No one is entirely sure who invented guns. They seem to have come about when European armies began looking for ways to use Chinese gunpowder. In fact, the history of rifle hunting begins with turning military technology into practical peacetime uses.
The first guns were essentially miniature cannons -- metal tubes that used gunpowder to force a ball-shaped lead projectile forward. They fired with fuses rather than triggers. In the 16th century, the English Civil War saw the first attempts to make these weapons more practical for foot soldiers, which led to the development of the trigger and a series of firing devices -- the matchlock, the Wheelock and the flintlock. These early weapons still had numerous problems with accuracy, and in some cases soldiers simply gave up and threw the gun at the enemy [source: Global Security].
Rifling -- cutting grooves into the barrel to improve shooting accuracy -- is another development for which no single person gets credit. The practice was widespread by the American Revolutionary War and well established on the hunting scene as well.
A drawback of the rifle was that gunpowder tended to accumulate in the grooves, which made cleaning the barrel difficult. The speed of loading bullets was another concern -- both for hunters and soldiers. At most, a trained marksman could fire only three times in a minute.
The integrated cartridge -- which combined the bullet, primer, powder and the firing charge within a casing -- was developed in France in the early 1800s. Cartridges dramatically reduced the loading time required for rifles. The rest of the century saw further improvements in the way rifles were loaded and fired, including breech-loading mechanisms and refinements to cartridge design. Unsurprisingly, many of these improvements were developed and standardized on the battlefield and then found their way into other aspects of life.
In North America, rifles were as important for self-defense as they were for procuring food. A culture of hunting and marksmanship flourished in the American colonies and continued roughly until the close of the frontier, which was around the end of the 19th century.
In the 1890s, bolt-action rifles came onto the scene. The bolt-action rifle used magazine cartridges. It was efficient and trusty, easy to load and maintain. It remains a favorite still today.
So when we hunt, are we doing anything different from what our forebears did? Read on to find out.