The History of Shotguns

Ep. 6 – Educational Video Series

The History of Shotguns

Where does the phrase “Shotgun” come from and what does it mean? It’s not just a popular type of firearm, it’s much more. In this episode, we explore shotguns. Join us as we look at John Moses Browning’s early designs with their successes and challenges and the people who used them including the shotgun riders who gave rise to the phrase riding shotgun still used today.

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Have you ever called “Shotgun!” when walking to the car?  And do you know where that phrase comes from? Buckle up as we find out and take a closer look at this popular firearm. 

What makes a firearm a shotgun? 

A shotgun is a traditionally long-barreled firearm that primarily shoots two different types of ammunition; a shotshell, made up of many small round projectiles, or a solid projectile called a slug. These firearms are typically smoothbore – meaning they don’t have rifling on the inner wall of the barrel. Predecessors of today’s popular models have been around since the 17th century and were called fowling pieces because they were commonly used to hunt fowl, specifically ducks. 

Despite their popularity, early shotguns had their fair share of problems. 

When John Moses Browning introduced the first successful repeating shotgun in 1887, it was lever action. While revolutionary at the time, it was awkward to operate, heavy and at times unreliable. Browning went back to the drawing board and introduced one of the most iconic shotguns, the Model 1897. The Model 1897 employed a pump action, a lengthened frame to accommodate the popular sized shells for hunting and an innovative lock work to ensure the firearm operated safely and reliably. 

In 1917, a “Trench Gun” version of the Model 1897 was created for use in WWI. The Trench gun included a heat shield, bayonet lug and sling swivels. When deployed in the trenches of WWI, soldiers found that it had a bigger bark than bite. The firearm was too long and clumsy for the trenches and the paper hulled shells would swell and malfunction in the wet conditions seen on the Western Front. 

Since the days of WWI, innovations like plastic hulled shells have made shotguns much more reliable. Their ease of use in short range, a wide variety of loadings, and high stopping power makes them popular choices for law enforcement, military and home defense.

Sports have also developed around shotguns. Today, the three most common disciplines are skeet shooting, trap shooting and sporting clays. 

One of the most famous sharpshooters was a diminutive woman by the name of Annie Oakley. 

Standing at just about 5 feet tall and weighing 100 lbs, Oakley became one of the most successful exhibition shooters of all time. She is best known for her involvement with “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West Show. The Wild West also gave rise to the phrase “riding shotgun”. With outlaws crawling all over the western US territories, stagecoach companies began hiring “shotgun riders” to sit on the right-hand side of the drivers armed with a shotgun, or coach gun, to protect the passengers and cargo of their stagecoaches. 

Shotguns versatility has made them a popular choice across a variety of disciplines from personal to sports to military use. Join us next time as we explore rifles. 

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