What Is Rifling?

Many a hunter in the world has a few things with them. The first is a good set of clothes to combat the weather, the second is a rucksack full of survival musts – such as maps, first aid kits, and compasses -, the third are rations and water supplies, and the final one is their trusty weapon.

For some, these weapons are crossbows or shotguns, but most stick with the tried-and-true rifle. Now, although we know about rifles, there is another thing that exists in the world of guns called rifling.

What Is Rifling?

While it may seem like something that was made to emulate the rifle, it is actually the reason that rifles exist and the reason that guns are as accurate as they are in the modern day.

But what is rifling? Is it something that only rifles have or can use? In this article, we take a detailed look at rifling, giving you the rundown on just what it is, and why it is so important to modern guns.

What is Rifling?

The rifling of a gun is a spiral or helical groove that is cut into a gun barrel’s bore or the internal area of the barrel. This is done to impart spin on the bullet or projectile, causing it to spin at a higher velocity when it travels down the barrel.

Having this groove carved into the barrel increases barrel stability, accuracy, and the velocity of the projectile. This may not seem like much, but the difference is easily noticeable.

Guns with rifling tend to be the guns that rely on accuracy and precision more than any other, like hunting and sniper rifles.

Guns without rifling, called smooth bore guns, tend to be guns that don’t need to be the most accurate in the world. This is because they tend to rely on powerful explosions in a set area.

Good examples of smooth bore guns are shotguns and artillery pieces, such as mortars.

How Does It Work?

How the rifling affects the gun is largely down to the size and shape of the gun barrel’s bore. When you look at the inside of the barrel, the smaller it is, the more the bullet or projectile will be affected by the twist of the barrel.

The same applies to an inside diameter, or the diameter of the shell casing. The smaller it is, the greater the effect of the twist on the shell casing.

In the rifling are two segments called the lands – the uncut parts of the bore – and the grooves – the cut parts of the bore. When the shot is fired, the bullet is pushed from the gun by concussive force.

Without the rifling, the bullet will simply be pushed out with no control or direction.

This changes completely with rifling in the barrel. As the bullet travels down the barrel, it will come into contact with the rifling’s grooves and lands.

This will cause the bullet to rotate as it travels along the barrel. As it gets further down the barrel, a longitudinal spin will be transferred from the rifling to the bullet.

Once the bullet exits the gun, the spin will have been transferred to the bullet and cause it to keep spinning as it travels forward.

This spin will make the bullet more stable in flight and keep it from moving too far from the direction it was shot in.

Due to the excess force exuded on the bullet by the spin, it will also cause the bullet to travel farther than a smooth bore weapon of the same size could.

The spin-stabilization effect, as it became known, revolutionized gun manufacture and warfare at the time of its inception and is still one of the most important concepts to consider when designing a gun.

History of Rifling

Rifling actually dates back to the 15th century, when gunsmiths discovered how to use grooves in a barrel’s chamber wall to give projectiles a spin in 1498. By 1520, August Kotter expanded upon the idea of rifling and improved the ideas behind it.

The reason for this incredible idea being introduced so early into the firearm’s history is because the concept had already been seen in other weapons.

What Is Rifling

People at the time knew that thrown weapons and even bows and arrows went further if they spun in the air.

However, this doesn’t mean rifling was adopted or improved upon immediately. In fact, it would be another 350 years before rifling was actually used commonly in guns. This was due to the gunpowder that was used. Specifically, the black powder used.

Black gunpowder has a great concussive force, but it also leaves behind a lot of waste when fired, such as soot. This waste would get into the grooves of the rifling and start clogging up the barrel.

While it did make the guns more effective at range, they could only be fired once or twice before they stopped working well or at all.

In the 1800s, this all changed. During the Napoleonic wars, many superpowers of the time were locked in mortal combat with one another and needed every advantage they could get.

Weapons and gunpowder started improving in quality, and with these improvements came rifling. The first commissioned rifle in the British Armed Forces was the baker rifle in 1800.

After this, rifles and rifling took over from most other weapons of the time and an arms race occurred to produce the most effective rifles, something that continues to this day.  


Rifling is what allows a bullet or projectile to spin at a higher velocity when they travel down the barrel. This increase in velocity causes the bullet to be more accurate, and also increases its range.

Today, most guns have rifling unless they are for weapons that don’t need a high accuracy, like smooth bore weapons.

Rifling can be seen to have changed weaponry and war forever and, despite it not being well known, it is important to know about should you ever use a gun.  

Matthew Osborn

Matt is an entrepreneur who has created and successfully exited multiple companies and brands. Now, he dedicates his time to Legionary, where he produces content on guns, family, and freedom.

Recent Posts