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Differences Between Rifles, Shotguns, and Handguns

Differences Between Rifles, Shotguns, and Handguns

Differences Between Rifles, Shotguns, and Handguns

The main differences between rifles, shotguns, and handguns are their barrels and the type of ammunition used.

Differences Between Rifles, Shotguns, and Handguns

 Rifle barrel:

Long with thick walls; spiralling grooves (called “rifling”) cut into the bore.

Shotgun barrel:

Long, made of fairly thin steel that is smooth on the inside to allow shot and wad to glide out without friction. Thinner than rifle barrel since it does not have to withstand the same pressure.

Handgun barrel:

Much shorter than a rifle or shotgun barrel, designed to be shot while held with one or two hands, rather than while placed against shooter’s shoulder. Bores of most handgun barrels also have a grooved pattern similar to rifles.

Rifling in the Rifle or Handgun Bore:

A bullet fired from a rifle or handgun has a spiral spin that keeps it point-first in flight, increasing accuracy and distance. This is achieved by rifling inside the barrel, from which the rifle got its name. The barrel is thick, and has spiraling grooves cut or pressed into the bore. The ridges of metal between the grooves are called lands. Together, grooves and lands make up rifling.

Rifle or Handgun Caliber:

Calibre describes the size of a rifle or handgun bore and the size of cartridges designed for different bores. • Caliber is usually measured as the diameter of a bore from land to opposite land. No standard is set for designating caliber. Sometimes it is given as diameter of bullet—distance between grooves. Caliber designations sometime have a second number, unrelated to diameter. For example, the .30-30 is a .30-caliber cartridge, but second number is from the days when cartridges took 30 grains of powder. The “06” in .30-06 refers to year (1906) it became official ammunition of the U.S. military. • Every rifle or handgun is designed for a specific cartridge—the ammunition must match the firearm data stamp. Several .30-caliber firearms use the same bullet size, but are designed for different cartridges.

Shotgun Gauge:

Shotguns are classified by gauge, a measure related to the diameter of smooth shotgun bore and the size of shotshell designed for that bore. Common shotgun gauges are 10-, 12-, 16-, 20-, and 28-gauge. The smaller the gauge number, the larger the shotgun bore. Gauge is determined by the number of lead balls of a size equal to the exact diameter of the bore that it takes to weigh one pound. For example, it takes 12 lead balls with the same diameter as a 12-gauge shotgun bore to weigh one pound. The .410 caliber shotgun is the only exception to the shotgun gauge designation. It has a bore diameter of 410/1000ths of an inch, approximately equivalent to 67½ gauge. Each gauge of a shotgun shoots only shells of that gauge (12-gauge shells are used only in 12-gauge guns). Shotgun gauge is often marked on the rear of the barrel. The shell gauge is marked on the shell and the box.

Shotgun Choke and Shot Pattern:

When a shotshell is fired, pellets leave the barrel and begin to spread or scatter. The farther pellets travel, the greater shot spreads. The barrel has a choke to control spread and pattern. Choke acts like the nozzle of a garden hose. As the nozzle tightens, water shoots in a long, narrow stream, similar to the full choke on a shotgun. As the nozzle opens, water shoots out in a wider spray, similar to cylinder choke. Distance from target determines the choke needed. Choke does not alter the shotgun’s power—it controls the tightness of a shot pattern at a specific distance and how much shot will hit a certain area at a certain range.

  • Cylinder choke is an unconstricted barrel. Shot pattern spreads quickly.
  • Improved Cylinder has a slight constriction. Allows the shot pattern to spread fairly quickly. Good choice for quail, rabbits, and other upland game.
  • Modified choke has a moderate constriction. Shot stays together longer, making a pattern denser and more useful at longer ranges. Used for dove hunting and is preferred when using steel shot to hunt for ducks or geese. Improved modified choke is slightly tighter than modified.
  • Full choke has a tight constriction. Shot holds together even longer, so it’s good for squirrels, turkey, and other game shot at 35 to 40-yard ranges. Turkey hunters sometimes use extra full or turkey choke for even denser patterns at long range.

NOTE:

Steel shot is slightly lighter and harder than lead shot of the same size—reducing velocity and distance

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