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What are the Two Basic Styles of Firearm Actions?

There are hundreds of different firearms that all have different purposes and capabilities. The gun you choose depends on what your goals are and what your target is. However, while there are many different firearms, there are two basic styles of firearms when it comes to hunting.

Question: What are the Two Basic Styles of Firearm Actions?

Answer: Single Shot & Repeating

Single-shot firearms and repeating firearms are the two basic styles. Within each of these two primary categories are even more specific action types.

Single Shot Firearms 

Flintlock pistol is a single shot action

Single-shot firearms are the original style when it comes to guns. They can hold only a single bullet and must be reloaded after every shot. However, single-shot firearms still have their place in the world of guns and hunting. 

Single-shot firearms are primarily used in hunting larger animals that require a powerful gun. While most original historical guns were single-shot weapons, it’s mostly limited to rifles nowadays. However, most people opt for repeating firearms since they can hold multiple rounds of ammunition and fire quicker than single-shot guns. Here are some of the most popular single-shot firearms still used in hunting, and self-defense.

  • Ruger No. 1 
  • Uberti 1874 Sharps 
  • Thompson Center Contender 
  • Savage Rascal 
  • H & R Handi Rifle 
  • Muzzleloaders

Pros of Single Shot Firearms 

  • Single-shot firearms are often built simply and sleekly with few moving parts. 
  • There are fewer problems that can occur with single-shot firearms due to the few moving parts. 
  • Single-shot firearms are very reliable, user-friendly, and easy to operate. 
  • This type of firearm forces you to slow down, take your time, and be precise with your shot. 

Cons of Single Shot Firearms

  • The obvious downside is that you only have one round to make your kill shot then you have to reload. 
  • They take longer to reload and fire than repeating firearms. 
  • Most single-shot firearms also have more kick when you fire them because there isn’t an action built in to absorb the impact. 

Repeating Firearms 

Smith & Wesson M&P Shield 9mm Pistol

Repeating firearms are much more popular in today’s world than single-shot firearms. Repeating firearms are guns that hold multiple rounds of ammunition within the gun itself. These extra rounds are held in magazines, cartridges, cylinders, or extra barrels. 

It’s important that you don’t confuse repeating firearms with automatic firearms. Automatic firearms are guns where you can hold down the trigger and the gun fires continually. They are a form of repeating firearm, but not all repeating firearms are automatic guns. 

In fact, most of the repeating weapons used in hunting and home self-defense are semi-automatic guns. These types of repeating firearms can hold multiple rounds of ammunition, but the trigger must be pressed and released each time you want to fire. 

Repeating firearms are used in hunting, home defense, the military, the police force, and in every other area where guns are used. They can come in the form of a handgun, shotgun, or rifle and are also known as repeaters. Revolvers and lever-action repeating rifles from the mid to late 1800s were the first widely used repeating firearms in the world. They went on to replace single-shot firearms in most areas of firearm use. 

Firearm Actions for Rifles, Pistols, & Shotguns

Different Mechanisms 

Revolver action 

Revolver action repeating firearms have a rotating cylinder that reloads every time you pull back the hammer. This type of action is mainly found in revolvers such as the original Colts and the Glock .38. 

Lever action 

The original Henry-Winchester is probably the most famous gun to use the lever action. However, it’s used on a variety of guns today including small BB guns and air guns. Lever action repeating firearms have a lever on the bottom of the gun that you pull and replace to cycle in a new round. 

Pump action 

Pump action mechanisms are usually reserved for repeating guns such as shotguns. 

Bolt action 

Bolt action firearms have a bolt mechanism on the side of the gun that you manually pull back and push forward to insert a new round into the chamber. 


Autoloading guns are also known as semi-automatic or automatic weapons. Handguns, rifles, shotguns, and all manner of non-hunting firearms use autoloading mechanisms. 

Multiple-barrel repeaters 

Double-barrelled rifles, shotguns, derringers, and other guns with multiple barrels are unique types of repeating firearms. Rather than having a mechanism to cycle in a fresh round each time you shoot, the extra round is held in an additional barrel on the gun itself.  

Pros of Repeating Firearms 

  • They can hold multiple rounds which means you can shoot faster. 
  • They’re ideal for hunting and home defense. 
  • Perfect for people who are going to need to fire multiple rounds in a short time. 

Cons of Repeating Firearms 

  • Because repeating firearms have more mechanisms and components there are more things that can go wrong. 
  • You don’t have to be quite as accurate with repeating firearms since you can fire multiple shots quickly. 
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