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Matt J




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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jul, 2016 10:22 am    Post subject: Historical Crossbows and usage         Reply with quote

Hello,

I am looking for information about medieval crossbows in Europe. I'm hoping someone can point me towards a reliable and free source of information about medieval crossbows, or if anyone here feels like they know a lot and are willing to provide me with some information.

It's surprisingly difficult to find what I thought would be general information, such as rate of fire and reloading, ranges, etc. I'm also interested in information regarding training; I've heard that crossbowmen need very little training and in some places I've heard that it only takes a day of training, but I'm wondering if this is just an exaggeration.

Anyway, I have found this site and its forum to be extremely useful, thanks.
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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Wed 20 Jul, 2016 3:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

HI,

Have a look at these videos, something may be useful. https://www.youtube.com/user/todsstuff1/videos

It is true that you can spend a couple of hours and you can shoot a crossbow adequately and just as far as a longbow, but without the years of training. However the various guilds in the Italian cities for example were very highly regarded and paid and that doesn't happen to any old idiot, so I think we can assume that they must have trained and been selected rigorously.

This area has been gone over many times and some good deep digging using the search function will throw up a good few threads of interest I would think. 'Heavy arbalest testing' will keep you interested for a couple of hours on its own.

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Matt J




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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jul, 2016 5:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I will definitely check out those videos! Thanks, I've never seen any of his. I've heard of some pretty cool tactics used to help overcome the crossbow's slow rate of fire, such as groups of 3 who cycle loading, firing, and reloading. I wonder if a lot of the training for crossbowmen in Italian guilds, or other renown crossbowmen, involved tactical usage like that instead of simply how to use the weapon well.

Do crossbows have the same trajectory as bows of equal draw weight? Wouldn't it still take a lot of time and practice to be able to hit a target at hundreds of yards?
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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jul, 2016 4:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi Matt,

Have a look at 'Heavy Arbalest Testing' thread on this site

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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Thu 21 Jul, 2016 5:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matt J wrote:

Do crossbows have the same trajectory as bows of equal draw weight? Wouldn't it still take a lot of time and practice to be able to hit a target at hundreds of yards?


Not exactly. Energy is a measure of force times distance, you can get a very rough estimate of the amount of energy stored in a bow by taking Draw-Weight times Power-Stroke length and dividing by two. So a 600 lb crossbow with a PS of 6 inches would have about the same amount of energy stored as a 150 lb bow that has a PS length of 24 inches. But that's just total energy stored, the total energy transferred to the projectile is generally less, sometimes much less. You can achieve a flatter trajectory by using a lighter arrow or bolt, but the total Kinetic energy of the projectile will be less.

If you look up the Heavy Arbalest testing thread like Tod suggests it has a lot of good information. But I think the main reason that you're probably having trouble finding crossbow stats is that no two crossbows are the same. There were lighter ones that could be reloaded quickly but weren't as powerful, and there were heavier ones that took a long time to reload but were much more powerful. The weight of the bolt being used also has a big effect.

edit: distance, not difference


Last edited by Henry O. on Sat 23 Jul, 2016 12:18 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Matt J




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Jul, 2016 6:12 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I watched Tod's videos and read through a couple pages of the thread, it's very long but I'll get through it eventually!

From what I've learned it sounds like a munitions grade crossbow is going to have a draw weight of about 300lbs, and that this is not sufficient enough to penetrate a man armored in plate. I know that's very general, but there didn't seem to be much disagreement about this. I was always under the impression that crossbows were one reliable counter to plate armor, is this not true?
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T. Kew




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Jul, 2016 9:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's utter bollocks.

Guns, eventually, were a reliable counter. Very little short of that was.

You can note that crossbows (also, for that matter, longbows) probably weren't able to reliably take out people in plate armour through the following simple method: when the crossbow becomes common, do people continue buying and wearing expensive, heavy plate armour?

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Matt J




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Jul, 2016 10:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, I do believe that there is historical evidence of longbows being able to take out knights, though the specifics on the damage that the arrows caused seems pretty vague.

I'm not necessarily saying that you are wrong, but I don't agree with your method. I believe that there are a lot more variables in place. There were weapons designed to counter plate, like hammers and maces, but these did not cause plate armor to no longer be worn. Even as firearms advance, you see plate armor getting more advanced as well, and thicker. You even have people continuing to wear plate helmets and cuirasses long after firearms have taken over warfare, because even though the firearms can easily penetrate the armor, you still had a lot of protection against shots that didn't hit perpendicularly. I just don't think it's enough that the fact that plate armor continued to be popular after crossbows were common place to justify the speculation that bolts couldn't reliably penetrate plate armor.

It also seems, unless I've been informed incorrectly, that crossbows are much more precise than bows. Or, at least the grouping of shots seems to be tighter. With that idea in mind, I wonder if crossbows made it easier to aim at weak spots in enemy armor, after the volleys of long ranged mass shots, I mean.

I am correctly informed that bodkin arrows and crossbow bolts can reliably penetrate mail armor, right? Even if this required waiting until a closer range.
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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Sat 23 Jul, 2016 11:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This thread will also be useful as regards the penetration of plate, energy transfer etc.

In general bows did not go through plate, aiming at distance for weak spots would be very hard with munition grade issued arrows over say 70-100yds.

Have a read of this http://myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=335...t=stretton

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T. Kew




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Jul, 2016 12:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matt J wrote:
Well, I do believe that there is historical evidence of longbows being able to take out knights, though the specifics on the damage that the arrows caused seems pretty vague.


There are remarkably few contemporary accounts of arrows punching through armour. There are plenty of accounts where people e.g. had a visor up and got hit in the face, or were hit in a gap.

Matt J wrote:
I'm not necessarily saying that you are wrong, but I don't agree with your method. I believe that there are a lot more variables in place. There were weapons designed to counter plate, like hammers and maces, but these did not cause plate armor to no longer be worn. Even as firearms advance, you see plate armor getting more advanced as well, and thicker. You even have people continuing to wear plate helmets and cuirasses long after firearms have taken over warfare, because even though the firearms can easily penetrate the armor, you still had a lot of protection against shots that didn't hit perpendicularly. I just don't think it's enough that the fact that plate armor continued to be popular after crossbows were common place to justify the speculation that bolts couldn't reliably penetrate plate armor.


A few thoughts:

Firstly, there's a key difference between melee and ranged weapons here. Only a few people at a time can attack me in melee. An arrow or quarrel can come from anywhere. One of the most valuable roles of armour on a battlefield is protection from 'environmental' hazards: if someone runs up to you with a pollaxe, you can parry, or step out of the way. But when arrows are flying around, you can't evade and block them reliably - your armour needs to be able to protect you.

Furthermore, melee weapons have a much wider range of useful outcomes than ranged ones. If someone shoots a crossbow at your plate harness, there is one of two pretty much binary outcomes - either you're fine, or it got into you and now you're having a very bad day. But when you're bashing someone over the head with a mace, there are a number more options: you can slowly crush plates out of shape and prevent them from moving properly, or stun them and make it easier to prepare an actual killing blow, for just two examples. This means that melee weapons can be useful without reliably smashing through armour - which neither maces nor hammers did.

Next, the impact of firearms on plate is one of the key ways we can see that earlier missile weapons probably didn't reliably penetrate armour. When facing weapons which did, people rapidly responded, making thicker and heavier protection, and discarding the pieces that were now useless because they couldn't be made sufficiently protective. As it became impractical to prevent injury through any form of armour, it then either became stylised (and much less common) or was discarded entirely.

Beyond that, we can note that the rise of full armours in the late medieval period (and in particular transitional and then full harness) are strongly correlated with the abandonment of shields as a primary piece of equipment. This suggests that armour was considered protective against most missile attacks, because by discarding the shield and taking up the spear or pollaxe, knights are directly trusting in their armour alone to protect them while they close to melee range.

Finally, we have reasonably good information about historical casualty rates. Bearing in mind what I mentioned before about relatively binary outcomes from shooting someone, we can expect that if missile weapons reliably punched through armour, any advance would have been a massacre. However, the history doesn't bear this out: casualty rates are low, especially for victorious forces. Throughout most of history most casualties are taken by the defeated forces, when they rout. There's an interesting comparison you can make here to Napoleonic era warfare, where there was essentially no useful protection against enemy missiles, and the victor's casualty rates become much higher.

None of which is to say that shooting at armoured foes, whether with a bow or a crossbow, is useless. The chances are quite unlikely that your shots will directly kill or disable your opponents. However, they force them to move on foot, not horseback. The occasional shot will strike true, perhaps to a gap or a weak link, and that slow attrition can add up over time. Even something as simple as needing to advance with visors down (see the French at Agincourt) can make a significant difference to how tired the enemy forces are when they reach you to join melee. These sorts of effects are the missile equivalents of the way a melee weapon can be effective without punching through the enemy's protection directly.

Quote:
I am correctly informed that bodkin arrows and crossbow bolts can reliably penetrate mail armor, right? Even if this required waiting until a closer range.


Dubious.

Instructor and scholar, Cambridge HEMA
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Matt J




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Jul, 2016 1:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The thread on blunt force trauma and arrows was very useful. I'm still working on the other thread! haha.

T. Kew, I do understand and generally agree with most of what you said. I have some questions, and some points I'd like to be clarified, but I'd rather not confuse the thread with nip picking off topic comments (I'm not saying your comments are off-topic, but my responses would be).

I would really like to hear an explanation on your last comment about arrow/bolt penetration against mail.

Tod, I am hoping you can elaborate on your statement about munitions grade arrows. Are you saying that the ability to aim at weak spots is more affected by the arrows/bolts used, instead of the bow itself? I've read quotes and heard people claim that archers and crossbowmen would take aimed shots as the battle progressed and the enemies got closer. I've also heard that, because ammunition was limited, archers and/or crossbowmen would wait for their enemies to advance closer than their maximum effective range precisely to gain the extra power needed to penetrate armor. Are these statements untrue, or at least, rare enough that they shouldn't be thought of as the norm? And, how should someone interpret "aimed shots?" Could this simply mean that the archer was aiming at a particular person (instead of a specific distance/location) and not that the archer or crossbowmen had the ability to aim for different locations on the body?
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T. Kew




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Jul, 2016 1:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matt J wrote:

I would really like to hear an explanation on your last comment about arrow/bolt penetration against mail.


It's a link to Dan Howard's article about mail armour - excellent scholarship, and worth reading in detail. It discusses, among other things, the protectiveness of mail against missiles.

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Henry O.





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PostPosted: Sat 23 Jul, 2016 4:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In theory even a padded jack could be made thick enough to protect against most projectiles, although it would be pretty bulky. Protecting yourself would be much easier by combining a thick gambeson with a layer of metal mail or steel plate. Prior to the invention of firearms missile weapons were generally at a severe disadvantage against armor, and only had a chance to penetrate if it was cheap, low-quality, or somewhere that couldn't be armored that well such as the joints or limbs.
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Philip Dyer





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PostPosted: Sat 23 Jul, 2016 6:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

T. Kew wrote:
Matt J wrote:
Well, I do believe that there is historical evidence of longbows being able to take out knights, though the specifics on the damage that the arrows caused seems pretty vague.


There are remarkably few contemporary accounts of arrows punching through armour. There are plenty of accounts where people e.g. had a visor up and got hit in the face, or were hit in a gap.

Matt J wrote:
I'm not necessarily saying that you are wrong, but I don't agree with your method. I believe that there are a lot more variables in place. There were weapons designed to counter plate, like hammers and maces, but these did not cause plate armor to no longer be worn. Even as firearms advance, you see plate armor getting more advanced as well, and thicker. You even have people continuing to wear plate helmets and cuirasses long after firearms have taken over warfare, because even though the firearms can easily penetrate the armor, you still had a lot of protection against shots that didn't hit perpendicularly. I just don't think it's enough that the fact that plate armor continued to be popular after crossbows were common place to justify the speculation that bolts couldn't reliably penetrate plate armor.


A few thoughts:

Firstly, there's a key difference between melee and ranged weapons here. Only a few people at a time can attack me in melee. An arrow or quarrel can come from anywhere. One of the most valuable roles of armour on a battlefield is protection from 'environmental' hazards: if someone runs up to you with a pollaxe, you can parry, or step out of the way. But when arrows are flying around, you can't evade and block them reliably - your armour needs to be able to protect you.

Furthermore, melee weapons have a much wider range of useful outcomes than ranged ones. If someone shoots a crossbow at your plate harness, there is one of two pretty much binary outcomes - either you're fine, or it got into you and now you're having a very bad day. But when you're bashing someone over the head with a mace, there are a number more options: you can slowly crush plates out of shape and prevent them from moving properly, or stun them and make it easier to prepare an actual killing blow, for just two examples. This means that melee weapons can be useful without reliably smashing through armour - which neither maces nor hammers did.

Next, the impact of firearms on plate is one of the key ways we can see that earlier missile weapons probably didn't reliably penetrate armour. When facing weapons which did, people rapidly responded, making thicker and heavier protection, and discarding the pieces that were now useless because they couldn't be made sufficiently protective. As it became impractical to prevent injury through any form of armour, it then either became stylised (and much less common) or was discarded entirely.

Beyond that, we can note that the rise of full armours in the late medieval period (and in particular transitional and then full harness) are strongly correlated with the abandonment of shields as a primary piece of equipment. This suggests that armour was considered protective against most missile attacks, because by discarding the shield and taking up the spear or pollaxe, knights are directly trusting in their armour alone to protect them while they close to melee range.

Finally, we have reasonably good information about historical casualty rates. Bearing in mind what I mentioned before about relatively binary outcomes from shooting someone, we can expect that if missile weapons reliably punched through armour, any advance would have been a massacre. However, the history doesn't bear this out: casualty rates are low, especially for victorious forces. Throughout most of history most casualties are taken by the defeated forces, when they rout. There's an interesting comparison you can make here to Napoleonic era warfare, where there was essentially no useful protection against enemy missiles, and the victor's casualty rates become much higher.

None of which is to say that shooting at armoured foes, whether with a bow or a crossbow, is useless. The chances are quite unlikely that your shots will directly kill or disable your opponents. However, they force them to move on foot, not horseback. The occasional shot will strike true, perhaps to a gap or a weak link, and that slow attrition can add up over time. Even something as simple as needing to advance with visors down (see the French at Agincourt) can make a significant difference to how tired the enemy forces are when they reach you to join melee. These sorts of effects are the missile equivalents of the way a melee weapon can be effective without punching through the enemy's protection directly.

Quote:
I am correctly informed that bodkin arrows and crossbow bolts can reliably penetrate mail armor, right? Even if this required waiting until a closer range.


Dubious.

If specialized arrow and crossbow heads were that unreliable in penetrating , then why were shields so ubiquitous before the development and widespread usage of full plate armor ? The military elite carried large shields on horseback before development of the couched lance charge and massed archery predates that period. Why would they still have been by those that couldn't afford top of the line armor while full plate was in use?
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Benjamin H. Abbott




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PostPosted: Sat 23 Jul, 2016 6:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Raimond de Fourquevaux suggested in his 1548 manual that lower-quality harnesses might not be able to hold out against close-range volleys from crossbowers and archers. It's unclear exactly what kind of crossbow he had in mind, but he expressed considerable respect for the weapon.

Pietro Monte apparently considered couched lances and crossbows the most dangerous weapons to a rider in plate harness. The weight of the evidence indicates that some crossbows could penetrate some plate armor, though presumably only lower-quality pieces and the thinner bits.

Note that many types of crossbows used into the 15th century (and even 16th century) in Western Europe required physical strength to draw just like the English-style bow. Pero Niño spanned heavy crossbow among his various feats of strength.

There's sadly little reliable information about historical European crossbows performed. For English and Turkish bows, we have painstaking reconstructions and precise figures. It's not so for crossbows.

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Pieter B.





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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2016 3:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I know of at least two cases where a crossbow penetrated a thigh piece. In France during the 100 years war and another person during one of the Anglo-Scottish wars. Both survived it and it is not said how far the projectile managed to penetrate. I reckon that the thinner limb protection might occasionally let a close range crossbow bolt through. That said cases where someone got a bolt in the face or neck seems to be way way way more common. Likely because projectiles that hit these areas did succeed in wounding someone unlike body shots. I can only assume that trying to hit the head was a deliberate move on the part of many a crossbowmen.
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Mario M.




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jul, 2016 7:14 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I found these tests interesting;

http://www.historiavivens1300.at/biblio/beschuss/beschuss1-e.htm

For instance, he achieves 53mps/173fps with a 131kg/288lbs crossbow.

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Leo Todeschini
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jul, 2016 3:25 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matt J wrote
Quote:
Tod, I am hoping you can elaborate on your statement about munitions grade arrows. Are you saying that the ability to aim at weak spots is more affected by the arrows/bolts used, instead of the bow itself? I've read quotes and heard people claim that archers and crossbowmen would take aimed shots as the battle progressed and the enemies got closer. I've also heard that, because ammunition was limited, archers and/or crossbowmen would wait for their enemies to advance closer than their maximum effective range precisely to gain the extra power needed to penetrate armor. Are these statements untrue, or at least, rare enough that they shouldn't be thought of as the norm? And, how should someone interpret "aimed shots?" Could this simply mean that the archer was aiming at a particular person (instead of a specific distance/location) and not that the archer or crossbowmen had the ability to aim for different locations on the body?


Basically what I mean here is that the longbow archers used bows that (speculative but reasonably established) varied between 130-180lbs and that the issued arrows were all made to a set design and therefore approximate spine weight and so although they worked well enough with all bows, hence the standard, mostly they were not exactly correct and probably varied quite a bit arrow to arrow. If the spine of an arrow is wrong for the bow it will shoot off to one side or the other and so although you of course learn to correct for this, as a starting point it is not as good as starting with an arrow that is truly correct for a bow. What this means in practice is that hitting a dinner plate at say 70yds is of course possible but missing is also quite possible so you can aim for a weak spot, but however good an archer you are, hitting it is a different matter. Bolts are far less effected by this as spine weight effectively is not an issue and so that is one less variable of manufacture and one less variable of the archers skill that needs to be dealt with.

Whatever the outcome of this discussion I would argue that the modern excitement about arrows going through plate is far in excess of the reality and that we have been chasing a holy grail that barely existed.


Tod


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Matt J




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jul, 2016 6:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mario, that was a very cool test. Thanks for sharing. What stood out the most to me was that the difference in protection between the textile armor and the mail armor wasn't so much that the mail armor causes shallower penetration, but that the mail armor prevented almost all the bolts from penetrating at all. The single bolt that was able to penetrate the mail armor did not penetrate much less than the textile armor when compared to the difference between the textile armor and the fake body tissue.

And, Tod, that makes a lot of sense. Thank you for explaining. Today, do most archers have the luxury of using the appropriate arrows for their bows, or is this still a minor concern for archers?
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Matt J




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PostPosted: Wed 27 Jul, 2016 8:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm 66% of the way through the Heavy Arbalest Testing thread. I have a quick question and a longer question.

Is an arbalest a crossbow? Sometimes it seems like crossbow and arbalest are used interchangeably, and other times it seems like arbalest is a much larger version of a crossbow.

Now, on to the real question, and I'm hoping Tod will chime in. To those of you who shoot crossbows and use either the goatsfoot lever or the belt that allows you to simply stand up as you pull the string back, why does it always seem very slow? I'm referring to the various videos that have been posted on the thread. Is this a case of people being extra careful because they don't want to make a mistake and they are not really in any sort of rush? Or is it slow because you are pulling as hard/fast as you can, but the weight is so extreme that you just can't pull faster?

I ask because while I've never handled a crossbow, I'm imaging myself trying to reload the crossbow as efficiently as I could, like a soldier would do. And from my weight lifting experience and education, I can imagine that it would be quicker to pull the string back with a really powerful jerk, as oppose to a more controlled pull. Would pulling the string back even half an inch further than you wanted it to go be dangerous, or damaging to the weapon?
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