The little known Girandoni Air Rifle played a small, but important role in forging our nation.
Quick, what was the gun that won the West? Most, even those with fleeting firearms knowledge, would answer the Winchester Model 1876. It’s a solid guess, given the iconic lever-action rifle more than played its role in America’s westward expansion. So much so, in fact, it became known as THE gun that won the West.
Study the matter at any length, it’s clear there are many firearms that can vie for the title. The 1860 Colt Single Action Army Revolver, 1874 Sharps Rifle and the ubiquitous side-by-side shotgun just to name the few all have a claim. In actuality, there was no single gun that won the West, but many, each inching the nation coast to coast in their own way.
Jim Supica highlights one unlikely candidate for the ultimate title, one that predates famous and familiar examples and is nearly a world away from the expected. Crazy as it might sound, the director of the NRA Museum makes a fairly solid case for the Girandoni Air Rifle as the gun that truly opened America. Yes, you heard right, an air rifle. Don’t scoff, the .46-caliber rifle could outgun about any contemporary gun of the time.
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Not only was the rifle capable of shooting through 1-inch of wood at 100 yards, its magazine held 22 lead balls. Unheard of in the era, the Girandoni could lay down accurate shot after accurate shot – nearly two magazine’s worth. That was an incredible advantage during the era of muzzleloaders and might have been a deciding factor in America’s westward expansion.
Not that there was a wealth of Girandoni Air Rifles in America in the early 1800s, but a mass of the gun wasn’t needed. One proved sufficient. Armed with the then technological wonder, Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark wowed the Native Americans they met on their 1804-1806 expedition. And due to the rifle might have completed their journey unmolested.
Girandoni doesn’t roll off the tongue like 1873, there is little doubt air power played a small but major role in forging our nation.
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