All Hail The Single Shot Rifle or Shotgun

Stevens Favorite Single Shot Rifle Rolling Block
Stevens Favorite Single Shot Rifle Rolling Block

USA – -(Ammoland.com)- It seems that these days, it’s almost a point of derision if you happen to mention hunting with a single shot rifle or shotgun.

For most people, the single shot is a kid’s gun, something to teach them on and then leave them behind like you would all the other trappings of youth and never look back, but what if I told you that single shot rifles and shotguns are far from just a kid’s game.

At one point in time, the single shot rifle was one of the most popular for just about everything.

Ranger Model 35 Single Shot Rifle Bolt Action Rifle
Ranger Model 35 Single Shot Rifle Bolt Action Rifle
Historic Buffalo Hunting
The mighty bison of the plains were almost wiped out by hunters with Single Shot Rifles.

The mighty bison of the plains were almost wiped out by hunters using powerful Sharps and Remington Rolling Block rifles, even though there were lever action rifles like the Winchester 1876 and 1886 that were capable of taking down big game. For the average homestead, a single barrel shotgun was quite commonly seen over the fireplace as they were cheap and could take everything from small game to deer. Despite the losses at the Little Bighorn, the U.S. Military wouldn’t finally retire the Trapdoor Springfield .45-70 rifle until after the Spanish American War, long after General Custer and his men had been buried.

When the century finally turned and industry roared, single shot firearms were still very popular, Remington still made their Rolling Block although the smaller calibers were more popular, Stevens had their Ideal and Favorite, and single barrel shotguns still sold like pancakes at the local diner during the breakfast rush despite the fact that now there were pump and semi auto shotguns available to the masses.

Even during the Great Depression with the country in the throes of hardship, single shots were being made although now most were bolt action .22 rifles like those from Remington, Winchester and Marlin with a few others in the mix. These guns were what most could afford during those tough times, if you could afford them at all.

Fast forward to today, the single shot rifle when found on most gun store shelves are those built and made for kids, like the Keystone Arms Crickett or Henry Arms Mini Bolt Youth guns. It seems that most hunters have shied away from anything with just one bullet at a time, but if you look more closely, you would be wrong.

When I sat down to think about writing this, I realized that most of the game I have taken in my life has been done with a single shot, in one form or another. Most of the small game, with a single shot .22 LR Remington Model 33 that I have owned for some time. It wasn’t the only gun though, for a while my top varmint rifle was a H & R Handi Rifle in .22 Hornet. That fine little single shot that I got for a song was responsible for a large grey fox and more than one coyote at close range. It didn’t bother me in the least that I had only one shot, but it did bother the furbearers it was used on.

Single Shot Winchester Model 37 Shotgun in 20 gauge
Single Shot Winchester Model 37 Shotgun in 20 gauge

One of the nicest shotguns I ever owned was a Winchester Model 37 in 20 gauge that I had bought for my wife but she had a hard time with the tiny spur trigger so I took it grouse hunting for a time and it accounted for a few in the late winter. Still the all time champion has to be that little single shot Remington Model 33 which is now pushing eighty four years old. In my hands it’s taken dozens of squirrels, rabbits and even an ornery old woodchuck.

Even with all of the new and more modern .22 rifles out there, I have yet to find another to match it when it comes to small game.

Why a Single Shot Rifle

So why would anyone now want a single shot when they can get something that holds more rounds? One reason is of course, to train a young shooter or a beginner. Having a gun with a magazine full of rounds gives a new shooter a reason to rush a shot because they can simply get another round on target if they miss. A single shot forces them to slow down and take their time naturally. You will find that a shooter even on their own will be much slower and much more conscious about their shots when one round is going downrange before having to reload. That doesn’t change no matter the age or the skill level once you’re used to shooting a single shot.

My son began shooting earlier this year, and long before he was born I had his gun picked out, it’s a Savage Model 30G, which was one of that companies last versions of the old Stevens Favorite falling block .22 LR single shot rifles. One of the reasons I picked it, besides being familiar with the design having owned a couple original versions, is that it would work for someone either left or right eye dominant and while it is small enough for a young shooter, it’s also large enough for an adult to use. Someday I will have to break it to him that before he ever took it to the range, I used it on a woodchuck once with good results.

Stevens Favorite Single Shot Rifle
Stevens Favorite Single Shot Rifle
Remington Model 33 Single Shot Bolt Action Rifle
Remington Model 33 Single Shot Bolt Action Rifle

There is one area where hunting with single shot firearms is still wildly popular, and that is muzzleloading. Every year hunters go after whitetail deer in special seasons that usually average a week or more with what were once primitive firearms and now include some of the most advanced blackpowder guns you can imagine.

I find it funny having talked to some of those hunters over the years who will partake of those seasons but scoff at the idea of using a single shot gun the rest of the year. The concept is the same, you have one shot, and it has to be well placed and by the time you reload, you most likely won’t get another chance.

Black Powder Single Shot Muzzleloading Rifle
Black Powder Single Shot Muzzleloading Rifle

So why are more shooters not using a single shot rifle?

One is the cost, most are expensive when compared to bolt or semi auto rifles. For instance, a new single shot Sharps or Remington Rolling Block reproduction can be twice that of a new Henry or Marlin lever action and both can be chambered in the same round like the .45-70. The same can be said for one of the last hold outs, the venerable Ruger Number 1, now all alone after the Ruger Number 3 was discontinued.

Things however are starting to change. The last real affordable single shot rifle and shotguns in big game calibers were the H & R Handi Rifles and single barrel shotguns, that is until Henry Repeating Arms decided to fill the void with their new single shot rifles and shotguns. It is still too early to tell because they are just now hitting the market, but Henry has unveiled a line of brass and steel frame single shot rifles in five calibers, .223, .243, .308, .44 Magnum, and .45-70. With both open sights and being drilled and tapped for a scope, Henry is targeting hunters who have no problem with just loading one round at a time, and with an MSRP of $427 for the steel framed versions, they are certainly competitive in price. That’s also the same price of Henry’s new single barrel shotguns in .410, 20 and 12 gauge in the steel frame and for a listed MSRP of $549 you can get the brass frame version.

Used Single Shot Rifles

There is also the huge used gun market, again most of what you will find are .22 single shots simply because they are more numerous, but you can often get them for a pretty good price. I found not that long ago a very nice Ranger Model 35, a gun made by Stevens Arms for Sears & Roebuck back before they quit selling guns. It’s a fine little single shot with a factory peep sight and is sized for adults instead of a child. No one wanted it when I spotted it at a gun shop and snagged it for $75. It digests every round I have put through it and is extremely accurate and would do very well for small game or a trap line gun. I often run across single barrel shotguns for well under $200, and one I got last year was an old Ithaca 66 Supersingle in 12 gauge. I picked that up for $100 and works very well. I wouldn’t hesitate to take either out to the woods.

Remington Model 33 Single Shot Bolt Action Rifle Rabbit Hunting
Remington Model 33 Single Shot Bolt Action Rifle Rabbit Hunting

Hunting with a single shot of any kind is more of a challenge, but it’s not an impossible feat. If you hunt with a muzzleloader there’s little to no difference, but you have to think past the thought of a single shot being just something for kids or beginners. It’s the challenge of a single shot that can make you a better marksman and a better hunter, and in the end, that’s what we really should strive to be.


David LaPell
David LaPell

About David LaPell

David LaPell has been a Corrections Officer with the local Sheriff's Department for thirteen years. A collector of antique and vintage firearms for over twenty years and an avid hunter. David has been writing articles about firearms, hunting and western history for ten years. In addition to having a passion for vintage guns, he is also a fan of old trucks and has written articles on those as well.

  • 20 thoughts on “All Hail The Single Shot Rifle or Shotgun

    1. On my 18th birthday I bought a new single shot 20 gauge Stevens shotgun for $49 at woolworths sporting goods section at the mall. I like how it breaks down into 2 small parts, excellent reliability, and it’s actually pretty good quality (except the plastic trigger guard that I had to replace and should have someone scan it and make in brass with a 3D printer). I love that shotgun and it does the job. Pretty quick to reload.

    2. When I bought my Ruger 1V my wife said, “But it only holds 1 shot” I replied when I hunt chucks how many rounds do i load in the bolt gun, she answered 1 and I said I rest my case.

    3. Each of my son’s got an H and R 20 ga. when they turned 14. They still have them and won’t let go of them. I still have my H and R 12 ga plus a Handi-Rifle with Barrels in .22 Hornet and 30-30 Winchester. They’ll go to my grand kids.

    4. My favorite hunting rifle of all time was a Browning 1885 High Wall single shot in 7MM Rem Mag. Would shoot it 18 or 19 times before every hunt, and then once during the hunt. Got skunked one time. Grew up with a single shot .410 Stevens and learned to limit out on half a box of shells for dove and quail. Still have my grandfather’s Winchester single shot bolt .22 that will shoot better than my 10/22. great guns.

    5. I have a TCR 81 Aristocrat with a.223 and .270 barrel. This is a beautiful piece that is more accurate than I can hold it. Even with my tired old eyesight and tremeors in my hands I have yet to need a second shot. A single shot is all that you should need unless what you are shooting at will kill you if you should miss. DON’T MISS.

    6. I love my single shots. Filled my 2017 anterless pronghorn tag with my CVA Hunter in .223 Rem. Unless I want to shoot 3 1/2″ shells I take my Ithaca single shot 12. I take my Dad’s old Ithaca 20 gauge he got when he was 12 grouse hunting. I love hunting with a muzzleloader . It’s all fun

    7. Did you scope the Remington Model 33? My grandfather had one. It accounted for a lot of swamp bunnies when I stayed with him as a youngster. He paid me a dollar per rabbit to keep the out of the garden. Those were the days…

    8. I agree whole heartedly. I use a TC pro hunter for deer and turkey both, I love that single shot gun. I just change barrels and I hunt something else or another part of the season/year.

    9. I like the article. Here’s another reason some of us use a single shot. I’m left handed. Not very many gun makers produce them because most people are right handed. The one I like is the T/C encore line up.

    10. I started squirrel hunting in my teens with a single shot 410. It was passed on to another relative. I miss that gun. Everyone should start out on a single shot.

    11. Cva makes very nice single shot centerfire rifles. I got a cva hunter compact 223 for my kids to shoot and I have been really impressed with it. Very light and accurate and $200.

    12. I still have the 22 single shot I used as a kid and up into my 20’s. It is a Montgomery Ward and very accurate. In addition, I have three single shot shotguns that were old when I inherited them. I agree that a single shot makes you more aware that if you want the game you better hit it with the first shot. Good article.

    13. MY BROTHER, A NON-HUNTER, GAVE HIS SON A 1187 FOR HIS 13TH BIRTHDAY. KNOWING HE HAD 5 SHOTS, HE SEEM TO SHOOT 4 TIMES EVERYTIME HE SHOT AT A DEER. NEEDLESS TO SAY, HE NEVER KILLED A DEER. INSTEAD OF BUYING HIM A SINGLE SHOT RIFLE/SHOTGUN LIKE MINE, I ONLY GAVE HIM ONE BULLET/SHELL. AFTER THAT HE STARTED KILLING DEER. THANKS. (NOW HE’S 29)

    14. Excellent article. I collect Winchester Single-Shot .22s and have a Winchester Model 37 in 16 gauge that can outshoot newer model shotguns (if I do my part). I bought my son a Stevens Model 27 when he was born that he still has and it shoots better than a lot of newer .22s. The challenge of a single-shot, I believe, makes for a better hunter knowing that you only have the one shot and no fast follow-up shots. They are a lot of fun in addition to everything else.

      1. Joseph, I just had my Winchester model 37 16 gauge out to the range Tuesday after years of sitting in a safe (wiped down every 6 months). Before Tuesday, the last time I shot it was in 1966. My Dad gave it to me when I was 10 and it took down numerous rabbits and ring-neck pheasants back in Western Pa. It still is an awesome shooter with that full choke barrel. Killed quite a few water bottles on Tuesday!

    15. First choice…..I want to purchase a single shot rifle in 300 blackout, with threaded barrel. (5/8 X 24)
      Second choice is a bolt action.
      Third choice is a pump.

    16. For some reason I find immense joy in sending one round at a time 200 meters down range to ring an 8″ steel plate, breaking open the rifle, ejecting the spent cartridge, reloading a fresh round, and repeat. It seems therapeutic! I find that my .223 Handi Rifle goes with me to the range much more than my bolts and levers. I just picked up a used Rossi Wizard in .308 and can’t wait to try it out. Thanks for a great article.

    17. @David LaPell, Interesting that you mention new shooters taking their time to aim with a single shot. That is the same reason that the Army kept the 45-70 long after Custer and his men were buried. Here is another reason: the single shot bolt action has fewer cuts, and is therefore stiffer and more accurate. I like older single shot .22 that were made before WWII. The were made with care, and can be had for a song.
      Leading up to, during, and after WWII the federal government taught firearms manufacturers how to cut every corner to make the guns cheap… and accuracy suffered even to this day.

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