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History of Rifle Ammunition
Modern rifle ammunition can trace its roots back to 1840's France and the Flobert BB cap. This .22 caliber cartridge was designed for use indoors and was the basis for all other rimfire rounds. Rimfire cartridges were adopted for use in rifles with calibers from .22 all the way to .58. They were well received at the time as they were much faster to reload than muzzle loaders and more convenient to transport and store as well.
In 1873, Winchester introduced the .44 Winchester, this later became known as the .44-40, the first commercially successful centerfire cartridge. Soon after, other companies began developing their own ammunition to go with their rifles, and rifles that would fire their competitors ammunition as well. Two of the most well known cartridges of 1873 are the .45 Colt and the .45-70.
With the introduction of smokeless powder, the first commercially successful smokeless powder cartridge, the .30-30 Winchester was introduced in 1895. Just over a decade later, the hugely popular .30-06 came out and was adopted by the US military where it was in service for over sixty years! The late 1800's and early 1900's were important to cartridge development in that there was the introduction of smokeless powder and rimmed cartridges.
Cartridges and cases seemed to be growing larger and larger until 1921 when the pinnacle of rifle cartridges was reached with the .50 Browning Machine Gun cartridge. Of course this was not introduced as a rifle cartridge, but it did mark the beginning of a trend toward smaller cartridges. This is most likely to the continued improvements in powder as well as bullet design and materials.
The .270 Winchester was a good example of the trend toward smaller cartridges, introduced in 1925, this medium bore cartridge is one of the most popular hunting rounds in North America. The militaries of the world were also a driving force of rifle ammunition history, especially in the 1940's with the introduction of the .30 Carbine and the 7.62x39mm rounds.
The 1950's and 60's were great times in the ammunition world, especially for Winchester. The .243 Winchester, .308 Winchester, .458 Winchster Magnum, .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire and the .300 Winchester Magnum were all introduced during this time and have remained in great demand since.
The 1970's were somewhat of a dry time for rifle ammunition innovation, with the 5.45x39mm being the most notable of a somewhat lean group of new cartridges. The 1980s and 90's marked a return to increasing bore size and more powerful cartridges, the 7mm-08 Remington and the .338 Lapua both lead the pack of the "bigger, faster, heavier" thinking of the time.
With the turn of the century, few new cartridges have been introduced, though many have been rolled out with much fanfare, it is difficult to establish any real "game changers". If one had to pick a noteworthy cartridge that they would expect to see in production fifty years from now, the .300 AAC Blackout would be the one to consider.
Like the old saying: "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Rifle ammunition has gone through immense changes over the past hundred plus years, but at the end of it all, it boils down to brass, powder, primer and bullet.
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