How to Load and Unload Common Types of Rifles

Whether it be a bolt-action, semi-automatic, lever-action or tube-fed rifle, gun owners should know how to load and unload all common types of rifles.

by posted on April 11, 2023
Yackley Rifle Loading 1

Whether it be a rifle, pistol or shotgun—bolt rifle, semi-automatic, revolver or brake action—all gun owners should know how to load and unload common types of firearms.

Even if you don’t plan to ever shoot a gun not owned by you, you should understand how other types of firearms operate. For example, you may own a bolt-action rifle and never plan to run a semi-automatic, but you happen to be at the range with a friend, and he needs to answer the phone. The range must go cold, so you need to unload his gun … Do you know how? Or what if you suspect there is an intruder in your home, and the only accessible gun is one you don’t normally use … Could you load it?  There are reasons why understanding the basic loading and unloading procedures for all types of firearms are not only useful, but necessary. Following the rules of firearm safety, understanding how to manipulate various types of rifles is something that anyone can and should do.

Load and unload semi-automatic rifle or carbine:
With the firearm pointed in a safe direction, holding the pistol grip with your finger alongside the frame of the firearm, insert a magazine into the magwell. Push it in and then try to pull it out to ensure the magazine is seated or locked fully. Instructors will tell you “push/pull.”

If your bolt is locked back and the action is open, drop the bolt by hitting the bolt release. Your bolt will strip a round off the top of the magazine and chamber it.

If your bolt is closed on an empty chamber, pull the charging handle back fully and let it go like a slingshot so the bolt will strip a round off the top of the magazine and chamber the round. Place the gun on safe, and you are loaded.  

To unload, keep the firearm pointed downrange or in a safe direction. Holding the pistol grip with your trigger finger straight alongside the frame of the firearm, push the magazine release button. If you hold the gun horizontally, the magazine will drop free. If you hold it muzzle up, you should feel a “click” when you hit the mag release. You can then remove the magazine. Next, pull the charging handle back to eject the round that was in the chamber. Visually inspect that the chamber is empty. If you haven’t already, place the gun on safe. Your gun is now unloaded.

Load and unload a bolt rifle:
Loading a bolt rifle can have a little variation, depending on whether the rifle you are loading has an internal magazine or external magazine.

The difference is that for a rifle with an internal magazine, you will open the bolt and slide it all the way back in order to open your access to the internal magazine. Load rounds into the internal magazine by pushing them down into the magazine. When you push the bolt forward, it will strip a round off the top of the internal magazine and push it into the chamber as you close the bolt.

For a bolt rifle with an external magazine, you can either open the bolt or leave it closed, then insert the magazine. Push it in and then try to pull it out to ensure the magazine is fully seated into position, just as you would with a semi-automatic. When you push the bolt forward, it will strip a round off the top of the magazine and push it into the chamber as you close the bolt. 

For a single-shot rifle, simply load one round at a time and close the bolt to chamber the round. To unload, open the bolt and the extractor on your bolt pulls the brass out.

To unload, keep the firearm pointed downrange or in a safe direction, push the magazine release button to drop the magazine, set it aside and then rack the round out of the chamber.

If you have an internal magazine, the simplest way to unload is to cycle the bolt and cycle the rounds through the action. Visually inspect that the chamber is empty. Your gun is now unloaded.

Load and unload a lever action/tube-fed rifle:
With the firearm pointed in a safe direction, holding the rifle in a manner that allows you to access the tube or loading gate, load rounds into the tube, pushing them past the loading gate until the magazine tube is fully loaded. Then, using the lever, cycle a round into the chamber.

For a rifle that is loaded via a tube (think .22s) usually you depress and twist the cap on the end of the tube so it opens to accept rounds. Insert the rounds into the tube. Once the tube is full, twist the end to close it. Then, using the lever, cycle a round into the chamber.

The simplest way to unload is to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, then cycle the lever until all of the rounds have cycled through and the tube is empty. Visually inspect the chamber. Your gun is now empty.

Loading and unloading any type of rifle is a basic function that all gun owners should understand. With a little attention, you can understand how to do this with rifles of all types.

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