Weapons Used in the Revolutionary War: the Kentucky Long Rifle

“Light in weight; graceful in line; economical in consumption of powder and lead; fatally precise; distinctly American….for a hundred years it was a model often slightly varied but never radically changed.”
From the 1924 book, The Kentucky Rifle by Captain John G.W. Dillin

Any discussion of the weapons used in the Revolutionary War would be woefully incomplete without a mention of the Kentucky long rifle.  Case in point: in 1788, during a battle near Boonesborough, Kentucky, a British officer dared to stick his head out from behind a tree.  A fraction of a second later he fell to the ground dead, felled by a lead ball that pierced his skull.  Witnesses later measured the distance of the shot at 250 yards, a respectable distance for a modern sniper and close to miraculous for one using an 18th century weapon.  The shooter was Daniel Boone, and the weapon was his beloved Kentucky long rife.

The legendary weapon has its roots in the Appalachian regions of Pennsylvania.  First built by Swiss-German settlers around 1720, it quickly became the weapon of choice for rugged settlers in what was then the American backcountry.  Originally known as the Pennsylvania long rifle, it gained its current moniker due to the popularity of an 18th century song titled “The Hunters of Kentucky” in which it is mentioned.

The reasons for its widespread acceptance were its accuracy and range.  The smoothbore muskets of the time were effective out to less than 100 yards and striking a target was as much a matter of luck as of good aim.

This is why military tactics of the time required firing weapons en masse. Only by sending a wall of lead flying at the enemy was damage likely to be done, and even then, complete misses were common at ranges beyond 50 yards.

The Kentucky long rifle, on the other hand, could hit its spot out to 400 yards in the hands of a skilled shooter.  This was due to its name-sake long barrel, which was usually between 42” and 48” in length.  A rule among gunsmiths of the time was to make the weapon no longer than the length from the floor to the customer’s chin, since the purchaser would have to see the end of the muzzle while reloading.

Everything comes with a price of course, and for the Kentucky long rifle, the cost was rate of fire.  Fully loading the weapon meant going through a powder-patch-ball procedure, not to mention adding the charge to the priming pan.  These steps, along with aiming, took up to a minute, while smooth bore muskets could be shot and ready to use again in as little as 15 seconds. 

This fact contributed to the often-amazing marksmanship of the rifle’s owners, who enjoyed an elite status among the American forces during both the Revolution and the War of 1812.  When you only get one shot every 60 seconds, you’ve got to make it count.

The Kentucky long rifle went out of favor in the second half of the 19th century, due to technological advances in firearms.  What few still exist are held by collectors who buy antique guns.  However, versions of it are made to this day by devoted craftspeople in the southern Appalachians.  If you’re fortunate enough to own one, then you’ve got more than a gun.  You have a revered piece of American history.

What’s the difference between a used firearm from Dury’s and a brand new version of the same weapon?  Just one thing: price.  We sell no weapon unless it undergoes a painstaking, end-to-end inspection, to ensure that whoever buys it from us will be getting their money’s worth and more.  So shop with confidence, in person or at our online store.  You won’t regret it.

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