The Duck’s Foot Pistol

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.

It wasn’t a practical weapon, though. Besides the immense recoil which only a very strong person could handle, it took nearly two minutes to reload—and eternity in a fire-fight.

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.


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16 thoughts on “The Duck’s Foot Pistol”

  1. Love your gun blogs,Tracy. This one was new to me. Unbelievable.
    Where on earthwould our bold hero carry a device like the one in the last photo. Maybe our heroine could keep it under her petticoats. This just boggles my imagination.
    Have a great week everybody. 🙂

  2. Super post, Tracy! This is so interesting. I’ve never heard of duck foot pistol, and I’m with Elizabeth it boggles the mind to think of how anyone would use it, or where they would carry it. But what a fascinating gun.


  3. That is an interesting looking gun! I’ve got the same question as Elizabeth, where would you carry that device. Love reading your posts about guns.

  4. What a crazy-looking weapon. But so intriguing. And you’re right, it could make a fun plot point. I wonder how one would holster such a weapon? Maybe our hero could be a brave bank guard and the heroine could be the widow of a leather worker who is the only one creative enough to tool a holster for the duck’s foot pistol. 🙂

  5. This is just fascinating, Tracy. I can barely stop staring to come and leave a comment. I’ve never seen ANYTHING like this before.

    Can’t you see a weapon like this in a steam punk novel? Or some master gunman would can make all the bullets go exactly where he wants them.

  6. Good morning everyone. Isn’t this the craziest looking thing? When I first saw one, I thought it was a joke, but to my surprise, the pistol was manufactured–and updated–from the 1780s into the early 20th century.

  7. Elizabeth, I’ve been searching for a picture of a holster that would fit the duck’s foot, but so far no luck. I assume the pistol would have been tucked into a belt or bandolier of some kind, but I’m not sure.

  8. Mary, it looks very steampunk, doesn’t it? Especially the one with the blade in the middle of the barrels. That was for close-in fighting after the weapon was discharged.

  9. Tracy,
    I love your gun posts, and this one…wow, I never even knew such a thing existed! You know, I would think the potential for it blowing up and exploding in your hand would be HUGE, especially back then when firearms were so new. It would be hard to hide, too, I would think. Can you imagine cleaning it and learning how to load it, etc. ? Great post. You’re right, it does make one “think” about plot devices. LOL

  10. What a strange looking weapon. And it does look just like what it’s named for. Bet it sure made more than a few people sit up and take notice. Thanks for calling our attention to all these firearms. We never know when we’ll need to write one into a story.

  11. Thank you for another interesting gun post, Tracy. I always enjoy them. I, too, have never seen this type of gun before. I don’t think it has been asked, but what is the middle picture of? It appears to be a similar multi barrel gun, but not a duck foot.
    I can’t imagine firing one. The rifles I have fired weren’t that high a caliber and they bruised my shoulder. The kick it had and how high it would have “jumped” up would have been impressive. It is an ingenious design. They probably carried it in some type of handle sling which protected the trigger. A holster would have been too difficult to conveniently use, I think.

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