AMERICAN SMALL ARMS
It is doubtful at what time guns were first used as sporting arms; but early French and Italian works seem to indicate the close of the 14th century. We find a curious illustration in an old manuscript, entitled, "Ye Gonne and How to Use It," dated 1446. This curious sketch is evidently a caricature; but it is sufficient to show that all firearms were used for game shooting in the early part of the 15th century. We have notices of the same in several records of that century, and by the close of the 16th century the gun seems to have become so general a sporting weapon as to necessitate special regulations in several European countries. About 1580, an Italian work informs us, shooting at birds flying and animals in motion was first practiced; but this could not have been to any great extent. It was not until the close of the 18th century that shooting on the wing became at all common. Since that time it has been so universally practiced as to make shooting at any fixed object with a shot-gun unsportsmanlike. The well-balanced and light guns made by the crack gunsmiths of the early part of the last century greatly favored snap-shooting, and many of the sportsmen of those days, if they did not make such large bags as those of to-day, enjoyed sport into a good old age, and were hale and hearty to the last.
Sporting arms may be classed as shot-guns, pistols, carbines and rifles. Muzzle-loaders are but little used at the present time. Most breech-loaders employ the metallic case cartridge, and are divided into simple breech-loaders and repeaters. The essential parts of all such arms are the barrel, the chamber, the breech-mechanism, the lock, the stock, the sights ,and the mountings, and in repeaters the magazine. If the chamber be made in the piece which closes the breech, commonly called the breech-block, the arm is said to have a movable chamber; if it be formed by counter boring the barrel, it is said to have a fixed chamber. The latter has great advantages, and is generally used. With the fixed chamber the interior of the barrel is divided into two distinct parts, viz., the bore proper, or space through which the projectile moves under the influence of the powder, and the chamber in which the charge is deposited. The principal parts peculiar to breech-loaders are: 1st. The moveable breech block by which the chamber is opened and closed. 2d. The breech frame, upon which the breech-block is mounted and united to the barrel. 3d. The chamber, with its recess, to receive the rim of the cartridge. 4th. The firing-pin, which transmits the blow of the hammer to the cartridge. 5th. The extractor, by which the empty case is removed after firing.
The foregoing named parts may be said to be essential to all breech loading arms in which the metallic cartridge is used; the different ways in which they are combined mark the systems. These combinations have reference chiefly to the modes of operating and locking the breech-block. The different systems may be classified into: 1st, those with a fixed chamber; 2d, those with a movable chamber. The latter have now become obsolete. The first class have: 1st, a movable barrel; 2d, a movable breech-block. With each the motion may be sliding, in which case it moves in grooves; rotating, when it swings on a hinge; or sliding and rotating combined. The greater number of systems belongs to the class of a "movable breech-block rotating about an axis." In arms of this class the axis of motion may be parallel to the axis of the barrel, and above, below, or to one side of it; or perpendicular to that axis, being vertical or horizontal, and lying in or out of the plane of the axis. The position of the hinge has an important influence on the facility of operating the block, inserting the cartridge, and extracting the empty shell; the most suitable position is deemed to be in front of the center of the block. In this case the motion of opening and closing the block is natural and easy; the cartridge is pushed into its place by the block, and a very simple retractor serves to withdraw the empty shell after firing. The most serious defect found in breech-loading arms was the escape of the flame through the joint, which not only incommoded the shooter, but, by fouling the machinery, seriously interfered with its operation. At present this is entirely overcome by the elastic metallic case of the cartridge. The advantages of breech-loading over muzzle loading arms are: 1st. Greater certainty and rapidity of fire. 2d. Greater security from accidents and loading. 3d. The impossibility of getting more than one cartridge into the piece at the same time. 4th. Greater facility of loading under all circumstances, and particularly when the soldier is mounted, lying on the ground, or firing from behind any cover.
Farrow, Edward S. American Small Arms; a Veritable Encyclopedia of Knowledge for Sportsmen and Military Men. New York: Bradford, 1904. Print.
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