Self-defense is man’s natural instinct. He has looked for different ways of protecting himself since the inception of civilization. Sophisticated armaments slowly replaced crude stone weapons over the ages. Today mankind is equipped with such lethal weapons that misjudgment and indiscriminate use of any can cause devastation of unconceivable proportion. The rifle is an important firearm, which has been used by man over centuries to attack as well as defend and to establish his supremacy. It is designed to position on the shoulder and fire.
How did the rifle get its name? The interior wall of the barrel of the rifle is carved with grooves also known as ‘ rifling’. The gun came to be known as a ‘rifled gun’ because of these inner surface grooves. When the tip of these undulations come in contact with the bullet or projectile, a spinning motion is imparted which not only helps to stabilize the bullet but increase its accuracy and range. Today we use riffles for sports, hunting and warfare.
It is difficult to say when actually the story of the rifle began. In a Swiss government edict we find the mention of rifled arms. These were not very effective as they were used with crude cannonballs and bullets of that time. It is difficult to pinpoint the origin of the rifle. It may have originated in fifteenth century Europe. Earlier, the use of muskets, or light guns with long barrels, was very common. Their bores had to be cleaned of smoke and soot frequently. Vigorous and repeated scrubbing led to the formation of ‘soot grooves’, which in turn led to the enhancement of accuracy. This is however conjectural. It was another three hundred years before the weapon came to be used largely by the infantry. It replaced the musket because of the less loading time it required. In the nineteenth century a weapon called the ‘rifled musket came to be used and the British army deployed rifle regiments equipped with the ‘baker rifle’ against Portugal and Spain. Their weapons proved to be effective because of their range and accuracy.
During the First World War the rifle proved to be the most important weapon for the infantry despite the availability of more advanced technology in the form of machine guns, grenade and mortar. The infantry had to march forward during an assault and the machine gun proved to be cumbersome owing to its weight and bulk. The effectiveness of mortar was reduced by the fact that it involved a single shot, and as for grenade, transportation in buckets proved tiring and the supplies were exhausted easily. In such a scenario the rifle proved to be the most important weapon of assault. The German army used the German Mauser. However its disadvantage lay in the fact that its magazine could hold only five cartridges. It was however used extensively for sniping. The British soldiers were equipped with the British Lee Enfield with a ten-cartridge capacity. It was dependable and sturdy and was used even in the Second World War. Even the U.S and Canadian army adopted this model. The French army used the French Berthier and the Springfield.U.S. Carbine, a type of short-barreled rifle, was also used in the First World War.
The bloodbath and butchery of the First World War was the greatest vilification and at the same time vindication of the rifle. The war saw extensive use of the Lee-Enfield rifles, which had a firing range of about one mile. It was difficult to cause rampage with individual firing but attack from a platoon produced the effect of an assault caused by a machine gun. By the Second World War its use was slowly phasing out as it was unanimously accepted that distant assaults were best carried out with machine guns and attention was being diverted towards more advanced and compact weaponry. Anti material rifles is the latest development. The Barrett M82A1 developed by U.S.A. is the best example of such rifle. It is used to attack radio trucks, control vehicles and even engines of army aircraft. Anti material rifles are unsuitable for attacks on humans as their bulk and massive recoil impact render them less practical. In 2002 Rob Furlong, a Canadian army personnel, shot a Taliban rebel group in Afghanistan from a distance of 2,430 meters in the course of Operation Anaconda with a McMillan TAC-50 rifle.
The story of the rifle remains incomplete without a discussion on the different types of rifles. The air rifle makes use of compressed air or gas for firing projectiles. Such rifles are mainly used for hunting and sporting events. The cavalry of the Union Army adopted Spencer repeating rifle during American Civil War. A lighter and smaller version was the Spenser Carbine. Automatic rifles are self-loading in nature but are incapable of firing automatically. The assault rifle is a sub category of automatic rifle.eg The Kalashnikov AK-47.The more expensive Double Barreled Rifle consists of two barrels as a result of which the recoil impact is greater. This rifle was once very popular in India as well as Africa for hunting purposes as 2 quick shots were fired one after the other. The Lloyd Rifle, named after its inventor David Lloyd is highly accurate at long ranges. The Anti Material Rifle is effective for targeting enemies at a long range at a low cost. Some other important names are the Battle Rifle, Sniper Rifle, Recoilless Rifle, and Pennsylvania or Kentucky Rifle.
Nowadays rifles are very commonly used for hunting as well as sporting events. The AR-15 and AK-47 are today popular in U.S.A for shooting target. The use of these kinds of rifles is forbidden or restricted. So single shot rifles are used instead. The story of the rifle continues as science and technology continues to work at it in order to bring in greater efficacy and utility.