man pondering different types of rifle

Rifles have long been an essential tool for hunters, sports shooters, military personnel, and law enforcement. There are several categories to choose from, each with its own benefits and special considerations. Let’s take a closer look at the different types of rifles you may come across. We’ll discuss the design and purpose of each weapon, along with a few examples. 

Types of Rifle Styles Guide

Semi-Automatic Rifles

Design: Semi-automatic rifles are among the most popular type of rifle due to their versatility and ease of use. They are so-called because they reload automatically after each shot, but still require the shooter to pull the trigger for each round fired. Semi-automatics may be energy or gas powered, allowing them to cycle easily between shots. Magazine capacities typically range from 5 to 30 rounds.

Purpose: Semi-automatic rifles are most often used for hunting, target practice, and self-defense. 

Examples: Popular examples include the AR-15 platform and the Ruger 10/22 series.

a picture of a semi automatic type of rifle
The Ruger 10/22 Sporter TALO is an example of a semi-automatic rifle. 

Bolt Action Rifles

Design: bolt action rifles feature a mechanism that is pushed forward to release a spent shell, then pulled back to chamber a new cartridge. This means they load more slowly than semi-automatic rifles, which automatically chamber the next round.

Purpose: although they require more time to load, these types of rifles are superior where accuracy is concerned. This makes them especially useful for precision shooting and big game hunting. 

Examples: Remington and Beretta are some of the leading manufacturers of bolt action style rifles. 

a bolt action rifle style in black
A Remington 700 SPS bolt action rifle in black. 

Lever Action Rifles

Design: to chamber a cartridge and expel used shells in these types of rifles, the shooter pulls down on a lever attached to the weapon. Lever action rifles are often featured in movies about the Wild West. They often use centerfire ammunition, which is loaded single file. 

Purpose: aside from cowboy shoot-outs on film, lever action rifles are also a popular choice for self-defense. They are slower to load than a semi-automatic, but they are more accurate and require only one movement to both load a fresh cartridge and eject a used shell.

Examples: the Winchester Model 94 is one of the most iconic examples of a lever action rifle, as is the Marlin 336. 

a classic Winchester lever-action rifle
The iconic Winchester Model 94 is a type of lever-action rifle (Deluxe Sporting version pictured). 

Pump Action Rifles

Design: pump action rifles utilize a sliding forend to chamber and eject rounds. They offer a faster rate of fire compared to bolt action rifles, but slower than semi-automatics. 

Purpose: Pump action rifles are often used in hunting and sporting applications, particularly for shooting moving targets such as waterfowl or clay pigeons. 

Examples: the Remington 7600 is a prime example of a pump action rifle. 

a pump action rifle style
This design by Henry Repeating Arms is another example of a pump action rifle. 

Break Action Rifles

Design: break action rifles are also sometimes called “hinge rifles.” This is because they have a mechanism that allows them to hinge open at the action and barrel to view the chamber. They can have one or two barrels.

Purpose: the break action rifle isn’t one of the most common types of rifle, and it can be difficult to find in a store. Because they are relatively inexpensive, light, and simple to operate, they are often used when instructing younger shooters. Also, the hinge mechanism is internal, meaning it can stand up to inclement weather. This makes break action rifles a popular choice among survival hunters.

Examples: the CVA Scout series is a good example of a break action rifle.

a break action rifle with a blued finish
A CVA Scout Compact break-action rifle with a fluted barrel and blued finish. 

Automatic Rifles

Design: also known as machine guns, automatic rifles are capable of firing multiple rounds with a single trigger pull. They are heavily regulated and restricted for civilian ownership in many jurisdictions due to their potential for rapid and sustained fire.

Purpose: automatic rifles are primarily used by law enforcement and military personnel for combat purposes. They require extensive training to operate safely and are not suited for self-defense or recreational use.  

Examples: the AK-47 is probably the most well-known of the automatic rifles. 

a photo of an AK-47 assault rifle
The Russian-made AK-47 is among the more well-known automatic assault rifles. 

Muzzleloader Rifles

Design: as the name suggests, these firearms are loaded through the muzzle (the open end of the barrel) rather than the breech. They are tedious to load and their accuracy is erratic. 

Purpose: these weapons are most often used in historical reenactments and as decoration. They are used in hunting by some who enjoy the process of measuring and pouring powder, but the accuracy range is limited to less than 100 yards. This makes them a poor choice for big game

Examples: Muskets used during the Revolutionary War were a type of muzzleloader. 

A revolutionary war reenactment showcasing muzzloader rifle styles
A Revolutionary War reenactment featuring the use of muskets. 

Rifle Target Practice in Omaha

Whatever style of rifle you choose, practicing your shooting in a safe environment is an integral part of responsible gun ownership. In Omaha, The Marksman Indoor Range provides year-round access to target practice, classes, and competition. Our clean and bright facility is open to shooters of all levels, aged 8 and above. Visit our website to sign up for a course or event, or come on in–walk-ins are always welcome! 

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