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The development of the rifle in America

Before long guns had rifled barrels, we had muskets. These guns fired a loose fitting ball that was forced down the barrel with a ramrod. These were the days of primitive ignition systems, crude and unreliable. Rifling enabled a projectile to be fitted to the size of the bore, with the rifling grooves causing a spin, which greatly improved on accuracy and range.

The matchlock was the earliest and most elemental form of rifle. The ignition of the powder was simplicity itself. An arm held a glowing cord and when the sparkling cord was pushed down into the powder, we had discharge.

The wheelock appeared about 1550. The shooter wound up a small wheel at the gun's breech. When the wheel was spun against pyrites, sparks flew into the breech hole and ignited the powder charge.

The flintlock came next, and appeared at the time of the "Kentucky rifle." The first patents on this method were issued in 1807 and it was a real step toward creation of a breech-loading rifle. The copper percussion cap was developed about this time.

The cap and ball

Developed at the U.S. Government arsenal in Harpers Ferry, this style of ignition came into use in the Civil War. Bullets entered the picture at that time, with a French officer named Minnie inventing a cylindrical, conical projectile similar to the bullets of today. Along with this spinning projectile came the idea of rifling the barrel to promote bullet spin.

The brass cartridge

Charges encased in paper were a development in Sweden 200 years before. America began developments in metal cartridge cases, the first being rim fires, with the ignition provided by spinning it into the rim. When a firing pin pinched the rim, a spark ignited the charge. America's Smith & Wesson was a leader in this, after inventing and securing patents on the bored through cylinder. Samuel Colt struggled for 16 years more with the cap and ball.

The breech-loader

Metallic cartridges, rim fires and rifling moved things toward development of the breech-loading rifle. It began right after the Civil War. Smokeless powder was not yet on the scene, but black powder cartridges were developed with the cap evolving into the centerfire primer. The cartridge case, as we know it today, was here! Bullets of large bore were fired, with the 45/70 Springfield appearing. Upon the invention of smokeless powder, the bore size decreased, the 30 caliber becoming your most popular. When the American west was being developed, short, Marlin, Winchester, Ballard, and B. Tyler Henry made efficient carbines.

New rifles

America's 45/70 Springfield led to Norway's bringing out the Krag-Jorgenson 30 caliber rifle. Along about this time, an inventive genius, Paul Mauser, in Germany, spawned the bolt-action rifle. Every bolt-action rifle ever since is merely a copy of Mauser's original. It is copied in more than a hundred arsenals, worldwide. 30/40 Krag rifles would shoot one-inch groups at 100 yards. Even today, that's asking a lot from a rifle, with today's sighting equipment. The British Enfield entered the picture, but its clumsy cocking with the final pushing on the bolt was a drawback. The U.S. Armory in Springfield, Mass., continued development and improvements.

Repeating rifle development

Winchester, Colt, Smith & Wesson, Remington, and Marlin had been perfected at the end of the Civil War and became popular on the frontier. Late in the 19th Century, the smokeless powder cartridge known as the 30-30 was prominent, but the calibers were again on the increase with the 35 bore making inroads.

Pope's rifled barrels

The J Stevens Arms and Tool Company followed the advice of Harry Pope, a gunsmith whose accurate rifles were legendary. Stevens Arms merged with Arthur Savage's gunworks and made the Savage Model 99, a gun considered an improvement over the Winchester lever action rifles made under John M. Browning patents. Winchester, well capitalized and much larger, had most of the business. During their time of the developing rifle patents, handgun makers Colt Firearms, Smith & Wesson and Remington were busy supplying frontier America with revolvers, and later semi-automatic pistols.

Charles Newton

This summary would not be complete without the inclusion of the rifles of Charles Newton. He was clearly ahead of his time! His greatest achievement was the production of a super accurate .256 Newton. It was decades ahead of the .270 Winchester, just as deadly, and accurate. Newton produced cartridges in 30 and 33 caliber with velocities exceeding 3,300 fps. Newton also produced bullets with expansion capabilities, which haven't been surpassed to this day.

The field was pretty well laid out when O.F. Mossberg & Sons came into being in 1919, producing rifles and shotguns for an increasing world market. J. M. Browning began making and marketing rifles, and small custom riflesmiths added to the mix with limited, but excellent examples of the gunsmith arts.

Today, rifles made in the U.S.A. and in many worldwide locations provide a firearm that is unsurpassed in accuracy, dependability and all around use.

The 28 Gauge

Like so many other ideas in shotguns and shotgunning, the 28 gauge was born in England about 1800. The 28 gauge immigrated to America when Parker and Remington built double-barreled shotguns in the diminutive size. Winchester and Peters loaded the shell, with a length of 2 3/4 inches with 3/4 ounces of shot. This held for a long time, when the big Winchester ammo factories finally turned out a full ounce load.

I've never owned a 28 gauge, but I had the use of one for almost a year, though the game bird seasons weren't open. I did, however, give the diminutive red shells a workout at a dairy farm where there were about 200 wild pigeon, or rook doves. The kind you see in downtown Detroit Lakes. The little 28 killed pigeons on the par with the 20 gauge that I'd been using previously.

For many years, skeet shooters keep the flame of the 28 gauge alive with their gun game. The gauge received improvements stated above and a slow movement toward it accelerated. Perhaps it was the birth of many game farms such as Misty Meadows, where sportsmen could test out the gun.

It killed big ringnecks easily when the range was kept at 25 to 30 yards, and that was always possible with pen-raised birds. Skeet shooters will tell you that their scores with the 28 are almost equal to what they shoot with the 20 gauge, sometimes exceeding the birds broken with a 20.

The average 28 gauge will weigh a full pound less than a 20 gauge or even the .410 bore. It is said to be a very efficient load. Ballisticians have declared the 28 as being in the ideal proportions. Consequently, the average gun shoots well. They always seem to be well balanced, although I thought the 28 gauge Ruger Red Label I was loaned was a bit heavy at over 6 1/4 pounds. I have a 20 gauge Benelli Montefeltro that weighs a full pound less than that Red Label with its investment castings.

The 28 gauge choices are a vast array of fine over-under shotguns and a Franchi AL48, made in Italy. This five-pound semi-automatic is a joy to handle. I know, because I used one for an afternoon of sporting clays. As with the heavier Ruger, there was no recoil to speak of. The Winchester 3/4-ounce AA shell is what you'll find at the ammo dealer. The shells aren't well distributed and you'll need to look for them.

Last in popularity among the six gauges available, it is a far greater performance you'll receive from a 3" .410 shell. At times, when winds are right, a 28 gauge will bring down a chukar or ringneck at astonishing distances, but its best to limit your shots to 30 yards or less. And that's within the range of 90 percent of upland bird gunnery. If you wish to experience renewed enthusiasm in the sport of aerial targets, feathered or clay, the 28 gauge is the shotgun you should have under your arm, and at your shoulder.