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Home > Propellants, Firearms, and Ammunition Development > Evolution of Firearms > Rifled Barrels > Shotguns

The development of rifling gave rise to the dedicated shotgun. With the powder charge in place, a smoothbore musket could be loaded with almost any reasonable projectile. For small game hunting, a cloth wad with a charge of tiny lead pellets (bird shot) could be inserted. For larger targets at closer ranges, multiple large pellets (buckshot) could be used. For the largest game or human targets (military or civilian), a large single ball was also effective.

Multiple pellets fired down a rifled bore spin into patterns that disperse faster than charges from a smoothbore, effectively reducing the range for shotgun targets. A rifle shooter also needed a shotgun for birds and other fast-moving game. Consequently, the rifle and shotgun diverged into two distinct classes of firearms.

Historically, the rifle’s contribution is most often identified with the American Revolution. Although Washington’s regulars were armed with flintlock muskets, the irregulars were militiamen who fought using their Pennsylvania long rifles. From a position of cover, a single rifleman could deliver effectively aimed fire (usually at British officers exercising command).

Rifles were issued to military units on a small scale throughout history. Until projectiles were improved, rifles were not generally issued and accepted. In spite of the military’s reticence towards the rifled arm, they were widely used by hunters and target shooters.

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