Black Powder and Ninjas

Question. Blackpowder weapons. How bad was the smoke and the noise? Would it be a choking hazard indoors or just a mild annoyance? Deafen anyone within 10 feet? I imagine stealth would go out the window as soon as the weapon goes off, but I have heard that ninjas used firearms in assassinations and wondered if you had any insight into that as well. Blackpowder and smoothbore muskets as sniping weapons if it would not be better to just stick to crossbows or bows for that instead of the loud booksticks with an egregiously long reload time.

Black powder firearms are a bit messy. It’s not clean burning powder, and that does result in a lot of smoke coming off the gun after firing. It would never be so sever that your vision would be obstructed after a single shot, however, if you line up 20 or 30 soldiers, and have them fire in alternating volleys, the cumulative smoke produced could be blinding.

There’s some other side effects of this as well. A major factor is that because black powder produces less pressure, the resulting gunshot isn’t as loud as a modern firearm cartridge. You’ll still know someone is shooting, but it’s not loud enough to damage your hearing if you get into a gunfight. (At least, when I fired a black powder rifle in Scouts, we did not use hearing protection. Some of that could be due to it being 25 years ago, but, as it was my first experience with a firearm, I didn’t really understand the sound difference.)

Even a modern, smokeless powder cartridge, won’t deafen everyone within 10 feet of it. That kind of damage is reserved for explosive charges, concussion grenades, things of that nature. Being in close proximity to a gunshot, without hearing protection (particularly in a closed space) can result in hearing damage, but you’re not going to be deafened on the spot. Now, being in a modern gunfight without hearing protection will likely result in some degree of hearing loss down the line, and can easily result in medical issues, such as a persistent headache that persists for days.

As for, “why the gun?” you’re missing key details. Training archers on the bow was extremely time consuming. The aphorism was, that you would spend a lifetime creating a single skilled archer. Also, bows, in medieval warfare were used as more of a general (fire in that area) method for dealing with infantry, rather than being analogous to a marksman.

Crossbows are much easier to learn, but they are also significantly more expensive, and mechanically complex. Ironically, crossbows did have their time as military weapons. For over a thousand years, crossbows saw extensive battlefield use various places in the world.

Even as the firearm gained popularity in Europe, the crossbow held on into the early modern era. Throughout the 15th century, it would have been reasonable to encounter a well equipped European army that employed a mix of gunpowder and crossbow units.

Ultimately, the problem for the crossbow was that the gun is very easy to use, easy to transport, and relatively sturdy. Over time, it became the better option for an infantry weapon.

As for ninjas using firearms? I don’t know anything on that subject, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Ninjas were notoriously opportunistic, and even a fairly primitive black powder handgun is an excellent way of immediately eliminating a samurai. While Japan would eventually (effectively) regulate firearms out of existence during the Edo period, between the introduction of the gun to Japan in 1543, and the mid 17th century, where the technology was embraced. While it conflicts with the stereotypical image of the Ninja, Japan in the late sixteenth century boasted a thriving gun culture, and the idea that a ninja would simply shoot their target and leave, is actually pretty plausible.

-Starke

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