8 Types Of Rifles Explained

A rifle is a type of firearm with a longer barrel. It is designed for better control when aiming, allowing for greater accuracy. There are various types of rifles, each serving a different purpose and role, from self-defense to hunting.

This guide aims to help you identify the type of rifle best suited for your use case, whether for hunting, long-range shooting, or competitive shooting. We cover the eight different types of rifles, explaining each type’s distinct design features. We also give you some helpful insight into which type of rifle is most suited for magnified scopes, night vision scopes, thermal scopes, and red dot sights.

What Is A Rifle?

A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder. This type of firearm is equipped with a barrel that has spiral grooves (rifling) cut into its bore wall. The basic anatomy of all rifles is the same. However, the additions, such as the trigger mechanism or rifling action, determine its purpose and role.

types of rifles

Do Different Types Of Rifles Serve Different Purposes And Roles?

Each type of rifle serves different purposes and roles. For instance, just as you wouldn’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, you wouldn’t use a .338 Lapua for close-quarters combat. Or use a pump-action shotgun for hunting deer at 350 yards.

What I’m getting at is that each type of the eight different rifle types is designed for a specific application, from hunting and sport shooting to self-defense and law enforcement use.

8 Different Types Of Rifles

Here is a list of the eight different types of rifles that shooters commonly use.

  1. Automatic Rifles
  2. Semi-Automatic Rifles
  3. Muzzleloader Rifles
  4. Single Shot Rifles
  5. Lever-Action Rifles
  6. Break-Action Rifles
  7. Pump-Action Rifles
  8. Bolt-Action Rifles

8 types rifles

1. Automatic Rifles

Automatic weapons, such as the M16 or AK-47, are commonly seen in 20th and 21st-century war movies. These types of rifles are capable of firing multiple rounds with a single pull of the trigger. Military forces and specialized law enforcement commonly use machine guns. They are heavily regulated and not available to the public in the United States unless you have a special permit.

2. Semi-Automatic Rifles

Semi-automatics like the AR-15 only fire one round per trigger pull but automatically reload the next round. The best AR-15s are extremely user-friendly, offering optimal performance at reasonable prices – their firing action is so smooth they sometimes even feel like an automatic rifle.

A semi-automatic rifle is mostly used for sport shooting, hunting, and self-defense.

3. Muzzleloader Rifles

Throwback to the inception of firearms! Muzzleloaders come from the era of muskets. The powder and projectile are loaded from the muzzle end. This type of rifle is very impractical, from a cumbersome loading procedure to misfires with the unreliable firing pin. Therefore, they are mostly used for historical reenactments and hunting in special seasons.

4. Single Shot Rifles

A single-shot rifle only holds one round at a time and shouldn’t be confused with a bolt action rifle. Single-shot rifles are very popular for precision shooting and hunting. Many modern sporting rifles in this category offer the advantage of simplicity and reliability over some of the other types of rifles. Yet, they can be impractical when rapid shooting is needed.

5. Lever-Action Rifles

If you’ve watched a Western, chances are very good you’ve seen a lever action rifle. Rifles like the Winchester Model 1894 are popular among the public and commonly used for hunting and cowboy action shooting. The rifle incorporates a lever action instead of the traditional bolt action to chamber a round. They are often more practical for carry-ons when horse riding.

6. Break-Action Rifles

Break action rifles, as the name suggests, have a hinge between the barrel and stock. When you want to load ammo into the rifle, you simply snap the hinge, exposing the area where you should insert the ammo. These rifles are very easy to load and are often used for hunting, especially small game hunting such as fowl, as well as sport shooting.

7. Pump-Action Rifles

Pump actions use a slide action to chamber a round, making them popular for hunting fowl and self-defense.

8. Bolt-Action Rifles

Bolt actions are probably one of the most common rifles around. Rifles like the Remington 700 are often used for long-range shooting and hunting. Bolt actions have a variety of calibers to choose from, making them a highly versatile type of rifle.

They can be extremely powerful and accurate, making them ideal for various use cases, from tactical snipers to hunting and sport shooting.

In the end, the right type of rifle for you will depend on factors such as use case, budget, user experience, etc. For instance, you won’t use a muzzleloader for home defense. Therefore, paying attention to these factors when choosing a rifle is important, as this will ensure a satisfactory experience.

What Are The Main Factors To Consider When Choosing A Rifle?

When choosing a rifle, you must consider several main factors. The first and most important is intended use. Will you be hunting with the rifle, or just use it for self-defense?

Every other factor will contribute to this first factor. Factors like range, accuracy, ammunition type, and customization options will determine, for instance, whether you get a semi-automatic rifle, single-shot rifle, or a bolt action rifle.

list of rifles

Which Type Of Rifles Do Hunters Use?

Hunters primarily use bolt-action rifles. This type of rifle is designed to deliver accuracy and power at long ranges – two elements you need for successfully taking down a deer.

Additionally, hunters also use lever-actions and semi-automatic rifles for hunting. I enjoy semi-automatic rifles for varminting, as their ammo is fairly cheap, and the favorable modularity allows you to optimize your rifle to exactly what you want it to be or achieve.

Ultimately, the right type of rifle for hunting depends on the type of game and hunting terrain, but you can’t go wrong with a bolt-action rifle.

Which Type Of Rifle Should Be Used For Long Range Shooting?

As mentioned, bolt action rifles are extremely accurate at long ranges, especially rifles like the .338 Lapua and 6.5 Creedmoor. Therefore, the best rifle for long-range shooting is a bolt action rifle. They excel in long-range shooting because of their accuracy, stability, and favorable ballistics.

Which Type Of Rifle Should Be Used For Competitive Shooting?

It depends on the specific competition rules. But, generally, the best type of rifle for competitive shooting is semi-automatic rifles for close-range competitions and bolt actions for long-range competitions. Semi-automatics are especially adept at tackling the competitive scene because of their modularity – you can upgrade almost anything on an AR-15, allowing you to optimize it to exactly what you need it to be.

Which Types Of Rifles Can Be Upgraded Most Easily?

As mentioned, semi-automatic rifles, more specifically, AR-15s, are the rifles that can be upgraded most easily. There are a plethora of AR-15 modifications for your rifle, from trigger guards to barrels and even complete upper receivers. There are actually several different types of AR-15 uppers to choose from.

These modifications allow you to create a weapon tailor-made for your use case. For instance, shooting with heavier rounds? Get a barrel with a faster twist rate. Want to increase your accuracy? Simply get a scope for your rifle.

Can All Rifle Types Use Magnified Scopes?

Most modern rifles can be fitted with magnified scopes, although it might be a tad more difficult to mount a magnified scope on your muzzleloader or break action rifle. The rifles most qualified for magnified scopes are bolt actions, which is why the overall best hunting scopes are designed for this type of rifle.

Which Types Of Rifles Can Use Night Vision Scopes?

Automatic and semi-automatic rifles, along with some bolt action rifles like the .223, can be fitted with night vision scopes. However, semi-automatic rifles, more specifically AR-15s, utilize night vision scopes the best. Night vision scopes for AR-15s are lightweight, affordable, and offer excellent optical clarity and low-light conditions, making them perfect for self-defense, varminting, or hunting at night.

Which Types Of Rifles Can Use Thermal Scopes?

Similar to night vision scopes, thermal scopes can be fitted to automatic, semi-automatic, and bolt-action rifles. However, because of their intricate design, thermal scopes are extremely delicate, and too much recoil can damage them, which is why you should only invest in one of the best thermal scopes – ensuring optimal performance with reliable durability.

What Type Of Rifle Can Use Red Dot Sights?

Unlike magnified and night vision scopes, red dot sights are extremely versatile and can be used on almost all types of rifles, from AR-15s to bolt actions; you even get red dots for the AK.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are rifles differentiated from other types of firearms?

It's quite easy! Rifles have longer barrels and generally have a long stock, which you mount against your shoulder when aiming. This type of firearm is designed for greater accuracy over longer distances, thanks to the rifling in the barrel and better control when aiming.

Which rifle types are commonly used for military and law enforcement purposes?

The most commonly used rifle type is semi-automatic rifles and automatic rifles. Additionally, tactical snipers mostly use bolt-action rifles.

Which type of rifle is considered most suitable for precision shooting?

Bolt-action rifles are generally considered most suitable for precision shooting.

The Bottom Line

So, there you have it! Choosing the right rifle across the myriad options available doesn’t have to be difficult. All you need to do is identify your use case and then further differentiate between subcategories, for instance, accuracy vs. speed. Whether it’s for hunting, sport, or tactical applications, there’s a rifle out there that’s perfect for you!

About the author

Patrick Howard

I have been working as a gunsmith for 20 years. Rain, fog, moisture, high temperature, or even snow are all the things a product must withstand in order to be recommended by me.

Leave a Comment