hunting rifle vs assault rifle

Rifle vs Assault Rifle (2024 Update)

You hear the terms thrown around casually all the time – hunting rifle vs assault rifle. But what do these terms mean?

How do you decide what rifle should I get?

Are these different types of guns, or just different terms for the same weapon?

The answer: they are different weapons, but there’s more…

So rifle vs assault rifle, what’s the difference? The main difference between a rifle and assault rifle is the magazine, or the way the gun is loaded. Hunting rifles are not capable of fully-automatic fire while assault rifles are. Assault rifles are designed for military use, while hunting rifles are owned and used by civilians.

Let’s explore.

Hunting Rifle vs Assault Rifle Explained

assault rifle vs hunting rifle

So what exactly is a rifle in the first place? A rifle is a weapon that is fired from the shoulder and is defined as a firearm with a long barrel that has “rifling” or grooves on the inside of the barrel. The rifling assists with accuracy and velocity for the projectile.

A hunting rifle is a specific type used primarily for hunting game for food or for sport.

If you’re thinking about going hunting, you definitely want to make sure you check the rules and regulations for your area. Many areas have different rules for the type of weapon you can use during hunting season.

Oftentimes, there are specific seasons for rifle hunting and specific game you can hunt with a rifle. In some areas, rifle hunting is banned altogether.

You’ll also find that there are different types of ammunition used for hunting different types of game. For example, rimfire rifles are usually used for hunting small-game (squirrels, rabbits, quail, pheasant, etc.) and centerfire rifles are used for larger game (deer, antelope, elk, etc.).

What exactly does that mean?


Rimfire ammunition is designed where the primer compound is located within the rim of its casing.

When the trigger is pulled, the gun’s firing pin strikes the rim of the casing and activates the primer compound, causing the round to be expelled from the weapon.


In contrast, centerfire ammunition is designed with the primer being located in the center (surprise, surprise) of the casing.

When the trigger is pulled, the firing pin strikes the center of the casing and ignites the primer compound, which then allows the round to be expelled from the weapon.

How do Hunting Rifles Function?

The most common style of hunting rifle is a repeating action. Repeating action simply means that the user is able to quickly load a new round into the chamber of the gun. Typically, hunting rifles have internal magazines.

This means that the ammunition is loaded directly into the gun and as rounds are fired, the rifle is reloaded by either a lever-action, bolt-action, or pump-action.


A lever-action rifle functions just the way it sounds: with the pull of a lever.

Once the weapon has been fired, the user pulls down on the lever mechanism, which expels the spent casing from the weapon.

The user then returns the lever to its original position to load another round into the chamber of the rifle. Once the lever is returned to its position, the rifle is then ready to fire again.

Lever-action rifles are extremely popular for hunters, but are not ideal for military use. The time it takes to load another round into the chamber is problematic when faced with a combat situation.


Bolt-action rifles function by rotating the bolt handle (usually located on the right hand side of the weapon, but can be designed to be on the left side for a left-handed user) to both expel and load a new round into the chamber.

The user fires the weapon then pulls the bolt handle back to eject the used casing and then pushes the bolt handle forward to load a new round into the chamber. The weapon is then ready to fire again.


A pump-action rifle is operated by moving the sliding handguard back and forth to eject spent casings and load a new round into the chamber.

The shooter will fire the weapon and then pull the slide back to expel the used casing and then slide back forward to load a new round into the chamber. The term pump-action is most commonly used in reference to shotguns.

Assault Rifles Explained

An assault rifle is a special rapid-fire military-grade weapon designed for use in combat.

Made popular during World War II, these rifles are able to switch between fully automatic fire (the gun fires repeatedly with one trigger pull) or semi-automatic fire (the gun fires one shot for each pull of the trigger).

Most of these rifles also offer a “burst-mode” option. This allows the rifle to fire several times (usually three) with one pull of the trigger. These rifles use a detachable magazine that usually holds between 10 and 30 rounds.

Oftentimes, in error, the terms “assault rifle” and “assault weapon” are used interchangeably. While the term is regularly used, there is technically no such thing as an “assault weapon”.

Examples of assault rifles are the:

  • M16
  • AK-47
  • IMI Galil
  • Heckler & Koch G36

Once the majority of the world’s armies made assault rifles the standard weapon, these models proved to be the most successful.

While many make the erroneous claim, the AR-15 is actually NOT classified as an assault rifle.

To clear up a common misconception, the “AR” in AR-15 does NOT stand for “assault rifle”. The “AR” actually stands for Armalite Rifle, which is the company that first developed the weapon.

While the rifle looks similar to military assault rifles, this particular weapon is semi-automatic and does not function the same way a true assault rifle does.

The AR-15 is often confused with the aforementioned M-16, which is a true assault rifle used by the military. While the M-16 is designed to be capable of selective-fire, the AR-15 is not.

Assault Rifle Characteristics

In order to be officially classified as an assault rifle, the rifle must meet ALL of the following characteristics:

  • Have the capability of selective-fire, meaning the weapon has a selector switch that allows the weapon to operate in either semi-automatic, fully-automatic, or burst mode.
  • Use an intermediate-power cartridge. This means the ammunition has more power than a pistol, but not as much power as a standard rifle. As the name suggests, the power falls in the middle. Examples of intermediate-power calibers are 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm. Having an intermediate-power cartridge reduces the recoil and allows the weapon to be controlled more easily when in fully-automatic firing mode.
  • Uses a detachable box magazine
  • The effective range of the weapon must be at least 330 yards.

Rifles that meet most, but not all of these requirements are not classified as assault rifles. 

How do Assault Rifles Function?

We’ve established that assault rifles primarily operate as fully-automatic weapons with the option of alternate functions. But how exactly does a fully-automatic work?

As long as the rifle is in fully-automatic mode and the ammunition is set to automatically and continuously feed into the rifle, the rifle will continue to fire while the trigger is depressed.

Specifically, the scientific explanation is that the firearm retains the excess energy from the previously discharged round and uses that energy to feed a new round into the chamber, ignite the gunpowder and fire the shot. The rifle cycles continuously until the ammunition supply has run out, making its speed and efficiency ideal for military use.


What is the Difference Between a Rifle and Assault Rifle?

Assault rifles are a subset of rifles equipped for rapid fire and utilizing an intermediate cartridge. In contrast, rifles can encompass a broader range of firearm types, including single-shot and bolt-action models designed for accuracy and range.

What Makes a Rifle an Assault Rifle?

A rifle is classified as an assault rifle when it features selective fire capability, allowing for both semi-automatic and automatic firing modes, and uses intermediate cartridges. These characteristics enable more effective rapid fire in combat scenarios.

Are Assault Rifles Considered Rifles?

Assault rifles fall under the broader category of rifles. They are specialized for certain combat situations, distinguished by their selective fire capability and the use of intermediate cartridges, balancing the features of submachine guns and battle rifles.

Is an AK-47 Considered an Assault Rifle?

The AK-47 is indeed categorized as an assault rifle. It’s known for its selective fire feature, enabling both automatic and semi-automatic firing, and utilizes an intermediate cartridge, making it a staple in various military forces globally.

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