How come bolt action is chiefly associated with rifles and pump action with shotguns?

From what I understand, bolt action and pump action are rather similar. Pump action works a lot like a straight pull bolt action with the handle placed forward instead of on the bolt, correct?

Shotgun pump action is usually contained within the receiver and rifle bolt action is on the exterior but that doesn’t mean they have to be.

Shotguns often use a tubular magazine but that doesn’t require a pump action and a rifle could cycle the action with a pump even if fed from a non-tubular magazine.

So, why is pump action mainly reserved for shotguns and bolt action for rifles?

A few reasons:

The long cartridge lengths and extreme pressures which rifles use are typically not present on pistols.

With a rifle you can cycle the bolt action without dropping the weapon but pistols are typically held with two hands and lack the shoulder support so using a bolt action in that situation would be less efficient. This is also true for pump action.

In the era when lever, bolt and pump actions developed the revolver was in common use for a repeating arms and it is more appropriate for those pressure levels and ergonomics.

Pump action is faster, but throws off your aim for a follow up shot. A shotgun is frequently used against moving targets that are close (birds) where being quick is more important than maintaining your line of sight. A rifle is used at longer distances where shot placement is more important than being fast.

My question was in the sense of asking why we don’t see more pump action rifles and bolt action shotguns. It has nothing to do with handguns.


A rifle bolt has lugs that engage bayonet-style in the chamber, locking the chamber closed and allowing much higher chamber pressures.

Even automatic rifles have similar construction–the venerable AR-15/M-16 has lugs that rotate into a locked position to hold the chamber closed.
Older rifles with lever action and pump action typically used pistol cartridges.

As one guy says a lot online: “Rifles aren’t pistols and pistols aren’t rifles…” typically after demonstrating that a rifle bullet can smash through something that pistol cartridges would be blocked by–don’t expect a tree to block a rifle round, while it will definitely block a pistol round.

There is also little need for a rotating breach in shotguns or lower pressure rifle rounds which would have this type of effective range.

Bolt action firearms typically have rotating locking breaches

Lever and pump action rifles were common before pressures increased.

There were lever action shotguns but the mechanical force is reaching comfort limits which is solved by using a pump action.

The once common 22 gallery rifles are an example of pump rifles.

A couple of observations:

A bolt action that would fit a 12 gauge would be rather heavy and unwieldy.

Pump action rifles exist. They are just chambered for things like .22LR/.22 Short. As noted above, modern rifle loadings are at some very high pressures.

There is the Remington 7600 pump action rifle which was popular with big and dangerous game hunters or may still be.

I grew up shooting and hunted for food but cannot knowledgeably comment on modern trends over the past few decades. They were significantly more expensive with little advantages than the bolt action rifles that were common use at that time in that area.

I would assume the increase part count and complexity resulted in the higher cost.

just to demonstrate, a shotgun bolt like this one from a Remington 870 typically locks into battery via a “tongue” which projects from the top of the bolt which engages a groove in the receiver or barrel. not all that strong, but good enough for shotgun pressures.

on the other hand, for centerfire rifle pressures, a rotating bolt like this one from a Remington 700 has two heavy duty, fixed lugs which engage the receiver very firmly as you rotate the bolt into battery.

an autoloader like the AR-15 uses 8 smaller lugs, and the bolt carrier automatically rotates it into and out of battery as it’s cycled.

Bolt action rifles are normally intended to be target or hunting rifles, where the shooter does not anticipate having to fire in rapid succession. If you need to shoot repeatedly, use an automatic. A pump-action rifle just doesn’t offer any advantage over an automatic rifle. There have been pump action rifles in the past, but automatic loading technology rendered them obsolete.

I just can’t think of circumstance where I would choose a pump-action over a semi- or fully- automatic rifle.


Do you mean a tree trunk or mere tree branch?

Just to muddy the waters a bit, there are a number of semi-automatic shotguns as well.

The first automatic (which came before semi-auto) firearms were just modifications which used gas pressure to accomplish the same mechanical action as a lever action.

John Browning’s first automatic prototype as an example used a plate in front of the barrel to cycle a modified lever action.

While there were further changes and inventions the fundamental difference is merely where the energy to cycle the action is sourced.

I’m sure someone more knowledgeable is likely to provide you a more detailed answer, but my understanding is that a WWII vintage Lee-Enfield 303 could (at close range) go through 3 feet of oak. So maybe not a big tree, but one big enough that you might think you could hide behind it. :eek:

Bolt actions feed the cartridges straight up from the magazine, then the bolt strips it off with the forward motion. This would require a very deep receiver for a bolt action shotgun. There have been some, but they only held a couple of shells.

I had a Baikal pump shotgun with a removable magazine underneath. Man, was it cumbersome! Any bolt action shotgun with more then 2 rounds in reserve would look like that. Shotgun shooters prize the slim receivers of expensive shotguns.

In contrast, a pump action pulls the long shell out of the tubular magazine then feeds it upwards and forwards. That tubular magazine can hold a lot of shells. Much more efficient.

Although there are rifles with tubular magazine, they have a real problem since the pointed nose of one cartridge is pressing against the primer of the next one. A bit too much recoil and the whole thing goes off in the magazine. So pump action rifles are limited to rim fire (low powered) or special cartridges with flat nosed bullets.


Early shotguns were usually break-action. Bolt action and pump action shotguns came later, and for a while, bolt action shotguns were the better choice, just because early pump action shotguns had reliability issues. Pump actions would often bind up or would fail to properly eject the spent shell.

Mossberg was one of the first companies to sell a bolt action shotgun, and their line of bolt action shotguns was highly regarded at the time.

Pump action shotguns got better, though. They solved the binding and ejection issues, and pump action shotguns also started getting much more competitive from a pricing point of view. After WWII, leftover pump action shotguns from the military flooded the market. Mossberg still sold their line of bolt action shotguns (they ceased production during the war, but started up again afterwards), and other manufacturers continued to produce bolt action shotguns as well. You could even buy bolt action shotguns from Sears for a while. Some of the Sears versions had an unfortunate tendency to occasionally blow up in your face.

Once pump action shotguns solved their early reliability issues, hunters quickly realized that they could get off subsequent shots more quickly with a pump action. That, combined with the surplus of pump actions from WWII, led to the domination of pump action in the shotgun market.

As senoy said upthread, pump action is faster, but throws off your aim for the follow-up shots. Shotguns don’t need the precision aiming, and so favor speed over accuracy. Rifles favor precision over speed, so they naturally favor bolt action over pump, and those who want rifles with speed just go to semi-auto instead. I believe Remington is still producing at least one model of pump action rifle today.

I came across this article on wikipedia about shotgun using a revolving cylinder:

Is this an anomaly or were revolving shotguns ever commonly used?


Revolving long guns are fairly rare because of a couple of things:
Gases escape between the cylinder and breech, where your forearm would be when holding the thing.
Flashover, in the old days, to other chambers would cause disaster for your non-trigger hand and arm.

With that said, the second issue is moot with modern cartridge firearms, so it really leaves only the cylinder gap gas issue. Perhaps that modern Russian shotgun has some kind of gadget to seal the breech gap or cover it.

could one consider the lever action rifle equivalent to a pump action in the sense that the mechanical action could be initiated by an appropriate pump mechanism with a bit of redesign?

There is at least one revolving “shotgun” on the market. The Rossi Circuit Judge

I put shotgun in quotes because it’s kind of a hybrid arm in that it fires either 45 Colt pistol cartridges or .410 shot shells. Based on the somewhat popular revolvers that handle the same cartridges. Made by both Taurus and Smith & Wesson.