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Rifles are typically available to the civilian market in several different actions: Single-shot, bolt-action, lever-action, pump-action, and semi-automatic.
Just as the name suggests, a single-shot will hold and shoot only one single bullet at a time. Single-shots are popular first-time firearms and are often the preferred action for youth guns.
Bolt-action rifles refer to the action wherein a handle is used to manipulate the internal bolt of the gun. This forward and backward movement chambers a cartridge, putting it in the "ready" position, and also allows for the extraction of a spent casing or to clear the chamber in the event of a misfire or other obstruction. The handle is most commonly found on the right side of the firearm, as most of the population is right-handed, although left-handed models are readily available.
Commonly known as a "cowboy rifle," the lever-action rifle employs an action which relies on the use of a lever. The lever is located on the underside of the gun around the trigger guard area. Moving this lever in a downward motion moves a cartridge into the chamber, putting the gun in the "ready" position. The movement of the lever is also used to clear the chamber and extract spent casings.
A pump-action uses a forward and backward movement on the forend to chamber a cartridge and eject a spent casing. Unlike bolt-action or lever-action rifles, pump-actions do not have an exterior handle, lever, or other apparatus to engage this action.
As a result, pump-actions allow the user to have one hand near the trigger and the other hand on the forend. This typically makes operation of the firearm slightly faster than that of bolt-actions and lever-actions.
A semi-automatic, sometimes referred to as an autoloader, employs an action that will allow the user to automatically chamber, shoot, and eject, then rechamber a single cartridge at a time. This process is repeated until all of the bullets have been used. Putting it simply, one squeeze of the trigger results in a single shot fired. Unlike lever-actions or bolt-actions, a semi-auto automatically ejects the spent casing and rechambers a cartridge.
Calibers range from the smaller - and cheaper - 22-caliber for plinking and varmint hunting, to larger - and more expensive - calibers made for big game hunting and long-range shooting.
Among single-shots, the most popular include the Ruger No. 1, Henry Single Shot, Keystone Arms Crickett, and Thompson Center Pro Hunter.
The Ruger No. 1 is compact yet robust and employs a lever action. The Henry Single Shot Rifle sports a 22" barrel, steel or brass frame, and adjustable folding leaf rear sights. Available with a wood laminate or synthetic stock, the Keystone Arms Crickett is a youth gun chambered in a variety of 22 rounds. One of the top choices for hunting, the Thompson/Center Arms Pro Hunter features an interchangeable barrel system for use with various calibers.
The best-selling bolt-actions include the Ruger Precision and the Ruger American. The Precision is made for long-range shooting with a price tag smaller than most in its class, while the American is simple, affordable, and offers several different variants.
Other popular bolt-actions are the Browning X-Bolt and the Remington 700, both of which are suitable for hunting and available in numerous variants and a wide range of calibers with a plethora of features.
Marlin and Henry Repeating Arms manufacture some of the top-selling lever-actions. They include the Marlin 1895, 1894, and 336, as well as the Henry Classic Lever-Action and Big Boy.
The Marlin 1894 and 1895 are time-tested rifles both named for the years they were originally introduced. The Marlin 336 was first made in 1948 and is crafted with a steel receiver and wood stock.
The Henry Classic Lever sports Old West style and handles 22 Short, 22 Long, 22 LR, and 22 WMR. The Henry Big Boy is chambered in several larger calibers and is crafted with a brass receiver, steel barrel, and American walnut stock.
Ruger's top-selling semi-automatics include the PC Carbine, 10/22, and the AR-556. The PC Carbine is chambered in 9mm and is compatible with Ruger and Glock magazines. The 10/22 is an easy to use and economical 22-caliber available in several variants. Suitable for home defense and hunting, the Ruger AR-556 is a budget-friendly modern sporting rifle chambered in 5.56x45mm (5.56 NATO)/223 Rem.
The Smith & Wesson M&P15 and the DPMS Oracle are popular modern sporting rifles that are offered at an affordable price. Both are chambered in 5.56x45mm (5.56 NATO)/ 223 Rem, while the M&P15 is additionally available in 5.45×39mm and 22 LR.
Another best-selling semi-auto is the Kel-Tec Sub-2000, which is chambered in 9mm or 40 S&W and accepts most popular handgun magazines.
The average price of rifles varies tremendously, depending on manufacturer, action, and caliber, as well as features and options, and a slew of other factors. Of course, collectible or otherwise highly sought-after guns usually fetch a bigger price tag.
Nonetheless, single-shot 22-caliber rifles can usually be found for around $100 or less, while others are sold for several thousand dollars or more.