When it comes to modern shotguns, it can seem like it’s anyone’s guess just by looking at the gun from a distance to know if it is a semi-automatic. Not to mention, it can get kind of confusing when talking about the different firearms being automatic, semi-automatic, or manual. Thankfully, we did all the legwork and this article answers “are shotguns semi automatic?” in detail.
This article will cover whether or not shotguns are considered semi-automatic (spoiler alert: yes, some shotguns are semi-automatic), and what that means. We also compare the different types of shotguns, from completely manual shotguns up to fully automatic shotguns, and what that all means.
It is important to know your gun before purchasing, and especially before shooting. There are certain things that go into the type of action that the shooter has to keep in mind. Also, as always, practice gun safety, and clean your shotgun regularly.
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Are Shotguns Semi-Automatic?
Well… yes and no. It depends on the shotgun. There are semi-automatic shotguns, and manual shotguns. And perhaps to answer the unsaid question, yes, there are also fully automatic shotguns as well.
But really, what’s the difference between all of the different types? It comes down to how the next round gets in the chamber, and what it takes from the shooter to fire the next round. Since it is best to clear up any confusion early, we’ll start by defining each of the reloading types.
Manual is when the shooter has to physically put the bullet in the chamber, usually by pulling on a lever to cycle through the action. This movement in essence cocks the gun, and puts the bullet in the chamber. To then fire the next round, the shooter has to manually pull the trigger each time. One trigger pull=one shot.
Semi-Automatic is when the action will automatically put the next round in the chamber. There is a similar action going on inside the gun as if it would be done manually, but instead the energy produced by the gun itself in one way or another will reload the gun. Similar to manual reloads, semi-automatics also require the trigger to be pulled manually to fire each new shot. One trigger pull=one shot.
Automatic is pretty straight forward. The gun will automatically load the next round into the chamber and when you pull the trigger, you can just hold it to fire the next round, and the next, and the next, and the next… You get the idea. Automatic weapons do everything for you so long as you are there to man the gun. One trigger pull=multiple shots. It is due to this intensity that automatics are only used in combat.
Manual firearms require the shooter to actively ‘cock’ the gun, or cycle through the action mechanism, to get the next round in the chamber. They also must manually pull the trigger to fire the round.
There are two common types of manual shotguns:
- Pump action
- Bolt action
They are very similar in many ways, and obviously differ when it comes to the action and how to cycle the shot.
Some semi-automatic shotguns do have a manual action lever as well, so you can get the feel of each type to decide which one fits you best as a shooter.
1. Pump Action
Almost anyone, even non-gun enthusiasts, can point out a pump-action shotgun. There is a handguard located on the forestock.
After firing the round, the shooter then has to pull the handguard, or the pump, back to cock the gun.
This moves the next round into the chamber, and expels the previously fired shell.
2. Bolt Action
The other most common type of manual shotgun is the bolt action shotgun, sometimes referred to as a charge handle shotgun.
The bolt works similarly to the handguard of the pump-action, but it appears to look more like a handle. The shooter usually has to rotate the bolt upwards to unlock it, and then pull it back to expel the used shell and cock the gun, which moves the next round into the chamber.
Most of the time, the bolt is located on the right hand side of the firearm.
Semi-automatic firearms are the ones that the action automatically loads the next round in the chamber to be fired.
In comparison to fully-automatic weapons, semi-automatics require the shooter to manually pull the trigger for every round fired. But there is no manual action to move the next round into the chamber.
In terms of shotguns, this is pretty much any shotgun that isn’t a pump or bolt-action (also called a charging handle) or the fully automatic versions, although some shotgun models do have a manual option.
Semi-automatic shotguns employ some sort of energy or power, whether it is gas, recoil, or even blowback operations, to cycle the action and load another round while ejecting the empty shell.
In gas-operation reloading, the automatic reload is done with the energy produced by a shot being fired.
When the shot is fired, there is a portion of high-pressured gas that triggers the action mechanism to expel the spent shot and load the next one into the chamber.
Gas operation reloaded shotguns usually have the softest recoil, but it depends on what you are used to in terms of recoil.
Recoil operation reloading, also called inertia operation, uses the momentum and energy to cycle the action. The physical recoil you feel is the automatic action in effect.
Because of the physics law about the conservation of momentum, the shell being shot forward also caused the firearm to move in the opposite direction, which is backwards. The power produced by the recoil is enough to load the next round into the chamber.
A blowback operation reloading system works similarly to a gas operation. The blowback operation gets the energy to cycle the action through the cartridge case being pushed backwards by the expanding gas created by firing the shot.
There are a lot of blowback systems available in shotguns. There is also the opportunity to delay the opening of the breech, which can also vary. This type of blowback operation is called a delayed blowback.
Fully Automatic Shotguns
Completely automatic weapons both automatically load the next round and fire the next round as long as the trigger is pulled. There is no one bullet for one pull of the trigger–you essentially hold down the trigger, and bullets fly.
These types of shotguns are very rare in use in the United States, and are only approved for military combat use. And it is illegal to use a fully automatic shotgun to hunt game or engage in marksmanship activities like skeet or trap shooting.
Automatic shotguns are more popular in other countries, but they do see some use in the United States.
Conclusion: Are Shotguns Semi-Automatic?
Shotguns come in a variety of reloading forms. But yes, shotguns can be semi-automatic, even fully automatic if you have access to them in the Armed Forces.
It is important to know the reload type of your gun, and always practice safety. It is important to clean and maintain your shotgun regularly.
And remember, don’t put your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.