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Beautiful 1625 Breechloading Wheellock

This Forgotten Weapons video is all about a beautiful breech-loading wheel lock rifle made in 1625. Breech-loading firearms did not become popular until the 1800s, but talented gunsmiths were already experimenting with the concept and building custom breech-loaders since the beginning of firearm invention in the West. The magnificent rifle Ian features in this video is an advanced German gun, most probably commissioned by a buyer of considerable wealth and taste.

The 1625 rifle is a wheel lock hunting style musket with a trapdoor type breech. A spring loaded larch allows the breechblock to pivot out the side of the barrel, and once opened, a handmade steel combustion chamber or cartridge case can be inserted into the breech. The cartridge case has an indexing pin to align its flash hole with the hole in the barrel, which leads to the pan.

The cartridge case would be preloaded with a powder and ball. After firing, the case can be easily removed and replaces, allowing for relatively rapid repeat firing.

The 1625 rifle is built with a double set trigger. It also has both front and rear sights, which is not necessarily typical of guns during that time period. Ian notes that the original owner of the rifle was clearly someone who knew how to shoot and appreciated marksmanship.

The main advantage of a breech-loading firearm in the 1600s to 1800s is a reduction in reloading time. It was much quicker to load a projectile and then charge into the breech of a gun (or cannon) than to try to force a projectile down a long tube. This is especially true when the tube has spiral edges from rifling.

In field artillery, breech-loading weapons allowed soldiers to reload their guns without exposing themselves to enemy fire. This also meant that they did not to reposition the pieces, as was required for muzzle-loading guns. Breech-loading firearms also allowed for smaller turrets and emplacements, since these types of weapons did not need to be retracted for loading.