Don’t look down your nose at the break-action single shot. It can be a deadly accurate, extremely durable and unbeatably versatile hunting rifle.
The break-action is one of the most rugged, simple actions in the business. Instead of complicated levers and lifters and magazine springs and gas tubes, it functions with an opening lever. Gravity cocks it by pulling down on the barrel when the top lever is swung over. A lug attached to the underside of the barrel swings around a big hinge pin perched crosswise through the action bar. As the barrel tips down, it pushes an extractor to push the empty case from the action. The operator hand feeds a fresh round into the chamber, closes the action, and pulls back the external hammer, aims and fires.
There are slight variations on this theme such as under levers for opening and hammerless strikers that are cocked with tang levers, but the basic format remains: a single barrel that hinges open to expose the chamber for hand feeding.
The drawbacks to this system are rather obvious. It’s slow, but not as slow as some might imagine. Keep spare rounds in a wrist or butt stock holder for quick access and a new round can be dropped home and ready to fire in a second or two.
The attributes of the break action are several, one of which is psychological. Because the shooter knows he can’t spray lead ala an autoloader, he generally makes the first shot count. Sensible. Other benefits:
- Because there is no need for the action to accommodate the entire length of a cartridge stored below it, 2- to 4 inches can be removed from total rifle length. Use that savings to get a longer barrel and wring more velocity from your cartridge.
- Less length in the action means less mass in the rifle. This can be evened out by putting the weight into a thicker, more accurate barrel or in keeping the rifle easy to carry.
- Easy to clean. Just break open to expose the breech and start cleaning. Fewer parts to clean, too.
- There are few moving parts to foul or break.
- Convenient packing and travel. Remove the barrel and the entire gun fits into a case only as long as the barrel.
- Because the firing pin fits through a tiny hole in the breech wall or fence, virtually any centerfire cartridge can be ignited by it. Remove the barrel hinge pin, swing off the barrel, install a new barrel chambered for anything from a .17 Remington to a 12-gauge shotgun and go hunting.
It is this versatility that probably accounts for the break-action’s popularity today. The low cost of readily available spare barrels means a shooter can own many for the cost of a few. Why buy additional stocks, triggers and actions when all you need is the barrel? And, because sights, including scopes, mount on the barrels, one can switch calibers without having to re-zero.
Good grief. This is almost too good to be true. Excuse me, I’ve got to rush out and buy some more barrels for my break-action single shot rifle!
Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a great selection of break-action Single Shot Rifles1