A History of the Modern Shotgun

The history of the modern shotugn is incredibly interesting.  Here at The Gun Source we’ve written up a brief, but informative history of shotguns that anyone can digest and learn from.

Shotguns: An Overview

A shotgun is a powerful firearm that is usually fired from the shoulder. It fires a fixed shell containing numerous small, spherical pellets (called shot) that spread out over a relatively short distance. It may also fire a solid slug.

Shotguns are designed with a wide range of bore sizes and cartridge gauges. Some shotguns are small enough to hold with one hand and others are so massive that they need to be stabilized by a mount because they are longer or heavier than the operator.

There are also numerous shotgun types (with varying operating mechanisms or fire actions) such as double-barrelled (break-action), breech loading, lever-action, pump-action (slide-action), revolver, semi-automatic (autoloading), or fully automatic. Several of these design factors are discussed in subsequent articles.

Some History

Modern shotguns descended from smoothbore firearms of the 15th to 18th centuries such as the arquebus, blunderbuss, fowling piece, and musket.

These ancestor firearms were able to fire shot or solid balls due to their large diameter barrels and were commonly used in hunting, sport shooting, and military combat.

A blunderbuss is a firearm with a short, large caliber barrel and flared muzzle that is loaded with shot or random projectiles. It is widely considered to be the direct ancestor of the modern shotgun. The classic muzzle-loading ‘Brown Bess’ smoothbore flintlock musket used by the British army from 1722 to 1838 had a barrel roughly the same size as a 10 gauge shotgun.

Musketeers also started to deploy a “buck and ball” loading tactic with the Brown Bess during the 18th century in which a musket ball was loaded down the barrel along with three to six buckshot. This allowed the musket to produce an effect similar to a shotgun.

Evolution Of The Modern Shotgun

Eventually, smaller bores and rifled barrels were adopted in firearms and shotguns began to emerge as a separate entity from rifles and muskets.

This categorical separation brought about many modifications and advancements to the shotgun’s overall design and operating mechanisms. For example, breech loading shotguns and hammerless shotguns (no exposed firing hammer) were introduced by the mid-19th century.

These archetypes paved the way for what most people perceive as a contemporary shotgun: a medium length firearm that is cartridge-loaded by hand from the top-rear (closer to the backstock and trigger hand) and without needing a hammer or exterior mechanism to be pulled before firing. However, the main characteristics that distinguish a shotgun from other firearms are those that describe the firing shot.

A typical shotgun shell must be relatively short and wide, with straight walls and operate at low pressure (this is partly why smoothbore shotgun shells travel slower and shorter than pistol and rifle rounds). However, rifled shotguns fire solid slugs that travel farther and more accurately than the typical spread shot from smooth bore barrels.

Modern Use

As previously mentioned, shotguns usually fire shells filled with shot (tiny pellets) that spread out after leaving the barrel. This spread shot is arguably the firearm’s most defining characteristic.

The efficacy of shotguns in the civilian and military spheres has been apparent since adoption of the firearm began in the 19th century.

Although shotguns were mostly used for hunting and sport prior to the 20th century, the World Wars saw a significant reintroduction of shotguns for military use — especially during the trench warfare of WW1 and the jungle combat of the Pacific War during WWII.

Since then, the shotgun has remained a specialty weapon for modern military units. Many effective uses have been associated with all types of shotguns. For example, shotguns are an immensely popular firearm for hunting, sport shooting, and self-defense (especially at short range).  So long as you keep your shotgun clean, you’ll be able to rely on it as a multi use tool.

They have immense stopping power (more than most pistols and rifles) and outstanding offensive capabilities, thus making them a favorite tactical weapon for law enforcement agencies and military units.

The spreading of the firing shot makes the firearm an excellent choice for inexperienced shooters because they do not have to aim a shotgun as precisely as other firearms to hit their target. It’s not uncommon to see people shooting them using red dots.  Shotgun shells are ideal for small and fast moving targets which is why shotguns are popular in hunting and competitive sport shooting.

The following articles will describe in detail various shotgun design types and operating mechanisms as well as offer superior products that you can purchase for your own needs.