Photos: Colonial Williamsburg Embraces Hands-On History With Musket Range

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Colonial Williamsburg's musket range features six lanes that can accommodate up to six guests at a time. (Elizabeth Hornsby/WYDaily)

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The team at Colonial Williamsburg’s new musket range is being fitted for costumes, practicing their safety routines and watching the landscaping around the target area come together ahead of its March 19 opening.

The range is the latest in a string of interactive and hands-on initiatives – such as the archaeological dig and the petting farm – Colonial Williamsburg has recently introduced in an attempt to make history come alive for its guests.

“If you go to a museum, you can see a gun from the time, but here you can actually use it,” said Michael Nelson, a musket range instructor. “It’s a more immersive experience, and we hope that will lead to more inquiry. It’s a lot deeper than just seeing it on the wall.”

The range is tucked away on South England Street, past the entrance to Colonial Williamsburg’s Golden Horseshoe Golf Club, and is exclusively accessible to guests via shuttle from the Williamsburg Lodge.

Though the landscaping crew is still working on sodding grass and beautifying the surrounding area, the range itself is complete and ready for use. It can accommodate up to six guests at a time, with each instructor focusing on two guests and one safety instructor overseeing the entire area at any given time.

Each hourlong session at the range includes a healthy dose of history along with the opportunity to prime and shoot two different colonial and Revolutionary-era muskets.

Prior to taking their spot in one of the six target practice lanes, guests at the range will be filled in on the basic history and mechanics of the two guns they will have the opportunity to fire – a “Brown Bess” Revolutionary-era musket and a fowler used for hunting and pest control in colonial times.

“These two firearms are representative of two distinct facets of Virginia life,” said Justin Chapman, the musket range's supervisor.

The fowler was the most popular weapon in North America at the time of the Revolution, Chapman said. This precursor to the modern shotgun could be found in almost every household and could be legally procured by any free person, regardless of race.

Lighter, cheaper and more accurate than a military-grade musket, the fowler was the weapon of choice for property owners looking to scare pests away from their crops, Nelson said.

The other weapon guests can get their hands on is the Brown Bess musket commonly used by both British and American soldiers in the Revolutionary War.

The heavier and more expensive musket included a place to attach a bayonet, making it a practical weapon for both long-range and hand-to-hand fighting, Chapman said.

“From a medieval perspective, it’s like combining an archer and a foot soldier,” he said.

Colonial Williamsburg may add other weapons to the range at a later date.

After going over the history and functions of the guns and the safety portion of the presentation, guests will have the opportunity to step up to the targets for practice. The shooting portion of the program is around 15 minutes, which allows enough time for guests to fire both guns multiple times.

“[Guests] will get to do two shots each with both guns and then choose which gun they like better to do two more shots,” said Katie Van Duinen, one of the musket range instructors.

At the end of the session, guests can take home their paper target, a pewter ball and a certificate stating they successfully operated both of these historical firearms.

The musket range fits in with other offerings, such as the kid-friendly archaeological experience DIG! and the planned petting farm, that Colonial Williamsburg is putting forth to make history feel more immediate and hands-on for its guests.

“We’re not lecturers. We’re not professors at William and Mary,” Van Duinen said. “Families come out here for a vacation, and they want to have fun and they want their kids to learn a little bit while they’re here. If you get the emotions involved and the senses involved, they’re going to remember it.”

Tickets to the range are $119 each and are available to guests ages 14 and older. A parent or guardian must accompany children under 18.

Admission to the musket range includes instruction, safety equipment firearms, ammunition, and targets. To participate, guests must reserve spaces in advance and present photo ID to purchase tickets on-site. Click here for more information.