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The LPH Companion, FIREARMS, Part 2: Types of Firearm & the Parts of a Firearm

This is the second in a series of articles on firearms with specific reference to the Firearms syllabus of the Learner Hunters/Guides exams. The topics to be covered in separate posts are:
Part 1 – Safety and Firearms
Part 2 – Types of Firearm & the Parts of a Firearm
Part 3 – Ammunition
Part 4 – Ballistics
Part 5 – The Use and Care of Firearms
Part 6 – Firearms & the Law

Types of Firearm

The official, legal definition of a firearm is “any lethal barreled weapon of any description, from which any shot, bullet or any other missile can be discharged, or which can be adapted for the discharge of any such shot, bullet or any other missile”.

This definition does not include an air gun, air rifle or air pistol, which are not of a type declared by the law to be especially dangerous (or “lethal”).

There are two different categories of firearm or gun: Long guns and Short guns.
Long guns include shotguns and rifles, whilst short guns include handguns (pistols and revolvers).


■ Pistol: A semi-automatic weapon that is flat, compact and easy to carry and conceal, plus has the ability to fire rapidly. Pistols, however, have a complex mechanism and they do have a tendency to jam. They are loaded by means of a magazine, fitted in the grip, and can carry more ammunition than a revolver.

■ Revolver: A revolver can be either a single or double action and is stronger and more reliable than a pistol and allows for the use of higher calibre ammunition than a pistol. It usually carries six rounds in a cylinder-type magazine. Loading is manual. A revolver is safer as it can be carried loaded without accidental discharge.

Long Guns:

Long guns include shotguns and rifles, and rifles can be sporting or military.
Shotguns use a shot-shell containing either a single slug or a large number of small projectiles (shots). Rifles use solid bullet ammunition.

Another important distinction is the difference between sporting and military rifles.

Rifles can also be single barrelled or double barrelled.
Double barrelled can either be side-by-side or over-and-under.
They both have advantages and disadvantages when compared to the single-barrelled weapon.

Other Types of Firearm

Signalling Apparatus:

• A device which is designed or customarily used for safety purposes or to signal distress. Can be called a “flare gun” or a Verey (or Very) pistol – a large-bore handgun that discharges flares, blanks and smoke.
• A starting pistol or starter pistol is a handgun firing blanks or, more recently, an electronic toy gun or device with a button connected to a sound system that is fired to start competitive races.

Slaughtering Instrument:

A firearm which is specially designed or adapted for the instantaneous slaughter of animals or for the instantaneous stunning of animals with a view to slaughtering them (usually for use in an abattoir).



  1. STOCK
    The rear part of a firearm, to which the barrel and firing mechanism are attached. In a rifle can be held firmly against the shooter’s shoulder when firing. It is usually made of wood or a plastic material but can also have a metal frame.
  2. FOREARM (Also known as fore-end or forend, foregrip, forestock or handguard)
    Usually found in rifles and machine-guns. It is a section of a gunstock between the receiver and the muzzle. It is used as a gripping surface to hold the gun steady and held with one hand to stabilize the firearm when firing. Made of material that does not conductor heat because repeated firing causes the barrel heat to be conducted to all parts touching it, including the hand-gun.)
    The trigger is a mechanism that actuates the firing sequence of a firearm, air-gun, crossbow or spear-gun when pulled (usually by a finger). Pulling the trigger releases a sear which releases the firing pin.
    The usual factory setting for a trigger is that it is activated at a pressure of 1.8 kg (4 lbs) and for an adjustable trigger the pressure is between 1.4 kg and 2.3 kg (3 to 5 lbs).
    There are three types of trigger: hair trigger, single pressure and double pressure. A hair trigger is activated with a very light pull. A single pressure trigger needs one single pull to fire, whilst a double pressure trigger needs two different stages in the pulling.
    A loop surrounding the trigger of a firearm and protecting it from accidental discharge.
    The action of a firearm is made up of the parts that load, unload, fire and eject the shot-shell or cartridge.
    Firearms can be classified by their action type. An action is either single shot or repeating styles. Single shot firearms must be reloaded each time the weapon is fired.
    Repeating firearms have extra cartridges or shot-shells ready in a magazine, cylinder or extra barrel. (see “Firearm Actions” below)
    It is the longest part of a firearm. It is a metal tube through which the projectile or shot charge is fired. The whole interior of the barrel is called the BORE and it may be rifled or smooth, depending on the ammunition the gun is designed to fire.
    a. Smooth barrel: the inside surface of the barrel is smooth (barrel of shotguns). In shotguns the size of the bore is usually defined as GAUGE (e.g.: Gauge 10, Gauge 12) and these days is measured in millimetres.
    b. Rifled barrel: parallel spiral rules are cut into or impressed into the barrel, in order to make the bullet spin to improve the stability of the trajectory of the projector.

c. The spiral cuts in the bore of a firearm which cause the bullet to spin as it moves through the barrel, are called GROOVES.
d. The spiral raised portions of a bore, remaining after the grooves have been cut or formed, are called LANDS.
e. The distance, if any, which a bullet travels upon firing before it contacts the real portion of rifling or lands, is called FREE BORE or FREE THROAT.
f. The diameter of the bore of a barrel, measured land to land, is called the CALIBER and it is measured in inches or millimeters. The calibre is also the diameter of the base of the bullet or projector.

The front end of a barrel, from which the projectile will exit.

The rear device on top of a barrel which allows the gun to be aimed.

The fore device on top of a barrel which allows the gun to be aimed.

The plate on the very rear of the stock, which is placed against the shoulder of the shooter. It is usually made of a softer material than the stock.

11. NECK
The narrowest part of the stock, where the stock meets the action and the barrel. It is the part of the stock held by one of the shooter’s hand.

The swivels where the carrying sling can be attached.

A reservoir for additional ammunition in repeaters. It contains or stores rounds of ammunition, from which it is directly loaded into the firearm. The most common types of magazine are: Box, Rotary and Tubular.
a. BOX: can be detachable (e.g. in the AK47) or integral (e.g. in the .375 H&H).
b. ROTARY: it contains cartridges in spool that rotate and align each cartridge at the time with the chamber (e.g. revolver).
c. TUBULAR: normally runs below the barrel (e.g. in shotguns)

This part, when activated, releases the magazine so that it can be removed. It is always positioned in close proximity to the magazine.

The cavity in which the magazine is lodged.

The safety device used to select the type of fire desired (semi-automatic or full automatic). Most common in sub-machine-guns, assault rifles (e.g. AK47), light machine-guns and infantry rifles.

Runs parallel to the barrel and contains the gas piston of the firearm. It is found in self-loading rifles and in light machine-guns.

A metal cylinder with multiple chambers, positioned between the hammer and the barrel of the weapon of a firearm. The cylinder is held in position by the pin, so that it can be revolved by a mechanism connected to the trigger, resulting in a new chamber being aligned with the barrel any time the trigger is activated.

A constriction at the end of a shotgun barrel, that regulates the spread of shot. There are different type of chokes, conventionally indicated by CYL:
o CYL British: the most opened pattern.
o Improved CYL: ¼ choke
o Modified CYL: ½ choke
o Improved Modified CYL: ¾ choke
o Full CYL: the narrowest pattern


These are the parts of a firearm involved in the detonation of a cartridge.

The whole interior part of a barrel (see section 6 BARREL above).

The rear end of the barrel, containing the firing chamber. Sometimes used to indicate the receiver and its working part (action). Its main function is to seal the chamber of the weapon. It may combine other parts of the weapon such as the firing pin, the extractor, the injector and the loading lugs.

The portion of the barrel which contains the cartridge ready for firing. It is found at rear-most end of the barrel and it is normally slightly thicker, in order to contain the excessive pressure of the cartridge blast during firing. (The term chamber pressure indicates the amount of pressure generated by firing a round of ammunition in the chamber of a weapon.) The cartridge is inserted into the chamber and sealed in by the breech block held in position for firing.

The part of the firearm that strikes the primer of a cartridge to start the ignition of the powder inside. The firing pin is the main player in the firing cycle and its function is to activate the cartridge in the chamber.
Firing pins can be grouped into different types:
i. Fixed firing pin found in some revolvers and most machine-guns, normally part of the hammer or a face of breech-block;
ii. Floating firing pin found in the breech-block and does not withdraw when hammer pressure is released;
iii. Spring loaded firing pin similar to the floating pin, but surrounded by a spring, which retracts the firing pin when the hammer pressure is released.

A hinged or solid metal plate or covering, fastened to the stock from the underneath of the rifle.

Used to hook over the rim of a cartridge case to withdraw it from the chamber, so that it can be ejected. It is usually found on the side of the breech-block with its claw forming part of the breech-block.
The following are examples of extractors:
i. Gas extractor
ii. Lever extractor
iii. Claw or Mauser extractor (the claw picks up and extracts)
iv. Double barrel
v. Over-ridge type (e.g. .458 Ruger)

Functioning to eject the empty cartridge case from the body of the firearm after the extraction. It may be found on the inside of the body or be an integral part of the breech-block.


See 5 ACTION above which supplies the following definition:
“The action of a firearm is made up of the parts that load, unload, fire and eject the shot-shell or cartridge.”

Firearm actions can be Bolt action, Lever action, Pump action, Hinged or Break action, Full Automatic, Semi Automatic, Revolver action.


A bolt action firearm operates like opening and closing a door bolt. The bolt solidly locks into the breech, making it accurate and dependable. It is the most common type of action used in the industry. Bolt action weapons are the most practical, robust, very accurate and available in a wide range of calibres to suit different needs. A bolt action firearm can be stored safely by storing the bolt separately from the firearm.
A bolt action of a rifle has phases which allow it to complete the firing of a shot.


The lever action firearm has a large metal lever located behind the trigger. The handle usually forms the trigger guard as well. To open the action, the lever is pulled downward and forward, which extracts the cartridge case from the chamber and ejects it. If a magazine holds extra cartridges, another is immediately ready to be loaded into the chamber. To unload, push the lever downward and forward repeatedly until no more cartridges are ejected. To make sure it is unloaded, visually check both the chamber and the magazine for additional cartridges.

PUMP ACTION (Also referred to as slide action or trombone action)

The pump action firearm is fast and smooth. It allows the shooter to re-cock the firearm without taking his/her eyes off the target. To open the action, slide the fore-stock (fore-end) to rear, which extracts the cartridge from the chamber and ejects it. Sliding the fore-stock forwards, towards the muzzle, closes the action and releases another cartridge for loading. A pump action firearm will only open after it is fired or if a release lever is pressed and the fore-stock is pulled to the rear. To make sure it is unloaded, you must be visually check both the chamber and the magazine for cartridges.


The break action firearm operates on the same principle as a door hinge. It is simple to load and unload. A hinged action is often chosen as a hunter’s first firearm. Double rifles (over-and-under or side-by-side shotguns) have a break action.

To open the action, point the barrel/s to the ground. A release is pressed and the stock drops downward. This allows the cartridge or shot-shell to eject or to be removed manually if the firearm is loaded. A hinged firearm has a separate barrel for each shot, rather than a magazine. Most models have one or two barrels, but some have up to four. Side-by-side double- barrelled rifles have two separate triggers, one for each barrel.

Some models also have an exposed hammer which can be dangerous. Break action rifles do not handle chambers pressure well and they have a very limited magazine (one round in single-barrel, two rounds in double-barrel).


As each shot is fired manually, the case of the cartridge or shot-shell is ejected automatically and the chamber is reloaded automatically. To open the action, you must pull back the boards operating handle, or the slide on a pistol. Self-loading is achieved through gas pressure (gas cylinder and piston) but only one bullet is released per single pressure. Pistols, some shotguns and military weapons are often semi-automatic.


Self-loading is achieved in the same way of semi automatic, but the weapon keeps firing rounds as long as the trigger remains pressed and there are rounds in the magazine.


The revolving action takes its name from a revolving cylinder containing a number of cartridge chambers. One chamber at the time lines up with the barrel as the firearm is fired. The revolving cylinder may rotate either clockwise or anti-clockwise. This type of action is usually found on handguns but may be also found in some old rifles. Revolving action weapons are either single action or double action. A single action would fire only after the hammer has been cocked manually. In a double action, pulling the trigger both cocks and release the hammer.


A “sight” in firearms is a device used to aim a firearm at a target. The point at which sights are set to allow the bullet to strike at the centre of the target within a given range, is called ZERO.

There are several types of sight: bead sight, open sight, aperture or peep sight, telescopic sight (scope), and dot sight.


This is a simple rounded bead set into the top of the barrel, near the muzzle of a shotgun. The shooter uses the shotgun to point and follow a moving object as you would point with your finger.


Open sights involve a a combination of a bead on the front side and a notched rear sight. They are simple and inexpensive and can be fixed or adjustable. To aim, you centre the top of the bead within the notch of the rear sight and line up with the target.


An aperture (or peep) sight has a combination of a bead on the front side and a round hole set on the rifle receiver, close to the shooter’s eye. To aim, you centre the target in the rear peep or aperture sight and then bring the front sight into the centre of the hole. An aperture sight is more accurate and can be adjusted more easily than an open sight.


A telescopic sight is effectively a small telescope mounted on your firearm. A scope gathers light, brightening the image and magnifying the target, avoiding the need to align rear and front sights. To aim, you simply look through the scope and line up the cross-hairs, post or dot with your target. Telescopic sights are the most accurate, which makes them popular for hunting.

Eye relief is the term for the distance between the eye of the shooter and the rear lens of the scope sight to obtain a full Field Of View (FOV). It is the optimum distance in which to place the eye to sight through the scope and it gives adequate space for the recoil.
The image of crossing lines or “cross-hairs” inside the scope allows one to aim at the target. This aiming device is called the reticle. Parallax is a faulty condition when the reticle of the scope does not lie on the image plane.


Dot sights come in the form of a small device mounted on your firearm which uses electronic or optical fibres to project a glowing dot or other mark in front of shooter’s eyes. Some dot sights also magnify target like scopes.


A guide has a duty to protect clients from attacks by wild animals. But long before a professional guide is walking through the bush with a loaded weapon, ready to exercise this duty, he or she needs to have a general understanding of the whole field of firearms and the complex terminology for the types and parts of firearms. It is essential to be able to make all the distinctions laid out in the article above.

Paddy Pacey

Zimbabwean field guide and trainer of aspiring guides

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