The Pump Action

By Chuck Hawks

The pump action has long been a peculiarly North American tradition. To the best of my knowledge, there has never been much interest in the type in Europe, Australia, or Asia. I find this hard to understand, as the pump is the fastest and easiest to operate of all manual actions. Neither hand need change its grip on the rifle to operate the slide handle of a pump action.

Colt built the Lightning pump action rifle, starting in 1884, to compete with the lever action Winchesters of the time. As I write these words, only Remington among the major U.S. arms companies builds a pump action centerfire rifle, although Browning and Savage have also offered modern pump action rifles in recent times. And several manufacturers offer pump action .22 rimfire rifles. Both the Remington and Browning centerfire designs incorporate double action bars and a front locking, rotating bolt. Both are mechanically and visually very similar to their respective firms autoloading rifles (see "The Autoloading Action"). The difference is basically that the shooter's arm provides the energy to cycle the action of the pump version, instead of expanding gas as in the autoloader.

The pump is a very natural type of action. As the rifle recoils, the shooter's weak hand strokes the rifle's forearm back, which extracts and ejects the fired brass; as the rifle comes back toward alignment with the target, the hand slides the forearm forward, chambering a new round and closing the bolt. A pump can be cycled almost as fast as an autoloader (even faster in some cases). Certainly, a pump action is no more sensitive to the build up of fouling in its mechanism than an autoloader, although is seems to be just as succeptable to freezing in very cold weather. Both types should be kept reasonably clean for reliable function. It is a shame that the pump gun is not more popular. In North American sales, pump rifles trail the other actions.

Browning's modern pump action rifle was called the BPR. Like the autoloading BAR, its forearm fit flush to the receiver. In fact, it was a dead ringer for the popular BAR, except that its receiver was made from an aerospace aluminum alloy (like the BLR). There was a long action model chambered for the .270 Win, 7mm Rem. Mag., .30-06 Spfd., and .300 Win. Mag. There was also a short action model, chambered for the .243 Win. and the .308 Win.

Magazine capacity was 4 rounds for all standard calibers, 3 for magnum calibers. The magazine was attached to the swing open floorplate, detachable if desired, as in the BAR and BLR. Iron sights were standard on all models. Average weight in the standard calibers was 7 pounds 3 ounces, and overall length was 43 inches. The two piece stock was made from select walnut, with plenty of cut checkering and a beautiful gloss finish. In all calibers the barrel was fully free floating, with no forearm contact, to enhance accuracy. As usual with Browning rifles, the overall quality of fit and finish was superior. In .300 Mag. the BPR may still be one of the best rifles around for hunting large or dangerous North American game, providing speed nearly equivalent to a BAR, coupled with a manually operated action that many hunters trust more than an autoloader.

Another modern American pump gun, manufactured from 1970 until 1981, was the Savage Model 170. This was a more economical and less sophisticated rifle than the Browning and Remington pumps. The Model 170's streamlined receiver and the shape of its forearm reminded me of a small gauge pump action shotgun. It featured a blued carbon steel barrel and receiver and an un-checkered walnut stock. It used a tubular magazine under its 22" barrel, again much like a modern pump shotgun. Calibers were .30-30 Win. and .35 Rem. There was also a carbine version with an 18.5" barrel (Model 170C) in .30-30 only.

The Remington 7600 is directly descended from the long-running Model 760, and is very similar to the company's companion 7400 autoloader. Many of the internal parts are interchangeable. The 7600's forearm does not extend all the way back to the receiver like the 7400's does, so it is easier to distinguish between the two than with the Browning pair. The 7600 is chambered in 5 calibers: .243 Win., .270 Win., .280 Rem., .308 Win., and .30-06 Spfd. I wish it were also offered in .358 Win. The 7600 has an all steel receiver, complete with Remington's fine-line engraving. It uses the same detachable box magazine as the 7400. Magazine capacity is 4 rounds in all calibers. The barrel is fully free floating. Standard 7600's come with two piece checkered walnut stocks and forearms; the buttstock has a Monte Carlo comb, which helps to align the eye with a scope. All models come standard with iron sights. The .30-06 caliber is available in a carbine model with an 18.5 inch barrel. There is also a 7600 Synthetic model, with a black fiberglass reinforced plastic stock, and dull finish metal work. The metal parts of the standard model are polished and attractively blued, and the wood has a nice satin finish.

From the descriptions above, it should be clear that both the BPR and 7600 are attractive, high quality rifles. Some years ago it was generally felt that, for whatever reason, Remington's 740 autoloader was generally a little more accurate than their 760 pump. Evidently free floating the barrel of the 7600 has helped the pump's accuracy, and now it is regarded by Remington as equal to the 7400 autoloader in the accuracy department. And, of course, the pump action is also ambidextrous.

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Copyright 1999, 2006 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.