Rifling refers to the spiral (helical) grooves that are cut or swagged on the internal surface (bore) of a gun barrel, which helps impart the spinning motion to a bullet when it’s fired. A spinning bullet is found to be more stable in its trajectory, and is therefore more accurate than a bullet that doesn’t spin.

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Back when firearms were firstintroduced in the theater of warfare, combatants were content with the fact that they had a weapon in their hands thatdischarged small objectsthat could hurt – or at least maim or severely injure – their opponents from a few dozen yards. For instance, take the military guns from the Victorian era. They had exceptionally long barrels, their reloading procedure took a longtime, and they jammed more frequently than they should have.

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Precession on a gyroscope. ( Photo Credit : LucasVB / Wikimedia Commons)


Precession helps a fired bullet continue straight in the direction in which it was shot, rather than cartwheeling end over end. Moreover, the spin imparted to it with the help of the rifling keeps it going along its original course with nothing more than a little wobble. Had there been no rifling in the gun (as was the case in primitive smooth bore rifles), then the fired bullet would not spin and would consequently “tumble out” of its course pretty soon after emerging from the muzzle.

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Bullets are made of a material (generally lead) that is softer than the bore’s material (typically steel). When the bullet is fired, a huge amount of pressure (more than 35,000 psi) builds up on the neck of the round. Since the bullet is usually the same diameter as the bore, it plugs the bore completely, pressing tightly against the internal surface of the barrel. As the bullet moves inside the barrel, it follows the helical grooves on the bore’s surface, and consequently, spins rapidly as it travels down the barrel.


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