Among small arms, the RIFLE and shotgun are both long-barreled weapons used for long-range shooting; the PISTOL has a shorter barrel and is accurate only at relatively short ranges. The REVOLVER, usually a pistol, has a revolving cylinder that allows repeat firing. The precise origin of firearms is unknown, although they were certainly in use by the early 14th century and were fairly common in Europe by mid-century. These early guns were little more than large-caliber tubes of wrought iron or cast bronze, closed at one end and loaded by placing GUNPOWDER and projectile in the muzzle, or open end.
They were fired by touching a burning wick, or match, to the powder at a “touch-hole” bored in the top of the barrel. To make certain that the powder would ignite, a recess was incised around the hole into which additional powder–the primer–was pouredSmoothbore muskets were notorious for their short range and poor accuracy. Seeking to improve performance, gun makers etched spiral grooves, or rifling, inside the musket barrel. The grooving imparted a spin to the projectile, thus stabilizing its trajectory.
Rifles became popular with hunters in both Europe and America, but they were impractical for most military uses because they were difficult to load. In 1849 the French army captain Claude Minie invented the conical minie ball, which was easily dropped down the barrel of a rifled musket but expanded to engage the rifling when the weapon was fired. Rifles using expandable bullets had four times the range and accuracy of the smoothbore musket. Hunting is the stalking, pursuit, and killing of game animals or birds. Humans hunting for sport enjoy the excitement of these activities.
Modern sport hunters may use the modern technology of a high-powered, telescopically aimed rifle or may approximate the conditions of their primitive ancestors and use a bow and arrow. They may also be assisted by animals such as dogs and horses. Humans have hunted for food for thousands of years. Hunting exclusively for sport, however, is a comparatively recent development. For both the North American Indian and the early colonists hunting provided a cheap and seemingly limitless food supply. As the eastern coast of the continent was settled, predators were eliminated because they posed a threat to domestic livestock.
Forests were cleared for fuel and farming, and many species were depleted or disappeared. Eventually a series of reforms was enacted to save game throughout the United States. The time of year when game could be taken was limited. Licensing was required, with the funds raised from the sale of licenses going to support state game departments. The numbers of animals that one person could take in a season were also restricted. In addition, large parcels of land were set aside in the national park system in which hunting was prohibited.
These measures have been effective in preserving wildlife resourcesHunting in the United States can be classified into one of five types: big game–bears, cougars, wolves, and the large ungulates such as deer, elk, antelope, moose, and wild sheep and goats; waterfowl–ducks and geese; upland game birds–turkeys, grouse, and pheasants; small game–squirrels and rabbit; and varmints–pest species unprotected by game laws. Hunters use shotguns when pursuing small game or birds in flight and use rifles for larger quarry. A hunter may either still hunt–sit and wait for game–or stalk the prey–approaching within shooting range undetected.
In a drive, beaters alarm concealed animals, which, as they leave their hiding places, pass waiting hunters. Other less frequently used ways of taking game include bow and arrow, traps, spears, blowguns and boomerangs. In the United States about 16 million hunting licenses are purchased each year. The number of individuals who hunt is estimated to be slightly larger. Hunting in all it forms is a subject of controversy in the United States. Critics of hunting range from ANIMAL RIGHT activists–who oppose all hunting on principle–to those whose objections concern the competence and conduct of hunters.
The latter claim that hunters violate game laws, trespass, kill livestock, damage property, and endanger human life with the careless use of firearms. Proponents of the sport maintain that hunters play a significant role in conservation and game control, as well as being a source of revenue for wildlife management services. They further contend that hunting is a safe activity because of safety classes, the wearing of “safety” orange (required in 41 states in the early 1990s), and the increasingly stringent licensing requirements mandated by state game departments.