Pedersoli Pedersoli
Black powder Magazine
Handgonne - the beginning of the firearms history

It all began here... The handgonne was the very first blackpowder operated hand held firearm. The soldier was able to march into battle, load and fire the gun alone.

These early firearms were not more than a miniature cannon barrel with iron or wooden handle. The barrels were forged from iron and the bullet was anything the soldier could find: lead balls, iron balls, rocks, arrows, etc..


The huge progress of the handgonne was its portability. However this type of arm did not have a huge impact on military tactics as it was slow to load and had a reduced range compared to the bow and arrow. An archer could launch 5-10 arrows to 100-200 paces accurately while a soldier armed with handgonne loaded an fired a single inaccurate shot. The accuracy problems were caused by many factors. First the projectiles were very inferior. By the 14th-15th century no patching was used to make a tight ball fit or to seal the burning gases adequately. Therefore the power and the accuracy of the shot was questionable. The soldier was not able to aim with this gun because he held the slow burning match in the right hand and the handgonne in the left. In this position it is impossible to use any kind of sight mounted on the barrel. Intuition is the only help to hit the target.


These arms were hard to aim, not as accurate as the bows, but still they were dangerous to the enemy. The ball fired from a handgonne could easily penetrate the armor plate of the enemy soldier within contemporary tactics ranges.


According to the 15th century illustrations, the soldier did not use a ramrod while loading the gun. It is presumable that the projectiles were so small, they fell easily on the powder. The contemporary powder were also inferior with modern standards. They were only the mix of the ingredients (coal, sulfur, potassium-nitrate) they were not granulated. They produced low velocities from the short barrels.


The handgonne was primarily a military weapon, in its primitive form it was not adequate for hunting purposes. In fact the bow and the crossbow proved far more superior by these times. On the other hand we know several illustrations showing hunters using handgonnes for taking big game like deer or wild boar.


In the 15th century the form of the handle evolved into a stock. The first match lock system - the serpent lock - enabled the shooter to have a grip on the gun with both hands. This evolution improved the accuracy by enabling the proper hold for aiming the gun. But this is another story.


The handgonne show in the pictures is the exact copy of a Bavarian handgonne from the late 15th century.


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