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The main differences between rifles, shotguns, and handguns are their barrels, their intended targets, and the type of ammunition used.

Comparison of rifle, shotgun, and handgun barrels
  • Rifle
    • The rifle has a long barrel with rifling and thick walls to withstand high pressures. Rifling puts a spiral spin on a bullet fired from a rifle, increasing accuracy and distance.
    • Rifles are typically used for firing at stationary targets.
    • The bore of a rifle barrel is made for only one specific caliber of ammunition.
  • Shotgun
    • The shotgun has a long barrel and usually has a smooth bore to reduce friction. The barrel’s walls are thinner due to reduced pressures. If a shotgun is designed to fire slugs, it might have a rifled barrel.
    • Shotguns are typically used for shooting at moving targets in the air.
    • The bore of a shotgun barrel is made for only one specific gauge of ammunition.
  • Handgun
    • The handgun has a short barrel with rifling and thick walls to withstand high pressures. Because of the short barrel extra care must be taken to control the muzzle of a handgun. Like the rifle, rifling in the handgun puts a spiral spin on a bullet when fired, increasing accuracy and distance.
    • Handguns are typically used for firing at stationary targets.
    • The bore of a handgun barrel is usually made for only one specific caliber of ammunition.