Gun Nuts Radio this week debated the Top 5 rifles of all time. In the spirit of the show, tonight, I'm putting up my list. This is list is in no particular order, because I really didn't want to go to that much effort. So, without further adieu, here's my list of the five most significant rifles in history.
Benjamin Tyler Henry's lever rifle. Lever guns are just cool, and this pretty much began lever guns as we know them today. It was also one of the earliest repeaters, and was said to be a gun you could "Load on Sunday and shoot all week long."
United States Rifle, Caliber .30, M1 The famed "M1 Garand." This rifle changed warfare forever. The Garand, chambered in the mighty .30-06, saw heavy use in World War II and the Korean Conflict, and limited use in Viet Nam, being replaced in service by it's mechanical descendant, the M-14 rifle. After WWII, in large part due to the Garand's effectiveness, no army went into war without a semi-automatic weapon in common service.
Lebel Model 1886 rifle The first rifle to successfully employ nitrocellulose-based smokeless powder, which is what is almost universally referred to today as "gunpowder." Before the Lebel, all cartridge arms used the same "black powder" as muzzleloading weapons. Smokeless powder represented a massive improvement in ammunition technology, allowing for much higher velocities for the same case capacities, granting much longer ranges and greater accuracy than was possible before.
Mauser Gewehr 98 The Mauser 98 is the action that inspired all controlled-round-feed bolt actions in use today. Basically, if you use a bolt-gun for hunting, it draws a large portion of its lineage from Paul Mauser's designs. Unlike earlier Mausers (such as my 1896 Argentine), which were cock-on-closing, the 98 cocks when opened, making for easier and smoother cycling. These rifles are still popular target guns today, and are not unheard of in hunting fields.
British Army Land Pattern Musket (Brown Bess) The famed Brown Bess musket served the British Army for over 100 years, and with all its variants, served for roughly 140 years, seeing action in over six major world conflicts (counting all the Napoleonic Wars as one). Not truly a "rifle," the Brown Bess was a smoothbore, but it is truly one of the most significant weapons of all time.
I'm also adding two other rifles that I consider less significant historically, but that are just too cool for school.
Krag-Jorgenson An action that's slicker than boiled owl snot. Magazine cutoff allowing single-loading of rounds, until a soldier needs to use his magazine for volume fire. A unique, side-loading magazine that actually works very well with gloves. What's not to love? Truly, these are beautiful rifles, both in form and function.
Dreyse Needle Rifle Called a "pinfire," the Dreyse rifle employed paper cartridges with a percussion cap at the base of the bullet. When the trigger was pulled, the firing pin punctured the base of the paper cartridge, through the powder, and impacted the percussion cap, which ignited the powder, from a forward position. This firing pattern actually is more efficient than modern systems, but modern brass cartridge casings offer other benefits that overpower the efficiency gains.
Because, as Caleb says, "Guns are fricken COOL!"