Rifles come in all shapes and sizes, from the diminutive to the gargantuan, and they serve a nearly endless variety of purposes. These days rifles tend be grouped into two categories, rimfire and centerfire, so let’s take a look at just some of the many wonderful things you can do with these fantastic tools and the types of rifles you’ll encounter.
Rimfire—Good Things in Small Packages
The world of rimfire rifles is one where many people get their introduction to the shooting sports—especially youth shooters. The .22 Long Rifle (LR) reigns here. General-purpose .22 LR rifles can be had without breaking the bank, and you can shoot this caliber often for as little as a nickel a round. There are other cartridges in the close-knit rimfire family—.22 Short and Long, .22 Winchester Magnum Rimfire, and Hornady’s .17 Magnum Rimfire and Mach 2 rounds to name a few—but no matter which you choose, each comes loaded with a healthy dose of fun.
What can you do with a rimfire round? This is where the art of plinking is king—paper poking at your favorite indoor range, tin cans on a fence post and balloon popping on an outdoor range are just a few casual pursuits. Ruger’s Rimfire Challenge is where many get their first introduction to competition shooting, and rimfire shooting leagues and matches across the country are administered by the Civilian Marksmanship Program, National Rifle Association, the American Rimfire Association and National Rifle League among others—and if you really want to shoot for the stars, the Olympic has a gold medal podium waiting for you.
Centerfire—Something for Everyone
With a dizzying number of calibers to choose from—there are literally hundreds of mainstream centerfire rifle rounds in all sizes and performance ranges—and the guns themselves available in configurations ranging from walking-around-money bargain to handcrafted budget-busting double rifles designed to take on the world’s most dangerous game, the only question you need to ask is what do you want to do with your rifle?
Need to drill a target at 100 yards? No problem. Need to drill a target at 1,000 yards? Also not a problem. For those adrenaline junkies out there, sports like 3-Gun, steel plate contests and matches in other action-shooting genres such as IPSC and Cowboy Action put the thrill in thrilling. Of course, rifles are part and parcel of hunting from big-game to small, and rifles are favored protection tools for many backcountry hikers and campers, just as they are for home and ranch defense in more rural locations.
Rifle Action Types
Single-shots are exactly as the name implies: They hold one shot and only one shot at a time. They run the gamut from plain Jane $100 basic to highly sophisticated competition guns running in the thousands. Rimfire single-shots tend to be lightweight and inexpensive and are a great choice for getting youth shooters started on safe handling skills. They can also be useful for home protection or for ranch and farm work such as eliminating pests. The guns usually have a lever at the top of the receiver that breaks open the gun on a hinge to allow loading of its single shell.
Under the barrel is a tube, called the “magazine,” that holds multiple rounds, the number depending on the caliber size. Surrounding that magazine tube is a moveable fore-end. To operate this action, the shooter will first move that fore-end backward along its rails. That motion opens the receiver (ejecting any spent shell case if the gun has just been fired), while moving a new shell out of the magazine and onto the “elevator” in the receiver bottom. When the shooter slides the fore-end forward, the shell is pushed into the chamber, the bolt closing behind it until it’s fully closed. Ta-da! You’re ready to fire again!
Though some makers like Remington offer these in centerfire rounds, you’ll more often find them chambered for rimfires. They make super-fun plinking guns and are useful for small game, pest control and even home-defense.
Semi-automatics essentially work like pumps, except the rifle does all the work. They cycle their actions via the gasses or energy expended by a fired shell. They are very fast to shoot, which make them very popular for the action-shooting sport of 3-Gun as well as the timed precision bull’s-eye courses of fire in NRA High Power. Both sports are where you’ll see many AR-15-type modern sporting rifles (MSRs) being used.
Like a pump, the shooter can fire one shot, then cycle the action before firing the next. Bolts are magazine-fed, too, but via a box-like magazine in the receiver, instead of a tube under the barrel. To cycle the action after firing, the shooter lifts the bolt up and pulls it to the rear. This will eject the empty case of the round just fired. Pushing the bolt forward lifts the round at the top of the magazine up and into the chamber, and returning the bolt to its forward-most, downward-most position closes the receiver and readies the gun for firing. Most popular with hunters for everything from the smallest to the biggest and most dangerous, bolt-actions are also a favorite for benchrest, NRA High Power and the sport of 1,000-yard F-Class.
The Old West lives on with the lever-action rifle. Available in both rimfire and centerfire, levers have the under-barrel magazine tube of the pump-action, with an under-receiver lever. If you’ve ever watched a John Wayne movie, you know exactly how they work. Of course, these guns are mandatory for Cowboy Action competition, but they are also a great choice for hunters, home-defense and ranch and farm pest control.
Over/Unders and Side-By-Sides
Like a single-shot, these are break-action guns as well, but now you get two shells. An over/under has one barrel stacked over a second, while a side-by-side puts the pair on a horizontal plane. Primarily used by African big-game hunters, especially those pursuing Cape buffalo, leopard and other dangerous game for which very large cartridges are required, these actions are really specialty guns, usually with a specialty price tag.