Introduction To Rifle Actions

By Chuck Hawks

The seven steps of operation of any firearm (rifle, shotgun, or pistol) are the same. The purpose of any action (mechanism) of any gun is to perform these seven steps.

All actions accomplish the following steps of operation either mechanically or by hand, although not necessarily in this order:

    1. FIRING--pulling the trigger releases the hammer or striker and fires the round in the chamber.

    2. UNLOCKING & PRIMARY EXTRACTION--the breech is securely locked closed during firing; after firing, the first operation is to unlock it. Autoloaders do this by means of gas pressure and an operating rod, other actions do this by manual movement of a lever, bolt handle, slide handle, etc. In addition, the brass case left behind after the bullet and powder are gone must be loosened from the chamber walls--this is called primary extraction, and it is accomplished mechanically as the action is unlocked.

    3. EXTRACTION--the case is partially or fully removed from the chamber so that it may be either lifted out by the fingers, or thrown out by the ejector.

    4. EJECTION--after extraction, the case is thrown from the rifle, or removed by hand.

    5. COCKING--The hammer or striker spring is compressed as the hammer/striker is drawn back, and then held back by the sear; it is now cocked.

    6. FEEDING--a fresh cartridge is chambered, either by hand, or by the forward travel of the bolt.

    7. LOCKING--The breech block is locked closed, and the rifle is ready to fire again.

Specifically how these seven steps of operation are accomplished, and in what order, depends upon the type of action. I am not going to attempt to detail how each action accomplishes these steps; it is sufficient to understand that it does. If you carefully watch a rifle action operate, you will see how it performs the seven steps.

The rifle actions I am going to cover in the following articles are the bolt action, falling block single shot action, lever action, gas operated autoloading action, and pump action. These are the action types that the vast majority of modern centerfire sporting rifles employ. I will try to mention the origin of each, and briefly point out the advantages and disadvantages of each type. I will also describe, or at least mention, some of the popular rifles that employ each type of action.

To be sure, there are other actions that I will not touch on here, such as the extremely expensive and beautiful break action double rifle, or the break action single barrel. But these types represent only a tiny percentage of centerfire rifle sales; they are primarily used in shotguns today, and will be covered in my article on shotgun actions.

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Copyright 1999, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.