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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 single-shot or repeating. Single-shot 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 unloaded. 

  • You can store bolt-action firearms safely by separately 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 which 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 or shotshells.

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 continuously 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 its 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 either 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 Action". 

  • 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.

Firearm Action Guide: About
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