This report covers:

  • Timing
  • Back then
  • Workarounds
  • Henry
  • Double-barreled shotgun is not a repeater
  • Whamo
  • Single shot bolt actions
  • Single shot lever actions
  • Cartridge (and pellet) holders
  • Summary

Today’s report was inspired by reader hihihi who said, “Please anybody, I think I need help ! The term ‘repeater’ is becoming a little blurry to me… The Dragonfly Mark 2 is a repeating airgun as long as the magazine is used. Ok, I think, I get that.

So, I imagine that would be, due to the airgun having more than one projectile available, even though the propellant has to be re-created (pumping for the next shot).

Here’s where things get real fuzzy between my ears. And no, my hair ain’t not curly neither ! There are two what if’s that are teasing me:

1) What if the airgun carries multiple projectiles, directly available to be fed into the barrel, ie not in a clip/magazine that requires an indirect extraction and loading via bolt action? For example, I’ve seen pellet holding foam pads, attached to an airgun, even right beside the loading port.

2) What if an airgun is kind of a reversal of the Dragonfly Mark 2, in that it has the capacity for a single projectile, yet enough propellant for multiple projectiles ? For example, a precharged pneumatic, used with a single shot tray, like the ‘Artemis PR900W’, ‘Diana Stormrider’ or whatever other labels it has been given (I mention that one because, to me, it seems very similar to the Dragonfly Mark 2).

Are any of my above what if’s, repeaters? Are there words for repeater-subdivisions or maybe they’re called something else completely ? I know it’s just a matter of one word or another, but that’s still important, isn’t it ?”

I told hihihi that his question is one that confuses a lot of people, because it does. For example, a new-hire in the marketing department of an airgun company may call a bolt action rifle a single shot because you have to operate the bolt to get a new cartridge into position (chambered) for firing. Don’t laugh — I have had this exact conversation with people in large airgun companies!

Timing

The difficulty seems to be one of timing. These people who are new to the shooting sports are coming at the repeater question from the here and now, when it is really a “back then and why” topic. I hear people on the news call the AR-15 an assault rifle and also an automatic rifle. They assume that is what AR stands for, when it really stands for Armalite rifle. But they don’t know that and they start talking amongst themselves and before long the AR-15 is a fully automatic rifle. In other words, it’s a machine gun. No. It’s not. It is an Auto Loading rifle. Autoloading, as in semiautomatic. Some of the gun’s operations are done automatically and others are not, hence the term semi.

Back then

Before cartridges were created, people put gunpowder (that we call black powder today) directly into the firearm, followed by the projectile (a bullet or a charge of shot). That black powder was extremely flammable, so repeating firearms (firearms that fired more than one shot per barrel) were quite dangerous. In fact, the son of Bartolomeo Girardoni had a repeating firearm blow up and sever his arm from his body, killing him. That lead to his father inventing the 21-shot REPEATING air rifle that goes by his name.

Workarounds

Everybody wanted repeaters back then; they just didn’t know they were possible. So they created many workarounds. The duck’s foot flintlock pistol is one example.

duck foot
The duck’s foot flintlock pistol fired all 4 barrels with one pull of the trigger. From the Winchester Arms Collection.

The duck’s foot wasn’t a repeater. It was a volley gun.

Another workaround was Hall’s rifle. It was a single shot rifle that featured a removable breech. In other words, the entire breech of the rifle was much like a cartridge. Soldiers could carry extra loaded breeches and exchange them to keep firing.

Hall breech
The whole breech of the Hall flintlock rifle came out for rapid reloading.

When the cartridge was invented around 1847 it became possible to do away with Hall’s complexity. However, cartridges were not necessarily the first repeaters. In 1831 Samuel Colt devised a safe way of loading five or six chambers with black powder and then mechanically aligning them with a single barrel. He produced his revolver in Paterson, New Jersey, in the late 1830s and it was the first successful repeating firearm that used a revolving cylinder. It wasn’t the absolute first, because harmonica guns proceeded it by several years. But they were cumbersome as you can see.

Paterson
This is an early Colt Paterson revolver.

harmonica gun
The harmonica gun preceded the Colt by a few years but as you can see, it was cumbersome.

Henry

In 1860 a man by the name of Benjamin Tyler Henry perfected his improvement of the Volition repeating rifle that fired “rocket balls” (lead bullets with gunpowder in their hollow bases). Henry’s rifle fired the .44 Henry cartridge — a metallic rimfire cartridge and Henry’s lever action rifle held 16 of them, causing the southern forces that faced them to call them, ” That damned Yankee rifle that’s loaded on Sunday and fires all week.”

Shirt manufacturer, Oliver Winchester, got control of Henry’s design in 1864 and the rest is history.

So, hihihi, a repeater is a firearm that can fire many shots with a single loading. The number of shots isn’t part of the definition. How fast the gun fires isn’t part of the definition. What the shooter has to do to make the gun ready to fire after the first shot isn’t part of the definition, as long as he isn’t manually (by hand) loading a fresh cartridge into the chamber.

So, is a double-barreled shotgun a repeater? Well, it certainly isn’t a volley gun like a duck’s foot pistol. But is it a repeater? By the definition I just gave, it is a repeater — but one that soon runs out of practical options. Imagine that you want to fire 4 shots that way. A 4-barreled gun! Do they exist? Yes. The Germans and Austrians who make them call them Vierlings.

Vierling
A modern Vierling from Johann Fanzoj.

When BB was in Germany with the U.S. Army he owned a Drilling — a three-barreled gun. It was a 12-gauge double-barreled shotgun with a .30/06 rifle barrel underneath. And BB, being the impecunious Army captain he was (it means he didn’t have a lot of money), bought a .22 Magnum insert barrel for one of the shotgun barrels, making his gun a wannabe Vierling. BB’s Drilling cost $1,100 in 1976, and a real Vierling started around $4000.

Shop Benjamin Rifles

Double-barreled shotgun is not a repeater

HOWEVER, a multiple-barreled firearm isn’t really a repeater. What is is, is a bunch of single-shot firearms tied together. But this is a gray area where lots of discussion happens. So, smoke ’em if you got ’em!

Now, hihihi, the Dragonfly Mark 2 is a repeater even when the magazine isn’t inserted. It is always CAPABLE of repeating, so it’s a repeater.

Are there single-shot semiautomatics? bolt-actions? lever actions

Yes, yes and yes. I have even reported on a couple in this blog. The Wamo (sorry Wham-O, you say you never made firearms but your pants are on fire. You made at least three.) Powermaster was a single shot semiautomatic .22 rimfire pistol that extracted and ejected the one cartridge after it was fired. The bolt remained back, leaving the chamber open for the next round to be loaded — a semiautomatic single shot that is NOT an autoloading pistol!

Whamo

Wamo’s Powermaster was a single shot semiautomatic firearm pistol.

Whamo
Yes, Wham-O did make at least three .22 rimfires including this Powermaster, whose semiautomatic action extracted and ejected the spent cartridge case without loading another round.

Single shot bolt actions

There have been hundreds of different single shot bolt action rifles. Many, if not most, have been .22 rimfires and have been targeted at boy customers, so they are called boys’ rifles. Winchester’s model 67 is one example.

Winchester 67
Winchester 67 single shot rifle.

Single shot lever actions

Ithaca’s model 49 .22 and .22 Magnum is a single-shot lever action rifle. It’s hard to tell by looking at it but after the shot is fired the lever is thrown down, opening the breech to extract and eject the empty cartridge, readying the rifle for  manually loading the next cartridge.

Ithaca 49
Ithaca’s model 49 is a lever action single shot .22.

Erma ELG 10

How about a single shot lever action pellet rifle? Erma’s ELG 10 is another single shot lever action I have reported on.

ELG-10
Erma ELG 10 single shot pellet rifle.

ELG 10 breech
The sliding compression chamber has been retracted, exposing the breech of the barrel for loading.

ELG 10 lever down
When the lever goes down and forward like this the sliding compression chamber is pulled back to cock the rifle.

Cartridge (and pellet) holders

hihihi asked about pellet holders. I will answer that question with a question of my own. hihihi, you are on the high-speed roadway in a large city and your Renault has run out of gas. You have 20 liters of gas in cans your trunk, but no way to get the gas into your car’s tank without stopping and pouring it in. Does that gas do you any good at this time? Not really. You need to stop and go through an operation to get the gas to the place where it will do what you need. It’s the same thing for pellet holders. They are convenient but they don’t turn a single shot into a repeater.

Summary

I hope I’ve cleared this up for several of you — what constitutes a repeater and what doesn’t. Interesting report today and I enjoyed writing it.