The most common practice seems to be simply mix the arquebusiers together with artillerymen. Arquebusiers also fought behind the cover of fortifications or war wagons. Ming arquebusiers preferred to use countermarch and rotating ranks, whether they were mixed with artillerymen or fought in their own unit.
Three rotating ranks
|Ming arquebusiers firing in three ranks. This image is often misattributed to fourteenth century 'Huo Long Jing (《火龍經》)', but in fact comes from seventeenth century 'Jun Qi Tu Shuo (《軍器圖說》)'.|
Perhaps the most common tactic used by Ming arquebusiers, this tactic had been in use during Song period. It was originally used with crossbows, then adapted to handgonnes and rockets by Mu Ying (沐英) during fourteenth century, before being finally adapted to arquebuses.
Five rotating ranks
Ming general Qi Ji Guang (戚繼光) utilised five rotating ranks of arquebusiers in conjunction with his Mandarin Duck Formation. Signal horn was used to relay command to the arquebusiers, with every blow from the horn followed by simultaneous firing of one rank of arquebusiers.
This tactic was also advocated by Ming official Zeng Xi (曾銑).
Five rank salvo fire
With one long, drawn out blast from the horn, all five ranks of Qi Ji Guang's arquebusiers would discharge their guns in one very large salvo. This tactic was only used when enemy was at moderately close range. The arquebus salvo was immediately followed by another volley of arrows, crossbow bolts and rockets.
|Reload assistant method (highlighted), from 'Shen Qi Pu (《神器譜》)'.|
Zhao Shi Zhen also advocated Turkish practice of shooting in kneeling position.
Qi Ji Guang, who was also aware of this method, commented that it was only useful to defend fortification.
Wokou (倭寇) and other enemies of the Ming often exploited the slow reloading speed of matchlock firearms by crouching low to the ground during the first volley, then quickly charge the arquebusiers before they could reload (this tactics was very similar to the Highland charge employed by Scottish Highlanders). To counter this tactic, Ming arquebusiers and artillerymen used firecrackers to produce fake gunshots to deceive and confuse their enemy, luring them to charge prematurely.
Firearm specialist Zhao Shi Zhen (趙士禎) also designed several multiple barrel arquebuses as an answer to the Wokou's tactic.
Cooling the barrel
As Chinese-manufactured gun barrels were generally of inferior quality and could burst easily after three or four shots, arquebusiers were forced to resort to ingenuity to solve this problem. Applying water-soaked cloth to cool off gun barrel was a common practice, as the humid South China has an abundance of water. However, this method was less applicable to the drier North China, which was also one of the reasons why matchlock gun did not see widespread use there.