Sports & Outdoors : Hunting : Pick the Right Gun

Pick the Right Gun

Pick the right gun 2The type of mechanism used to load, fire, and eject rifle cartridges and shotgun shells is called the “action.” Single-shot firearms must be reloaded after each shot. Repeating firearms fire each time the trigger is pulled, with additional cartridges or shells held in a magazine or tube under the gun barrel. Choosing which action you want in a firearm is critical, and the right decision balances speed, safety, accuracy, gun-handling characteristics, and aesthetics. 


Break-Action Single Barrel With a hinge at the receiver, break-action firearms open like a door to expose the breech for loading. Because single-barrel guns of this type can be made short and light, they are often a young shooter’s first firearm.

Side-By-Side This break-action shotgun features a pair of barrels mounted beside each other. Quick pointing and elegant, short and well balanced, this is the traditionalist’s go-to gun, especially for hunters of upland birds such as quail. Many are made with double triggers—one to a barrel—for an instant choice of which choke to use.

Right Gun Image 1Over/Under A more modern variant of the break-action double-barreled shotgun, the over/under is a favorite of American shooters. It offers a quick follow-up shot, a choice of chokes for varying shooting conditions, and a single sighting plane down the top barrel.

Pump A repeating shotgun, this action is worked by the shooter cycling the fore-end back to remove the spent shell and cock the firing pin and then forward to chamber the fresh shell and close the action. Fast, smooth, and dependable, pump shotguns are a favorite of waterfowl hunters due to the relative lack of moving parts and ability to work even when wet and muddy.

Semiautomatic Also known as “autoloaders,” these actions automatically cycle new shells into the chamber each time the shotgun fires. Gas-operated semiautomatic shotguns use some of the gas created when the shell is fired to work the action. Recoil-operated actions use the force of recoil to move the bolt and chamber a new shell. Autoloaders are quick to fire numerous shots and have less recoil than other actions but are generally heavier and bulkier than other actions.


Single Shot Single-shot rifles must be reloaded after every shot. Break-action single-shot rifles are opened at the breech for reloading. Other examples include the “falling block” single-shot action, in which the breech is opened by moving a lever on the underside of the gun. Single-shot rifles are very safe to operate, very accurate, and very strong. 

Bolt Action By far the most-popular action among hunters, the bolt-action rifle is opened and closed manually by lifting and pulling a protruding handle that looks similar to a door bolt. Closing the bolt chambers a fresh round, which is lifted from a magazine located underneath the action. Strong and dependable, the bolt action is very accurate.

Pump Pump rifles are operated by sliding the fore-end to the rear, which ejects the fired cartridge, then sliding it forward, which chambers a new round. Not as popular as autoloading rifles, pump rifles do have
a strong following particularly in Pennsylvania, where hunting with an autoloading rifle is illegal.

Lever ActionThe familiar cowboy gun of the American West, lever action rifles are worked by pulling down on a lever located at the trigger and then returning it to a locked position. These guns are experiencing a surge in popularity arising from new cartridge designs that allow for accurate ballistic-tip bullets to be used in the tubular magazines.

Right Gun Image 2Semiautomatic Using a small part of the gas created by the combustion of a cartridge’s powder, semiautomatic rifles automatically eject and chamber cartridges with each pull of the trigger. Also called “autoloaders,” they offer quick follow-up shots that don’t require the shooter to manipulate a bolt or lever.

Modern Sporting Rifle Built in the style of the M-16, widely known from its use in the Vietnam War, the modern sporting rifle is essentially a semiautomatic firearm outfitted with an ergonomic stock and protruding magazine that has long defined military arms. Also called “AR-type” rifles (Armalite made the first models in the 1950s), these firearms are not fully automatic.  

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