by B.B. Pelletier

This question came from one of our more active readers who wonders why a gun that requires you have to do something other than simply pulling the trigger for each shot can be called a repeater. That’s a good fundamental question that I’d like to answer today.

Single-shots came first
Nobody will argue that early muzzleloading firearms were single-shots. The shooter had to preform an elaborate loading ritual each time he wanted to shoot the gun. Shooters in those days must have thought, what a blessing it would be if that were not necessary – if the gun could just be cocked again and shot without reloading!

There were many early attempts to create repeating firearms before 1800 – but the one I want to mention was the gun invented by Italian Bartolomeo Girandoni. He worked to get his gun perfected; but, when it blew off his son’s arm in an accident, he abandoned the idea of working with gunpowder (too dangerous) and went to airguns. The 22-shot Girandoni repeating AIR RIFLE was adopted by the Austrian army in 1780, and they took delivery of up to 1,500 arms before the contract ended. This air rifle was capable of hitting a man-sized target from greater than 100 yards with lethal results! Imagine – everyone on the battlefield is shooting single-shot smoothbores that can’t be expected to hit a man beyond 40 yards, and here comes a guy with a 22-shot repeating RIFLE! It was the assault rifle of its day (only this assault rifle was really accurate, too).

Austria’s Girandoni of 1780 is a 22-shot .46 caliber repeating air rifle.

Repeating firearms – SAFE repeating firearms – had to wait another half century. In the 1840s, Jonathan Browning (John Browning’s father) perfected a “harmonica ” repeater that had a sliding breech with multiple (5 to 24) chambers in it. The mechanism that locked the breechblock in place also shoved it forward into the end of the barrel for a gas-tight seal. This was the innovation that was necessary to stop repeaters from blowing up. Unfortunately for Browning, the metallic cartridge was invented at about the same time, so the end had finally come for loose gunpowder.

Moving forward to 1873, the U.S. Army was issued a new breechloading rifle – the .45 caliber Springfield (Trapdoor). The Army thought a single-shot would discipline the men from wasting ammunition. They needn’t have made this decision, because lever-action rifles were already available and had been used in the Civil War ten years earlier. But, it was peacetime, and the Army wanted to keep its budget as low as possible, so the single-shot prevailed (in the American Army, only) for about the next 20 years.

So, what is a repeater?
Here is the distinction – a repeater is a gun that contains more than one round of ammunition and can be readied to shoot without loading again. That doesn’t mean you don’t work the action to load the round into the breech – it means you don’t load it into the rifle. So Daisy’s 840 Grizzly single-stroke pneumatic can be a repeater, even though it has to be pumped for every shot. So can Crosman’s 760 multi-pump pneumatic, even though it has to be pumped several times for every shot. Ah, but the Daisy 840 Grizzly is also a single-shot when you shoot pellets, because it has no pellet magazine. You must load a pellet each time you shoot, which makes it a single-shot, where the Crosman 760 has a five-shot pellet magazine, so it’s a repeater with both pellets and BBs.

Magazine vs reservoir
Before we get out of the woods, though, you need to understand the distinction between a magazine (or clip) and a reservoir. Daisy’s Red Ryder has a MAGAZINE capacity of 650 BBs. If you keep working the lever, all 650 will eventually be shot out. In contrast, Crosman’s 760 has a BB MAGAZINE with a capacity of 18 BBs and a RESERVOIR with a capacity of 200 BBs. When the BBs are gone from the magazine, you shake the gun in a certain way to move more BBs from the reservoir to the magazine. If you don’t do this, you can have 200 BBs in the gun and not be able to shoot a single one!

Get it?