The most fundamental difference between the rifle and the shotgun is the presence of rifling in the barrel. Rifling is tiny grooves carved into the inside of the barrel. Once a bullet is propelled by explosion, it travels the length of the barrel before being flying out the front of the gun.
Rifling grooves force the bullet to spin in the chamber. The round continues to spin once out of the weapon. This spinning creates greater distance and accuracy. Rifles are the weapon of choice for the hunter with distant targets that require great accuracy. A good marksman can shoot game in the heart or head from hundreds of yards away. The type of game he hunts may never let him get close enough to attempt using any other type of weapon. Even if the rifleman misses with his shot, he may still injure the game enough to slow it down without ever putting himself in harm’s way.
Weight, action, and caliber are all important considerations for owners of any rifle. Most rifles, without cartridges and accessories, weight between five and ten pounds. Heavier rifles are better at absorbing the recoil, or kick, generated when the weapon fires. They are also easier to keep steady when firing, which increases accuracy. Lighter rifles are better for long hiking hunts when the hunter can feel every ounce on his pack. They are also handy in tree stands when the hunter must hold up his weapon for an extended period of time in anticipation of the sudden emergence of game. A light rifle with a short barrel is called a carbine. This weapon won’t get caught on brush or tree limbs.
Action refers to how the mechanism of chambering and ejecting ammunition is designed. The most basic action is also the most stable and reliable because it has few moving parts. This is the single-shot. As the name implies, this action only allows the hunter one shot before he must reload. Bolt action is considered by some to be the most accurate.
These are similar to single-shots but feature a different reloading mechanism. Repeating action rifles hold a number of cartridges and allow for several shots without a reload. For more rapid firing, pump, lever, and semi-automatic actions are used. These have more moving parts and an increased chance of mechanical failure. Many hunters argue that these faster-firing actions go against the very spirit of hunting. If you need more than two shots to take down your prey, you either need more practice or you didn’t scout your target properly.
Hitting game with more than the minimum of rounds will also decrease the amount of usable meat on your kill. The diameter of the barrel, or bore, of a rifle is called its caliber. Caliber is measured in either millimeters, or in inch hundredths or thousandths. A typical small game hunter might use a .17 caliber rifle. Big game caliber rifles are around .458. Discussions on caliber can easily confuse the novice, even intermediate level hunter. In addition to bore, other elements can figure into the caliber of a weapon. In some cases, bore is not part of the designation at all.
Other numbers used in caliber are the year a weapon was manufactured or the number of grains of powder once used to propel a bullet. It’s best for the new hunter to start simple. Go to a gun shop and ask what kind of weapon and ammunition would be appropriate for the type of game you are hunting and your experience level.
Better to be humble and ask for help than buy something you cannot handle. Or worse yet, to ask for something that doesn’t exist.