Firearm Actions – Firearms are commonly classified by action type. The action of a firearm is made up of
parts that load, unload, fire and eject the shotshell or cartridge. Actions are either singleshot or repeating.
Singleshot firearms must be reloaded every time the firearm is fired. Repeating firearms have extra cartridges or
shotshells ready in a magazine, cylinder or extra barrel. Below is a list of the common action types of firearms:
Bolt Action – Bolt action firearms operate like opening or closing a door bolt. The bolt solidly locks into the
breech, making for an accurate and dependable shot.
To open the action, lift up the handle and pull to the rear.
If the firearm is loaded, the cartridge or shotshell will be ejected as you pull the bolt to the rear. Visually
check both the open action and the magazine for extra cartridges or shotshells to make sure it is
You can store bolt-action firearms safely by seperately storing the bolt from the firearm.
Lever Action – Lever action has a large metal lever located behind the trigger. This handle usually forms the
trigger guard as well.
To open the action, push the lever downward and forward whicn in-turn extracts the cartridge case from
the chamber and ejects it. If a magazine holds extra cartridges, another will immediately become ready to
load in the chamber.
Often it is difficult to tell if a lever-action firearm is loaded. To unload, push the lever downward and
forward repeatedly until no more cartridges are ejected. To make sure a lever-action firearm is unloaded,
visually check both the chamber and the magazine for additional cartridges.
Most models have an exposed hammer, which can be dangerous.
Use caution at all times and keep your hand away from the trigger while working the lever action.
Pump Action – Pump-action firearms are fast and smooth, allowing the shooter to re-cock the firearm without
taking his or her eye off the target. The pump action is also referred to as slide action or trombone action.
To open the action, slide the forestock to the rear, extracting the cartridge or the shotshell from the
chamber and eject it. Sliding the forestock toward the muzzle closes the action and readies another
cartridge or shell for loading.
A pump-action firearm only opens after it is fired or if a release lever is pressed and the forestock is
pulled to the rear.
To make sure it is unloaded, you must visually check both the chamber and the magazine for cartridges
Semi-Automatic (Autoloading) Action – As each shot is manually fired, the case of the cartridge or
shotshell is ejected automatically and the chamber is automatically reloaded.
To open the action, you must pull back the bolt’s operating handle (rifle or shotgun) or the slide (pistol).
Most semi-automatics, when the bolt or slide is pulled back will lock in the open position if the magazine
is empty. If the firearm does not lock open, it means that a cartridge or shotshell from the magazine has
gone into the chamber, ready to fire. A few semi-automatics do not lock open and must be held open to
check the chamber.
Unloading requires you to first remove the magazine and lock the action open. Then make sure it is
unloaded by visually observing the chamber for an additional shell or cartridge.
When closing the action for loading, pull back to unlock the bolt or slide then let go, allowing it to fly
forward on its own. Do not guide it forward with your hand as it may cause the slide not to seat properly.
On a semi-automatic, the trigger must be pulled each time a shot is fired. This makes the semi-automatic
different from the fully automatic firearm, which continuosly fires as long as the trigger is held down.
(Fully automatic firearms may not be used for hunting or sport shooting.)
Break (Hinge) Action – The break-action firearm operates on the same principle as a door hinge. Simple to
load and unload, hinge action firearms are often hunter’s first choice.
To open the action, point the barrel(s) at the ground. A release is pressed, and the stocks drop
downward. This allows for the cartridges or shotshells to eject or be removed manually if loaded.
Hinge-action firearms have a separate barrel for each shot rather than a magazine. Most models have
one or two barrels, as well as some may contain up to four barrels.
Some models have exposed hammers, which can be rather dangerous.
Revolver – Obtaining it’s name from a revolving cylinder containing a number of cartridge chambers. One
chamber lines up with the barrel at a time as the firearm is fired. Revolving cylinders may rotate eiter clockwise
or counterclockwise, per the manufacturer. This type of action usually is found on handguns, but may also be
found on older rifles as well. Revolving actions are commonly referred to as either “Single Action” or “Double
Single Action – Will only fire after the hammer has manually been cocked.
Double Action – Pulling the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer. A double action revolver
typically also can be hammer cocked like a single action revolver.
Common Firearm Actions
Common Actions on Rifles – Singleshot rifles are usually your break or bolt-actions. Repeating rifles
include the bolt-action, lever-action, pump-action and semi-automatic types. Operating the lever, bolt or forestock
ejects the empty cartridge case, chambers a new round of ammo and cocks the gun.
Common Actions on Shotguns – Shotguns use many of the same actions as rifles. Pump-action, semi-
automatic and bolt-action. They also use a break action as either a single barrel or double barrel. The double
barrel can be arranged horizontally (side by side) or vertically (over-under).
A safety is a device that blocks the action to prevent the firearm from shooting until the safety is released or
pushed to the off position. The safety is intended to prevent the firearm from being accidentally fired. Safeties
should never be relied upon totally to protect against an accidental shooting. These are mechanical devices that
are subject to failure from wear and other factors, which can cause it to fail when least expected. Also safeties
are capable of being bumped unknowingly from the safe position as well as accidentally catching on tree
branches or articles of clothing.
Common on pump and semi-automatic firearms.
Simple, push-button action that blocks the trigger or hammer.
Usually located at the trigger guard or ahead of the hammer.
Common on handguns and bolt-action rifles.
A pivoting lever or tab that blocks the trigger or firing pin.
Located on the frame (blocks trigger) or on the bolt side (blocks firing pin).
Slide or Tang Safety
Common on some rifles and break-action shotguns.
Sliding bar or button that blocks the firing action.
Located on the tang (metal strip behind the receiver) of break-action firearms or on the side of the
receiver on some rifles.
Half-Cock or Hammer Safety
Common on firearms with exposed hammers.
Positions the trigger at half-cock; some firearms automatically rebound to the half-cock position after the
trigger is released.
While not a true safety, it is sometimes described as a mechanical safety device by firearm
Never replace safe firearm handling by trusting the safety device located on a firearm. A safety is a mechanical
device that can fail. Do not release a safety until just before you shoot.
In repeating firearms, the magazine stores the ammunition that has not been discharged. Working with the
action, a cartridge is picked up from the magazine and placed in the chamber ready to be fired.
Magazines are designed with a spring and follower that push against the cartridges to move them into
the action. When checking a magazine to make sure it is empty, you must be able to either see or feel
the follower; if you cannot see or feel the follower, there may be a cartridge jammed in the magazine,
which can be dangerous. Tubular magazines require close attention to make sure a cartridge is not
jammed in the magazine.
Magazines may be detachable or fixed.
Detachable – Detachable magazines allow you to remove extra ammunition from the firearm simply by
removing the magazine.
Fixed – Fixed magazines require the ammunition to be removed manually from the gun itself. These
include the tubular, hinged-floorplate and revolving magazines.
Sights are devices used to line up the muzzle with the shooter’s eye making it easier to hit your target. Sights are
more critical on a firearm that fires a single projectile (rifle and handgun) than on a firearm that shoots a pattern
of shot (shotgun). Shotguns typically have a simple pointing bead, whereas rifles have an open aperture(peep),
or telescopic sight. Most handguns have an open sight, although some specialized handguns have a dot or a
Bead Sight – Simple round bead set into the top of the barrel near the muzzle of a shotgun. Some shotguns
have a second, smaller bead about halfway back on the barrel.
Open Sight – Combination of a bead or post front sight and notched rear sight. Simple and inexpensive, allows
for quick sighting. Open sights can be fixed or adjustable.
Aperture (Peep) Sight – Combination of a bead or post front sight and a round hole set on the rifles receiver
close to the eye of the shooter. To aim you center the rear peep or aperture sight and then bring the front sight
into the center hole. Aperture sights are more accurate and adjusted more easily than an open sight.
Telescopic Sight (Scope) – Small telescope mounted on the firearm. A scope gathers the light and brightens
the image magnifying the target. This does away with aligning the rear and front sights. The aiming device inside
the scope is called the reticle. To aim just look through the scope and line up the crosshairs, post, or dot with
your target. These sights are the most accurate, which makes them extremely popular for hunting.
Dot Sight – Small device which is mounted on your firearm. Dot sights use electronics or optical fibers to project
glowing dots or other marks on a lens in front of the shooter’s eye. Some dot sights also maginfy like telescopic