How to Behave in Tacticals

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A Treatise on Good Safety Practices during Reenactments

   One of the most important things we strive for in the hobby of reenacting is safety. We use reproductions of the same weapons the soldiers of the War of 1812 used to kill one another. Our reproductions are every bit as dangerous as the originals. We must use common sense and pay constant attention to ensure that we are not putting ourselves, or our fellow hobbyists in danger. All members are trained in the safe loading and firing of our muskets. This training focuses on your individual drill and is a major part of our safety in the field. This article assumes you are comfortable with the basic steps of drill. If you are not sure about your manual of arms, get some help before you go into a tactical. There is no shame in this. Some have been doing drill for many years or just a few more than the newest person and may still not be that great at it. Look for a partner to practice with in the morning of an event if no formal practice is being held. You will feel better and so will the guy around you in the tactical.

   Tacticals are recreated battles. Some are quite small, while some are large with hundreds on a side. The same basic safety rules apply to them all. These are know where you are, don’t get rattled, and listen for orders. These are simple things but they can be hard to remember in the excitement of a tactical.

     Know Where You Are

   This rule applies on many levels. At the highest level it is important to remember the tactical is just a reenactment. No matter how many problems you have, you are far better off than the people we are reenacting. No one is really trying to kill you and you are not going to become a real life casualty unless something goes very wrong.

     Next remember where you are in the line. Know who is around you. If you do not know them, introduce yourself. If you are experienced, pay close attention to the recruits and help them out. If you are a recruit, find out who a veteran is and try to pay attention to them. Veterans have done this many times and can usually help a recruit around the surprises that sometimes occur in tacticals. Knowing your place in line is critical in reforming the unit after a disruption. The quicker everyone finds their place, the quicker the unit can function again.

     Next, know the units place on the field. If the ground is rough or tricky, pay attention to it as you march. The officers will look out for the enemy or other units, you just pay attention to staying upright.

     Know where the enemy is. The closer they are the more important this becomes. Again, the guns we use are real, do not point them at people, aim low, towards their feet. If casualties are in the front between your unit and the enemy you will be instructed to elevate your fire. If we are being charged with bayonets and the enemy is close, fall back. We can always reform and drive them off. If we are charging and they aren’t falling back just listen for orders. They will go away if they are supposed to. No matter how tempting it is to fire at someone coming at you, do not do it. Fire over them, fire to the side of them, or best of all just fall back. It may look cool in the movies but point blank shots (closer than 10 yards or so) are too risky. Play it safe. Of course you should never fire unless you are given the order.

     Know where the public is. Never fire at the public. If the enemy is near the crowd, hold your fire. Normally the officers of both sides are good at keeping the crowd out of the fire lines, but some times units get over enthusiastic or the crowd wanders. When this happens, do not fire. The crowd does not know any better, but we do.

Don’t Get Rattled

   In a tactical you feel real stress. Our stress is nothing near the stress felt by actual people in battle, but the stress we feel in a tactical can cause us to make mistakes. When the Officers are yelling at you to hurry up, you must stay calm and work deliberately. The worst thing you can do is to try desperately to speed up. You have heard of the rifles found at Gettysburg with eight rounds loaded in them? Possibly some Lieutenant was screaming at the poor sod and he hurried up appropriately. You will eventually stand next to guys who have double or triple loaded their muskets because they were in a hurry and not paying attention. It would be preferable they just skipped a volley and kept to their pace. People make mistakes when they are flustered, stay calm. If some goof ball officer wants to have an early heart attack, let him. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t load quickly when you can, it means you should load at your pace. If that pace is too slow, the officers and NCOs can work with you later.

     As a result of the tension in the line emotions can run high. Units will become disorganized and tempers will flair. A little adrenaline is part of the hobby, but don’t let it overwhelm you. It won’t make it any more fun to get out of control. Again, nothing we are doing out there is worth losing your cool over. Take a hit, sit back and watch the show. If the guy next to you keeps bumping you, or the person behind you keeps stepping on you as you march, just think about how much more fun this is than work.

     New recruits and veterans alike have problems in the field. Musket misfires, dropped gear, wheeling the wrong way, missing an order we have all had it happen at least once. Don’t let it get to you. The NCO may growl, the person next to you might snicker but then it is over. The key thing is to keep on in a safe and steady way. Be assured that the situation will not improve if you get flustered. Stay with it, we’ve all been there and we know how it feels.

Listen for Orders

     In a perfect world all officers and NCOs would be loud and sensible. We do not live in a perfect world. Like everyone in the hobby, the officers and NCOs are all volunteers. They are the brains of the outfit when it is on the field. The officers know the big plan and will move us about to fulfill that plan. This plan is a big part of what makes our tacticals safe. If you put a couple of hundred of us in a field somewhere and let us go at it, it would be bedlam. Yes, officers are crucial to a good tactical. The officers know if we are supposed to win or lose and how. It is vital that we hear their orders. It is vital that you know which officer or NCO you are listening for.

     This is a hobby made up of exceptionally witty and clever people. That is almost always a blessing. The only exception is when we are in ranks. We talk constantly. This makes it hard to hear even the loudest officer sometimes. Try to keep quiet in the line. Unlike the real army, you will not be locked up if you talk too much, but you are hindering the unit in a real way. We are always going to be looser in our discipline than is historically correct. That’s not bad, this is a hobby, but we should try to make it easy to do what the officers want when we are in the field. As smart and as clever as you or I may be, believe it or not, it is not always helpful to give the officers advice when we are in the field. They have plenty on their minds and do not need the distraction. If this means we wheel the wrong way, so be it. It gives us something to harass them about in camp.

     One constant feature of big events is that we are amalgamated with other units. This means that we are not always under our own officers or NCOs command. It is important that we learn who is the person we should be listening for. It is even more important to keep good order when listening to a stranger. It is much harder to anticipate their orders. We should treat them with the same respect and attention we treat our own officers. The way to win respect is to do everything we do sharply and correctly, not by showing up some other unit’s officer.


     The basic safety tips apply here to any sized tactical, the same care should be taken in a four man skirmish as in mega-battle. Large events add more confusion and noise but they can be as safe as any other battle if you keep your head about you at all times. No rules manual can cover all the possibilities we run into in the field. You must pay attention to safety at all times. This hobby is fun and will remain safe for as long as we keep it that way. Stay alert and shoot the oppressors.


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