Let’s face it – a woman trying to learn about guns in the male-driven, testosterone-filled world of guns is quite the undertaking. But having to learn an entire new language might just be too much! That’s where this gun glossary of gun terms and definitions comes in. Hopefully this resource will help to take some of the confusion out of the complex terminology of the gun world for women. (Part 4)
RACKING THE SLIDE – Pulling the slide back to its rearmost position then letting it go forward under its own spring tension. Racking the slide loads the chamber and prepares the gun to fire in a semi-automatic handgun.
RAIL – A feature on the underside of the frame, below the barrel, which allows various aftermarket accessories to be attached to the firearm. Example: flashlights or lasers.
RAILS – The metal surfaces upon which a semi-automatic’s slide travels to and fro as each shot is fired.
RANGE FINDER – A device used to determine the range to a target. Many range finders work by bouncing a laser beam off the target or nearby object and measuring the time for the reflection to arrive back at the instrument. It is also possible to use various passive optical devices such as a mil-dot telescopic sight.
REACH – The measurement from the backstrap (the rearmost surface of the grip. The rear of two gripstraps on a handgun, which lies beneath the heel of the hand when gripping the gun) to the face of the trigger.
REACTIVE TARGETS – Targets that do something when you hit them; they can fall over, burst, send up smoke, or make a noise.
REAR SIGHT – The rear sight is placed at the end of the barrel closest to the shooter. It may be in the shape of a square notch, a U, a V, a ring, or simply two dots designed to be visually placed on either side of the front sight while shooting.
RECEIVER – The housing for a firearm’s breech (portion of the barrel with chamber into which a cartridge or projectile is loaded) and firing mechanism. In semi-automatic handguns and revolvers, this part is typically called the frame.
RECOIL – Sometimes called kick; the sudden rearward push made against the shooter when a firearm is fired. This push is due to Newton’s Third Law of physics (for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction). The heavier the bullet and the faster it leaves the muzzle of the barrel the greater the recoil. A shooter is said to be “recoil sensitive” if she does not enjoy the sensation caused by this rearward force.
RECOIL-OPERATED – Refers to a semi automatic pistol whose barrel and breech block both recoil rearward in reaction to the discharging bullet. See “Short recoil” and “Long recoil”.
RECOIL SPRING – The recoil spring is the powerful spring that cushions the slide in its rearward travel and then sends the slide forward again with enough force to drive the fresh round firmly into the chamber. The strength of the recoil spring is calibrated to run the slide without any outside assistance. See also: “riding the slide.”
RED DOT SIGHT – An optical sight that uses an internal illuminated dot (normally red in color) as an aiming point. They provide for fast target acquisition and may or may not offer magnification.
REGISTRATION – A method by which a gunsmith makes all the slots of the screws in a firearm line up. Usually this involves such things as machining a new slot in the screw.
RECEIVER – The portion of a rifle that has the serial number on it. The stock, barrel, and other components, such as the bolt, are typically attached to the receiver. Some firearms may have a multipart receiver such as an upper receiver and a lower receiver.
REGULATE – Double barreled guns need to be adjusted so both barrels shoot to the same point of aim at some particular distance.
RELOAD – 1) To refill the firearm with ammunition in order to continue shooting. 2) When a shooter reuses empty brass cases and fills them with new primers, powder, and bullets.
REPEATING FIREARM – A firearm that may be discharged repeatedly without recharging by means of deliberate, successive, mechanical actions of the user.
RESET – The point of the trigger’s return at which the gun’s internal mechanisms are ready to fire another round.
RETICLE – Typically crosshairs or a dot that are seen in the center of a firearm scope that assists the rifleman in aligning the shot that is adjusted so that it appears to be on the same plane as the target.
REVOLVER – A gun, usually a handgun, with a multi-chambered cylinder that rotates to successively align each chamber with a single barrel and firing pin.
RIDING THE SLIDE – Racking the slide incorrectly by allowing your hand to rest upon the slide as it moves forward during the loading procedure. Riding the slide is a common cause of misfeeds and other malfunctions.
RIFLE – A firearm designed to fire a single projectile at a time from the shoulder, as opposed to a shotgun which can throw many small projectiles (shot) at the same time.
RIFLING – Spiral grooves in a gun`s bore that spin the projectile in flight and impart accuracy. Rifling is present in all true rifles, in most handguns, and in some shotgun barrels. Rifling was designed to increase the accuracy potential of a slug (a single projectile rather than the more common “shot”.)
RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS – The unalienable right of all of the people, stated in the Second Article of The Bill of Rights, to possess and use personally owned firearms for sport, recreation, personal protection, and the defense of the nation.
RIMFIRE – A rimfire is a type of firearm cartridge. It is called a rimfire because, instead of the firing pin striking the primer cap at the center of the base of the cartridge to ignite it (as in a centerfire cartridge), the pin strikes the base of the rim. With a rimmed or flanged cartridge, the priming mixture is located inside the rim of the case. The most famous example is the .22 rimfire.
RIMLESS – A cartridge in which the base diameter is the same as the body diameter. The casing will normally have an extraction groove machined around it near the base, creating a “rim” that is has same diameter as the body.
RIOT GUN – A popular term for a short barreled repeating shotgun as frequently used in law enforcement and personal protection.
ROUND – Synonym for a cartridge. A unit of measure for one complete unit of ammunition, which includes a bullet (or other projectile), powder, and a primer, and is contained in an outer shell or case. Typical quantities are 20 and 50 rounds per box.
ROUGH TRIGGER – A trigger which has a gritty or inconsistent feel during the pull.
ROUND GUN – Slang term for a revolver.
ROUND NOSE – The classic bullet shape.
RUNNING THE GUN – Performing all necessary manipulations (such as loading, unloading, or clearing jams) to keep the firearm functioning as designed.
SABOT – A lightweight carrier surrounding a heavier projectile of reduced caliber. This allows a firearm to shoot ammunition for which it is not chambered. For example, a hunter could use his .30-30 deer rifle to shoot small game with .22 centerfire bullets.
SAFE – 1) A firearm is said to be on safe when its safety is engaged and off safe when it is ready to fire. Always follow the Firearm Safety Rules even when the safety is engaged. 2) A locking container in which firearms are stored when not in use.
SAFETY – Conscientiously following the Firearm Safety Rules every single time you handle a firearm.
SAFETY (MECHANICAL) – A mechanical device used to block the firing pin or trigger such that the firearm cannot be fired.
SATURDAY NIGHT SPECIAL – A catchy phrase having no legal or technical meaning.
SAWED-OFF SHOTGUN (RIFLE) – Common term for federally restricted “short-barreled shotgun (rifle)” as with a conventional shotgun with barrel less than 18″ (rifle less than 16″) or overall length less than 26.”
SCATTERGUN – A casual term for a shotgun.
SCOPE – A magnifying tube through which the shooter may see the target and better aim the firearm. Scopes contain a reticle, commonly in the shape of a cross, which must be properly centered upon the target for accurate aim.
SEAR – The part of the trigger mechanism which holds the hammer or striker back. Pressure on the trigger causes the sear to release the hammer or striker, allowing it to strike the firing pin and discharge the weapon.
SECOND AMENDMENT (THE) – The second article in the United States Bill of Rights which states, “A well regulated militia being necessary for a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
SELECTIVE-FIRE – A firearm’s ability to be fired either fully automatically, semi-automatically or, in some cases, in burst-fire mode at the option of the firer.
SEMI-AUTOMATIC – A firearm designed to fire a single cartridge, eject the empty case, and reload the chamber each time the trigger is pulled. It uses the energy from the fired shot to eject the empty case and feed the next round into the chamber
SEMI-WADCUTTER (SWC) – A bullet design featuring a conical extended nose, with a flat point, and a sharp edged shoulder, that serves to cut a full diameter hole in the target. This design also may be found with a hollow point to facilitate expansion. A modified wadcutter bullet design with slightly sloping edges was designed to load smoothly in a semi-automatic pistol.
SHELL – An empty ammunition case.
SHELL CASING – A hollow piece of metal that is closed on one end, except for a small hole, and open on one end. The hollow portion holds the powder or primer and the open end holds the bullet. Together the assembled unit is called a cartridge.
SHELL, SHOTGUN – The cartridge for a shotgun. It is also called a “shell,” and its body may be of metal or plastic or of plastic or paper with a metal head. Small shotshells are also made for rifles and handguns, these are often used for vermin control.
SHOOTING SPORTS – There are a lot of different competitions and games which involve firearms. These are all referred to collectively as the shooting sports.
SHORT RECOIL – A semi-automatic pistol in which the barrel and breechblock are locked together for only a short distance of rearward recoil travel. At the point at which the two are uncoupled, the barrel is stopped and the breechblock continues rearward, extracting the spent casing from the chamber. Upon returning forward, the breechblock chambers a fresh round and forces the barrel back into its forward position. Most modern recoil operated semi-automatic pistols use short recoil.
SHORT TRIGGER – A trigger that doesn’t have to travel very far before it reaches the break. In a 1911 semi-automatic pistol a short trigger is different than a long trigger and (in addition to providing less motion) it features a shorter reach which may be of benefit to a small-handed shooter.
SHORT-STROKING – On a pump-action firearm, being too gentle with the fore-end and either not pulling it all the way back at the beginning of the stroke, or not shoving it all the way forward at the end of the stroke. This may result in a misfeed caused by the the old case (or shell) failing to eject, or the gun will not fire when the trigger is pulled. The term is used most often to refer to pump-action shotguns, however, it is possible to short-stroke any type of firearm which requires the user to manually cycle the action (lever action rifles, for example).
SHOT – In shotgunning, multiple pellets contained in the shell and discharged when the shotgun is fired.
SHOTGUN – A smooth bore long gun that shoots a group of pellets called shot instead of bullets. Depending on the bore size and the size of the pellets, the number of pellets range from less than 10 to two hundred or more in a single shotgun cartridge. Shotguns are designed for shooting moving targets (such as flying birds or running rabbits) at close range
SHOTSHELL – The cartridge for a shotgun,also called a “shell.” Its body may be of metal or plastic or of plastic or paper with a metal head. Small shotshells are also made for rifles and handguns and are often used for vermin control.
SHOULDER – To bring the butt of a long gun’s stock to the shooter’s shoulder, preparatory to firing the gun.
SIDE-BY-SIDE – A shotgun with two barrels which are situated next to each other.
SIGHTS – The device that aids the eye in aiming the barrel of a firearm in the proper direction to hit a target. The device can be mechanical, optical, or electronic. Iron sights, or sometimes open sights, consist of specially shaped pieces of metal placed at each end of the barrel. The sight closest to the muzzle end of the gun is called the front sight, while the one farthest from the muzzle (nearest to the shooter) is called the rear sight.
SIGHT ALIGNMENT – The manner in which the sights are lined up properly in front of the shooter’s eye to form a straight path to the target.
SIGHT PICTURE – What the shooter sees when looking through the sight at the target.
SIGHT RADIUS – The distance between the rear sight and the front sight.
SIGHT, FRONT – The front sight is placed at the muzzle end of the barrel. It is often (but not always) in the form of a dot or a blade. To attain a proper sight picture and shoot with the greatest degree of accuracy, the shooter’s eye should be focused sharply upon the front sight while shooting, allowing both the rear sight and the target to blur somewhat.
SIGHT, REAR – The rear sight is placed at the end of the barrel nearest the shooter. It may be in the shape of a square notch, a U, a V, a ring, or simply two dots designed to be visually placed on either side of the front sight while shooting.
SILENCER – Properly called a suppressor, this highly regulated device is used to reduce the sound of a firearm’s discharge. They do not actually silence most firearms but rather lower the intensity of the muzzle blast and change the sound characteristics. The possession, use, and transportation of silencers have been tightly controlled under federal law since 1934. Any device which reduces the sound of discharge by more than 2 dB is considered by the BATF to be a “silencer.”
SILHOUETTE SHOOTING – A handgun or rifle shooting sport in which competitors attempt to knock over metallic, game-shaped targets at various ranges.
SINGLE – ACTION (SA) – A pistol or revolver in which the trigger is only used for firing the weapon and cannot be used to cock the firing mechanism. On single-action revolvers, the hammer must be manually drawn back to full cock for each shot. On pistols, the recoil action will automatically re-cock the hammer for the second and subsequent shots. A single-action, semi-automatic firearm has a hammer that is not actuated by the trigger. The hammer may be cocked by hand, by racking the slide, or by the rearward movement of the slide after each shot is fired. The most widely known single-action, semi-automatic handgun is the 1911-style pistol designed by John Moses Browning
SINGLE-SHOT – A gun mechanism lacking a magazine where separately carried ammunition must be manually placed in the gun’s chamber for each firing.
SLACK – To ‘take up the slack’ means to pull the trigger through its pre-travel stage. See also “pre-travel.”
SKEET – A shotgun shooting sport in which competitors attempt to break aerial targets directed toward them or crossing in front of them from different angles and elevations. Skeet is an Olympic shooting sport.
SLIDE – The upper portion of a semi-automatic pistol that houses the barrel and contains the breechblock and portions of the firing mechanism. The slide ejects the spent case as it moves to the rear and loads a fresh cartridge into the chamber as it moves forward again. As its name states, it slides along tracks in the top of the frame during the recoil process providing the linkage between the breechblock and barrel. To “rack the slide” means to pull the slide back to its rearmost position then let it go forward under its own spring tension. To “ride the slide” means to “rack the slide” incorrectly, allowing your hand to rest upon the slide as it moves forward during the loading sequence. “Riding the slide” is a common cause of malfunctions.
SLIDE-ACTION – A gun mechanism activated by manual operation of a horizontally sliding handle that is almost always located under the barrel. See also: “pump-action” and “trombone.”
SLIDE LEVER – Typically refers to a lever, either on the left or right side of a pistol’s frame, that is used to release the slide for removal, maintenance, and cleaning.
SLIDE LOCK – When most semi-automatic firearms have been fired until the magazine is empty, the slide will remain in its rearmost position and lock open.
SLIDE RELEASE – The slide release lever is usually located on the left side of the slide. It is pushed down to unlock the slide and release it to move forward into its normal position. It is sometimes called the “slide stop” or “slide stop lever”.
SLING – A long strip of leather, plastic, or nylon which is fastened at the front and rear of the gun for the easy carry of long guns.
SLUG – More correctly a “rifled slug” or “shotgun slug.” An individual cylindrical projectile designed to be discharged from a shotgun. The term is often incorrectly used interchangeably with “bullet.”
SLUG-GUN – Slang for a shotgun which is set up specifically to fire a slug (a large, single projectile) rather than shot (multiple projectiles contained within a single shell).
SMALL ARMS – Firearms designed to be carried and used by an individual or individuals.
SMOKELESS POWDER – The propellant powder used in modern ammunition. It is not an explosive, but rather a flammable solid, that burns extremely rapidly releasing a large volume of gas. Commonly called “gunpowder” and usually made from nitrocellulose, or nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin. It is classified as a “Flammable Solid” by the Department of Transportation.
SMOOTH BORE – A barrel without rifling. Smooth bore barrels are commonly used in shotguns and in large bore artillery that fire “fin stabilized projectiles”.
SNAP-CAP – An inert ammunition-shaped object, used in practice to simulate misfeeds and other malfunctions. Some folks also use them during dry fire practice to cushion the firing pin as it strikes.
SNIPER – A military person designated as a special marksman who to shoots designated targets of opportunity at long range.
SNIPER RIFLE – A specialized, highly accurate rifle, fitted with an optical sight, used by military snipers to engage personnel and hard targets at long range.
SNUBBY – Slang for a short-barreled revolver.
SNUB-NOSED – Descriptive of a revolver (usually) with an unusually short barrel.
SPEED STRIP – A flat piece of rubber which holds revolver cartridges preparatory to loading them into the revolver’s cylinder.
SOFT POINT – A metal-jacketed bullet design in which the nose of the bullet’s core is exposed to ensure the expansion of the bullet upon impact. Often abbreviated “JSP” or “SP.” They tend to expand more slowly than a Hollow Point bullet and are used where deeper penetration and expansion are needed.
SPEED LOADER – In revolvers, the speed loader is a circular device or clip that holds a complete set of cartridges and is aligned to insert into all chambers of the cylinder simultaneously.
SPOTTER – The spotter is a helper who gives the shooter guidance on how to hit a particular target. In some cases the spotter may just report the location of the bullet impact. In other cases they may judge the speed and direction of the wind, determine the range, and give the shooter the settings to be used on the sights.
SPORTING CLAYS – A shotgun shooting sport that combines elements of skeet and trap and is designed to simulate field conditions.
SPORTING FIREARM – Any firearm that can be used in a sport.
SPRAY AND PRAY – A term often used to refer to the very poor and dangerous practice of rapidly firing as many shots at a target as possible in the hope that one or more may hit the target. This practice is a danger not only to bystanders but also to the shooter.
SQUIB – A round of ammunition which has less power than it is supposed to, often having no powder at all. Squib loads are very uncommon when shooting commercial ammunition.
STANCE – How the shooter positions her body while shooting. The three most widely-known handgun stances are Weaver, Chapman, and Isosceles.
STOCK – 1) The back part of a rifle or shotgun, excluding the receiver. It is commonly made of wood, wood laminate, metal, or plastics. 2) An unaltered firearm as it comes from the factory. 3) Some people and companies refer to handgun grip panels as stocks.
STOVEPIPE – Failure of a spent case to completely eject from a semi-automatic firearm. The case usually stands on end while lodged in the ejection port.
STRIKER – In a handgun that does not have a hammer, the striker is a linear-driven, spring-loaded, cylindrical part which strikes the primer of a chambered cartridge. The striker replaces both the hammer and firing pin found in hammer-driven pistols.
STRIPPER CLIP – Simple clips made of metal, or sometimes plastic, that hold several rounds of ammunition in a row and is used to quickly fill a magazine.
STOPPING POWER – A popular but imprecise term used to refer to the ability of a small arms cartridge to cause a human assailant or animal to be immediately incapacitated when shot. A more precise term is be Wound Trauma Incapacitation (WTI).
SUBMACHINE GUN – A fully automatic firearm, commonly firing pistol ammunition, intended for close-range combat.
SUPPRESSOR, SOUND – Improperly called a “silencer” this highly regulated device is used to reduce the sound of a firearm’s discharge. They do not actually silence most firearms but rather lower the intensity of the muzzle blast and change the sound characteristics. The possession, use, and transportation of silencers have been tightly controlled under federal law since 1934. Any device which reduces the sound of discharge by more than 2 dB is considered by the BATF to be a “silencer.”
TANGE – The recurved top part of a semi-automatic handgun’s grip at the point where it meets the slide. On long guns, the tange is the top strap used to screw the receiver to the stock.
TAP, RACK, BANG – The slang term for the procedure to clear a misfeed; tap the base of the magazine firmly to be sure it is properly seated, rack the slide to eject an empty case or feed a new round, and assess to be sure your target still needs shooting. If it does, pull the trigger to create the bang.
TEFLON – Trade name for a synthetic sometimes used to coat hard bullets to protect the rifling. Other synthetics, nylon for instance, have also been used as bullet coatings. None of these soft coatings has any effect on lethality.
TELESCOPIC SIGHT – A sight which has an integral telescope.
THUMB SAFETY – An external, manual safety which is typically disengaged with the firing-hand thumb.
TOE (OF A STOCK) – The bottom of the butt when the gun is in position on the shoulder to be fired.
TOPSTRAP -The part of a revolver frame that extends over the top of the cylinder and connects the top of the standing breech with the forward portion of the frame into which the barrel is mounted.
TOTAL METAL JACKET – A type of bullet in which the lead core is encased in a copper jacket on the front and sides.
TRACE – Visible disturbance in the air by a bullet. Typically this takes the form of image distortion that persists for a fraction of a second in the shape of an inverted V similar to that of a boat wake.
TRACER (AMMUNITION) – A type of ammunition that utilizes a projectile, or projectiles, that contain a compound in its base that burns during its flight to provide a visual reference of the projectile’s trajectory.
TRAJECTORY – The arc described by a projectile traveling from the muzzle to the point of impact.
TRAP – A shotgun shooting sport in which competitors attempt to break aerial targets going away from them at different angles and elevations. Trap is an Olympic shooting sport. The term can also refer to the device used to throw the targets.
TRIGGER – The release device that initiates the cartridge discharge. Usually a curved, grooved, or serrated piece that is pulled rearward by the shooter’s finger which activates the hammer or striker and fires the gun. Typically, pulling the trigger releases the striker or allows the hammer to fall, causing the firing pin to strike the primer. The primer then ignites the powder within the round. Burning gases from the powder force the bullet out of its case and through the barrel causing the bullet to exit the muzzle end of the gun and strike the target. In addition to releasing the hammer or striker, some triggers may cock the hammer or striker, rotate a revolver’s cylinder, deactivate passive safeties, or perform other functions.
TRIGGER BAR – On a semi-automatic pistol, or any other firearm in which the trigger is at some distance from the sear, this is an intermediate piece connecting the two parts.
TRIGGER CONTROL – Not putting your finger on the trigger until your sights are on target, then pulling the trigger smoothly, and following through by realigning the sights before allowing your finger to come off the trigger.
TRIGGER GROUP – The entire collection of moving parts which work together to fire the gun when the trigger is pulled. It may include trigger springs, return springs, the trigger itself, the sear, disconnectors, and other parts.
TRIGGER GUARD – Usually a circular or oval band of metal, horn or plastic that goes around the trigger to provide both protection and safety in shooting circumstances. The shooter’s finger should never be within the trigger guard unless the sights are on target and the shooter has made the decision to fire.
TRIGGER JERK – Yanking the trigger back abruptly, thus pulling the muzzle of the gun downward at the moment the shot fires.
TRIGGER LOCK – A locking device put on a firearm to incapacitate the firing mechanism. This can be useful in a home which does not have a gun safe and has small children.
TRIGGER PULL – The entire process of moving the trigger from its forward-most position to its rearward-most position, causing the hammer to fall and the shot to fire.
TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT – How much pressure the trigger finger must put on the trigger before the gun will fire. Trigger pull weight is measured by the number of pounds and ounces of pressure required to pull the trigger past the break.
TRIGGER SAFETY – An external, passive safety which can be found on the face of some trigger designs (most notably on Glock firearms). Intended to prevent the trigger from being pulled by objects which find their way into the trigger guard area.
TRIGGER SCALE – A specialized type of hanging scale designed to test trigger pull weight.
TRIGGER SLAP – An uncomfortable sensation caused by the trigger springing back into the shooter’s trigger finger while firing.
WAD – 1) A felt, paper, cardboard or plastic disk that is used in a shotshell. 2) In muzzle loading, a piece of cloth used to seal the bullet in the barrel. Its purpose and function is the same as a shotgun wad.
WADCUTTER (WC) – A bullet designed with a full diameter flat point. Primarily used in target competition because it cuts a clean round hole in paper targets that aids in scoring.
WINCHESTER CENTERFIRE (WCF) – A type of ammunition.
WAITING PERIOD – A legally mandated delay between the purchase of a firearm and its delivery to the customer enforced in some jurisdictions.
WEAPON – Any tool that can be used to apply or project lethal force. Webster defines it as “an instrument of offensive or defensive combat.”
WEAVER STANCE – A two-handed pistol shooting position named after Jack Weaver, a Deputy Sheriff in the 1950s. The body is angled slightly in relation to the target rather than squarely facing it. The elbows are flexed and pointed downward. The strong-side arm pushes out, while the weak hand pulls back. This produces a push-pull tension, the chief defining characteristic of the Weaver stance.
WHEEL GUN – Casual slang for a revolver.
WINDAGE – The setting on the sights used to accommodate the wind or adjust for horizontal errors in the alignment of the sights with the bore of the firearm.
WOUND TRAUMA INCAPACITATION – The correct technical term for the ability of a projectile to incapacitate an animal or human shot with a firearm. Incorrectly called “Stopping Power.”
YOUTH RIFLE – A short, lightweight rifle. Some are small enough for a young child to easily handle. Others are large enough to perfectly suit teenagers, average-sized adult women, and small-statured adult men.
YOUTH STOCK – A short stock, often ideally sized for teenagers, average-sized adult women, and small-statured adult men.
ZERO – 1) A firearm is said to be “zeroed in” when its sights have been adjusted so that the bullet will hit the center of the target when the sights are properly aligned upon the center of the target. 2) The farthest distance from a firearm at which the bullet’s path and the point of aim coincide. 3) This term is also used to mean the process of insuring that the sights of a firearm are properly aligned so that where they indicate the bullet will strike is in fact where it strikes.