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What is a repeater?

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.

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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.

author avatar
B.B. Pelletier
Tom Gaylord is known as The Godfather of Airguns™ and has been an airgunner for over a half-century, but it was the Beeman company in the 1970s that awoke a serious interest in airguns. Until then, all he knew were the inexpensive American airguns. Through the pages of the Beeman catalog, he learned about adult airguns for the first time. In 1994, Tom started The Airgun Letter with his wife, Edith. This monthly newsletter was designed to bring serious reports about airguns to the American public. The newsletter and Airgun Revue, a sister magazine about collectible airguns, was published from 1994 until 2002, when Tom started Airgun Illustrated -- the first American newsstand magazine about airguns. Tom worked for three years as technical director at AirForce Airguns, the makers of the Talon, Condor, and Escape precharged air rifles. Today, he writes about airguns and firearms for various publications and websites. He also makes videos, and you'll find short clips embedded in some of his artices on Pyramyd AIR's website. Tom is a consultant to Pyramyd AIR and writes under the name of B.B. Pelletier.

27 thoughts on “What is a repeater?”

  1. Thank you Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier) for clearing the question of what a repeater is. And for some really interesting examples from history (nice pictures too).

    I couldn’t help noticing the make of car that’s running on fumes… 🙂

  2. BB-

    Errata- Caption for Wamo Powermaster, first sentence- …. including this Powermaser (Powermaster)……

    Perhaps tomorrow you should tackle ‘multi-shot’, as in CO2 guns or PCPs are capable of shooting multiple times with one gas charge but are they repeaters?

      • As to power sources, Mrs. FM was browsing yesterday, and read off a story, believe on CNN, about a potential shortage of CO2 because of contamination in a production plant located in Jackson, MS. The story was in the context of potential shortages affecting craft brewers. No idea if this will affect the cartridges for our gas airguns; out of curiosity checked the PA website. There seems to be an ample supply at least right now. Hope brewers keep on crafting.

        “It’s always something!”

  3. Good read BB!

    The Vierlings I’ve seen and handled were incredible – beautifully made and finished. The same guy who had the air-canes had several of them that lived in museum-quality velvet lined wood cases. They had never been hunting and I don’t think he ever fired them.

    As interesting as they are a Vierling was not the kind of gun that I’d want to carry in the field all day. Besides not wanting to scratch one, they were also quite heavy and the balance didn’t suit me.

    I had a Savage Model 24 shotgun/rifle over-under in .22 /.410 that was great for stalking the swamps for partridge and rabbits. Always regretted selling that gun.

    Hank

    • Hank,

      My Jaeger in Germany had a Vierling and both his boys had Drillings. They all sat in tree stands, as that is the most conventional way to hunt roe deer. They also do conduct drive hunts (walking a line as beaters flush the game) for hares and birds, but I noted that he used a different shotgun for that.

      BB

    • “I had a Savage Model 24 shotgun/rifle over-under in .22 /.410…”
      Hank,
      I had a vintage one that I bought, restored, and then, sadly, sold.
      I still occasionally kick myself for that! 🙂
      Cheers,
      dave

      • >> I still occasionally kick myself for that! <<

        Dave,

        Yeah, me to but I needed the cash.

        Sold my Model 24 to get a 12 guage double-barreled "Coach" gun for hunting deer in those same swamps. Sold the Coach gun to get a Remington 760 in .308 to hunt deer in the fields and hardwoods. Sold the 760 to buy an old Feinwerkbau 300S – and that's NOT for sale, ever!

        Have a great day eh!

        Hank

        • One of the first guns I ever shot was my grandfather’s Savage 24 22LR/410 he’d had rechambered to 22 WMR. That one went to one of my cousins but I’ve since acquired a slightly newer version in 22 WMR/20 ga. And I still have my Remington 760 ADL (30-06) I bought new in 1980. It was the first rifle I purchased for myself, and the one that got started in metallic cartridge reloading.

          • Scott,

            My 760 was an ADL, bought mine in the 80’s as well.

            Funny at that time I was all gung-ho to get a Savage 99 … right up to the moment I handled one and I realized that it was not the rifle for me – it just didn’t shoulder/point right. The clerk handed me a 760 and said “try this” …it fit perfectly and that is what I walked out with 🙂

            Got lots of deer with the 760 , great rifle but didn’t hesitate to sell it when a FWB 300 became available a couple of years ago. Hadn’t deer hunted in 15 years and the last years I did was with a homemade bow and arrows, could do without the 760. Always wanted a 300, never could afford one… it’s worth the 33 year wait!

            Lots of deer around here, there was spike-horn bedded down on the lawn when I came home from shopping today. Lazy, he didn’t bother to get up when I walked by him, knows he is safe here.

            Hank

  4. B.B.,
    This was a very good report that our friend hihihi inspired, thank you very much. You packed a lot of information into this one; Mr. Remington was a shirt manufacturer before making guns? That’s a fun fact. That Duck’s Foot Flintlock looks brilliant and looks dangerous to everyone involved. Although the rifling makes the barrels look beautiful, I bet they don’t really need rifling for the expected accuracy requirement! It must have had a nasty kick. How would you carry one of those? I suppose it would have a leather case, it’s not easily holstered. It makes me grin to think about holstering the Duck’s Foot, it would have to be a wide side-entry with a flap closure. It would be a good desk drawer protection devise for a nefarious businessman: “Try anything funny and I’ll blast the three of yez in one shot!” 🙂
    I really enjoy your history lessons that show how today’s guns were developed and streamlined using the pool of ideas that people came up with in the past. You teach the proper vocabulary to describe the items that we use in our great hobby. Another great class, professor B.B., thanks again!
    Regards,
    Will

    • Will,

      It was Winchester, not Remington. Remington made barrels.

      The duck’s foot was used by ship’s captains to repel boarders and stuff like that. Probably just kept in in a drawer.

      BB

      • Landlubber!

        Ships seldom if ever have drawers! Sailors don’t wear drawers either! We wear Skivvies, LOL!
        Ships do have lockers for, obvious to all Salts; pitch and roll.

        Enjoyable blog!
        Thank you
        You old Landlubber!

        shootski

  5. BB

    Very interesting and enlightening report. When hihihi asked for clarification the other day, it occurred to me that I didn’t have anything to offer because I was confused right along with him. ( not knowing what I’m talking about won’t always keep me quiet, but it did this time. 😉 )

    If the Ithaca Model 49 is a single shot, what does the tube under the barrel do. I thought those usually hold cartridges in repeating lever guns.

    Half

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