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Rifle Types Explained: Semi-Automatic, Pump-Action, and More

WriterAubrey McShan
12 min read
Different types of rifles are arranged on a wooden table.

Are you searching for the perfect rifle for home defense or deer hunting? With numerous rifle types available, from semi-automatic to break action, it's vital to discover the style that aligns with your needs and objectives. We designed this guide to assist you in identifying the ideal rifle type for your specific requirements.

Types of Rifles: Key Differences

With different types of rifles available on the market, we aim to provide an overview of the most common and popular options you may encounter. Manufacturers categorize rifles by the specific action unique to each gun. Explore their distinctions in terms of rate of fire, typical applications, and more in the table below.

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Types of Rifles: Key Differences
Rifle Type Action Mechanism Magazine Capacity Rate of Fire Common Uses
Semi-Automatic Self-cycling bolt Varies Rapid Hunting, self-defense, sport shooting
Bolt-Action Manual bolt Single shot Moderate Precision shooting, hunting
Lever-Action Lever Varies Moderate Cowboy action shooting, hunting
Single Shot Manual Single shot Slow Training, target shooting
Break-Action Break open Single shot Moderate Hunting, survival
Muzzleloader Muzzle loaded Single shot Slow Historical reenactments, hunting
Pump-Action Pump handle Varies Rapid Hunting, home defense
Automatic Self-cycling bolt Varies Full-Auto Military, law enforcement

Semi-Automatic

We begin with semi-automatic rifles, a highly popular and readily available choice. Unlike some firearms, shooters don't need to manually cock the gun between shots. When the shooter holds down the trigger, the gun fires one bullet at a time.

Semi-automatic rifles may feature either gas systems to cycle the bolt or operate based on recoil and inertia. They find wide use in home defense scenarios.

A Ruger 10/22 Carbine .22LR Rifle Bundle is featured against a white background.

Semi-automatic rifles are closely related to automatic rifles. They are available in various popular options, including the .22 LR and AR 15.

  • These rifles fire one round each time you pull the trigger. Their magazine capacities can vary from 5 to 30 rounds.

  • Semiautomatic rifles use energy or gas to cycle rapidly between shots. This makes them suitable for various purposes, including home defense, hunting, and more.

Bolt-Action

Savage Arms 10/110 Apex Hunter XP 308 WIN 20 in Centerfire Rifle is featured against a white background.

Bolt-action rifles are a favored choice among shooters, with Beretta and Remington being popular brands in this category. These rifles are known for their minimalist design.

  • These rifles feature a manual action mechanism — pushing the bolt forward chambers a fresh cartridge while pulling the bolt back ejects the spent shell casing. It may accept a magazine or the shooter may need to insert rounds by hand.

  • Bolt-action rifles are celebrated for their reliability but with a slower rate of fire compared to semi-automatic counterparts. They excel in accuracy, making them preferred for precise shooting.

Lever-Action

A Henry .22 Lever-Action Repeating Rifle is featured against a white background.

Lever-action rifles are a popular choice, especially for self-defense purposes. Trusted brands like Browning and Winchester have made a name for themselves in this category.

  • To chamber a new round and eject the spent casing, the shooter simply pulls down on a lever. This action is known for its reliability, although it results in a slower rate of fire compared to some other rifle types.

  • Lever-action rifles typically use centerfire ammunition. This gets loaded in a single-file manner. Shooters pair these rifles with flat-nose bullets.

Single Shot

A Henry Singleshot .45-70 Government Break-Open Rifle is featured against a white background.

Single-shot rifles are more of a category of rifles than a specific type. Their manual reloading requirement sets them apart, making each shot a deliberate action.

  • These rifles typically hold a single round of ammunition in the chamber and can encompass various action types, including bolt action, break action, muzzleloader, and lever action. This versatility allows shooters to choose the action style that suits their preferences.

  • Single-shot rifles are known for their slow rate of fire, as they require manual reloading after each shot. This characteristic makes them excellent choices for training beginner shooters.

Break-Action

Traditions BuckStalker 50 Caliber 24 in Scoped Rifle.

Break-action rifles can be relatively rare to find in stores. They serve various purposes, including hunting, teaching kids, and appealing to survivalists.

  • Industry experts sometimes refer to break-action rifles as hinge-action rifles. They can have one or two barrels, providing versatility for different shooting needs.

  • These rifles feature a unique design where the gun "breaks" open at the action and barrel, exposing the chambers. After firing, the break-action mechanism ejects spent shells once the shooter opens the gun again.

Muzzleloader

A Traditions Vortek StrikerFire .50 Break-Open Muzzleloader Rifle is showcased against a white background.

Muzzleloaders evoke a sense of history, dating back to the Revolutionary War era. They earned their name because rounds are loaded directly into the muzzle. There are more modern options available today.

  • Loading a muzzleloader can be a technical process. You have to make sure the rifle is not loaded. Next, you need to measure and pour the powder into the gun's muzzle. Finally, you load the projectile and push it down with a ramrod.

  • Muzzleloaders are not suitable for self-defense due to their slow rate of fire. They’re better suited for historical reenactments and traditional shooting sports.

Pump-Action

A Rossi Gallery .22 LR Pump Action Rifle is showcased against a white background.

Pump action rifles are similar to pump action shotguns. While they are known for their simplicity and reliability, they may not be the best choice for precision shooting.

  • Shooters operate a pump action rifle by manually pushing or "pumping" the forend forward and then back to eject a spent casing. This action then chambers a new round.

  • While not as popular as other rifle types, pump action rifles can be a unique and enjoyable shooting experience. The Remington 7600 is a well-liked option in this category.

Automatic

Those in the gun community sometimes refer to automatic rifles as machine guns. They are highly regulated and typically not available for public purchase.

  • Manufacturers design these firearms to fire continuously so long as the shooter is holding the trigger down, making them capable of sustained automatic fire. You can find these in both closed-bolt and open-bolt designs.

  • Military and law enforcement agencies use automatic rifles for their rapid-fire capabilities. One of the most well-known examples is the M16, a popular choice among armed forces worldwide.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Is a Long Gun? A long gun requires the use of both hands to fire. Typically, you place the butt against your shoulder when firing. In most cases, the barrel must be a minimum of 16 in. While there isn't a federal definition for long guns, most carbines and shotguns would fall under this category. However, a pistol isn’t considered a long gun.

  • What Is a Carbine Rifle? A carbine is a category of rifle. It tends to have a shorter barrel length — usually around 20 in. However, this is not to be confused with a short-barreled rifle, which has barrels shorter than 16 in. Carbines are prized for their easy handling and can be compact versions of existing models.

  • What Are the Most Popular Types of Ammo for Rifles? Some of the most popular types of ammo for rifles include .222 Remington, .308 Winchester, 270 Winchester, and .46 S&W.

Have Fun Out There!

Ready for your next hunting adventure? Whether you're hunting deer or tracking moose, each rifle has its unique role. At Academy, we offer everything you require for a successful hunt, including popular Ruger, Beretta, and Browning Rifles, as well as the ammunition you need to prepare for your journey ahead.