Shotguns have been around for hundreds of years in one form or another. The blunderbuss and the classic fowling piece, large smoothbore muskets that fired loads of shot, were popular for centuries. What we think of today as modern shotguns started in about the 1830s and over the past 180 or so years has been moved forward by five designs to which just about every gauge in current production can trace its lineage.
1. The first centerfire breechloader
Lefaucheux’s gun, a smoothbore longarm that loaded from the breech rather than the muzzle, in itself was not new. What was new was that he used a self-contained paper tube that held both the charge and the shot in one handy shell. This shell was fired from a pinfire primer in the rear that was struck by a hammer in the rear of breech. To load and reload, one simply cracked the breech open and inserted or extracted the round by hand. Once fired, the empty paper hull was removed and a new one inserted if needed.
Within 40 years, a dozen gunmakers including Remington, Colt and LC Smith had taken Lefaucheux’s basic idea and were selling single barrel and double barrel shotguns on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Today you can look at the design and see the modern hinge-break shotguns that are still in fast production. Next time you go to the skeet range, you can mutter a little thanks to old Casimir.
2. The first pump
Christopher Miner Spencer was a forward thinker. Best known for his Spencer Carbine, which gave Union Cavalry godlike firepower during the Civil War, he also invented a sewing machine, a horseless carriage and the first pump-action shotgun. In 1882 from his Spencer Arms Company, in Windsor, Connecticut, he began to sell of a 12-gauge pump action shotgun that…