Definition of "Lock Time" in Firearms Shooting Terminology

A muzzleloader lock installed on the stock.
A muzzleloader lock installed on the stock. Photo © Russ Chastain

Definition

The term lock time refers is the time that elapses between the "tripping" of a gun's trigger and the ignition of the powder or propellant that drives the projectile(s) downrange.

Lock time is so named because early firearms employed a lock, which contained almost all of the mechanical moving parts required to fire the gun. Once released by the trigger, the lock allowed the hammer (which was attached to it) to fall and ignite the powder charge and thus fire the gun.

This takes time, and during that time the gun may move off target; thus the shorter the lock time, the better. All other things being equal, shorter lock times allow more accurate shooting.

Flintlock guns have some of the longest lock times, because of the chain of events that lead to the gun's firing: trigger releasing the sear, hammer (known as the cock) falling and creating sparks while opening the frizzen, ignition of priming charge, burning of that charge, and finally the ignition of the main powder charge inside the barrel.

Although it may seem antiquated since most modern guns do not have locks, the term "lock time" is still used today to quantify the time it takes for a gun to fire after the trigger does its work.