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Single Shot Rifles: Are They Still Relevant?

Are single-shot rifles still relevant​ in today’s world of high-capacity, high-tech weaponry? Absolutely! Single-shot rifles hold their own unique charm and advantages that make them a preferred choice for many hunters. But like anything else, ​they come with their own set of drawbacks. Let’s delve into the world of single-shot rifles and explore their pros and cons.

Table of Contents

Why Single-Shot Rifles Are Still Cool Guns

Single-shot rifles are mechanically simple


The design of a single-shot rifle is straightforward. It typically consists of a barrel, trigger, and breech mechanism. There’s no magazine or complex feeding system, which reduces the number of moving parts, making it less prone to mechanical failure. Plus, single-shot rifles eliminate the guesswork of how many rounds you have left. And with no feeding issues to worry about, they offer a straightforward and reliable hunting experience.

Single-shot rifles are inexpensive

When it comes to cost-effectiveness, single-shot rifles usually take the trophy. Because single-shots are mechanically simple, they are typically more affordable than repeaters. This makes them an excellent choice for beginners or those hunting on a budget.

Let’s take Henry rifles in .357 Mag as an example. We have Henry Single Shot .357 Mag with a 22-inch barrel priced around $500. On the other end, we have Henry repeaters in .357, such as the Big Boy lever-action, the price of which can range from $800 to $1,000.

Single-shot rifles have a separate hunting season

Hunters often use single-shot rifles to take advantage of special regulations, such as certain big game muzzleloader-only and primitive weapons seasons. This allows them to extend their hunting season and enjoy more time in the great outdoors.

The general whitetail deer hunting season here, in Texas, typically begins on November 4 and extends through January 7 for the northern region of the state. However, for southern Texas, the season is slightly longer, continuing until January 21. Following the general season, there is an additional opportunity for hunters in northern Texas. The muzzleloader season starts on January 8 and concludes on January 21. During the muzzleloader season, hunters can extend their hunting activities, allowing them to further contribute to deer population management while enjoying the sport they love. 

Single-shot rifles are iconic


For many hunting enthusiasts, the appeal of single-shot rifles extends beyond their simplicity and reliability. These firearms hold a special place in the history of hunting and shooting sports, often associated with legendary figures and historical events. Models such as the Sharps, Springfield, Remington Rolling Block, and Browning/Winchester single-shot models hold a special place in the hearts of those who appreciate the romance of 19th-century firearms.

The Sharps Rifle, for instance, is one of the most iconic single-shot rifles. It gained fame during the era of buffalo hunting in the 19th century and was favored for its long-range accuracy. The Sharps Rifle was also famously used by the Union’s sharpshooters during the American Civil War. The Springfield, particularly the Model 1873, known as the “Trapdoor Springfield,” was another popular single-shot rifle. It was the first standard-issue breech-loading rifle adopted by the United States Army. And, of course, we couldn’t but mention the Winchester Model 1885, a product of the Winchester–Browning collaboration. It became one of the most popular single-shot rifles among sportsmen in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Single-shot rifles can handle heavy loads

While bolt-action rifles are also renowned for their simplicity and reliability, not all of them can withstand the recoil produced by heavy loads. This harsh recoil can cause numerous problems. For instance, during the repeated firing of heavy rounds, the recoil can cause the sights on some bolt-action rifles to get loose. Another potential issue is that the magazine floorplates might spring open under the impact of powerful recoil.

Despite being chambered for heavy rounds, not all sporting repeaters can dependably handle the abuse of high-pressure rounds. In such cases, a well-constructed single-shot rifle might be a more reliable choice. Single-shot rifles, which require the shooter to manually load each round, are often built robustly to handle the recoil of powerful loads. Their simplicity can be an advantage, as there are fewer mechanical parts that could potentially fail under stress.

Single-shot rifles make you careful


Single-shot rifles require a certain degree of precision, patience, and skill. The knowledge that you only have one shot, with no full magazine to fall back on, should naturally inspire care and certainty when you pull the trigger. In many ways, this characteristic is one of the unique advantages of a single-shot rifle. 

An impatient shooter might struggle with the constraints of a single-shot rifle and yearn for the reassurance of a second shot. However, the limitation of having just one shot makes the shooter to slow down, take their time, and ensure they’re aligning, aiming, and firing correctly.

This deliberate approach not only increases the chances of a successful shot but also promotes more mindful and focused hunting. It’s a reminder that every shot counts and that careful preparation can often make the difference between success and failure.

Single-shot rifles are great for long-range hunting

Single-shot rifles shine in long-range situations, for instance, when hunting mule deer or pronghorns. Often, these animals remain unaware of a missed first shot or the sound produced by the gun’s report, affording the hunter time to reload, reassess the distance, and carefully aim once more.

Single shots are great for teaching basics of gun handling

Single-shot rifles in .22LR are often the preferred choice for introducing young and novice shooters to the world of firearms. Their simplicity allows for a more focused and safer learning experience.

Safety is the cornerstone of any firearm instruction, and single-shot rifles allow new shooters to focus on this aspect without the distraction of managing a full magazine. As there’s only one round to be fired, learners can concentrate on handling the firearm safely and understanding how to load and unload it. Aiming is another vital skill that can be more effectively taught with a single-shot rifle. Because each shot must be carefully considered and cannot be quickly followed by another, learners are encouraged to take their time, align their sights correctly, and aim accurately before pulling the trigger. Shooting techniques, such as proper stance, grip, and breath control, can also be honed with these rifles. The lack of rapid-fire capability forces the shooter to reset after each shot, allowing them to pay attention to these crucial elements and improve their overall technique.

Single-shot rifles are generally lighter, shorter, and easier to maneuver

The compact and lightweight design of single-shot rifles makes them easy to handle and maneuver, especially in dense forests or underbrush.

Single shots allow for easier caliber change

With a single-shot rifle, changing calibers is often as simple as swapping barrels, offering hunters more flexibility in choosing the right ammunition for different games. With just one shooting platform, you can hunt everything from squirrels to deer and even switch to shotgun shooting.

Why Single-Shot Rifles Are Has-Beens

Single Shots are slower to operate


While it’s true that with practice and skill, a ​single-shot rifle can be reloaded fairly quickly, it’s important to understand that it will typically be slower than a repeater, such as a bolt-action or lever-action rifle. With a single-shot rifle, the shooter must manually eject the spent cartridge and load a new one after each shot. ​This process, while not overly complex, ​does require time and focus. That’s why single-shots will always be slower than other rifles.

Sometimes, one shot isn’t enough

While single-shot rifles can be extremely effective in hunting scenarios, they do have a limitation that hunters need to be aware of: ​the lack of immediate follow-up shots. ​This means if the first shot doesn’t hit its mark due to factors such as wind, unexpected animal movement, or human error, there’s no immediate opportunity for a second shot.

Risks are high when hunting dangerous animals

Hunting dangerous game with a single-shot rifle can be risky. While it might be suitable for shooting from an ambush or a safe tower, ​it doesn’t provide the quick backup shot that a repeater does in case of a charging animal. ​In such scenarios, a repeater, which allows for quick follow-up shots, offers an advantage over a single-shot rifle.

Best Single-Shot Rifles to Consider

If you’ve decided to delve into the world of hunting with a single-shot, you need a reliable rifle for your adventure. Here are some of the best single-shot rifles and shotguns on the market.

Ruger No. 1


The Ruger Number 1 is a classic single-shot rifle renowned for its rugged construction and accuracy as well as the ability to handle heavy recoiling rounds like .375 H&H Magnum, .416 Rigby, and .450 Nitro Express. Ruger No. 1 outperforms any tip-up single-shot rifle in terms of robustness, as its falling block was created to deal with big game rounds.

Generally, the Ruger No. 1 boasts a positive ejection system that can be adjusted to entirely clear a spent cartridge from the breech with a forceful down-stroke of the breech block lever. With practice and confidence in the rifle, an experienced hunter can recharge a Ruger No. 1 without looking down at the action. This feature gives the Ruger No. 1 an edge over break-action single shots and rolling block replicas, where the shooter often has to shift attention away from the game to monitor cartridge extraction and loading.

The main drawback is its weight, which might be cumbersome during long hunting trips. It’s a great choice if you prioritize reliability and precision over portability.

Henry 350 Legend


The Henry 350 Legend single-shot rifle, a younger sister of the Henry .450 Bushmaster, is another gem. The rifle has a 14-inch length of pull and is built for practical hunting. It includes swivel studs for quick sling or bipod attachment and measures just 37.5 inches in overall length, giving it a compact profile for a potent hunting rifle at sub-200 yards. It also comes fitted with practical iron sights and the acceps a standard Weaver 82 optic mount.

The Henry 350 Legend is also available in other calibers such as .223 Rem, .243 Win, .30-30 Win, .308 Win, .38 Special/.357 Mag, .44 Mag/.44 Special, and .45-70 Govt.

Where does the Henry 350 Legend excel? It offers a unique combination of low recoil – think less than a .243 Winchester – and impressive knockdown power on a deer-sized game. While it’s not recommended for long-range shots on elk, it’s perfect for whitetails, hogs, and even bears when used with the correct projectile. The Legend is excellent within 150 yards, though some might stretch it to just over 200.

The compact single-shot frame makes it ideal for hunting from tight quarters like a blind or tree stand. It’s also maneuverable in thicker cover, and the round performs well in brushy terrain.

Savage Rascal

The Savage Rascal is a single-shot bolt-action rimfire rifle that’s perfect for beginners, especially young shooters. Its design incorporates the safety of a single-shot bolt-action mechanism, where the rifle is cocked by lifting the bolt, and working it again unloads the gun.

This compact rifle features a downsized stock with a length of pull of 11 inches, making it ideally sized for smaller shooters.

Despite its attractive price point, the Savage Rascal does not compromise on quality or features. It includes Savage’s renowned AccuTrigger, which is user-adjustable to break cleanly anywhere from 1.5 to 6 pounds of pull weight. This feature allows for a light, crisp trigger pull, giving the shooter greater control over their shot. The Savage Rascal also features adjustable peep sights.

Overall, it’s the best single-shot rifle for small game and target practice.

Stevens 301 Turkey Bottomland

The Stevens 301 Turkey Bottomland is a single-shot shotgun designed with the modern turkey hunter in mind. The development of heavier-than-lead shots, such as the Tungsten Super Shot (TSS), has sparked a resurgence in the use of sub-gauge shotguns for turkey hunting. The Stevens 301 Turkey was specifically designed to exploit the benefits of TSS loads, providing the lightness of a single-shot for an activity that ideally only needs one pull of the trigger. These TSS loads pack enough punch to make .410 shotguns like the Stevens 301 Turkey viable options for bringing down turkeys at reasonable distances. Many hunters have switched from their more recoiling 12-gauges to these lighter and more manageable firearms.

With a length of pull of less than 14 inches, this shotgun is perfect for shooting while leaning against a tree or other supports, while its ambidextrous design is convenient when a wild turkey approaches from an unexpected direction.

Chiappa M6

The Chiappa M6 stands out with its combination design, offering both a .12 gauge shotgun and a .22LR rifle in one package. This adds versatility, but it also adds complexity.

Dating back to its development in 1946, the original M6 Air Crew Survival Weapon was designed as a survival firearm for military pilots. It featured a .22 Hornet barrel over a .410, allowing the user to hunt mid-sized game with the centerfire round and birds with the shotgun barrel if their plane went down.

Currently, Chiappa produces a version with .22LR and 20-gauge barrels, and while it retains the rugged simplicity of the original, it brings some modern refinements.

The Chiappa M6 features stamped sheet metal furniture with a bit of foam sandwiched in the butt to store rounds, adding to its practicality as a survival tool. Furthermore, it’s equipped with Picatinny rails on the top and sides of the receiver.

Chiappa Little Badger

The Chiappa Little Badger is a compact, folding break-open rifle with a barebones design that provides an ideal blend of portability and power. The rifle is available in soft-shooting calibers like .22 LR, .22 WMR, and .17 HMR.

The Little Badger’s design features a wire steel stock, giving it a lightweight yet sturdy frame. It has a manual feed system and a single trigger mechanism. The simplicity of its folding break-open action makes it a reliable choice for survival situations or backpacking trips where weight and space are at a premium.

Savage Mark I FVT

The Savage Mark I FVT is a single-shot bolt-action rifle designed specifically for target shooting. The Mark I FVT features Savage’s user-adjustable AccuTrigger system, allowing shooters to fine-tune the trigger pull to their preference. The rifle also comes equipped with a heavy target barrel and a peep sight system for precise aiming. The stock is designed for a comfortable and steady hold, further aiding in accuracy

Some popular models are Ruger No 1, Henry 450 Bushmaster, Henry 350 Legend, Savage Mark I FVT, and Chiappa Little Badger.

Yes, due to their simplicity and affordability, single-shot rifles are often recommended for beginners.

Yes, some single-shot rifles can handle heavy loads, making them suitable for big-game hunting.

Yes, single-shot rifles are generally safe to use, especially for beginners learning the basics of gun handling. However, like any firearm, they should be used responsibly and with proper training.

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