Skip to main content

5 Actions You Can Use for Deer Hunting

5 Actions You Can Use for Deer Hunting

Why confine yourself to the same style of deer gun every year when there are plenty of options available? This season, add some more action to your hunt!


(pictured) Thompson/Center Encore Pro Hunter

The single-shot, break-open action rifle or shotgun is probably the oldest and most basic in design of all current action types and probably the least common in camp simply because it limits the user to only one must-count shot. For that reason, it is also the sign of the man or woman infinitely confident in his or her own shooting ability. With a large single hinge point from which the barrel swings open from the stock in order to load and then firmly lock into the stock when ready to fire, there are fewer moving parts in a break-action to torque and twist beneath the heavy forces generated from the explosion of powder, placing it among the most accurate rifle types available.

Where deer hunters are concerned, the single shot has the most value in heavy-barreled slug gun configurations for use from stands with a view over an open food plot or mid-sized field. Because of the heavier weight of these shotguns, they are not ideal for toting through the woods by the hunter on the go. Because the single shot is undoubtedly the safest gun for new shooters to learn with, many people recommend them as ideal guns for kids. However, because there is nowhere for gases to escape except out the end of the muzzle, that also means that when a shot is fired, the force of that energy is directed rearward, giving single shots the distinction of delivering the most felt recoil.

Technology in the form of shock-absorbing butt pads and energy-directing stocks has come a long way in minimizing some of the recoil in rifles and shotguns shooting heavy loads or calibers, but the same trick used for generations to ease the kick of these guns is still the best -- add weight. Of course, more weight is not something many hunters want to tote around, whether it is in the form of a rifle or a shotgun.


(pictured) Remington 7600

Pump-action shotguns cycle rounds by sliding the forearm rearward in order to activate solid connected action bars that open the chamber, expel the spent round and allow a new one to be fed into the chamber from the magazine. They are most common among today's shotgun models, though there are a number of out-of-production and in-production rifle models available, such as the Remington Model 7600. On the shotgun side, the Remington 870 remains the best-selling shotgun in history, with more than 10 million made and sold.

Pump guns have traditionally been hailed as more reliable than autoloaders, which can jam or hang up, particularly when dirty, and much faster to cycle than a bolt- or lever-action, providing the user with the best of both worlds. Because of a rather short cycling distance, in skilled hands a pump can technically allow follow-up shots even faster than some auto-loaders. In shotguns, pump actions offer the broadest range of versatility, capable of shooting and cycling every type of load.

In practical terms, pumps often offer the best mix of value and safety, since a user has to physically cycle a live round into the chamber for it to be ready to fire, and because of fewer parts and more basic technology than a semi-auto can be made and sold for much less. Where the cost of most semi-autos has soared well above the [imo-slideshow gallery=28],000 mark, a solid performing pump gun capable of slinging both buckshot or slugs can still be had for as low as $250 to $500. Disadvantages are that because of the need for a sure grip to cycle the forearm rearward, pump guns can be clunky and tend to rattle some.


(pictured) Browning Micro Midas

Without argument the most ubiquitous action design of any rifle in deer camp, the bolt-action was first developed and perfected in the 1800s, but did not truly come of age until World War I where the Mauser design -- and for America, the M1903 Springfield -- was the standard. Because the lugs on the rotating bolt solidly lock into the breech upon feeding a new shell, the design is extremely sturdy, providing for excellent accuracy.

Anther key advantage of the bolt is that it allows for fairly fast follow-up shots compared to a single shot in practiced hands, most often fed from a bottom-positioned magazine. It allows for a more lightweight rifle because of fewer moving parts than a semi-auto or lever design, but also because the action is capable of being chambered for heavier magnum loads without adding more mass or significant weight to the action. Bolt-actions are simple to use, safe because rounds need to be manually cycled, and still relatively affordable.


(pictured) Winchester Model 94

Classic styling and cowboy images such as Chuck Connors in the classic western series "The Rifleman," remain a big draw of this action type to modern hunters, though it is unlikely you will see too many of these rifles in today's deer camps. Nevertheless, lever guns are fun to shoot, quick to cycle and accurate.

Advantages include quick cycling, a slender fit in the hand, natural shouldering while cycling and a high magazine capacity as most utilize tubular magazines that run most of the length of the underside.

The main disadvantages of the lever-action rifle are due to its tubular design that forces cartridges to be lined up directly behind each other. Modern, pointed bullets can't be used for fear of striking the primer of an adjacent round. While some soft-pointed or flex-tip bullet designs have eliminated this concern, the majority of today's deer-sized caliber offerings remain limited to rounded, shorter-range chamberings such as the .30-.30, .44 Mag., .444 Marlin or the .45-70 Govt.


(pictured) Remington R-15

Loved by more and more shotgun shooters, as well as a respectable number of rifle hunters, the semi-auto's key advantage is obvious in that there is no thought or action needed on the part of the shooter to cycle sequential rounds. Simply keep the gun to the shoulder, maintain a steady aim and pull the trigger as you need to. Because many of these guns use the gas expelled from a fired shot to cycle the next round, felt recoil is also the least with this type of gun, making them much more comfortable to shoot, particularly when firing magnum shotgun loads or heavy rifle calibers.

A stated disadvantage that lingers today is that semi-autos are less reliable than pump or lever actions. This may be true when shooting cheap ammunition or when using a rifle or shotgun that hasn't been cared for and cleaned properly, but for the most part, today's semi-auto designs, using good modern ammunition, are extremely reliable and rarely jam or fail. With the rapidly growing popularity of AR-style rifles on both the range and in more and more hunting camps, semi-autos are increasingly gaining favor with hunters and may soon give bolt-actions a run for their money in the "most popular in camp" category.

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

North American Whitetail Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the North American Whitetail App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top North American Whitetail stories delivered right to your inbox.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All North American Whitetail subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now