The jezail was a simple, cost-efficient and often handmade muzzle-loading long arm commonly used in British India, Central Asia and parts of the Middle East in the past.
Jezails were generally handmade weapons, and consequently they widely varied in their construction. Jezails were seen as very personal weapons, and unlike the typical military weapons of the time which were very plain and utilitarian, jezails tended to be well crafted and were usually intricately decorated.
Jezails tended to have very long barrels. Weapons of such length were never common in Europe (with the exception of the Spanish “espingarda” circa 15th century), but was more common in American rifles like the Kentucky Rifle. The American rifles were used for hunting, and tended to be of a smaller caliber (.35 to .45 or so being typical). Jezails were usually designed for warfare, and therefore tended to be of larger calibers than the American rifles, with .50 to .75 caliber and larger being common. Larger calibers were possible because the long length of the typical jezail meant that it was heavier than typical muskets of the time. Jezails typically weighed around 12 to 14 pounds, compared to 9 to 10 pounds for a typical musket. The heavy weight of the jezail allowed the rifle itself to absorb more energy from the round, imparting less recoil to the weapon’s user.
Many jezails were smooth bore weapons, but some had their barrels rifled. The rifling, combined with the barrel’s long length, made these weapons very accurate for their time.
The firing mechanism was typically either a matchlock or a flintlock. Since flintlock mechanisms were complex and difficult to manufacture, many jezails used the lock mechanism from captured or broken Brown Bess muskets.
The stocks were handmade and ornately decorated, featuring a distinctive curve which is not seen in the stocks of other muskets. The function of this curve is debated; it may be purely decorative, or it may have allowed the jezail to be tucked under the arm and cradled tightly against the body, as opposed to being held to the shoulder like a typical musket or rifle. The argument against this method of firing is that the flash pan would be dangerously close to the face and the weapon would be harder to aim. It is more likely that the rifle was only tucked under the arm whilst riding a horse or a camel. The curve may also have saved weight; by shaving away some of the heavy wood used for the stock through employment of the new curved shape, whilst maintaining the same structural integrity of the stock it could still be fired from the shoulder safely whilst also being lighter. The weapon was fired by grasping the stock near the trigger, like a pistol, while the curved portion is tucked under the shooter’s forearm, allowing the rifle to be fired with one hand while mounted.
Jezails were often fired from a forked rest, or a horn or metal bi-pod.