Firearm whose barrel is rifled (i.e., has spiral grooves cut inside it to give a spin to the projectile). Though usually applied to a weapon fired from the shoulder, the name can also refer to a rifled cannon. Rifled firearms date to at least the 15th century, when it was discovered that imparting a spin to the bullet improved its range and accuracy. The earliest muzzle-loading rifles were more difficult to load than smoothbore muskets, but the invention of metallic cartridges made possible the development of breech-loading mechanisms. Bolt-action rifles, which use a manually operated cylinder to drive the cartridge into the rifle's chamber, are the most common type for hunting. See also assault rifle.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on rifle, visit Britannica.com.
Seen & Heard
What made you look up rifle? Please tell us what you were reading, watching or discussing that led you here.