Barrel Tech: Rifling vs. Smooth Bore

You are most startled as you awaken to the sound of cannon fire exploding in the near distance, and you immediately grab the most effective means of close quarters combat that you have in your arsenal….your Blunderbuss!!!  Yes, you wacky sharpshooters!!!  You have just stepped back in time and have arrived at the outset of the Battle of Lexington in the year 1775.  As you rush outside of your comfy, Army issued tent, the smoke clears and you are immediately rushed to formation.  Luckily, with this piece of firearm tech, running out of ammunition is very hard.  Your General barks out to the company of soldiers:  “Use what you have men!!!  If you have to, stuff your watches down the barrel of your blunderbuss and give ’em hell!!!!”


Soldiers equipped with the blunderbuss were able to actually discharge a number of different items from the barrel in desperate times of need!!  Including at times: silverware, watches, and other household items.  The name: Blunderbuss is actually derived from the Dutch speaking shooters, and can be loosely translated as a thunder pipe (or thunder tube).  How fitting for this most thunderous piece of firearm history!  The blunderbuss was even used in a recent popular movie:  2012’s “Looper.”  The blunderbuss was used due to it being “impossible to hit anything further than 15 yards, and impossible to miss anything closer.”  In reality, not many soldiers wanted to use it for that fact alone.

The main reason that many different projectiles could be fired from the bore of this firearm is due to the main construction of the barrel.  Many firearms made circa this period were manufactured with a barrel that had a smooth bore, meaning the interior of the barrel through which a projectile moved was smooth. These firearms were often used in an all-purpose fashion as they could fire either shot or a single bullet. However, when a bullet passed down the length of the barrel, it might spin in a way that would cause it to curve slightly through its trajectory.  This would in-turn cause serious deficiencies in accuracy.  The illustration below is a good representation of how the interior construction of smooth bore firearms look.  Notice there are no methods of controlling the trajectory of the projectile.


As time shot on, vast improvements to the accuracy and efficiency of firearms occurred and many new construction methods appeared.  One of the most important developments of firearms tech, was the introduction of rifled bores. The interior of the barrel of a firearm equipped with rifling has spiraling grooves cut into the metal (most affectionately termed lands and grooves). As the projectile (or bullet) moves down the length of the barrel, the grooves grab the sides of the projectile, which in-turn creates a stabilizing spin. Becoming commonplace in the 19th century, rifled bores were originally invented in Germany around 1600.  Rifled-bore weapons, such as the modern high-powered hunting rifle, are extremely accurate. A marksman can use a high-powered rifle to hit the mark from many hundreds of yards away.  The illustration below is a good representation of what exactly constitutes a rifled bore.  This is a cut out of a mounted tank gun.  As you can see, the lands and grooves creates the spin which in turn increases the firearm’s ability to be accurate and effective.


So buckaroos, as you continue to expand your firearm collection, and take in Grandpa’s old blunderbuss, don’t just chuck it in the pile marked: Trash!  This old relic, although not deadly accurate at distances, is a wonderful piece of history and deserves to be held in high esteem!  Remember….this smooth bore construction still exists (just take a look at that Mossberg 500 you have in the closet).

PSA suggests that you become familiar with the safety and operation of your firearm.  PSA strongly supports informed, educated, and responsible gun ownership.  If you are not familiar with bore constructions please do sufficient research, enroll in educational classes, and practice (safely).

We would like to thank you for taking out the time to stop by our lane at the range.  We enjoyed shooting the breeze with you and hope that we were able to hit the target!!  We hope that you will continue to follow PSA for updates and new posts!!  If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don’t hesitate to shoot them to us.

And as always…..remember to watch your six and stay low.

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