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Wing Shooting; a Little History

posted May 18, 2010, 1:25 PM by Peter Lucas   [ updated Dec 19, 2013, 9:11 AM ]
By historical standards, the sport of "wing shooting" is a relatively modern pursuit.  Until the middle of the seventeenth century, sportsmen generally hunted birds with a variety nets and other mechanical devices intended to ensnare the birds, either on the ground or while flying.   While gun powder had been in use in China since the first century (and in Europe since the mid thirteenth century), the development of the "fowling piece" did not occur until the middle of the seventeenth century.

    Literally, the word “fowler” means a person who hunts birds and “fowling piece” means a type of firearm for hunting wild fowl.  See: What is in a name: Fowler, Fowling Piece or Shotgun. Today, the word “fowler” is most commonly associated with flintlock guns intended for shooting at flying birds or “wing shooting”.  Indeed, the origins of the sport of wing shooting is closely tied to the development of the flintlock gun.  While there are historical references to wing shooting with match lock and wheel lock guns (the predecessors of the flintlock), it was the flintlock ignition system made wing shooting practical.  The slow lock times inherent in match lock and wheel lock guns did not allow a shooter to hit a flying bird with any regularity.

    The flintlock ignition system was invented between 1608 and 1615 by Marin le Bourgeoys, a Frenchman from Normandy. Mr. Bourgeoys constructed the first true flintlock gun for King Louis XIII shortly after the King’s accession to the throne in 1610.  Following the invention of the flintlock, wing shooting became popular with the French nobility during the first half of the seventeenth century.   Wing shooting was not made popular in England until later in the century when the courtiers of Charles II brought the sport from France.  By 1688 Richard Blome, the author of Gentleman’s Recreation, stated that “it is now the mode to shoot flying.”  By the turn of the eighteenth century, wing shooting had  established itself in England and a number of books on the subject began to appear. The Sportsman’s Directory of 1792 stated that “The rage for shooting was never at a higher pitch than at present . . . the art of shooting flying is arrived at tolerable perfection.” 

    The classic muzzle loading shotgun is generally considered to be the side by side shotgun.  However, the widespread use of double barreled flintlock shotguns in England lasted only about thirty years; from approximately 1790 through 1820.  The double barreled sporting guns were regarded in England as novelties as late as 1789.  The classic configuration of the side by side, double barrel shotgun began to emerge in approximately 1800.   The first metallic percussion cap is generally believed to have been developed in 1814 by Joshua Shaw, an English-born American. Percussion guns came into wide spread use during the 1820’s.

    The double barreled percussion muzzle loader was in wide spread use for only about forty years.  As noted above, the percussion ignition system came into use during the 1820s.  By the 1860s, breech loading shotguns were starting to take hold and the muzzle loading shotgun became obsolete.

Note: Following the time this Article was written, two additional articles regarding the history of Wingshooting can be found at: