6 Rifles That Were Ahead of Their time

by Chris Eger, Guns.com  |  published on January 14, 2013

Literally thousands of firearms have been designed over the past several centuries. Most of these guns are simple improvements or copies of existing arms but every so often a gun will come along that is so visionary, so head of its time, that it permanently alters gun designers understanding small arms.

These six rifles are virtual unknowns even among diehard collectors but their impact on firearms development is seen every day.

1. Ferguson Rifle
In 1770, Patrick Ferguson was the kind of military man who was a maverick. While the armies of his day fought in rigid lines of massed troops firing slow-loading and inaccurate muskets in volleys, he advocated for long ranged accurate rifles used by small groups of light infantry with interlocking cover and fields of fire.

Today his tactics are used by every modern army of this day. His rifle design, known after him, was breechloading rather than muzzleloading and could be fired twice as fast as other rifles of the day. Whereas most smoothbore muskets were highly inaccurate over 100-yards, Ferguson’s rifled-barrel breechloader was capable of making aimed shots to 300-yards and beyond. Only 100 rifles were ever made and American militia killed Ferguson himself during the Revolutionary War, after he passed up taking a shot at George Washington. Nevertheless these expensive (four times as much as a Brown Bess musket) guns were the first military sniper rifles.

2. Volcanic Rifle
In 1854, three guys by the name of Horace, Daniel, and Oliver came together in Norwich Connecticut with some prototypes, ideas, and money respectively. First, they came up with a self-contained cartridge that included its own primer. Around this cartridge was built a rifle with a tubular magazine and a lever under and around the trigger guard that moved these cartridges through the magazine and into the chamber. This was faster to fire than the traditional muskets and breechloaders of the day.

Dubbed the Volcanic due to its capability to erupt fire like a volcano, a company of the same name was established to sell both the rifle and a smaller lever-action pistol-sized version. Within a couple years, the company was bankrupt after only producing 6,000 weapons. Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson went on to establish their own handgun company named after themselves and Oliver Winchester was left holding the bag on the bankrupt company, which he renamed after himself and raised from the dead. The lever-action Marlins, Henry’s, and of course Winchester’s of today owes their lineage to this almost unknown rifle.

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