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Why Do Rifles Have Long Barrels?

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Every gun has a unique design, appearance, and purpose. Rifles are easy to tell apart primarily for their longer barrel length than other guns. This difference is not cosmetic, however.

Rifles have long barrels to shoot further than other gun designs. The longer barrel length increases the bullet's muzzle velocity. This reduces the time it takes for the bullet to reach its target allowing it to fly a further distance before gravity pulls it to the ground.

The purpose of your rifle will determine specific muzzle velocities, bullet weight, caliber, and the length of the barrel that maximize your overall effectiveness as a rifle shooter.

Muzzle Velocity

Muzzle velocity, the most crucial factor for whether a firearm can shoot long distances accurately, is essential for a simple reason. If you were to drop a cartridge from your hand and fire the same type of bullet from a rifle, they would hit the ground simultaneously. The effect of gravity pulling the bullet to the earth will be the same either way. For longer shots, it's important to remember that the longer the bullet is in the air, the more effect gravity will have on its flight path. It will actually increase with velocity towards the ground the longer it is in flight.

This means that the faster the bullet leaves the muzzle for rifles, the further it will get before the range and power of the shot are limited by gravity, drag, and wind resistance.

Being aware of the muzzle velocity speeds of your rifle is essential for choosing the weight and caliber of the bullets you will use for accurate long-range shooting.

Ammunition

Because rifles shoot longer distances, the cartridges for long-range calibers have a few factors that couple with the rifle's longer barrel to increase effectiveness downrange.

The amount of powder inside the shell casing needs ample barrel length to burn to completion, maximizing the muzzle velocity.

The most critical factor for ammunition types and bullet weights depends upon your rifle use. For example, if you're a precision long-range target shooter, as long as the bullet consistently strikes your intended target, muzzle velocity and power are not something to think about too much.
On the other hand, hunters must consider how much energy the bullet delivers downrange at a given distance.

For target shooting, faster, lighter bullets will reach their targets more quickly than a slower, heavier bullet. What the lighter bullet benefits from in speed and "flatter" shooting, it loses in energy on target. For the heavier bullet, the opposite is true. The heavier bullet will carry more power downrange to its target, but it spends more time in the air than the lighter bullet.

The hunters' rifle might be perfectly capable of hitting a target out to a thousand yards. Suppose a bullet has slowed down too much by the time it reaches hunted game, however. In that case, missing or worse, wounding or killing the animal (inhumanely) is highly likely outside of your effective energy range. The caliber, along with factors like barrel length and muzzle velocity, will then determine how much force your bullet has for proper penetration and expansion on impact.

Shooting rifles is a much more rewarding and engaging experience when your ideal range and ammunition type sync with your rifle's purpose.

Barrel Length

Compared to different types of guns, the length of a rifle barrel makes it accurate to shoot longer distances. This is a matter of design and purpose for the use of the firearm. A pistol doesn't need a long barrel to shoot incredibly long ranges because it is for short-range engagements and self-defense.

However, there is a lot more to consider regarding variances in rifle barrel length, including some common misconceptions. Contrary to popular belief, the barrel length of a rifle is not the primary factor when considering accuracy. A shorter barrel doesn't mean less accurate than a longer one on a rifle. The most important factor for long-range accuracy is stability. The more stable a rifle, the more accurately it will shoot.

Imagine holding a stick that's about a foot long in both hands and bending it until it snaps. Then imagine a stick only about half that length and do the same. The shorter stick will flex and move much less than the foot-long stick. A rifle barrel works the same way. A longer barrel will lose stability as it begins to "whip" or flex when fired. A shorter barrel tends to be more stable, resulting in more shots in the same place consistently.

When a firearm is more stable, the more accurate it will be.

It's important to note that accuracy and precision are not the same things. Accuracy means that the gun, if in the same position, will fire in the same place every time. This doesn't mean that that place is on the bull's eye of your target. If your shots land low and left every time you shot but were consistent in shooting low and left with decent grouping, your gun is still "accurate" in the sense that it is stable and consistent. A gun in the same situation they fired wildly would be an inaccurate gun.

Precision, on the other hand, is a matter of that bullseye engagement. Precision, unlike accuracy, is a matter of the entire weapon system, which includes things like the ammunition you use, the barrel length, the range you are shooting at, and the skill of the shooter.

To be precise, the barrel length that you choose for your rifle is a matter of the rifle's purpose. Suppose you want to be a precise hunter. In that case, the barrel length should optimize accuracy through stability and power at the distance that you generally hunt from. If you are a target shooter, a shorter barrel that is highly stable and accurate might be just what you need for engaging targets with precision at a long range while neglecting stopping power downrange.

Conclusion

Shooting rifles because of their uniquely long barrels and long ranges provide a different and reward experience than what you can enjoy using other firearms. While barrel length is important for several reasons, the overall length, caliber, and ammo used should all be tailored and specific to what you want as a shooter.

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