Modern humans have been around for thousands of years, so guns are a relatively new tool. The first firearm goes back to around the 10th century in China, where fire lances used bamboo and gunpowder to launch spears. Now, there are numerous types of guns for various recreational uses, with hunting among the top activities. Rifles have been the gun of choice for hunters for nearly 300 years. How did the modern hunting rifle make it here?
1. Pennsylvania Rifle
Nowadays, the standard for hunting rifles centers around models like the current hunting rifle
from Christensen Arms. But to understand rifles in 2023, you’ll have to go back to the early 1700s.
North America was growing with European settlers from England, France, Spain and more. Though, the Germans inspired the first rifle — the Pennsylvania rifle. This firearm was an upgrade over the musket because it had a much better range. The Pennsylvania rifle drew inspiration from jäger rifles used in German hunting, which started at around 54 inches long but could expand to over 6 feet.
2. Medad Hills’ Long Rifle
The Pennsylvania rifle — also known as the Kentucky rifle — was successful in the American colonies and led to similar models in the 18th century. For example, gunsmith Medad Hills crafted fowling pieces
for hunting. Hills produced guns in Connecticut and helped hunters by creating long-barreled guns for increased accuracy. He later served in the Revolutionary War and made muskets for Connecticut in 1776.
3. Plains Rifles
After the Revolutionary War, rifle manufacturing began to take off in the United States, starting with the plains rifles. The new Americans began to expand westward and used plains rifles on the flat lands. Also known as the Hawken rifle, the plains rifle was shorter than its Pennsylvania predecessor but had a larger caliber, typically starting at .50. They were popular among hunters and trappers who needed to take down large animals from a distance.
4. Winchester 1876
A few decades later, the country broke out into a civil war. This era used military rifles from manufacturers like Springfield. However, it wasn’t until after the war that you’d see the hunting rifle that would inspire hunting rifles for decades.
Winchester was critical for late 19th-century rifles, starting with its 1876 model. This rifle was among the most high-powered yet for hunters. The Winchester 1876 was among the earliest repeaters and it had powerful capabilities with sizable ammunition — the intense bullets were necessary to take down large game like buffalo.
5. Winchester 1895
The success of the 1876 model led Winchester to create the 1895. This rifle was a repeater that featured smokeless rounds. Unlike its predecessors, the 1895 model was innovative because it included a box magazine below the action. It may be less powerful than models today, but it was incredibly potent for the time.
6. Winchester Model 70
Fast forward a bit to 1936. The country was in the Great Depression, but Winchester still produced excellent hunting rifles. Hunters called the Model 70 from Winchester
the rifleman’s rifle, taking inspiration from Mauser, the German manufacturer. Winchester made the rifle with a controlled feed until 1964 before switching to a push feed and it still makes variations of the Model 70 today.
7. Marlin 336 (1948)
After World War II, Marlin introduced the 336 model
as a successor to its 1893 rifle. It’s a lever-action rifle your grandfather may have owned to go deer hunting. Its specs may vary, but you’ll typically see it with a .30 or .35 caliber. The barrel can be as short as 20 inches or extend to 24 inches long. Marlin no longer makes the 336, but, Ruger — who purchased Marlin — plans to bring it back in 2023.
8. Remington 700 (1962)
1962 saw what could be the best hunting rifle ever made — the Remington Model 700. This rifle is the most popular bolt-action firearm, with over five million sold
since its inception. In the last 60 years, Remington has made numerous variations to keep up with modern demand. This model is famous for its pair of dual-opposed lugs and a recessed bolt face.
The Remington 700 became the hunting rifle of choice for many across America, leading to its adoption by the U.S. military and law enforcement. Remington also makes 700s for the police — the 700P. The manufacturer makes the M24 and M49 sniper rifles for the military based on the 700.
The Evolution of Hunting Rifles
Rifles have come a long way since the beginning. Imagine picking up a Pennsylvania rifle and comparing it to your Mauser 18 Savanna. The hunting rifle helped settlers and early Americans hunt and sustain themselves and the evolution has led to the great rifles you know today, like the Remington 700.
How Has the Hunting Rifle Evolved Over the Last 300 Years?
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