Rifle and shotgun actions



With the many kinds of firearm styles available, it can be difficult to choose the right one for your hunting needs. Speed, weight, and accuracy are all key factors to consider, no matter your level of hunting expertise. To help sort out what firearm makes the most sense for you, here’s a review of the most common firearm actions available as well as how each operates.

Remember! Always read a firearm’s owner's manual for a detailed explanation on how to operate it safely.

  • Bolt action

A bolt-action firearm’s reputation for high accuracy is well-earned. It is the strongest action available and is operated by moving the bolt handle up and to the rear to open the action. When the bolt is moved forward, it picks up a fresh cartridge. With the bolt fully forward, push down to lock the bolt in place. Engage the safety and you are ready to hunt. Grasp the bolt handle after firing, lifting it up while pulling it towards you. This will eject the spent cartridge from the chamber.

Safety first! When loading any firearm, always engage the safety and keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. To check if your firearm is unloaded, do so only by looking into the chamber.

  • Lever action

A lever-action firearm usually has a shorter barrel, is lighter to carry, and is easy to operate for follow-up shots. A popular style of action for rifles, it is a good choice if you are hunting in thick brush (remember to cover the trigger guard to protect the trigger). Most lever-actions have a loading gate where the cartridges are pushed into a tubular magazine. To load a cartridge from the magazine, grasp the lever and swing it down and away from you. Make sure that the barrel remains pointed in a safe direction the entire time. Next, swing the lever up and towards you. This releases a cartridge from the magazine, chambers that cartridge and closes the action. After you load, engage the safety if your lever action has one; otherwise, place the hammer at half-cock position. After firing the lever action, swing the lever down and away from you to eject the cartridge.

Important! Many older lever-actions do not have a safety to engage before unloading the firearm. Be careful to keep your fingers out of the trigger guard. KNOW YOUR FIREARM.

  • Pump or slide action

Used in both shotguns and rifles, pump action (also known as slide action) allows a hunter to quickly eject and chamber new ammunition. It is typically loaded from the bottom into a tubular magazine. The action is opened when the forearm is pulled back to the rear of the firearm. Pushing the forearm forward moves the ammunition from the magazine into the chamber and closes the action so that the firearm is loaded and ready to be fired. On most pump-actions, a slide lever located by the trigger guard releases the action so you can inspect the chamber or unload the firearm.

  • Semi-automatic action

Semi-automatic action is used in both shotguns and rifles. Many hunters find this firearm a pleasure to shoot due to its reduced recoil when compared to pump or hinge action. After the trigger is pulled and a round is fired, the action opens automatically, the spent ammunition is ejected, a new round is chambered, the action closes and the firearm is ready to be fired again. This sequence repeats each time the trigger is pulled. The action remains open automatically when all ammunition stored in the magazine and chamber has been fired.

  • Break or hinge action

Break action firearms are available in single-barrel or double-barrel style. This action style is ideal for novice hunters due to the limit it places on shots per use. Most firearms with this type of action feature two barrels placed either side-by-side or in an over-and-under configuration. For loading, push on the action-release lever and pivot the barrels down. The chamber will then be separated from the stock and firing mechanism so ammunition can be inserted. Once you close the action and release the safety, the firearm is ready for firing. After firing, press the release lever to open the action and eject the spent cartridge or shotshell. Some break-actions have automatic ejectors, others require that you manually remove the spent cartridge or shotshell. Break actions for rifles and shotguns may be designed to accommodate a wide variety of interchangeable barrels for rimfire and centerfire ammunition.

insider Membership

Our top tier membership gives you everything we offer! Research tool, maps, and gear shop rewards, all in one plan.