An established theory claim that firearms were invented at the end of the XIV century and despite various improvements the matchlocks, flintlocks and percussion firearm remained a cumbersome and unpredictable device. And only the discovering of a self-contained metallic cartridge in the 1830's rendered all other ignition systems obsolete.
While the most contemporary rifle mechanisms dated from the latter part of the 19th century, their development has been an erratic affair driven by different imperatives, like ammunition or military requirements. However, as the new century dawned, there were essentially five kinds of centerfire sporting rifles: falling block single shot action rifle, double rifles, slide action magazine rifles, lever action magazine rifles, bolt action magazine rifles and the semiautomatic rifle.
Though the last two types were born rather late in the history of firearm and were created to fill a military need, they became the basic sporting-rifle actions in use today.
To adhere to the order of writing, we will present you major rifle actions and types in circulation today. By definition, the rifle action is the part of the firearm that defines how it loads, fires, and ejects ammunition.
Single Shot Falling Block Action
In the modern era of cartridge long guns, the single shot firearms are almost entirely found as a precision target weapon. Still, some falling block single shot rifles tend to be the choice of the connoisseur and real hunting enthusiasts.
As the most rigid actions, the falling block under lever-operated rifles were winning 1,000-yard target matches in the latter half of the 19th century when the rifle clubs were springing up across the America and the United Kingdom.
A falling block action is a form of firearm action where you have to move a lever under the action body of the rifle to unlock and open a falling block action. Since this operation causes the rear of the action to fall or rollaway (hence the name "falling or rolling block"), you can insert a new cartridge into the chamber and move the finger lever rearward again to lock the breechblock into place and seal the chamber.
This type of falling block rifle receivers is as strong as break-action or a bolt action allowing the use of the modern high intensity and magnum calibers. Actually, the list of calibers for which the modern single shot rifles are chambered is extensive.
Although the single shot "falling block" rifle is a simple, reliable, and accurate firearm, its action is more challenging to manufacture so that they can be more expansive than other more common rifle actions.
Except for the price, another distinct disadvantage is a single shot, so if you need a fast follow up shot, this rifle action might not be the best choice for you.
Primarily used for hunting break-action or break-open gun with rifled barrels were used for hunting the most dangerous game in Africa and India. Double-barreled firearms usually come in a side-by-side configuration, though an over/under configuration is also popular on the Old Continent. In fact, both designs are particularly favorable in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe as well as in Scandinavia.
As its name says, the break action firearm is a pretty simple gun with a hinge in the receiver, allowing you to fast and easy reload the rifle.
Like classic side-by-side shotguns, the double rifles point more instinctively than any other types of rifle actions making the side-by-side double rifle an ideal dangerous game stopper. A great contribution to their "pointability" and handling speed takes a low mechanical kind of sight with a very broad and shallow "V" notch, known as "express" rear sights.
An adequately designed side-by-side rifle is more compact, lightweight and sleeker than most other rifle actions, allowing gun owner easier transport and storing. Moreover, since the break action rifles lack the repeating mechanism, they are about 4" shorter than a typical bolt action or semiautomatic rifle.
Double rifles were never developed to be a military weapon or long range rifle, so they are chambered in somewhat exotic calibers and loadings. Besides some small-caliber combinations, double barreled rifles are famous for the big Nitro Express calibers purpose built to stop in the tracks running Cape buffalo or elephant. The most popular cartridges explicitly designed for use in double rifles are the .700 Nitro Express, .600 NE, .577 NE, 470 NE, .450/400 NE, Holland's .375 Flanged Magnum, 9.3x74R and many other extremely powerful ammo creations.
Introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, lever actions became immediately popular in the United States because of a perceived need for firepower. Unlike Europe, in America, the rifle was a mean of personal defence, but also a working tool, carried constantly, used to protect stock and to feed the family. The handy lever action rifle with the fifteen or so fast follow-up shots in a tubular under-barrel magazine was a necessity for daily existence against Indians, rustlers or bandits that might come in bunches.
The lever action is the repeating offspring of the falling block single shot. Generally, they use a tubular magazine underneath the barrel. Still, a newer model like the Model 1895 Winchester utilizes receiver box magazines or rotary magazine as in case of the Savage Model 99.
When the bolt actions followed along, by the turn of the century, they were widely regarded as slow, cumbersome and overpowered. These straightforward and reliable long guns, with a little practice, every shooter can fire much faster than a bolt action rifle.
To cycle the action of the rifle and load a fresh cartridge from the magazine into the chamber, you push a lever down and forward and pull back to its original position. After firing, another pull of the lever ejects the empty case and loads a new one.
While the lever action rifle has obvious advantages such as speed, reliability and high magazine capacity, they also have some weaknesses. Technically speaking, lever actions receivers are regarded as being less rigid than a bolt-action receiver. Hence, they are not chambered for high powered cartridges.
Another larger disadvantage of lever action is their inability to use conventionally pointed (spitzer) bullets. Because in the tubular magazine the front of one round press against the primer on the next, the lever action rifles are limited to use flat or round-nosed bullets. However, Hornady renowned ammunition manufacturer has solved that problem by introducing their LeverEvolution ammunition line, which has soft polycarbonate tips that won't set off primers.
Modern designs of this deer rifle like the Winchester 94 and Marlin 336 are usually chambered for mid-power cartridges with blunt noses like the .30-30. Nevertheless, there are also lever action rifles (Marlin 1895, 45-70 rifle) built to work with hard-hitting, big game-dropping powerhouses like .45-70 Government.
Anyway, the lever action rifles are excellent hunting weapons designed for shorter range work. After more than 150 years of introduction, lever actions are still very popular with America’s hunters.
Pump/ Slide Actions
Another long-established system, known as pump or slide action (when used in rifles) is not as popular as other actions, but have been really liked with shotgunners and rimfire shooters. This repeating rifle is commonly called “slide-action” or “trombone-action.” Similar to lever actions, pump guns are fed from a tubular magazine, though some modern versions come with detachable box magazines.
With the first Colt's Lightning pump action rifle, released in1884 and made in almost 100,000 units, the trusty old trombone action used to be far more popular than it is now. The Lightning saw some use as a sporting arm in the Eastern United States, whereas it was one of the most famous rifles used during the 1890's in American Midwest by cowboys and settlers. On the other side of a Pond, there has never been much interest, but we have to point out a German Krieghoff pump-action centerfire rifle called the Semprio. A totally new design for the 21st century, the Semprio employs an In-Line Repeating system with a massive bolt and the repeating operation which occurs in a linear motion.
Pump or slide operated weapons feature the action which is the opposite of a lever action rifles. Instead of pushing and pulling, you pull and push the rifle's forearm. In fact, the slide system is the fastest and easiest to operate of all manual actions. Since the cycling time of a slide-action is quite short, these rifles are nearly as rapid in articulation as the semiautomatics and even faster in some cases.
Unlike modern slide action rifles fed from the detachable box magazine, most of the classic pump-action firearms have a fixed tubular magazine underneath the barrel. The negative side of this magazine type is slow reloading and disrupted the balance of the weapon.
Among the major U.S. arms companies, the Browning BPR and Savage Model 170 achieved significant success in the market, but they are no longer in production. Currently, besides mentioned Krieghoff, another big name that catalogues the slide action rifle is a Remington Arms with Model 7600. Available in calibers from .243 to .35 Whelen, this Remington slide action rifle is virtually identical in looks to its autoloading rifle. You may also encounter some .22 rifle with slide action design.
Interestingly, the pump action is extensively applied to numerous models of air guns, especially at the category of an airsoft sniper rifle and air rifle. In these weapons, also known as a pellet rifle, the pump action is used to compress the air or spring piston for power.
While the lever and slide action rifles feature fast repeating action, the bolt action firearms are the slowest of all manual action types. On the other hand, in other parts of the globe and especially in Europe the lever actions and pump guns are regarded as ethnic American curiosities, and the bolt action rifle is most frequently chosen to hunt medium to big and dangerous game.
Today bolt actions a staple of many European and American hunters and sharpshooters for their inherent accuracy, but a bolt action was created to fill a military need more than a hundred years ago. Initial success was so great that in 1900 almost every country had its own design, spawning more bolt actions around than could possibly be imagined. Commercial bolt actions grew out of the military adoption, but without doubt, the most copied action is the legendary K98 Mauser. With over 100,000,000 Model 98 Mausers produced, it is a standard with which all others bolt action variants are compared. The American Springfield .30-06 rifle has also emerged from the Mauser 98.
As the simplest form of firearm's action, bolt action rifles incorporate a lift, pull, push sequence very similar to the old-fashioned door bolts. In the late 19th and the early 20th century emerged two types of bolt mechanism: the turn bolt and the straight-pull bolt. Although the straight pull designs provide faster follow-up shots than a turnbolt action, both types were locked in place by lugs on the bolt, keeping bolt action mechanism extremely reliable and the strongest of all actions.
Another feature that also attracts a lot of attention is how a bolt-action rifle chambers cartridge. There are two designs called the controlled round feed - or CRF and push-feed action (PF). You may find some advantages and disadvantages of each type of action on web sites, but from the shooter's perspective, there are no particular issues in the operation of the two types.
While the Mauser Model 98 and classic the Winchester Model 70 are the two foremost controlled-feed actions, today this design you’ll find at the CZ 550 or Ruger Model 77 Hawkeye. Unlike controlled feeding, push feed actions are less expensive to make than controlled feed actions, affecting that the majority of today's bolt action rifles use push feed actions. Examples of contemporary push feeding actions are Remington Model 700, Browning X-Bolt, Marlin X7, Savage 110 and many others.
Modern bolt action rifles have quite rigid receivers making them more robust than most other types of rifles. That virtue enables manufacturers to offer their turnbolts chambered in cartridges ranging from tiny .22 Long Rifle to most powerful magnums and heavy-hitting African calibers.
As for the accuracy, bolt actions are manually manipulated rifles meaning that nothing moves when you pull the trigger except for the hammer and the bullet. Because of their exceptional accuracy, the bolt actions with scopes on them became a staple in the hunting circles as well as among the military and SWAT snipers (.308 rifle). As a side note, the experienced shooter can dramatically improve bolt actions accuracy properly using a rifle bipod and rifle sling.
These rifles can be single shot, but most bolt-actions use a magazine, some internal other external. More popular designs, like the Model 700, can feed either from a 3- to 6-round internal magazine or a staggered double row box 10-round magazine.
These types of rifles depend on a gas-operated mechanism to cycle the action and load the next round. Modern semiautomatic rifles can be either recoil- or gas-operated.
The recoil-operated firearms harness recoil energy where barrel and bolt recoil full length of the receiver to operate the action. This system was used in rare hunting rifles, such as Remington's the Model 8 and 81 (designed by John Browning) and most pistols, then the machine gun Browning M2 and famous self-loading shotgun Browning Auto 5.
On the other side, most contemporary semiautomatic rifle mechanism, however, are either replicas or modifications of the John Browning's gas-operated action, another long-established system.
Semi-auto rifles use the energy from rapidly expanding gas to eject the empty cartridge and load a new one. Gas systems include short stroke, long stroke or direct impingement.
In a direct impingement system, gases are directed directly into the rifle's receiver to operate the gun. This gas system is common on modern rifles such as AR-15/M16 family and its derivatives used by civilians and US forces. The short and long stroke gas operating system utilizes a piston to operate the mechanism. These gas operation systems can be typically found on the military-style autoloaders like AK-47 (7.62x39 rifle), machine gun FN Minimi, the Armalite AR-18 or the SKS battle rifle.
While the basic strength of this rifle action is an ability for very fast repeat shots, rifles utilizing the gas-operated autoloading action are as strong as bolt actions due to the same kind of lockup they are using. Other advantages of the autoloader, is reduced recoil and their convenience to be used by left-handed and right-handed shooters.
As a weakness, users often complain about rotten triggers and more laborious maintenance. A bigger problem with autoloading guns is a complicated mechanism with more moving parts that can jam or break when dirty, or in very cold weather.
Aside from the amazing popularity of the military-style semiautomatic rifles also known as MSR – Modern Sporting Rifles, currently autoloading actions are the best exemplified on two premier Big game hunting rifles the Remington 7400 and Browning BAR Mark II rifles.
Types of Guns
Traditionally, firearms are divided into long guns and handguns. The shoulder-fired weapons include rifles and shotguns, whereas the handguns include revolvers and pistols. Usually, in civilian hands, the long arms are used for hunting, target shooting and home defence, compared to handguns which in most cases are considered as the best self defence and home defence weapons.
Ammunition types and calibers
Basically, there are two ammunition types: metal cartridges with single bullet used by rifled weapons (long barreled and handguns) and plastic, metal or paper cartridges (shotshells) load with small steel or lead pellets called shot intended to be used by smooth bore weapons- shotguns.
Generally, the projectiles (bullets) fired from rifled barrels have longer range and better accuracy than shot fired from the smoothbore barrel.
As for the rifle/handguns ammunition types, there is a vast sea of constructions, loads and purposes. The ammunition built for the military use is limited by international conventions and usually use ball-ammo or more officially FMJ (full metal jacket) bullets. However, there are many other loads developed for military applications such as armor piercing or tracers.
On the other side, ammunition for hunting or self-defense is designed to kill the game quickly or to stop or incapacitate the attacker immediately. To name only a few, there are rounds with soft point lead tip, open top, defensive ammo with tremendous expansion and optimum penetration or specialized man-stopper ammo load with frangible bullets.
Depending on the country where ammunition origins, it can be designated in fractions of an inch or millimeters. A bore diameter of a firearm and the diameter of a bullet is called caliber. Besides gun and bullet caliber as the first figures, the rest of cartridge designation may include the case length (7x64mm), a load of gunpowder in grains (.45-70), name of creator or manufacturer (.223 Remington) or year of introduction (.30-06 Springfield).
Semi-Automatic Vs. Fully Automatic
Gas systems are popular in rifles, and they can be semiautomatic or fully-automatic. While the fully-automatic rifles can fire for as long as the trigger is depressed and you have cartridges in the magazine, semi-auto rifles fire only one round with every pull of the trigger.
It is because of a trigger part dubbed disconnector. It prevents the hammer from following the bolt and striking the primer as soon as the next round is chambered.
Safety Tech and Tips
Although owning a firearm is a constitutional right in the United States, it should go hand in hand with responsible gun ownership. It means that all of us who handles guns should have basic knowledge of holding and firing a weapon.
Despite the type, all modern weapons have some kind of safety mechanism, but since it is a mechanical device that can fail, you should always act as if the safety doesn’t work.
The safety is in our head. We have to abide by several Rules of Firearm Safety.
Many firearms safety tips are featuring extended lists, but with four basic rules, we will encompass most unwanted scenarios.
This is the first rule of firearm safety
- Always treat every gun as though it is loaded
- Always Keep the gun Muzzle Pointed in a Safe Direction
- Never Put Your Finger on the Trigger Until You are Ready to Shoot
- Be Aware of Your Environment and Target
- You should always treat your rifle with respect, meaning you have to assume that it's loaded at all times. It is a good idea to always visually inspect the firearm's chamber when someone hands you weapon.
- As an extension of the first rule, by applying rule #2 and pointing a gun in a safe direction, you will minimize the possibility of tragedy in case of an unintentional gun discharge. In the event of accidental discharge, complying this rule ensures the bullet won’t accidentally hit people or make damage on the property. Depending on your environment and place where you are, common sense refers to the safest direction.
- The third rule is also called trigger discipline, where you eliminate the possibility of negligent discharges by never placing a finger on the trigger. It is a very bad habit to find your trigger finger inside the trigger guard until you're ready to fire.
- If you are hunter or casual shooter, then is very important to know your surroundings because bullets can travel very far beyond your target before Earth gravity brings them down. The target won’t necessarily stop the bullet, and the same scenario could also happen if you miss the shot. There is always the possibility that something or someone downrange could get hit with a bullet with your name on it. Think of that.
Let's not forget that rifles, like any other firearms, are deadly weapons and their connection to the darker side of human nature can't be denied.
You will rarely find any serious discussion of guns due to the space available for such a vast subject. Our overview doesn’t pretend to be scientific nor academic elaborate but short written work with a set of information to give you an idea of what you’re most likely to see.
There are other construction types like bullpup rifle or scout rifle both designs purpose-built for easy maneuverability and portability.
You may find some rifles designed for specialized hunting activities such as varmint rifle or casual shooting and home defense like 9mm rifle.