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"Highland Targe: Musket Proof?" Topic

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x42brown30 Oct 2012 5:06 a.m. PST

The ‘History Scotland' magazine has articles in the last 2 issues on the Targe giving evidence for and against it being musket proof. I would like the thoughts here as to whether it was or not.

First a description of a targe at the time of the 45 rebellion as I know many think of it a bit of wood covered with leather.

Disk shaped about 19" diameter built with the following layers
Starting towards the enemy
1 Tanned leather studded with brass headed nails
2 ‘Cork'*
3 Densely compressed wool
4 tempered steel
5 Goat hide with the hair still on

The theory was that the nails would slightly deflect the ball causing it to take a slightly longer path through the following layers the ‘cork'* and wool would absorb energy as it penetrated them and the steel stop it. Finally the hair on the goat skin gives some padding to the user as the whole targe was pushed back into him.

So do you think it would work?


* I'm not sure what the ‘cork' is it seems to be a native wood and not cork from the cork oak.

Pictors Studio30 Oct 2012 6:50 a.m. PST

I would imagine it would depend a good bit on how far away it was when it was shot. At some distance it would easily stop an almost spent ball from hurting someone, at close range I don't think it would stop anything, except a bayonet.

That being said I can't imagine, given its size, that it was designed to stop musket balls.

Personal logo John the OFM Supporting Member of TMP30 Oct 2012 7:10 a.m. PST

Sounds like Jacobite propaganda to me.
Didn't the Zulus and Boxers believe much the same thing about Brtish bullets?

x42brown30 Oct 2012 7:40 a.m. PST

I think that myself. There exist quite a few accounts of targes having stopped musket balls but I've also read 1st world war accounts of pocket watches stopping bullets but would not consider issuing them as armour.

19 inches covers the bulk of your torso. The ones ordered to that construction given were defiantly meant for that purpose. The rather amusing trial reported in the magazine couldn't hit the targe at design distance and went right through when they moved closer in order to hit. I'm sure there are people here that could do better.


thatotherguy30 Oct 2012 7:47 a.m. PST

Sometime in the early 90's, I saw a reenactor's targe that had a 3/4" hole in it. Seems that he and a couple of friends had a couple too many single malts under their belt and fired a long-land Bess from about 25' through the targe and the cooler that they had propped it up with.

This targe was studded leather and 3/4" of red oak, it did not have the wool, steel, or goatskin layers.

willthepiper30 Oct 2012 9:11 a.m. PST

Theory shmeory. Give 'em the Mythbusters treatment: Build a few samples, then blast away at them with Brown Bess and see what happens.

As for the 'can't hit at design distance': that probably refers to a single shot, which is why infantry of the period formed line and fired volleys. Lots of bullets will miss, but hopefully enough will slam into the tartan mass that the survivors will be discouraged!

Ron W DuBray30 Oct 2012 9:16 a.m. PST

well a hardened steel breast plate would stop one.

The targes layers before the steel should flatten the ball and make it easier for it to stop the shot. you have to remember a musket ball is slow enough to be seen coming. There is a lot of modern armor that works the same way.

x42brown30 Oct 2012 10:16 a.m. PST


My "couldn't hit the targe" refers to the rather inept reenactors doing the test not to the volley fire of the time. They had a single sample and, being the UK, had limited powder and shot.


willthepiper30 Oct 2012 10:32 a.m. PST

'Couldn't hit the targe' sounds about right for 18th Century muskets, though. Accuracy wasn't their primary selling point – it was more luck than anything else to hit a target at 50 yds!

Dave Crowell30 Oct 2012 11:00 a.m. PST

As the owner of both targe and musket I will give this one a "maybe".

It depends on several variables, range, powder charge, angle of impact being not least among them. An angled or glancing shot at long range or on a weak charge would definitely be deflected. A straight on shot from a full charge at 25 yards or less, I wouldn't count on the targe.

I am sure that pocket bibles, flasks, watches, lucky silver dollars, etc have caught and stopped bullets before and will again. However there are also a lot of similar objects with bullet holes clear through them that we don't hear about because it doesn't make a good story, and the guy carrying hem didn't live to tell it.

Ilodic30 Oct 2012 11:45 a.m. PST

I have done all kinds of tests with my Brown Bess (1st. model mind you…longer barrel) and at a close range, taking the glancing blow factor out of it, the targe does not stand a chance. A full charged .75 cal. musket ball will go through a pikeman's cuirass, into the flesh, and out the other side. The Bess has no trouble going completly through a 4 X 4 of lumber (about 8.9cm) People seem to focus so much on the innaccuracy of the musket (which is not that bad if it is patched, and a close fitting ball, not loaded with a .69 cal. ball b/c of quick fowling due to primative blackpowder at the time.) rather than the energy produced. Yes, it is not as fast as a high calibre rifle, but then again, the projectile is MUCH heavier, thus it tends to carry more of its energy at a closer range…more inertia. But then again, although spheres are very easy to cast and load, it is difficult to come up with a shape which is inherentaly less aerodynamic than a sphere.

Spherical projectiles tend to "punch" rather than "pierce". So I would suspect that 4 inches of leather would be more protection than 4 inches of wood.

Dave Crowell…if you can spare a targe…give it a try, I would be interested in your findings.


Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP30 Oct 2012 12:36 p.m. PST

The compressed wool fibers would be very effective in slowing down a "mushroomed" ball possibly then allowing the steel layer to stop the ball.

Royal Marine30 Oct 2012 1:21 p.m. PST

Can my Jocks get a cover save when charging?

Rubber Suit Theatre30 Oct 2012 1:30 p.m. PST

It seems that if it *was* musket-proof that the English would have been far more inclined to steal it. Or less inclined to steal Scotland.

Royal Marine30 Oct 2012 2:47 p.m. PST

I see a student of history has emerged … "The English stole Scotland" …

Personal logo Der Alte Fritz Sponsoring Member of TMP30 Oct 2012 6:31 p.m. PST

Maybe it was designed merely to deflect a bayonet at close range?

Rubber Suit Theatre30 Oct 2012 9:06 p.m. PST

Royal Marine – the difference between conquest and theft is one of semantics. Not that the Scots of the time wouldn't have taken England if they could. It was all a long time back, and I know my kin at least long since gave up taking potshots at redcoats and have even stood alongside them every now and again.

x42brown31 Oct 2012 3:00 a.m. PST

Der Alte Fritz said

Maybe it was designed merely to deflect a bayonet at close range?
The intention of the construction I outlined was defiantly against musket at 50yds. Whether it had any hope of working is a different story.

How many existed to that specification is of course an other problem. I know of 270 of them being manufactured but also know of 240 made with wood replacing the steel and numbers made in Edinburgh too quickly and cheaply to be of any good standard and issued to "lowlanders and ardent scum".

The genuine article is quite heavy the only one I've seen (at Blair Atholl) about 75mm thick and stands out in amongst to mass of just wood and leather rip off around it.


Royal Marine31 Oct 2012 4:44 a.m. PST

@Rubber Suit Theatre: Just waiting for an Australian to appear who may have a claim on the throne of Scotland! My operational unit (45 Commando RM) is still based on Arbroath so I have been well acquainted with the some unusual thinking. As an Englishman I smiled when I was allowed to wear the Condor Tartan as a result of my time up North.

But no one has yet answered if my Jacobite Army now has a cover saving when advancing with the Targe against English oppressors.

Oh Bugger31 Oct 2012 9:23 a.m. PST

"But no one has yet answered if my Jacobite Army now has a cover saving when advancing with the Targe against English oppressors."

Why not, it all adds to the flavour. Mind you iirc only the front rank would be likely to have a targe so once they're gone I would say not.

historygamer31 Oct 2012 3:20 p.m. PST

You guys are joking, right? Armor stop a musket ball? A stupid wooden shield stop a musket ball? You realize the invention of the musket is what threw armored knights onto the scrap heap of history, don't you? An armed peasant could now stop the armored nobility of Europe at close range. The bayonet gave them another close in weapon too. I guess not. :-(

Now the Roman shield…. :-)

x42brown01 Nov 2012 4:54 a.m. PST


Read the description of the targe. Wood doesn't even get mentioned.


Paint Pig01 Nov 2012 5:15 a.m. PST

@royerl mareen

G'day mate

Crikey it's a bit bloody parky up here in these Igh-lands. This bloody weather would freeze the balls off a brass wombat and me bloody Fosters 'as froze over, strewth! Yuz can keep yer bloody frone I'll bare me choclut starfish where ut's a bit warmer bloke. I'll keep that bottle of whiskey but wink


ps yer bloody targe would give cover but the bloody poms would 'ave ter hit ut first, crikey! thumbs up

historygamer01 Nov 2012 7:39 a.m. PST

I don't care if it is made of titanium. This is the silliest thing I have ever heard. So I guess they won then at Culloden hiding behind the bullet proof shields? Unless this is some sort of fantasy discussion, this has no place in history based on… what actually happened in real life.

x42brown01 Nov 2012 8:02 a.m. PST


I do voluntary work in various archives and have seen the receipts for targes to the above standard and letters of "gentlemen" expecting them to be musket proof. It is presently being discussed in the ‘History Scotland' magazine. Like you I do not believe it had a snowball's chance in hell of working but it is a legitimate thing to discuss.


historygamer01 Nov 2012 9:45 a.m. PST

I guess. While the expectation from their owners might have been they would be musket-proof, the reality was probably different. I also suspect the common man would not have been able to afford such a device, and I can't imagine the weight either.

Someone here suggested giving such men a cover bonus, and other than this discussion, I would ask, what historical facts (in battle) back that up?

Various armor was tried at times to protect men from firepower – but it never seemed to work real well, and only protects a limited amount of the body even if it did work. I am reminded of the metal peices worn by Civil War soldiers or soldiers in WWI.

x42brown01 Nov 2012 10:44 a.m. PST

As I said in a previous post I have seen evidence for 270 of them. They were bought by leaders (150 by a clan chief, 120 as a batch the army)for their men as were the 240 lesser standard ones (they were from the same armourer as the 120 for the army). ‘History Scotland' talks of other batches that I do not personally know of bought in bulk. The one in Blair Atholl Castle was heavy but workable

History Scotland gives a good number of individual instances where they did stop musket balls and gives accounts of how few casualties the "gentlemen" took compared to the common trooper (they did lead from the front). Not enough evidence to convince me but enough for me to start this thread.


spontoon01 Nov 2012 2:24 p.m. PST

This is the first time I've ever heard of a layer of tempered steel in a targe. It sounds doubtful in a metal poor culture like the Highlands of the 1700's.

This 75mm thick targe at Blair Atholl sounds like Victorian " wall-hanger" to me. I've one made to descriptions of historical examples, less the deerskin on the back. and it's only about an inch thick. Not counting the domes of the brass studs. It still weighs about 4 lbs. so these steel and three inch thick targes must weigh a ton!

Those screw-in spikes have been pretty much shown to be later additions, too! It would be an awkward piece of equipment to carry and wield with one of those!

I've fired a .67 musket ball from a repro Brown Bess and seen it go through 1/2" of Plywood, an inch of pine support and bury itself in a maple tree to a depth of two inches after 100 yds! Lot's of kinetic energy!

Still, I don't think I'll take my targe out and experiment with it and my musket/carbine.

spontoon02 Nov 2012 6:30 a.m. PST

@Rubber Suit Theatre & Royal Marine;

I would say "bought" Scotland rather than " stole". The members of the Scots Parliament all became rich after voting themselves out of existence in 1707.

Then again, it was our Kings who went south, not Sassenach kings coming north. SO, perhaps it should be said that Scotland inherited England?

At any rate I'm not pro-independance!

I find the topic of the "bullet proof" targe one of academic interest, but not germaine to wargaming as after Preston Pans, most of the Jacobite army were armed with musket and bayonet, not sword and targe. By Culloden only the gentry would have been armed with the traditional Highland panoply of arms. The dirk would probably be pretty much universal.

@ History Gamer;

The armoured Knight was well on the way out when gunpowder and musket type weapons made the scene. Crossbows defeated armour quite nicely!

Royal Marine02 Nov 2012 8:25 a.m. PST

So if the Targe doesn't give cover will the blue war paint add any bonus?

spontoon02 Nov 2012 2:24 p.m. PST

That's not blue war paint,…it's from the cold in April in he Highlands!

historygamer02 Nov 2012 2:34 p.m. PST

"The armoured Knight was well on the way out when gunpowder and musket type weapons made the scene. Crossbows defeated armour quite nicely!"

True dat. :-)

Patrice03 Nov 2012 4:06 a.m. PST

I think that it could probably stop some of the bullets at long range, but not at close range.

"couldn't hit the targe" No need to. Why would you want to hit the targe? Hit the men, not the shields. :)

spontoon03 Nov 2012 6:07 a.m. PST

If targes would stop bullets wjhy not the voluminous folds of wool in a breachan an feilidh?

Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP07 Nov 2012 2:07 p.m. PST

It seems to me that you have little understanding of the different ballistic properties between modern firearms and blackpower muskets.

First, the muzzle of muskets only about 2/3rds of that of modern rifles. That mean a lot less energy when it impacts a target.
Second, and probably more importantly for this discussion is the makeup of the bullet. First being round instead of pointed it impacts a much larger surface area of the target thus reducing it's penetration.
Next, unlike modern bullets which are lead alloys and jacketed with a copper sheath, musket balls were pure lead which means they are softer and so flatten and expand to even lager diameters very quickly on impact, thus bleeding off energy, slowing, and reducing their penetration even more (and causing the terrible wound on unprotected flesh we read about).
All of that along with the layered construction means that it isn't unreasonable that the tagre could stop a musket ball. The fibrous nature of the compressed wool would be very effective at slowing a expanded mused ball before it hit the steel layer.

Lion in the Stars08 Nov 2012 12:47 a.m. PST

Well, a 3/8" hardened steel plate will utterly stop modern pistol fire and not even be dented. But I doubt that the targe in question had a 9mm thick steel layer. 3mm steel plate cuirass can stop musket fire at close range if you're willing to see it dented (.50cal projectile and 50grains powder).

What's the historical load for a Brown Bess? 60-70grains of powder? I know that some Americans will load 100+grains of powder into their hunting muzzleloaders.

so, probably 2mm steel plate, backed by leather, faced with wool felt, faced with what I would assume is fairly soft wood, and finally faced with another layer of leather.

I think that would stop a musket ball, but it doesn't cover much of the body!

DHautpol08 Nov 2012 7:18 a.m. PST

"That's not blue war paint,…it's from the cold in April in the Highlands!"

Reminds me of a Billy Connelly routine – "It takes two weeks sunbathing for me to turn white, my natural colour is pale blue." (delivered in a Glasgow accent)

FunkyPlaid08 Nov 2012 7:01 p.m. PST

Though a bit off-topic, I thought I'd mention here that the NTS Culloden property is hosting its very first wargames show this coming weekend. There'll be a Prestonpans board – presumably because the result is perhaps a bit more celebratory in such an already-hallowed atmosphere – and a number of other things going on, including a bunch of local shops and clubs showing off their wares. How wonderful that the two worlds are finally coming together in this manner!

Also, somewhat coincidentally, there's also a wargames show in Kirriemuir on Saturday called TARGE, which also is definitely worth a visit. Doing my very best to make it to both.

By the bye, the brace of History Scotland articles mentioned above is one of the worst-written "scholarly" messes I've ever seen. As I'm currently undertaking a doctoral programme focused on Jacobite social and military history during the '45, I feel that I've seen a fair amount of pieces on 18th-century materiel, and Roberts' thesis is frustratingly lost in speculation and questionable analysis. Frankly, I'm shocked that HS allowed it in – and over two issues!

historygamer08 Nov 2012 7:10 p.m. PST

Standard round in a bess is 100 to 120 grains ffg powder. You put about 20 in the pan, lose some in the paper and air, and the rest goes down the barrel.

Still, does it really matter? There is no historical record I am aware of that said these shields were effective against bullets? Even if a few were, was the holder's head, toros and legs completely protected? I think not.

Personal logo jdginaz Supporting Member of TMP11 Nov 2012 4:04 a.m. PST

Nobody has said the targe being bullet proof would make the holder invulnerable. The discussion has simply about whether the targe itself might be bullet proof.

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