Pistol vs. Rifle vs. Shotgun: What's the Difference?

Pistol vs. Rifle vs. Shotgun: What's the Difference?

Guns can be broken down into 3 main categories:

  1. Pistol
  2. Rifle
  3. Shotgun

And today I’m going to give you a brief overview of each type.

Let’s get started!


Pistols are smaller and light weight (in comparison to rifles and shotguns).

Because of their size, they’re the most popular option for self defense and home defense. And that’s why the FBI, law enforcement, and other agencies prefer it:

They are lightweight, accurate and concealable. Pistols excel in close-range shooting, but not so much long range. If you need to hit a target that’s further away, then you might want to take a look at a rifle.



Rifles are a more powerful self-defense option for your home.

Rifles offer more ammunition capacity, customization and better accuracy. However, it requires two hands to operate one. So if space and size are a priority for your self-defense needs, then a rifle might not be the best fit. Rifles are also great for mid to long range hunting as well.

With that said, there’s nothing like the versatility of an all around rifle. Your first .22 caliber rifle can be a great introduction to target practice and hunting. And if you want to improve accuracy, be sure to throw on a long range scope.


Of the three types of firearms, shotguns have the most power.

One unique feature of the shotgun is its ability to shoot in a spread pattern. Instead of a single bullet, shotguns fire a shell that contains small pellets that spread out to cover more area when the gun is fired. Shotguns are a popular hunting option for small game, including waterfowl, and bigger game like turkey. But with the right ammunition, it can also be used for larger animals as well.

They are often used as a home defense weapon, although despite the shotgun’s ability to carry a wide range of ammunition (birdshot, buckshot, slug), it can’t hold many at one time.

To Wrap It Up

Each gun owner has his or her own priorities when it comes to their firearms. A pistol, rifle, and shotgun each have their benefits and drawbacks for hunting, self-defense, and marksmanship.

Here’s a general use for each gun type:

  • Pistol - Best used for home defense, concealed carry and self defense.
  • Rifle - Best used for hunting, target shooting and long distance shooting.
  • Shotgun - Best used for moving targets in the air like waterfowl, and turkey hunting, and home defense.

You’re smart to take the time to get to know your options before purchasing your first firearm. Whatever you choose, with the right training, you’ll be on your way to becoming a responsible and knowledgeable gun owner.

Author Bio

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared on large publications like The National Interest, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, and more. In his free time, he reviews optics on his Scopes Field blog.