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A repeating rifle is a single barreled rifle containing multiple rounds of ammunition. These rounds are loaded from a magazine by means of a manual or automatic mechanism, and the action that reloads the rifle also typically recocks the firing action. The term repeating rifle is most often applied to weapons in which the next cartridge is loaded by a manual action, as opposed to semi-automatic rifles, in which the force of one shot is used to load the next.

Repeating rifles were a significant advance over the preceding breech loaded single-shot rifles when used for military combat, as they allowed a much greater rate of fire. Repeating rifles saw use in the American Civil War during the early 1860s, and the first repeating Air rifle to see military service was the Windbüchse Rifle.

Manual mechanism

Revolver action

While some early long guns were made using the revolver mechanism popular in hand guns, these did not have longevity in the marketplace. Although the revolver mechanism was fine for pistols, it posed a problem with long guns: without special sealing details, the cylinder produces a gas discharge close to the face when the weapon is fired from the shoulder, as all long guns were.

Bolt action

The bolt closes the breech end of the barrel and contains the firing pin. The bolt is held in place with a lever that fits into a notch. Moving this lever out of the notch will release the restraint on the bolt, allowing it to be drawn back. An extractor removes the spent cartridge, which is then ejected through the lever slot. A spring at the bottom of the magazine pushes up the reserve rounds, positioning the topmost between the bolt and the chamber at the base of the barrel. Pushing the bolt lever forward chambers this round and pushing the lever into the notch locks the bolt and enables the trigger mechanism. The complete cycle action also resets the firing pin. The Mauser rifle of the late 19th and early 20th centuries is the most famous of the bolt action types[citation needed], with most similar weapons derived from this pioneering design, such as the M1903 Springfield and the Karabiner 98 Kurz rifle (abbreviated often as kar98k). The Russian Mosin-Nagant rifle, the British Lee-Enfield, and the Norwegian Krag-Jørgensen are examples of alternate bolt-action designs.

Lever action

Marlin Model 1894C lever-action carbine in .357 Magnum caliber

In a classic lever-action firearm of the Henry-Winchester type, rounds are individually loaded into a tubular magazine parallel to and below the barrel. A short bolt is held in place with an over center toggle action. Once closed, the over center action prevents opening solely by the force on the bolt when the weapon is fired. This toggle action is operated by a hand grip that forms part of the trigger guard. When operated, a spring in the tubular magazine pushes a fresh round into position. Returning the operating lever to the home position chambers the round and closes the breach. An interlock prevents firing unless the toggle is fully closed. The famous Model 1873 Winchester is exemplary of this type. Later lever-action designs, such as Marlin leverguns and those designed for Winchester by John Browning, use one or two vertical locking blocks instead of a toggle-link. There also exist lever-action rifles that feed from a box magazine, which allows them to use pointed bullets.

A one off example of Lever action reloading on automatic firearms is the M1895 Colt-Browning machine gun. This weapon had a swinging lever beneath its barrel that was actuated by a gas bleed in the barrel, unlocking the breech to reload. This unique operation gave the nickname "potato digger" as the lever swung each time the weapon fired.

Pump action

With a pump-action firearm, the action is operated by a movable fore-end that goes backwards and forwards to eject, extract, and chamber a round of ammunition. Pump-actions are usually associated with shotguns, but one example of a pump-action rifle is the Remington Model 7600 series.

Falling block action

Although most falling-blocks were single-shot actions, some early repeaters used this design, notably the Norwegian Krag-Petersson and the U. S. Spencer rifle. The former loaded from a Henry-style underbarrel magazine; the latter fed from a tubular magazine in the buttstock.

Automatic mechanisms

Gas operated

FN FAL battle rifle

In a gas-operated mechanism, a portion of the gases propelling the bullet from the barrel are extracted and used to operate a piston. The motion of this piston in turn unlocks and operates the bolt, which performs extraction of the spent cartridge and via spring action readies the next round. Almost all modern military rifles use mechanisms of this type.


In "blowback" operation, the bolt is not actually locked at the moment of firing. To prevent violent recoil, in most firearms using this mechanism the opening of the bolt is delayed in some way. In many small arms, the round is fired while the bolt is still travelling forward, and the bolt does not open until this forward momentum is overcome. Other methods involve delaying the opening until two rollers have been forced back into recesses in the receiver in which the bolt is carried. Simple blowback action is simple and inexpensive to manufacture, but is limited in the power it can handle, so it is seen on small caliber weapons such as machine pistols and submachine guns. Lever-delayed blowback, as seen in for example the French FAMAS assault rifle, can also handle more powerful cartridges but is more complicated and expensive to manufacture.

Recoil operated

M1941 rifle

In a recoil-operated firearm, the breech is locked, and the barrel recoils as part of the firing cycle. In long-recoil actions, such as the Browning Auto-5 shotgun, the barrel and breechblock remain locked for the full recoil travel, and separate on the return; in short-recoil actions, typical of most semiautomatic handguns (e.g. the Colt M1911), the barrel recoils only a short distance before decoupling from the breechblock. Recoil actions are stronger and usually more accurate than blowback actions.

Early repeaters

  • The Jennings Magazine Rifle In 1849 Walter Hunt patented a repeating rifle he called "the Volitional Repeater". This rifle featured a tubular magazine beneath the barrel and a lever mechanism to raise cartridges into the chamber. Unable to finance the building of the rifle, Hunt sold the rights to George Arrowsmith who in turn had an employee, Lewis Jennings, improve the lever mechanism. Courtland Palmer placed the first order for the "Jennings Magazine rifle" for his hardware store: Robbins & Lawrence. The rifle did not sell well as the ammunition was a hollow based bullet containing gunpowder. Most of the guns were later converted to single shot rifles. Two employees working at Robbins & Lawrence: Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson improved the design and sold it as the "Smith-Jennings Repeating Rifle".[1]
  • French Guycot Chain Rifle - Manufactured circa 1878, this unusual and rare rifle featured a chain housed in the frame and stock which held 80 rounds of centerfire cartridges. The "endless chain" had carrying cups that hold the rounds. Once loaded the rifle could be fired as fast as the trigger could be pulled. At the pull, the belt was revolved until a chamber (or cup) faced the barrel. At the same time a long firing pin was retracted. An inner barrel was drawn back through the heavy outer barrel until it covered the bullet end of the cartridge. At the end of the long drag on the trigger, the final pressure released the needle like firing pin, which drove through a small opening in the base of the cup detonating the cartridge primer. The rifle fired a lead conical bullet which was hollowed out to accommodate the powder. The barrel was octagon and fit into a 2 7/8" round section that extended from the receiver. P. Gay, a French engineer and Mrs. H. Guenot, a French merchant secured British patent #187 in 1879, otherwise the origin of the Guycot remains a mystery and historical facts are sketchy.
  • Girandoni Air Rifle - Repeating air rifle designed in 1779
  • Meigs Sliding Guard Action Repeating Carbine
  • Roper repeating shotgun
  • Cookson repeater
  • Kalthoff repeater
  • Belton flintlock
  • Porter Revolving Turret Rifle
  • Colt Revolving Rifle
  • Spencer repeating rifle

See also


  1. Boorman, Dean (2002). The History of Smith & Wesson Firearms. The Lyons Press. pp. 16–17. ISBN 1-58574-721-1. 

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