man shoorting a gun

Your Sportsman Guide Guns and What They're For


Come Out From There

Unless you're hiding under a rock, there are a few topics in the news today you can't avoid even if you tried. Subjects like immigration, the economy, healthcare reform, canned cheese and, of course, firearms. 

Whether you're interested in becoming more acquainted with firearms or looking to pick up a new hobby or maybe even bag that big buck eating out of the flower garden, you're in the right place. Despite being an aficionado or a plain Jane with firearms, by the end of this guide, you will know everything about the different types of guns.

What Exactly is a Thunderstick?

collection of guns

A gun is defined as a tubular weapon in which an explosive force propels a projectile out. 

To understand the different types of guns, you need to understand what a gun is and how it works. They have changed throughout history, but there are a few constants.

So what comprises a gun today?



The bullet is perhaps the most essential part of a firearm. It is what defines the nature of a gun and how we categorize it. Bullets are the feature that changed the most about guns. They began as a simple ball of metal that was thrown through a barrel when a pile of gunpowder was ignited beneath it and have evolved to a proficient system that can send a bullet screaming accurately for miles.

Most cartridges have 4 basic parts.


The primer is struck by the firearm and ignites an explosion.


The primer ignites the gunpowder, and the energy from the explosion launches the bullet forward.


The bullet is the actual projectile at the end of the casing, which shoots out of the gun.


The casing is the metal that holds all the parts if the cartridge in place.

The Firearm


There are several different types of guns, and the parts to each differ, but all firearms have several components in common.


The trigger is the part of the firearm you pull back with your finger to fire the weapon.


The safety is an integral part of staying safe when around guns. It prevents the firearm from firing prematurely.


The barrel is the part of the firearm that the bullet travels through after the trigger is pulled.

Types of Guns



gun & bullets

Handguns are the most popular guns in America. Over three and a half million are manufactured every year, and there are substantially more in circulation. Unlike rifles and shotguns, they aren't widely used in the hunting world but stand out from the pack in self-defense and target shooting. They don't require a large build or excessive strength to fire and are typically easier to shoot and learn.

Important distinction to note is the two separate types of handguns.

What are they?



Whether you're looking to embrace your inner Walker Texas Ranger or just to buy a simple self-defense weapon, a revolver will fit your needs. Semi-automatic pistols are more popular, but revolvers are celebrated for their reliability and generally lower cost. Due to the revolver's simplicity, there are less moving parts and less possibility for something to go wrong.

While revolvers are simpler, it is still important to know the important parts that distinguish revolvers from other handguns.


Other handguns load cartridges into a magazine, which is stored in the weapon's grip. Revolvers use a cylinder that can typically store 6 cartridges at a time. Each time the trigger is pulled, the cylinder rotates and positions another cartridge ready to fire.


The hammer refers to the lever on the back of the revolver. The way that hammer works is called the "action."

Single Action

In single-action revolvers, the hammer must be manually pulled back until it clicks. This arms the hammer and prepares it to fire. When the trigger is pulled, the hammer falls forwards, strikes a firing pin which strikes the primer on the back of a cartridge, firing the gun.

Double Action

In double-action revolvers, the hammer may be engaged manually like in single-action revolvers, but the step is not required. Instead, you can engage the hammer and fire the weapon by pulling the trigger. Doing so will cause a longer and more difficult trigger pull but will require less time to fire.

Double-Action revolvers can also exist as "hammerless revolvers," although this is misleading. The hammer is concealed, so it doesn't risk getting caught on anything. These revolvers can only be fired in double-action as there is not a visible hammer to manually cock.


Revolvers also come in a large selection of calibers, more than their semiautomatic counterparts. Personal defense rounds are typically smaller but can also come in sizes large like the .44 Magnum.

Semi-Automatic Handguns


Semi-Automatic handguns are the most popular handguns in America. While they might not let you live out your cowboy fantasies, they are extremely efficient in self-defense and are beloved by millions for their versatility. They can fire at an extremely high rate, store a larger number of cartridges and are relatively simple to use.

Semi-automatic handguns have similar parts to a revolver minus the cylinder but also have a series of additional mechanisms that allow them to work with such efficiency.


Instead of a cylinder, a semiautomatic handgun stores cartridges in a magazine. Magazines slide into the grip of the firearms and feed into the chamber of the barrel.


The slide is the action of a semiautomatic handgun in a sense. When you load the firearm, you must pull back the slide to engage the hammer. You are then free to pull the trigger; the trigger falls into a firing pin that strikes the primer. 

When the bullet is fired, the force pushes the slide back again, ejects the empty cartridge and rearms the hammer. This allows the firearm to fire in a semi-automatic manner, aside from pulling the slide back the first time, pulling the trigger is all that is needed to fire. That is what makes semiautomatic handguns the most popular guns in America.


girl with gun

Perhaps the oldest and most versatile firearm is the rifle. They date back to when guns consisted of a metal tube on a wooden stock, which threw a metal ball in a general direction and evolved to firearms that are capable of dispensing thousands of rounds in minutes at high accuracy and precision. As you would imagine, rifles have evolved into several different categories used for specific purposes.

While there are numerous different types of rifles, from muzzleloaders to machine guns, there are three distinct actions that are popular in America today.

Lever-Action Rifles

man with lever action rifle

These beauties are most commonly associated with cowboys and the wild west but still remain very popular today for their dependability and novelty.

What made these guns such a popular choice among those taming the west are still relevant today. Their ease of use, lightweight nature, and speed in which they can fire make them a popular choice among hunters and target shooters.


The hammer in lever-action rifles works similarly. It must be armed for the rifle to fire when the trigger is pulled. Then the hammer falls and strikes the firing pin.

Tubular Magazine

These rifles store cartridges in a tubular magazine located under the barrel. This allows for high capacity of ammo to be stored in the rifle at one time, but the bullets must be rounded in order to avoid accidentally being fired during recoil.


The lever is the most integral part of these rifles. While you can arm the hammer yourself, pulling the lever down ejects a cartridge and loads another one into the barrel while also arming the hammer. Due to this being one fluid motion, it allows for bullets to be fired at a fast rate.


Lever-Action rifles come in a diverse range of calibers. Ranging from revolver cartridges like the .45 to sizes large enough to harvest big game on a hunt like the .50 caliber.

Bolt-Action Rifles

man with rifle

Bolt-Action rifles usually come to mind when someone mentions a sniper rifle. They are extremely popular today due to their safety and ability to fire a bullet accurately at long ranges. Military snipers and weekend hunters use these rifles. They are typically outfitted with a high power scope to make the most use out of their range and come in a very wide variety of calibers.

The bolt-action is a relatively straightforward firearm, so what makes it special?


The magazine on a bolt-action rifle is extremely similar to those in semi-automatic handguns. The biggest differences being a much smaller ammo capacity, and it is loaded in front of the trigger instead of into the grip.


As the name suggests, the bolt is what defines this type of rifle. To load a cartridge into the chamber and engage the firing pin, the bolt has to be pulled back and then locked back into place. This is a slightly slower process than the lever on a lever-action rifle, but the accuracy and versatility of the bolt-action compensates for this.


Another big aspect of the popularity behind bolt-action rifles is simply how diverse they come. Whether you are shooting bushy-tailed squirrels with a .22lr or hunting elephants, you'll find a bolt-action ready to handle the job.

Semi-Automatic Rifles


Semi-Automatic Rifles are the most popular type of rifle in the United States and also the most divisive. They can store large capacity of ammunition and dispense it in a short amount of time with high accuracy. 

So how exactly do they work?


The magazine is similar to a bolt-action rifle but typically has a much larger capacity and is made for a smaller caliber bullet


A semiautomatic rifle and pistol operate in the same basic flow. After the magazine is loaded into the gun, a bolt is pulled back to chamber a round and prepare the gun to fire. The factor that separates them is how a new round is loaded into the chamber. 

Since the mechanisms in a rifle are larger than those in a pistol, more energy is required to load another round. Semi-Automatic rifles accomplish this by harnessing the expanding gasses from the explosion to push the bolt back and eject the spent casing, loading another in the process. Semi-Automatic rifles are designed to shoot very quickly with precision, making them ideal for situations that require a quick hand and less than pinpoint accuracy.

various gun types

While not quite as diverse as bolt-action rifles, they still come in a selection of calibers to suit a variety of purposes.


men shooting

Shotguns are extremely popular today. Whether used for hunting or self-defense or clay shooting, they fit a myriad of needs and come in a variety of shapes and actions.

Before we cover the different types of shotguns, it's important to know what a shotgun is. Rifles and handguns are typically designed to fire a single bullet at a time and propel them down a barrel that is optimized to deliver them accurately at a target. Shotguns boast a smooth barrel and usually fire a large number of "pellets." 


The size of these pellets differ, and sometimes they aren't pellets at all. For example, if you were deer hunting, you might use larger pellets, or "shot size," to maximize the damage you do to your target. If you're storing a shotgun for self-defense, you might use a smaller shot size to do less damage but blanket a larger area in projectiles. Another popular type of ammo is the "slug," which is a large singular projectile used for a variety of things.


A gauge is another important distinction in shotguns. You can think of it as the caliber of the shotgun, but in exact terms, the gauge is a measurement of the number of lead balls with the same diameter as the bore it would take to equal a pound.

The most popular gauge is the 12 gauge, but they range from a 10 gauge to a .410 caliber. The smaller the gauge value is, the larger the bore. In simpler terms, the lower gauge shotguns are equivalent to higher calibers.

The exception to this is the .410 caliber shotgun which is an actual caliber measurement but would be equivalent to a 67-1/2 gauge shotgun.

The Pump-Action Shotgun


As the name suggests, the pump-action shotgun is one that uses a pumping mechanism to load and fire a shotgun shell. Shells are loaded into a tube located under the barrel, pumping the action engages the bolt and loads the chamber. Once the trigger is pulled, and the shell is fired, the shotgun must be pumped again to repeat the process.

These shotguns are popular for hunting and self-defense.

The Break-Action Shotgun


Break-Action shotguns are the most straightforward shotgun on the market, even more so than the pump action. There is a hinge where the barrel connects to the stock of the gun that can be "broken" open. Once the barrel is broken open, you can physically load a shotgun shell into the opening and close it back. When the shotgun is properly closed and locked back into place, a hammer can be engaged, and the trigger pulled to fire the shell. The process is then repeated.

These shotguns are used primarily in sport shooting and bird hunting. They are the safest but also the most difficult to use due to the long reload time, offering a challenge to those who choose to wield them.

Semi-Automatic Shotguns

man shooting gun

As the name suggests, these shotguns are capable of firing multiple shells without having to re-engage the action or reload. They operate similarly to other semiautomatic firearms. The shells are loaded into a magazine under a barrel, and one is pumped into the chamber, engaging the bolt in the process. When the trigger is pulled, the force from the spent shell is enough to load another one into the chamber and prepare the weapon to fire again.

Semi-Automatic shotguns are used for primarily the same reasons as pump-action shotguns. They find use in everything from home defense to hunting. They're typically easier to use than other shotguns due to their rate of fire but are generally more expensive.

What Does All of This Mean to Me?

gun & bulletts

Guns are a focal point in today's culture. They play a role in all of our lives in one way or another. From hearing about them on the news or being affected by firearm legislation to keeping one at home for protection, it's important to be informed on the subject.

If hearing about these types of guns has gotten your more than just curious, and you're thinking of picking up you're own, there are a few things to consider.

What Would I Use It For?

man holding gun

It Gets Me Away From Washing the Dishes

There is growing anxiety amongst people that they could be subject to home invasion or robbery. A firearm acts as an effective deterrent and heaven forbid, a last barrier of defense to those who would wish to harm you. A motivation for purchasing a gun can be as simple as extra security for you and your home.

Even if you're not interested in shooting something that moves, you can still find a hobby in the world of firearms. A reason they are so popular is that they are fun to shoot. You would be surprised at the amount of firing ranges in proximity to you. Taking up shooting a few rounds can be just what the doctor ordered.

pink gun

"You'll Shoot Your Eye Out, Kid"

Whatever your reason for expanding your knowledge on firearms, it is important also to learn how to be safe when handling them.

Here are a few basic tips to keep safe when there is a gun around

  • Keep your firearm unloaded when not in use
  • Use only the proper ammunition in your firearm
  • Make sure your firearm is in working condition, and the barrel is free of obstruction before use
  • Do not use a firearm while under the influence of substances or alcohol
  • Do not touch the trigger or trigger guard until ready to shoot
  • Always treat a firearm like it could fire at any moment
  • Treat a misfire with extreme precaution and know it could fire at any moment
  • Store ammunition and weapons separately
  • Always unload your firearm after use

The Takeaway from the Sportsman Guide Guns


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