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How Shotguns Work

How Shotguns Work



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Published by Murat SAVSA

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Published by: Murat SAVSA on Jan 05, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Shotguns first came into use in the early 1600s. The first two-barrel shotgun appeared in 1873,and the first modern, hammerless, pump-action shotgun was produced in 1904. By the turn of thecentury, they were immensely popular. Many military officers loved their personal shotguns somuch that they brought them along instead of sidearms to World War I, earning them thenickname "trench guns." Since then, they have become a permanent part of the military arsenaland a part of the everyday lives of many civilians as well.
Photo courtesyShotgun World
Winchester 12-gauge Super X2
Why a shotgun instead of, say, a rifle? Well, to do its job, a projectile must:
make contact with the target
hit the target in a critical spotWith a wider stream of potentially deadly projectiles, a shotgun is like using a can of spray paint ifa rifle is like using a felt-tip pen. As long as the target is within its effective range, a shotgun willgive you a much better chance of making critical contact with one pull of the trigger.The shotgun is the Swiss-army knife of guns. It is an indispensable tool -- on the farm, in combatand on the hunt. They are just as useful in non-lethal situations, like for scaring away pests or foropening locked doors in a police or military situation, as they are for big game hunting. In thisarticle, you'll find out how shotguns work, what different types are out there and about the varioustypes of ammo a shotgun can accommodate.
The Basics
Whether you're talking about a handgun, a rifle or a shotgun, all modern guns have to do some ofthe same things. They have to send ammunition flying out of a long cylinder called a barrel, andthey have to allow for the loading and unloading of new and spent ammunition. When you pull thetrigger, a hammer or firing pin strikes an explosive charge on the back of a cartridge or bullet.This causes a small explosion that changes the air pressure in the barrel, forcing whatever was infront of the explosion (such as a bullet or metal pellets) out the other side at an extremely fastspeed.
Target practice
Shotguns are designed to fire
batches of small projectiles
instead of single bullets with eachpull of the trigger. These projectiles themselves don't have to be aerodynamic like bullets andaren't expected to travel long distances. They are designed to cause their worst damage at closerranges. Shotgun ammo comes in varying shapes and sizes and includes lead, steel and bismuthpellets, bean bags, rock salt and rocket-like sabots. Shotguns can also fire individual metal slugs.
Know Your Shotgun Parts
All shotguns have some of the same basic components. Starting from the end nearest to theshooter, there's often a
that allows you to steady it against your shoulder muscles. Somemanufacturers put a recoil pad at the end of the stock to help dampen the kick you feel when youfire it. There are some shotguns, usually "assault" style, that have foldaway stocks or no stock atall. Moving forward from the stock, you'll find all of the parts associated with firing. This includesthe
that connects to the
. Some shotguns have a
pistol grip
thatextends downward below the trigger.The hammer activates the
bolt assembly
firing pin
, which rests against the
to befired. Now we're at the
, where the loading, unloading and firing happens. The chambercan be accessible from the side or the top. Connecting to the chamber is the
, which is thelong tube that the ammo travels through as it leaves the gun. Some shotguns have a
 connected to the chamber -- this may take the form of a second, shorter tube below the barrel orelse a drum or rectangular cartridge that snaps into the barrel. There may also be a
(asliding handle colloquially known as a
) attached to the shorter tube, which is used topartially automate the loading and unloading process. On the top of the barrel, you'll often find abump that's used as a crude
Making a Barrel
Creating a long, straight, consistent hollow tube that can stand upto over 5,000 psi of pressure is one of the hardest parts of makinga shotgun or rifle. First, a gunmaker takes a superstrong
stainless steel
bar and uses a specialized gundrill to hollow it out. Unlike normal drills, most
gun drills
spin thesteel bar instead of the drill bit. As the bit moves along inside thetube that guides its path, the machine shoots oil down the tube toclear the debris, lubricate the path and keep it cool. It takes abouta half hour to drill out one barrel. This gets most of the work done,but the resulting hole is usually not large or consistent enough yet.A second machine reams out the last few thousandths of an inchand makes the diameter consistent along the whole barrel.
Measuring Up: Gauge vs. Caliber
Shotgun sizes have always been measured in a somewhat roundabout way. You would think thatthe "12" in a 12-gauge shotgun corresponds to some linear measurement -- maybe inches orcentimeters. But that's not the case. "12-gauge" means you can make 12 lead balls, each of
equal diameter to the gun barrel, out of1 pound of lead. This originated in the days when youwould buy lead by the pound to make your own ammo. The gauge told you how many rounds youcould make for the gun from 1 pound of lead.The smaller the gauge number, the wider the barrel. The largest shotgun is a 4-gauge. The .410shotgun, the smallest, is an exception to the rule: It's actually a .410-caliber -- it has a .41-inchbarrel diameter.In general, the smaller the barrel diameter, the less "kick" or recoil the shooter feels from the gun.Many experts say that a 20-gauge shotgun is a good beginner's gun because it has relatively littlerecoil but fires more shot per shell than the smaller-diameter .410-caliber.
Action and Barrel Types
Besides firing, another thing shotguns have to do is set a new cartridge in the chamber and getrid of what's left over from a cartridge that has just been fired. Over time, shotgun manufacturershave developed several different technologies to accomplish this. As new innovations have comealong, most of the old designs have stuck around, though. Some of the simplest ways toaccomplish the task are still the most effective and dependable.

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