Those of you who have followed Petticoats & Pistols for a while know how much I love discovering old weapons. A couple of weeks ago I was watching a program on the Outdoor Channel where one of the experts displayed a Duck’s Foot pistol.
The duck’s foot pistol was named for obvious reasons: the multiple barrels are arranged in a configuration that resembles a duck’s foot. It falls into the category of volley weapons, meaning it fires multiple bullets from multiple barrels either in sequence or simultaneously with the pull of only one trigger. They were designed for maximum coverage with one firing. [The one to the right is from the 11th or 12th century.]
The duck’s foot pistol was designed to be used by one person against multiple assailants. Because of the coverage, it was favored by bank guards, prison warders and sea captains in the 19th century and early 20th century. Sea captains were said to carry a brace of these pistols to discourage mutiny and quell potential riots. The sound of three 50-caliber shots going off simultaneously would make even the most committed mutineer stop and question his course of action.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the British Royal Navy used a volley gun made by gunsmith Henry Nock of London, a seven-barreled gun capable of firing seven .50 caliber pistol balls at the same time, intended for use in repelling boarders or to clear an enemy deck in advance of friendly boarding parties. I’ve fired a 50 caliber rifle. One bullet. The recoil slid me backwards down the shooting bench more than a foot. And I was braced for it. And that was a long barrel—the shorter the barrel the harder the kick. I can’t imagine standing and pulling a trigger and having seven barrels fire off at once. It could make for quite a comedic moment, I suppose. Embarrassing and potentially painful, too.
The Duck’s foot pistols were made in many combinations, most of large caliber (the diameter of the cartridge) like .45 or .50. Sometimes the middle barrels were tipped up or down, changing the angle of fire and the field of coverage.
All in all, an odd little gun—but could be an interesting plot device.