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Disclaimer: This series of blogs will deal with the issue of handguns, shotguns and rifles. The information is to help writers write more accurately about them. It is in no way a statement for or against guns and should not be misconstrued to be such.
To conclude the discussion on long guns, let’s review rifles. Rifles are called rifles because of the rifling in their barrels.
What is rifling? Rifling is spiral grooves cut inside the barrel. Rifling causes the oblong shell or cartridge to spin. The spin allows the bullet to travel straighter and farther than without it. Think of a football. If it’s not spinning, it isn’t going very far.
Rifles are as task specific as shotguns. They’re really too numerous to discuss with any specificity here because for each task, there can be a number of configurations for that rifle. There have been books written on specific rifle types and if you are writing in such detail, do the research and get one of those books. For our purposes, I’ll keep it generalized and basic.
Rifles, like all other firearms, come with different actions. The action is the method of getting the cartridge loaded and the hammer cocked ready for shooting.
Break action rifles break open at the receiver just like the break action shotguns. They can come with single or double barrels. The double barrels are used for firing two, typically large caliber, cartridges rapidly. They are rare and have an incredible recoil. The double barrels are used mainly in hunting big game. Think African safaris.
Bolt action rifles most commonly have an internal magazine so more than one cartridge can be loaded. The number of cartridges that can be loaded in the magazine will be determined by the caliber of the rifle. Anywhere from 3 – 20 depending.
Pump action rifles also have an internal magazine. They make that ratcheting sound like the shotguns do. Typically, the pump action rifles handle smaller caliber cartridges.
Lever action rifles also have an internal magazine and can hold an number of cartridges for rapidly firing in succession. They are the old “cowboy” style where the lever is pulled and then the trigger is pulled. Think the opening sequence to “The Rifleman” from the late 1950’s to early 1960’s starring Chuck Connors. If you are too young to remember it, or never had the pleasure, you can see it here.
Finally, there are the semi automatic rifles. These will usually have detachable magazines.
Rifles shoot cartridges that contain a single bullet rather than a number of pellets that the shotguns shoot. They are also more accurate at longer distances. The size and varieties of the cartridges rifles shoot are as individual as the rifles themselves. They are even measured in both English measures and metric. However, the most popular American cartridge is the 30-06.
Rifles come in any number of styles and configuration and can be utilitarian and “off the shelf,” or highly customized with adjustable stocks and engraving, antique and rare.
A couple of other types of rifles are the carbine rifles which have a shorter barrel than other rifles and is capable of shooting handgun ammunition. And military style rifles, basically, are semi automatic rifles with a defined pistol grip and detachable magazine.
Rifles also come with iron sights and are commonly tapped for attaching a scope. Scopes are sold separately. They, rifles, are usually only sighted up to 100 yard straight from the store. To have them adjusted for accuracy for longer than that they must be taken to the range.
Rarely will rifles be used in committing a crime because they are too long to conceal. There would be no point in sawing off the barrel because that is where the accuracy of this particular weapon comes from. However, if your character is a sniper, he or she may be using a bolt action or semi automatic rifle.
If you have an older character, he may have on hand an M1 Garand which was the WWII service rifle. They are still available today. Or, he may have an old lever action rifle.
A good thing to remember is that rifles can shoot farther than the average person can see. So if your character shoots but misses his target, he may hit something else. That may be something to consider.
If your character is a sniper, and his target is at a long distance he will have to take into consideration effects on the bullet. There are all sorts of things from temperature, humidity, wind, elevation of the target and elevation of the sniper, and if the distance is great enough even the curvature of the earth.
With all things, if you are writing rifles into your story, you will want to do your research. Read books, go to a gun store, go to a rifle range, ask questions. Happy writing!
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