Common Features of Firearms
All types of firearms have actions and sights, and they may have safeties
or magazines. Features unique to rifles or shotguns are discussed in the following
Firearms can be classified by their 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 styles. Singleshot firearms must
be reloaded each time the firearm is fired. Repeating firearms have extra cartridges
or shotshells ready in a magazine, cylinder, or extra barrel.
Identifying and Operating
You must be able to recognize which type of action a rifle or shotgun has, understand how it works, and operate it safely and correctly. Before handling any firearm, open the action and determine whether it is loaded or unloaded. TREAT EVERY FIREARM AS IF IT WERE LOADED even if you have checked and know that it is unloaded.
Bolt Action: A bolt-action
firearm operates like opening and closing a door bolt. The bolt solidly locks
into the breech, making it accurate and dependable.
- To open the action, lift the handle up and pull it to the rear.
- If the firearm is loaded, the cartridge or shotshell will be ejected as
you pull the bolt to the rear. To make sure it’s unloaded, visually
check both the open action and the magazine
for extra cartridges or shotshells.
- You can store a bolt-action firearm safely by storing the bolt separately
from the firearm.
Lever Action: The lever-action
firearm 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, which extracts
the cartridge case from the chamber and ejects it. If a magazine holds extra
cartridges, another is immediately ready to be loaded into the chamber.
- It’s often 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 it’s unloaded, visually check both the
chamber and the magazine for additional cartridges.
- Most models also have an exposed hammer, which can be dangerous.
- Always use extra caution to keep your hands away from the trigger
while working the lever action.
Pump Action: The pump-action
firearm is fast and smooth. It allows the shooter to re-cock the firearm without
taking his or her eye off the target. The pump action also is referred to as “slide
action” or “trombone action.”
- To open the action, slide the forestock to the rear, which extracts the
cartridge from the chamber and ejects it. Sliding the forestock toward the muzzle closes the action and loads another cartridge. A pump-action
firearm will open only after it’s fired or if a release lever is pressed
and the forestock is pulled to the rear.
- To make sure it’s unloaded, you must visually check both the
chamber and the magazine for cartridges.
Semi-Automatic (or Autoloading)
Action: As each shot is fired manually, the case of the cartridge
or shotshell is ejected automatically and the chamber is reloaded automatically.
- To open the action, you must pull back the bolt’s operating handle
(on a rifle or shotgun) or the slide (on a 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 from the magazine has gone into the chamber, making the firearm
ready to fire. A few semi-automatics do not lock open and must be held open
to check the chamber.
- To unload, first remove the magazine and lock the action
open. Then make sure it’s unloaded—visually check the chamber
for an additional cartridge or shell.
- When closing the action for loading, pull back to unlock the bolt or slide
and then let go, allowing it to travel forward on its own. Do not guide it
forward with your hand, because it may not 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 fires continuously as long as the trigger is held down. The
fully-automatic firearm may not be used for hunting.
Break (or Hinge) Action: The
break-action firearm operates on the same principle as a door hinge. Simple
to load and unload, a hinge action is often chosen as a hunter’s first
- To open the action, point the barrel(s) at the ground. A release is pressed,
and the stock drops downward. This allows the cartridges or shotshells to
eject or to be removed manually if the firearm is loaded.
- Hinge-action firearms have a separate barrel for each shot rather than
a magazine. Most models have one or two barrels, but some have up to four.
- Some models also have an exposed hammer(s), which can be dangerous.
Revolving Action: The
revolving action takes its name from a revolving cylinder containing a number
of cartridge chambers. One chamber at a time lines up with the barrel as the
firearm is fired. Revolving cylinders may rotate either clockwise or counter-clockwise,
depending on the manufacturer. This type of action is usually found on handguns
but may be found on some older rifles. Revolving actions are referred to as
either “single action” or “double action.”
- Single Action: Will fire only after the hammer has been
- 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.
Continue to the next page to see common actions on rifles and shotguns.