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woman aiming rifle

The shooting sports have been an American tradition for generations, and while the technology behind the tools has progressed, the same fundamental nature of the hunt remains the same.

Firearms: Rifles and Shotguns

While rifles and shotguns may have similarities and often look alike, the difference is the purpose and the barrel. Rifles are primarily designed to shoot single bullets which strike a single, usually stationary target, while shotguns are designed to fire a spread of shot or pellets in order to hit a moving target.

All rifles and shotguns have three main parts; the stock, action and barrel. The action is the part that loads, fires, and ejects a shell. The barrel is the tube the bullet or pellets pass through. The stock is the wood, metal or plastic frame that holds the barrel and action.

The main difference between rifles and shotguns is the inside of the barrel. Rifles are grooved in a spiral pattern while the inside of most shotgun barrels are smooth

What Is A Safety?

A safety is the most important part of the gun. Its purpose is to prevent the trigger, or the firing pin, from moving and thereby preventing the gun from firing. A careful hunter always knows where the safety is located on the gun before loading and firing.

However, a safety is a mechanical device. It can fail!

Just because you have the safety on doesn’t mean the gun won’t fire. Safeties should never be used as a substitute for safe gun handling and the observance of all gun safety rules.


Rifles are designed to accurately hit a precise point. They are long-barreled firearms with grooves cut into the barrel of the rifle. These grooves are called rifling and give rifles their name. The rifling makes the bullet spin as it leaves the muzzle, making the projectile much more accurate and stable in flight. Make sure the ammunition you use matches the caliber that is stamped on the side of the barrel.

Photograph courtesy of O.F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc.

There are three main types of sights for rifles – open, aperture and telescopic.

  • Open sights are composed of a post or bead at the muzzle end of the barrel and a blade with a V shape near the action. The spot you want to hit on the target should be lined up so that it appears to set on top of the post. The post should be lined up with the top of the V notch.
  • Aperture sights are also known as peep sights. Guns with aperture sights will have a post at the muzzle end of the barrel and an aperture or hole as the rear sight. The spot you want to hit on the target should be lined up so that it appears to set on top of the post. The top of the post should appear to be in the middle of the hole.
  • Telescopic sights are also known as scopes. Scopes come in many styles, but the most common has crosshairs that are lined up with the target. The main advantage of telescopic sights is that they make your sights and target appear on the same level. This means that you can keep both the target and crosshairs in focus. Using scopes does not mean you do not need to spend time practicing with your firearm.
target practice

There are three main types of sights for rifles – open, aperture and telescopic.

  • Open sights are composed of a post or bead at the muzzle end of the barrel and a blade with a V shape near the action. The spot you want to hit on the target should be lined up so that it appears to set on top of the post. The post should be lined up with the top of the V notch.
  • Aperture sights are also known as peep sights. Guns with aperture sights will have a post at the muzzle end of the barrel and an aperture or hole as the rear sight. The spot you want to hit on the target should be lined up so that it appears to set on top of the post. The top of the post should appear to be in the middle of the hole.
  • Telescopic sights are also known as scopes. Scopes come in many styles, but the most common has crosshairs that are lined up with the target. The main advantage of telescopic sights is that they make your sights and target appear on the same level. This means that you can keep both the target and crosshairs in focus. Using scopes does not mean you do not need to spend time practicing with your firearm.

The Rifle Cartridge

Cartridges are small explosive devices that have a primer at the bottom. When the primer is hit or compressed, it ignites a spark, which makes the gun powder rapidly ignite, causing the cartridge to fire. As the bullet travels down the barrel, the rifling makes the bullet spin.For quick, clean shots, a bullet must penetrate sufficiently deep to reach vital organs. Cartridges are among the least expensive items for the hunt; get the best available for your quarry, and make every shot count. Always strive to cleanly harvest the animal with one shot.

Centerfire vs. Rimfire Cartridges

The difference between a rimfire and centerfire cartridge is the location of the primer. Centerfire cartridges have the primer in the center of the bottom of the cartridge. These cartridges are usually more powerful than rimfire cartridges and are used in larger caliber firearms. Rimfire cartridges have the primer material “spun” into the edges of the rim of the cartridge and are usually used in smaller caliber firearms.


The trajectory of a bullet is the path the bullet takes from the muzzle of the gun to the target. It is not a straight line. The bullet begins to drop the second it emerges from the barrel because of the force of gravity and air resistance. Some bullets can travel a mile or more.

Man in camo with shotgun


Shotguns typically shoot a spread of small projectiles instead of a rifle’s single bullet. This increases the chances of hitting a moving target. They also have a smooth barrel inside.

Shotgun styles allow a wide variety of choices including the gauge, the type of choke and the type of action. Shotguns can also fire a single projectile, called a slug, which is similar to a rifle bullet.


Gauge is a measurement that has to do with the size of the barrel. Common shotguns are 10 gauge, 12 gauge, 16 gauge, 20 gauge and 28 gauge. The only shotgun that is not measured by gauge is the .410-caliber shotgun which means it has a .41 inch barrel diameter.

  • Shotgun gauge size is marked on the barrel of the shotgun and on the box of ammunition. Make sure the ammunition matches what is stamped on the gun barrel.


The choke is a taper in the barrel that determines the pattern of the shot. As pellets leave the barrel they spread or disperse. A tight choke keeps pellets together as they leave the barrel so they travel farther before dispersing. An open choke allows the pellets to start dispersing as soon as they leave the barrel.

The effective range of a shot shell and choke combination will vary. As a rule of thumb, the improved cylinder choke is effective 20-30 yards, the modified choke 30-40 yards and the full choke 40-50 yards.

To find out the best shot shell and choke combination to use at different distances it’s necessary to pattern your shotgun. It isn’t a complicated process, but it does take some time and effort. Patterning your shotgun will keep you from wounding or crippling game and will reduce the number of shots needed to harvest your game.

More information can be found on shotgun patterning can be found here.

The Shotgun Shell

There are five main parts of a shotgun shell: the case, primer, powder, wad and shot. The case is the outer part that holds everything together. The primer, found at the bottom of the shell, explodes when hit by the firing pin. This ignites the powder, which is just above the primer. The burning powder pushes the wad and shot out the barrel and towards the target. The wad holds the shot together until it leaves the barrel. The shot is many ball-shaped pieces of lead or lead substitute that spread out after they leave the barrel.

Shotgun Shell Size

The shotgun shell size is given in inches and determined by the length of the empty case.

Shot Size

Shot comes in a variety of sizes from very small (size #12) to very large (size #000). Choose the shot size that fits the wildlife you are hunting.

Non-Toxic Shot

Historically, shot was made from lead pellets. However, because waterfowl eat lead shot and develop lead poisoning, the use of lead shot has been banned for all waterfowl and some upland game bird hunting.

Today’s non-toxic shot is made from a variety of substances, the most popular and affordable of which is steel.

Firearms Actions

The firearm action loads, fires and ejects the cartridge or shell. The action can be:

Bolt Action

The bolt action is most often seen in rifles. Bolt action firearms are common and simple to use. Opening a bolt action firearm is as simple as pivoting the bolt upwards and pulling it backwards, using the handle on the bolt.Bolt action rifles are known for their accuracy and reliability. Jamming is extremely rare in bolt-action firearms.

Break Action

One of the simplest firearm actions is the break action.The action release on a break action firearm is usually on the top of the firearm behind the chamber.

To load a break action firearm, simply open the action using the action release, insert the ammunition into the chamber, and close the action. After firing the firearm, open the action using the action release and remove the spent ammunition manually.

Pump Action

The Pump Action is more commonly seen in shotguns than in any other type of firearm. It is a very reliable action, and an experienced shooter can go through the pumping actions very quickly, and instinctively. Sliding the front grip back and then forward ejects the spent shell, loads another shell and cocks the hammer.

Lever Action

Lever-action uses a lever located around the trigger guard area, often including the trigger guard itself, to load, fire and eject cartridges. The lever action is most commonly seen in rifles. Lever actions firearms are known for their accuracy and reliability. They are popular for short- and medium-range hunting in heavily covered areas.
Semi-Automatic Action
The semi-automatic action is very popular in both rifles and shotguns. A semi-automatic fires a bullet, ejects the spent cartridge and chambers a fresh cartridge each time the trigger is pulled.

Cleaning and Storing Your Firearm

Dirt and debris can easily collect in any firearm. You should clean your firearm after every use in order to ensure safe and efficient functioning. Every hunter should own a fully stocked cleaning kit and use it regularly.

Cleaning kits should include:

  • Bristle brushes for each caliber and gauge firearm you own
  • Cleaning rods of varying lengths for rifles, shotguns and handguns
  • Cleaning patches sized to fit down the bore of each different firearm
  • Patch holders
  • A Stiff toothbrush
  • Bore solvent

The procedure for cleaning all firearms is essentially the same:

  • Make sure the firearm is unloaded
  • Check for obstructions in the barrel and malfunctions
  • Run a patch or bristle brush soaked in bore solvent down the barrel
  • Run dry follow-up patches to dry the barrel and check for traces of rust
  • Once clean, run a patch with a light coat of gun oil down the barrel
  • Clean all exposed parts of the action
  • Clean and oil all exterior metal parts
Man with bow


Bowhunting is one of the oldest hunting methods. It was the main form of hunting until firearms were invented in the 14th century.

Bowhunting requires concentration and patience. It is not a method of hunting that you can learn in a day or two. Making accurate shots with a bow takes much practice. In fact, practice is perhaps one of the main things you need to do to be a successful bowhunter. There are both classes and groups that offer instruction in the proper methods of bowhunting and a wise hunter will take advantage of all the instruction he or she can receive.

Why Do People Bowhunt?

People bowhunt for several reasons. It gives them a sense of history. After all, it is one of the oldest hunting methods. It also can be a personal challenge to master the skills of a good bowhunter.

What Do You Need to Bowhunt?

A good pro shop that specializes in bow hunting will set you up with equipment that is right for you. You must feel comfortable with your bow, how it feels in your hand and how it draws. Remember, no matter how good your equipment, it’s only as good as you are so practice, practice, practice.

Judging Distance

To become a good archer you must practice and develop the skill of judging distance. In order to place an arrow within the kill zone of the world’s big game animals, you must judge the distance accurately.

The easiest way to judge distance is to carry a rangefinder with you while bowhunting. Otherwise it requires a lot of time and practice. You can develop your range finding skills by either joining a 3D archery club or working with a friend who will place 3D targets for you and let you practice judging their distance. Knowing your hunting area and the distance of different landmarks from your stand also helps.

Equipment needed:

  • A good bow
  • Arrows and razor-sharp broadheads
  • A covered quiver to keep broadheads from cutting the hunter
  • Finger protection and/or release equipment
  • Matching equipment

Equipment must be matched to the needs of the hunter. A bow should match the drawing ability of the hunter as well as the game that hunter is hunting.

You should have an experienced bowhunting specialist help you pick the bow that best meets your skill and strength.

Matching Arrows

Arrows should be matched to the bow and the hunter in stiffness (spine) and length. Arrows should match each other. Not all arrows fly the same or have the same range in flight.

Four Main Types of Bows

In modern times, the recurve and compound bows dominate for sport and hunting practices. Newer materials, including flexible plastics, fiberglass, and carbon fibers, have led to increases in range and projectile velocity.

Long Bow

Sometimes called a “Stick Bow” — the traditional bow. Usually straight until the string is attached. The bow curve and power is dependent on how far the string is pulled.


A stick bow that curves at the ends. Smooth and quiet when shooting, a recurve has more power and is shorter than a long bow.


Most popular bow for hunting. Uses cables and pulleys to provide more power with less effort than pulling a long bow.


Short bows mounted on a stock so they can be aimed, cocked and fired. Hunters who use crossbows need to exercise the same restraint that hunters do using stick bows. In other words, shooting distance is less than compound bows.


Hunting with equipment other than modern firearms can be both exciting and challenging. A hunter can find that a special style of hunting game provides a sense of personal satisfaction.

Muzzleloaders were originally developed in the 14th century. Over the years they became more refined but they were finally replaced by the modern firearm.

Muzzleloaders are loaded directly through the muzzle of the firearm. Their range is less than a modern rifle, so making a clean shot with a muzzleloader is a challenge to the hunter. He or she must get close enough to hit a vital area.

People like the challenge of hunting with a muzzleloader as well as the sense of heritage that comes with using such a specialized, historical firearm. However, special precautions must be taken with both the firearm and the powder to ensure that the muzzleloader is safe to fire and to store.

Safety Comes First

Mastering hunting with a muzzleloader can be both exciting and challenging. Many hunters want to use historic guns in the field. However, old metal may not be strong enough to withstand the rigors of black powder explosions. Always consult a gunsmith before using any historic firearm.

Remember that black powder is an explosive. If not handled responsibly, it can be dangerous. Do not expose black powder to an open flame or store it anywhere there is a possibility of a spark.

Black Powder

Smokeless powder is not safe to use in most muzzleloaders on the market. Check your owner’s manual to find out which powder is safe to use in your muzzleloader. Most muzzleloaders use black powder or a synthetic powder. Both can be ignited from sparks, heat, impact, static electricity and even sunlight. When ignited, they burn hot and fast. They will not ignite when damp or wet. All gun powders need to be stored and handled safely. Store in correctly labeled original manufacturer’s containers to prevent accidental ignition.Black or synthetic powder is highly corrosive and will damage your muzzleloader if not cleaned with soap and water after every use.

These powders are ignited by using percussion caps that are coated on the inside with an explosive substance. These should be stored separately from gun powder.

Loading a Muzzleloader

Loading a muzzleloader should be done with great care. Black powder is an explosive. Always follow your owner’s manual for the correct loading procedure.

The first thing you must do is to prove that the muzzleloader is unloaded. Check the barrel by inserting a marked ramrod. If empty, point the firearm in a safe direction and fire a cap. This will remove oil from the barrel and clear the flash point.

Making the Marked Ramrod

You should always use a marked ramrod to prevent double loading and to make sure the bullet is firmly seated against the powder charge. To make a marked ramrod, you should first determine the optimum powder charge and bullet for your muzzleloader. Consult your owner’s manual for this step.

  • Be certain the muzzleloader is unloaded
  • Put your ramrod down the barrel
  • Make a mark all the way around the ramrod where it comes out of the barrel
  • With your muzzleloader loaded, put your ramrod down the barrel
  • Make a mark all the way around the ramrod where it comes out of the barrel
  • Use the marked ramrod to determine whether or not the muzzleloader is loaded before loading
  • When loading, use the marked ramrod to make sure there is no air space between the bullet or shot and the powder

Information provided courtesy of the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Hunter Education Manual.