Most modern long guns are either rifles or shotguns. Both are the successors of the musket, diverging from their parent weapon in distinct ways. A rifle is so named for the spiral fluting (rifling) machined into the inner surface of its barrel, which imparts a self-stabilizing spin to the single bullets it fires. Shotguns are predominantly smoothbore firearms designed to fire a number of shot; pellet sizes commonly ranging between 2 mm #9 birdshot and 8.4 mm #00 (double-aught) buckshot. Shotguns are also capable of firing single slugs, or specialty (often “less lethal”) rounds such as bean bags, tear gas or breaching rounds. Rifles have a very small impact area but a long range and high accuracy. Shotguns have a large impact area with considerably less range and accuracy. However, the larger impact area can compensate for reduced accuracy, since shot spreads during flight; consequently, in hunting, shotguns are generally used for flying game.
Rifles and shotguns are commonly used for hunting and often to defend a home or place of business. Usually, large game are hunted with rifles (although shotguns can be used, particularly with slugs), while birds are hunted with shotguns. Shotguns are sometimes preferred for defending a home or business due to their wide impact area, multiple wound tracks (when using buckshot), shorter range, and reduced penetration of walls (when using lighter shot), which significantly reduces the likelihood of unintended harm, although the handgun is also common.
There are a variety of types of rifles and shotguns based on the method they are reloaded. Bolt-action and lever-action rifles are manually operated. Manipulation of the bolt or the lever causes the spent cartridge to be removed, the firing mechanism recocked, and a fresh cartridge inserted. These two types of action are almost exclusively used by rifles. Slide-action (commonly called ‘pump-action’) rifles and shotguns are manually cycled by shuttling the foregrip of the firearm back and forth. This type of action is typically used by shotguns, but several major manufacturers make rifles that use this action.
Both rifles and shotguns also come in break-action varieties that do not have any kind of reloading mechanism at all but must be hand-loaded after each shot. Both rifles and shotguns come in single- and double-barreled varieties; however due to the expense and difficulty of manufacturing, double-barreled rifles are rare. Double-barreled rifles are typically intended for African big-game hunts where the animals are dangerous, ranges are short, and speed is of the essence. Very large and powerful calibers are normal for these firearms.
have been in nationally featured marksmanship events in Europe and the United States since at least the 18th century, when rifles were first becoming widely available. One of the earliest purely “American” rifle-shooting competitions took place in 1775, when Daniel Morgan was recruiting sharpshooters in Virginia for the impending American Revolutionary War. In some countries, rifle marksmanship is still a matter of national pride. Some specialized rifles in the larger calibers are claimed to have an accurate range of up to about 1 mile (1,600 m), although most have considerably less. In the second half of the 20th century, competitive shotgun sports became perhaps even more popular than riflery, largely due to the motion and immediate feedback in activities such as skeet, trap and sporting clays.
In military use, bolt-action rifles with high-power scopes are common as sniper rifles, however by the Korean War the traditional bolt-action and semi-automatic rifles used by infantrymen had been supplemented by select-fire designs known as “automatic rifles”.