A Brief History of the Hunting Rifle
The history of hunting rifles goes way back to the 14th century when the use of the first firearm was recorded. Although no one can tell for sure who invented guns, these weapons were mostly developed during times of war. Once conflicts ended, rifles would later be used for recreational purposes such as hunting.
The earliest firearms were quite different from the modern hunting rifles we know of today. For the most part, these rudimentary firearms had numerous problems that made hunting next to impossible. A great example is the matchlock gun designed in 1400s, which was much like a miniature canon. To fire a matchlock, you had to light a wick and hold it against a “touchhole” at the back of a rifle’s barrel. This would then ignite the gunpowder inside the barrel to fire a shot. Such guns were unreliable during wet weather and the cloud of smoke they would produce seriously obscured vision when hunting.
The next major advancement was the wheel lock gun. This 1509 invention made use of a striking flint against steel to produce sparks that would set off the gun. As a result, this mechanism avoided the problem of game smelling smoke from a lit match before a hunter could fire the gun.
In 1630, the first true flintlock gun was designed and reigned supreme for almost 2 centuries. The new addition in this firearm was a retractable flash pan, which was designed to either hide or expose gunpowder, making rifle hunting possible in wet conditions.
At around the same time when flintlock guns were being developed, rifling started to appear in firearms. Through this technique, accuracy was improved by cutting slow twisting helical grooves along the interior wall of a gun’s barrel. As a bullet hits these grooves, it left the barrel wheel spinning, a technique that gives projectiles gyroscopic stability to prevent tumbling over short distances.
Another drawback of early rifles was that gunpowder would build up inside the barrel, thus making cleaning difficult. The time it took to load a bullet was also rather slow. Even a trained shooter could only manage to fire three shots per minute and an archer could lose more arrows in the time it took a marksman to reload his musketeer.
Major Improvements in Hunting Rifles
Because of the problems that marksmen had to contend with when using flintlock systems, several improvements in firearms production were introduced over the years. For instance, double barrel shotguns were invented in an attempt to compensate for the slow load times of flintlock firearms. Shotguns soon become quite popular rifles for hunting duck and birds.
However, dramatic and rapid firearm advancements came after the introduction of percussion systems. A percussion cap was simply a small copper housing for chemicals needed to launch a projectile. By pulling a trigger, the gun’s hammer would strike the cap and ignite the chemicals in the main charge, hence firing the gun.
Further attempts to improve slow bullet load times saw the introduction of repeaters and breachloading systems in the early 19th century. By 1837, a handgun with multiple chambers and rotating cylinder was invented. This continues to be the basic mechanical system used in revolvers today. The percussion cap and ball revolver offered an effective repeating system, and it allowed shooters to fire five to six bullets consecutively (or as fast as the hammer could be cocked and trigger pulled).
A more advanced development that significantly reduced the time for loading rifles was the self-contained cartridge. With this system, one casing could house a bullet, primer, gunpowder and firing charge.
In the 1890s, the first rifles with magazine cartridges and bolt-action technology were invented. They were even used by foot soldiers in World War I because of their inherent accuracy. The bolt-action mechanism became the standard of many, if not all, military and sporting rifles. This technique of rifle making has remained unchanged since World War II when the Germans invented the first Sturmgewehr (loosely translated as assault rifle).
Telescopic sights for precision rifle shooting can be traced back to the civil war. However, it wasn’t until the 70s and 80s that scopes started to be used on hunting rifles. Modern hunting rifles use advanced sighting equipment such as laser aiming systems, electronic red dot sights and night vision scopes to improve hunting precision.
As you can see, the history of hunting rifles can be traced to a few centuries back. However, it all began when military technology was turned into practical pastime uses such as hunting.