FIREARMS FOR DUMMIES: RIFLES
About 1520 CE or so a gunsmith came up with a way of cutting spiralled grooves inside the barrel of a gun and called it "rifling". This increased the range from 30 yards (maybe) to about 100 yards. Why did the bullet fly farther in rifles than in smoothbores?
Actually, the bullet doesn't fly any further or travel any faster. Instead it tarvels in a more straight line. The grooves cut in the barrel make the bullet spin. By spinning the bullet smooths out any imperfections in weight, so if the bullet is heavier on one side it doesn't drift off in that direction. Instead the bullet makes these little corkscrews in the air as it travels.
looked exactly like smoothbore muskets
, they just had the grooves cut inside the barrel. They needed to be loaded in a similar way, with some gunpowder poured in the barrel and the bullet pushed down on top. But they took a lot longer to load than smoothbore weapons. The reason is that a bullet about as large as the inside of the barrel had to be used so it would scrape against the sides on the way out. Otherwise the grooves wouldn't start the bullet spinning. This meant that many early riflemen would carry around wooden mallets so they could pound the bullet down the barrel.
This problem was solved by a Frenchman named Captain Claude Minie. He took a small bullet and small iron cup in the bottom
. When the gun was fired the hot gas would push the cup in to the lead bullet, making it expand. Then the bullet would swell up to a large enough size to scrape against the sides of the barrel.
Then cartridges were developed. All one had to do was load a single round in the gun and shoot, instead of pouring gunpowder and pushing bullets down the barrel. Single shot rifles
were first developed, followed by lever action rifles
. But the military decided to adopt the bolt action rifle
. (Isn't that a pretty gun?)
Bolt action rifles usually have five rounds in them, and the shooter has to stop and work the bolt after every shot. It was't until World War II that a semi-auto rifle
was adopted by a major army. The semi-auto rifle had some sort of magazine or "clip"
loaded in to it. The shooter would just load a clip in the gun and keep shooting until it was empty. It wasn't long until someone decided to design a rifle that would fire full auto
like a machine gun. The problem was that the full auto versions were heavy and the recoil from the full-powered rifle round made controlling the weapon problematic. These problems were more or less solved when the assault rifle was developed, but that's the subject of another post.