Rifles

Table of Contents

A rifle, is a firearm with rifling applied to the bore. Firearms began with a smooth bore like a shotgun. With the advent of rifling came a new era of firearm accuracy. 

History of the rifle

Until 18xx

Musket

The smooth bore predecessor of the rifle.

Until 18xx

Late 1400's

German gunsmiths discover rifling

German gunsmiths cut spiral grooves ‘rifling’ to a muskets bore, significantly improving the accuracy of the firearm. The rifle was born.

Late 1400's

1540

Rifling appears in firearms

Rifling begins to appear commonplace spreading throughout Europe.

1540

Early 1700's

German Hunting Rifles come to America

German gunsmiths immigrate to the settlements of southeastern Pennsylvania.

Early 1700's

1730's

Kentucky Long Rifle

Created in the 1730s in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. No rifle history would be complete without a mention of this firearm. Developed by the same immigrant tradesmen to be the marksman’s weapon of choice for a over a century. The barrel, made longer than their European counterparts, gave the black powder a longer time to burn thereby increasing muzzle velocity and accuracy.

1730's

1776

American Revolution

It is believed that Hessian mercenaries from Germany brought Jäger rifles with rifled bores to use fighting for the British during the American Revolution. American colonists armed with Kentucky Long Rifles played an important part in many battles. Where the standard firearm in use was a smooth bore “Brown Bess” with an accurate range of 60 yards. The Long Rifle was accurate to 200 paces or yards.

1776

Early 1800's

Napoleonic wars and the War of 1812

During these conflicts the Long Rifle continued to be used to great effect by sharpshooters. Wider adoption however was hindered by the fact that these rifles were slower to load than their smooth bore counterparts.

Early 1800's

1836

Breech Loading

With the German Dreyse Needle gun, breech loading entered the rifles history. Far faster to load than muzzle loaders and the ability reload from the prone position. These rifles completely changed the way the firearm was used in conflicts.

1836

1840's

Minie Ball

Developed by Claude-Etienne Minié, the projectile that bore his name solved the problem of slow loading times whilst simultaneously further increasing the rifles accuracy. Improving on the original design work done by Henri-Gustave Delvigne.

1840's

Rifle components

rifle barrel

Barrel

A straight piece of metal that houses the bore. A rifle has a long barrel with rifling. The walls of the barrel are typically thick, this is to handle some high pressures generated when a bullet is fired from the chamber. Usually used to fire at stationary targets and at a variety of ranges. The rifle barrel is designed for one specific caliber.

Bore

A hole drilled longitudinally through the barrel. The interior space cut down the center of a rifle barrel. It is through this space that a bullet or projectile is propelled when a rifle is fired.

Bullet

A projectile propelled down the bore by expanding gases, which are typically caused by the rapid combustion of the powder contained in the bullet’s cartridge.

bullet
Caliber

Caliber

The diameter of the interior of the rifle barrel, known as the bore. Typically measured between the faces of opposing lands, the ridges between the grooves cut in the bore by rifling.

Grooves

The long cuts that are carved in a twist down inside of the rifle bore. 

Lands

The raised ridges left in the bore after the grooves have been cut.

Lands and grooves

Rifling

Spiral grooves cut into the bore. In an attempt to stop the bore getting clogged with lead and black powder. German gunsmiths cut grooves in the bore of a musket. Initially longitudinal grooves running straight down the barrel. It was not until the grooves were cut in a spiral that the “rifling” effect became apparent. The spiral grooves imparted a spin on the bullet, significantly improving the accuracy of the firearm.

Rifling Pitch (Twist Rate)

The rotational speed imparted to the projectile can be crucial. The spin speed too slow and the projectile may just tumble like it came out of a smooth bore. Too high a spin speed and the projectile may break apart with equally undesirable results.

The speed at which the bullet spins depends on the number of twists per length of barrel. This twist or pitch is usually described one turn per “x” distance. The distance being measured in mm in Australia and inches in the USA. Typically you will see the barrel described as 1 : 381 mm or 1 : 15″. This can also be shown as 1/381 mm or 1/15″. 

Rifling Twist Direction - Left Hand or Right Hand

You will see grooves cut in both left hand and right hand patterns. British rifles, the Lee Enfield .303 for example are traditionally made with a left hand twist. The reason for this is that the twist, left or right, tends to make the bullet drift very, very slightly in the same direction of the twist.

The British surmised at the time, that as most of their shooters were right handed, they would tend to pull the trigger to the right. The theory was that the left hand drift and right handed trigger pull might cancel each other out to some degree. This thinking was discarded later as insignificant but the manufacturing tradition continued.

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