What is the Difference between a Shotgun and a Rifle?

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The reason you have probably confused a shotgun to a rifle is there resembling structures and somehow the same functionalities. Both the shotgun and the rifle share the two-handed structure and can be both used to fire at least a single projectile with the shotgun doing more than a single projectile emission.

With the rising cases of customers confusing the two guns, it is only prudent that I shed some light on their differences so that you may not get caught in the mix of these confusions. While a majority of seasoned gun users may have an easy time telling these two types of guns apart, it might not be an easy task for the starters. Therefore, let us look at what these two types of weapons are and what they have that makes them different below.

The Shotgun

What is a Shotgun?

A shotgun is simply a long firearm that you place on your shoulder when shooting for easy and comfortable shots, usually with a wooden stock. It is also commonly known as a smooth-bore gun used to fire small shots at a short-range.  Shotgun ammunition in the US is commonly known as shotshells, shotgun shells, or simply shells. 

When fired, the ammunition spreads in a diverging pattern after they leave the muzzle, which means a shotgun makes multiple shots at a go. Commonly a shotgun is used in hunting small moving targets such as birds, hares, squirrels, and the likes. 

The earliest forms of shotgun firearms to be loaded with shots were the ‘Fowling Pieces’ that was first released in Europe’s 16th century. When the 17th century came knocking, the manufacturers started making shotguns with barrels as long as 1.8m or 6 feet long to benefit maximum accuracy. 

Modern Shotguns

Today, the shotguns you see in the market are an evolution of a series of 19th-century improvements in gunpowder, cartridges, and guns. Also, the modern shotguns have shortened barrels to allow for possible accommodation of an extra barrel. The two barrels are mounted pointing and shooting the same object at the same time to increase your chances of hitting your target.

If you love precision in your shotgun, you will love the modern choke system introduced to help tighten the pellets’ pattern at the muzzle end. The choke system helps to control how wide or restricted the shot pattern is. Also, in the 19th century, a system known as repeating shotguns was introduced. In this system, you could load several cartridges and successfully position them in the firing chamber by a cocking action.  

The system ensured that you achieved high effectiveness in your shooting escapades as well as convenience. For semi-automatic shotguns, firing a shot will automatically position the next round for shooting. Shotguns can effectively shoot from a range of 50 yards and can be used in several shooting escapades, including skeet shooting, trap shooting, and police weapons in most countries. 

What are the Different Types of Shotguns?

You may want to know about several types of shotguns as you get to learn more about how shotguns differ from rifles. Shotguns today exist in different varieties, including pump-action, lever-action, semi-automatic, and full automatic shotguns. You can pick any of these depending on the activity you intend to use the gun for.

Let us have a look.

Break-actions Shotguns

A break-action shotgun gets its name from the way it is made, whereby you can ‘break’ or open the barrel to expose the gun’s breach for you to load your ammunition. This whole opening and closing process are made possible thanks to the hinge situated between the barrel and the stock. Break action shotguns were very famous among cowboys and old big game hunters, and you’ve probably seen them in movies or old pictures.

Break-actions shotguns are a perfect example of double-barreled shotguns. They had the barrels either placed side-by-side or one on top of the other for effective shooting. Hunters and sport shooters mainly use them though they can only achieve a single shot. This means once you fire a single round, you will need to reload for the next shot. Here are some examples of break action shotguns.

Pump-action Shotguns

This is a single action shotgun that can achieve multiple rounds, unlike break-action shotguns that manage only one round. You easily get rid of a spent shell and chamber a new round by pulling the pump handle towards yourself, then pushing it back to its original position in readiness for a shot. Thanks to their ability and reliability to hold multiple rounds, the pump-action shotguns are prevalent among police officers around the world.

Since pump-action shotguns are easy to use, are super reliable, and nearly impossible to break, they are also an excellent home defense preference amongst many gun users. Plus, they fire in an intimidating sound that sends burglars and thieves into fear even before they achieve their wicked actions.

However, you should be careful when stroking this gun since if you do it wrongly by pushing the pump halfway to its original position, it will result in a failure to chamber the next round into the magazine. This is known as short stroking. Here is a list of pump action shotguns.

Semi-Automatic Shotguns

With a semi-automatic shotgun, you can fire only one shell each time you pull the trigger, and automatically the spent shell is ejected from the barrel. Once the used shell is ejected, a new one is chambered automatically into the magazine’s barrel, allowing you to achieve quick and successive shots.

If you are planning to own and hunt with a semi-automatic shotgun, you have to check with your country’s regulations and understand if using the gun for hunting is allowed. These guns are also more prone to jamming failures than the other two types of shotguns. This is because rounds are automatically loaded into the barrel, and the guns have a much more complex structure. See this list of semi-automatic shotguns.

The Rifle 

What is a Rifle?

The rifle was first invented and used in the early 1700s (18th century), and it has been one of the most trusted forms of weaponry and self-defense since then. Before they were the muskets and cannons, which were the only other weapons that could fire projectiles, their arrival was a breakthrough to many gun users who needed to fire projectiles at that time. 

These guns are referred to as rifles because of a feature they harbor within them. The guns are fitted with a series of spiral grooves around the barrel’s inside wall, a process known as rifling. The grooves are responsible for spinning the projectile being fired as it moves through the barrel instead of just exploding out.  

With the spinning action, you are sure of a much more stable projectile flight path, which boosts your accuracy every time you fire a shot. Its invention was such a significant breakthrough. For the first time, a person could aim before shooting and be sure of where of the direction of their. While the gun significantly boosted success in hunting, it also gave gunmen a competitive advantage in battlefields.

Its Functioning

In simple terms, a rifle refers to a long-barreled firearm, simply designed for precise and accurate shooting. A rifle is, therefore, more reliable than a shotgun. The guns rest on your shoulder entirely, thanks to the unique buttstock it comes with for better stability when shooting. When shooting, you will have to hold the gun with both hands for a firm grip and weapon stability on your shoulder.

Its projectile (bullet or pellet) is propelled by the contained deflagration of a flammable propellant compound. The initial compound used in combustion in this gun was the black powder. Cordite replaced the black powder, and finally, nitrocellulose took over to date.

The rifling feature in a rifle’s barrel stands out as the main feature that sets it apart from other guns. The raised parts of the barrel’s rifling are known as lands. They make contact with the moving projectile forcing it to spin along its longitudinal axis. The spin continues even after the projectile has left the barrel, causing it not to lose direction and aim along with the flight for an accurate shot.

What are the Different Types of Rifles?

Rifles also exist in different types and shapes. Here are some of them that you may want to have a look at.

Lever-Action Rifles

A lever-action rifle was among the first types of rifles . With the help of a handle situated behind the trigger, you can easily pull the cartridge out of the tube running along the barrel and load it back into the chamber for firing. Being among the first rifles, this lever-action hunting gun is less accurate and a bit heavier than the other models. They, however, have a high cartridge capacity, which is ideal for continuous shooting experience. Check out some examples of lever action rifles.

Bolt-Action Rifles

These kinds of rifles use a small metal that protrudes from the gun’s right side behind the chamber. By moving this piece of metal upwards, downwards, or forward, you can eject a used cartridge, load a new round from the magazine and close the chamber ready for firing. Bolt-action rifles ay are easy-to-use, accurate, and durable.

Given that the guns utilize a built-in or external magazine to hold cartridges, which allows the gun to accommodate a broader range of cartridge sizes. Most marksmen and snipers greatly prefer the guns due to their accuracy and easy-to-use nature. However, the trigger’s shooting process slows down, which you must leave the gun and re-grip it after every shot. A great example of a bolt action rifle is the Remington 700, see full review here.

Semi-Automatic Rifles 

Semi-automatic rifles are today much popular among sport shooters and marksmen all over the world. Everything you need to do for a successful firing process is to move the action into a firing position once. The work will then automatically discharge the old round and reload a new one with every pull and release of the trigger.

Semi-automatic rifles fire more quickly than any other type of rifle, hence they discharge more rounds per minute. The flip side of these guns is that when they suffer a mechanical failure. Fixing them manually may prove to be a challenge due to their automatic design. Here is a list of semi-automatic rifles. 

Pump-action Rifles

Besides its prevalence in shotguns, the pump-action mechanism is also available in several rifle designs. Its action design relies on a slide mechanism situated around the barrel to eject an old cartridge and load a new one in a quick response.

One of its outstanding advantages is that you use your supporting hand rather than the trigger. This means you can easily achieve higher firing rates and improved accuracy. Loading a pump-action rifle may be slower than the other types of rifles. Since it uses tube magazines, it demands that you insert cartridges manually. 

However, despite being slow to load, the magazines can hold more rounds at a go making them more convenient . See this list of pump action rifles.

Break-Action Rifles

Also known as hinge-action, the break-action style is common in single-action shot rifles and shotguns. Here the barrels have hinges. You have to open them as you do when opening doors to allow loading and unloading of cartridges. 

Summary Table on Differences between a Shotgun and a Rifle

Hits targets that are less than 50 yards away.Hits targets that are 75 to 100 yards away.
Has a smooth bore.It comes with rifling on its bore.
It is lighter in weight.Heavier in weight.
Fires several pellets in one shell.Fires a single bullet that travels faster.
Ideal for self-defense.Ideal for long-distance shots.
Fires less powerful shots.Fires more powerful shots.

Most Popular Shotgun and Rifle Accessories

Shotgun Accessories

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Rifle Accessories

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Based on what you want to use your gun for, a shotgun or a rifle can be the best fit. Both gun options work best in their fields of specialization. The two guns also share some structural and functional similarities, making things hard for you when choosing between the two.

However, I would recommend a rifle to do as much more of what a shotgun can achieve. 

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