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A rifle is a longarm in which lands and grooves have been cut into the inside bore of the barrel which, when firing a proper size projectile will cause the projectile to spin in flight. This process aids in the accuracy and range of the weapon. Rifling was invented around 1498 but did not come into any real use until around 1540. Rifling did not become widespread until the 19th century.

Kentucky Rifle

Arguably the most famous of all rifled muskets is the Kentucky Rifle. Kentucky Rifles were actually manufactured in Pennsylvania often by German immigrants. The name may be derived because they largely bought by settlers heading from Pennsylvania and other Eastern colonies to new territories in the area known as Kentucky (present day Kentucky and Tennessee. These same rifles were trading rifles that were sold at trading posts as well as traded to the Native Americans for furs and other goods.

Kentucky rifles actually date from around 1725. This is shortly after busiest period of the Golden Age of Piracy. However the design and craftsmanship of the Kentucky rifle dates back almost a century before this time when German gunsmiths were making nearly identical weapons in Germany. The earliest of these rifles were snaphaunces which outwardly looked similar to the Kentucky long rifles. In Germany these rifles were called jäger (yaeger in English) which is German for hunter. As German immigrated to America they brought their rifle making skills with them. Similar rifles were made in England and France as well as the rest of Europe.

Jäger Rifle

One of the early characteristics of the jäger was a hair trigger. In such models one trigger would be pulled that would require a heavy pull. Once this trigger was pulled, the hunter would check his aim and pull a second trigger. The slightest pressure on the second trigger would release the doghead or serpentine. This allowed a more steady shot as the shooter did not jerk the gun when pulling the hair trigger.

The jäger rifles are easily recognized by their long slender shape and elegant wood stock. The rifle was often a smaller caliber (60 calibers or smaller) as compared to the heavier caliber musket. While rifles were more accurate and had a longer range than muskets they took a longer time to reload. A rifle’s accuracy depended on a shot being a snug fit in the barrel which meant it was more difficult to ram the ball down the very long barrel. Until the invention of the mini-ball and breach loading, rifles remained second to muskets when it came to usage. The earliest English breech loaders date from around 1690 but wide spread use of breech loading did not occur until the middle of the 19th century.


Jäger (German Hunting Rifle)

Kentucky Long Rifle

Kentucky Long Rifle (mid-1700s)

A "Kentucky Rifle" made in Bethlehem Pennsylvania. The name refers to where they were going, not where they came from.

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The only author and editor of all pages on the site. Most of what I write about is based on years of book reading on the topic. My first web page was published back in 1994.

Updated: 04 September 2022