The urge to shoot some intermediate range groups was finally slaked today.  I have become resolved to the idea that the bolts that get lost and shattered in these exercises are just the price of generating new data.


Three consecutively fired bolts hit in a four foot group at 300 yards.  A forth bolt we can consider a flyer, and hit outside the main group by another three feet.  The bolts have been placed upright to indicate where they struck.  As usual they shattered on impact and left their steel heads buried in the dirt about a foot and a half.  These are the same 520 gram bolts that go 800 yards when pointed at a 45 degree angle.

I decided to keep any ballista shooting activities on our own property for awhile. Here is the set-up overlooking our canyon.



The machine relies on my shoulder to steer it into a proper sight alignment.  The release pressure feels a bit like a double action revolver with a 20 pound trigger.  Stiffish, but smooth. Click for vid.  canyon 2

Considering that each shot had to be individually aimed with the peep sight, I am pretty happy with a four foot group at 300 yards. Firefly is a bit wobbly on that back strut,  this is not exactly bench rest technique here.  Added to that is the fact that my eyes are not as good as they used to be.  I suspect a younger me could have plopped those shots into a three foot circle without much trouble.  But we won’t go there.  I’m just saying there is much more precision going on with Firefly than my abilities as a shooter can fully realize these days.

It’s too bad there is such a high attrition rate with the bolts.  Eight were fired today. Two are MIA. (These were probably burrowers.  Oona was unwilling to find them due to prickly pear all over the bloody place. Ain’t no fool that one.)  Four were DOA. Two were lucky and seem undamaged. You wouldn’t think it would be so hard to find a nice soft hill somewhere! The first four shots were just sighters to try and land them in a soft patch (not so much, apparently).

—– In these next two videos the way the camera is focused makes the target hillside seem way, way closer than it actually is.  The photo at the bottom of this post gives a better idea of what 300 yards actually looks like. —–

So, with all that small print in mind, here is shot number one of our three shot group across the canyon.  You can just make out the dust kicked up when it lands.  Click for vid.     canyon 1

And here is shot number four.  Click for vid.  canyon 4      This one is much more difficult to see. Here’s a map of all four shots to help pinpoint it:

4 foot bolts xx

Shots 1 , 2 and 3 fit neatly inside a four foot circle. Shots number 2 and 3 were not caught on video due to poor planning on my part.  (Must remember to set up a second camera next time.) Shot number 4 was called a flyer because I was having a technical issue with my front sight having moved. Here’s a final video of that boorish little moment with me trying to set it back upright.   Click for vid.  canyon 5

And here is a final pic showing the approximate bolt path and landing spot in the shade of that pine tree 300 yards away.  The size perspective here is just about the way it looks in real life. The tip of that crayon line where it intersects the shadow is about the same relative size as the four foot circle we are shooting into.  That should give some idea of the machine’s inherent precision.

parabola 1

With performance like this, the lethal sniping potential available to the Romans with a Lightning class ballista* should be self evident. The myriad ways they could have chosen to utilize such devices beyond obvious pitched battle scenarios, is best left to the imagination.


* The Lightning ballista is from an ancient description of a miraculous bolt shooter by some shy dude called “Anonymous”.  See Marsden, Greek and Roman Artillery.  I suspect that the Orsova machine was of this ilk.

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