the armies and navies of the time, they also readily adapted fowler or hunting pieces into their arsenals. Much has been said of the Buccaneer gun which is one said fowler. The blunderbuss, is another favoured weapon for nautical warfare. The rifle was the the tool of the sharpshooters.
When it came to attacking other ships, pirates often turned their attention to the use of muskets before using cannon fire. A well trained pirate or privateer crew could do considerable damage with musket fire. whereas cannon fire was often designed to do maximum damage to warships in an attempt to sink an enemy, musket fire was concentrated on personnel to inflict maximum damage to the crew without sinking the ship. This meant the privateers or pirates targeted personal on the top deck or in the sails as well as open gun ports.
Unlike the usual merchantship, pirates and privateers tended to carry extra muskets for the crew. Sometimes as many as three to five muskets per man would be primed and ready for use before an engagement. This allowed for a blistering hail of lead to be fired in avery short time. Once the first few volleys were fired, the pirates could break down in small parties with one firing and another loading, thus keeping up continuous volley on the merchants.
According to a few sources, pirates and buccaneers practiced a method of quick loading their muskets. Part of this quick loading involved widening the touch hole a small amount to allow a flow of powder into the pan when powder was poured down the barrel. This was accomplished by closing the frizzen and then holding the musket so that the lock side was facing the deck when powder was poured down the barrel.
Afterwards, the powder would quickly be tapped and the wadding and bullet would be rammed down the barrel. Normally, after the bullet was pushed down the barrel it would be seated by two or three more rammings down the barrel. Pirates would forego this and instead give a couple quick slams of the butt of the musket on the deck thus allowing gravity to do the seating of the round. If done improperly, the results could be disastrous, so a regularly drilled soldier did not follow such practice. But the bold pirate or privateer took the risk and often tripled his rate of fire.
To increase the odds of hitting their target, pirates and privateers often fired a mixed load consisting of one regular sized slug with two or three smaller balls. Sometimes the entire load would be made of three to five smaller balls. A musket with a bore of 70 calibers would normally fire a 65-68 caliber ball. The pirate would use a 63-65 caliber ball and two or three smaller balls which would increase the probability of hitting something while at the same time making the slightly undersized ball easier to seat using the method above. The key to keeping everything in its place was the paper wadding. This kept the powder in the right spot while snugging the round in the barrel.
With continuous practice and drilling, pirates and privateers became some of the best shooters to roam the seas.
The only author and editor of all pages on the site. Most of what I write about is based on years of book reading on the topic. My first web page was published back in 1994.