The Pump Action Shotgun: The Sound and the Fury

The Pump Action Shotgun: The Sound and the Fury

Say hello to my distinctively sounding little friend.

I take it you’ve seen this famous scene from Terminator 2 (click on the image for the video and skip to 6:50; sorry, no embedding available)…

and reached the second level of the game Doom

…but you may not have read Michael Crichton’s novel Next:

She dropped the towel and the robe to the ground and methodically loaded the shotgun. She pulled the action bar back and forward, making a chung chung! sound. (Page 496)

Chung chung!

He froze. He knew the sound of a double-action pump. You never went into a room after you heard that sound. (Page 500)

Three different pop culture art forms, one favorite weapon: the pump action shotgun. So what is it exactly about this weapon that keeps blowing us away, time after time? Find out, after the jump. Chung chung! (?)

These are just three examples of pump action shotguns in fiction (I trust you’ll supply plenty more in the comments). They’ve been used countless times in film, TV, video games, and to a lesser extent, novels, and almost always, a character, uh, whips it out to show that s/he really means business. It’s a powerful phallic symbol, made even more so by the up-down cocking motion that calls to mind the way one might stroke a penis.

So, visually, shotgun=masturbation. But even without the visual, the sound of the cocking shotgun is one of the most distinctive sounds associated with weapons, and by itself it signals all sorts of bad-assery. Let me show you:

Chung chung!

Damn, that didn’t really seem to work. Michael Crichton’s choice of onomatopoeia doesn’t quite capture the same visceral effect of the sound of a shotgun cocking; in fact, I don’t think any onomatopoeia could quite do justice to this sound. On the other hand, mimicking the sound with the human voice seems to get the job done, as Seth Rogen ably demonstrates in the Observe and Report trailer:

Still, nothing can replace the real thing:

Sweet lord, that is badass.

But getting back to that cocking sound. The sound by itself wouldn’t be so evocative, of course, if we didn’t know what followed that sound: a deep, powerful BAM! (Now there’s an effective use of onomatopoeia.) Nevertheless, I would argue that there’s something intrinsically powerful about that cocking sound itself. For starters, it’s an unmistakeably metallic, machinistic sound, and that by itself carries a sense of weight and power. But unlike other powerful, metallic, machinistic sounds, it just the right pitch and timbre: not too high like a buzz saw, not too melodic like an anvil.

It’s the sound of something complex and metal snapping, then snapping back into place. The first “snap” (or “chung” if you’re Michael Crichton) creates tension. The second “snap” gives the first “snap” a counterpart, but that only partly resolves the tension. The shotgun cock is one complete action with two beats that complement each other, yet leave behind an air of incompleteness. Even if you don’t know what comes after that cocking sound, you feel like something’s been snapped into place and ready to go.

Okay. So maybe I’ve played a few too many first person shooters or seen Terminator 2 one too many times to the point that I’m a little more fixated on this particular sound effect than most people. But can we at least agree that “chung chung” is not an adequate onomatopoiea to represent the sound of a cocking shotgun? Again, I appeal to you readers: give me something better!

Ready? Not quite yet?

<insert sound of cocking shotgun here>

Now, fire away in the comments.

24 Comments on “The Pump Action Shotgun: The Sound and the Fury”

  1. Bart #

    For me “chung chung” reminds me of the sound used when Law & Order shifts scenes, not a shotgun. I suppose “chik chick” would be my preferred interpretation of the sound, but I’m sure there are many other perfectly valid suggestions out there.


    • Pamela Lee #

      How about cha chock? If it is said quickly, the sound resembles it much better.


  2. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    So tell me more about the Crichton novel. Why does the woman feel the need to get completely naked before picking up the gun? How does that improve her situation?


    • Pamela Lee #

      You’d be surprised.


  3. Venturestein #

    I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share what might be one of the greatest uses of the pump action sound effect ever put to film, and it doesn’t even feature a gun!

    Skip to 8:40 and be amazed!


  4. Mark #

    The shotgun sound is the firearm equivalent of popping one’s knuckles and/or neck. It’s my signal – a prelude, if you will – that asskicking is about to begin.

    I would spell it “chock chock.”


  5. John P. #

    I’ve read Sphere several times and I don’t recall that ever happening. Is that from the actual novel, or from a novelization of the Stone / Hoffman movie?


  6. Wade #

    How many House of the Dead 3 arcade cabinets have been rendered useless by countless dorks repeatedly pumping the shot-light-gun with one hand?

    I admit, I’m guilty of this. It’s just too much fun.


  7. Sean #

    The reason that the onomatopoeia doesn’t work is that the sound of the shotgun loading has no vowels. For the purely mechanincal sound, it would be closer to “chk chk” than “chung chung”.


  8. Jess #

    OK, I’ve read some odd passages in Crichton novels, but did he ever use a shotgun?

    First of all, no one who had ever touched a shotgun would ever call the pump (or forearm) an “action bar”. Like WTF? I can see why she got naked before pulling on it. Second, although any pump-action shotgun does transfer a shell into the magazine and cock the hammer with one operation, I’m pretty sure we don’t call it double-action. Only handguns may be single-action, so only handguns would require a separate designation.

    But especially, repeatedly operating the pump mechanism is _not_ the way to load a shotgun. You load it by shoving shells into the bottom of the action with your fingers. These then fill the magazine tube, to which the pump is mounted. When you operate the pump, you kick out the shell in the chamber, and transfer one other shell from the magazine to the chamber. Doing this methodically would actually empty the gun. (Well now that I’ve typed this out I realize that Crichton may have intended an implicit “then” between those first two sentences to indicate two separate actions. The way it’s written however it just seems like the same action described two different ways, which would be very wrong.)


  9. Gab #

    Whenever I’m playing _Goldeneye_ with my friends, there is always an uproar when the sound of a shotgun is heard- “Oh no! You got the shotgun! I’m screwed now!” etc.

    Jason Bourne does some nice shotgun stuff in the movies (I don’t know about the books, sadly).

    I’d agree that the sound doesn’t really have vowels, but I’d add a “p” to the beginnig of our “chk”s, Sean. pchk pchk


  10. Jonathan #

    Equilibrium had a sweet brief shotgun moment!! So did Trinity’s counter in the first Matrix.

    As for Sphere, I’ve read that a couple of times, and I can’t remember there being a shotgun on the station…..although the she here is probably Beth, who I believe got naked to seduce the main character while DUI’ing of the Sphere……


  11. Jonathan #

    PS: who else here HATES it when people load a pump-action shotgun, then feel the need to pump it before firing, thereby ejecting a full shell in waste? Countless movies and TV shows do this, much to my dismay…;P


  12. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Oooh, you know what drives me crazy? When somebody is holding somebody at gunpoint for like five minutes, and then menacingly cocks the gun. Wait, that gun wasn’t even cocked until now? Is this your first day being a bad guy?


  13. Jonathan #

    Seriously Matthew!!! Glad someone agrees with me on those things (aside from my wife, but the poor gal has to hear it all too often ;)

    Or when the menacing cock of a revolver is used when characters are pointing a semi-automatic handgun….don’t need to cock those things lads, that’s why it’s no longer a revolver!! Hooray!

    Honestly, the two sides of the spectrum here in TV land is Sarah Connor Chronicles and Heroes, both shows that I love. But SCC kills Heroes in many departments, especially when it comes to guns: SCC has people very much ready to shoot their weapons, while Heroes has had Claire pumping a shotgun BEFORE firing and several characters pointing guns at enemies then doing the ridiculous gun-cock so as to create tension (although with Bryan Fuller back, it seems Heroes has gotten smarter about MANY things, including this, as see in Cold Snap and this last Monday’s episode ;)


  14. Josh Mc #

    Mark, you’re forgetting something.

    I dated a girl in college who liked to hook up to this song. Your Freudian reading of this sound effect is forcing me to reexamine that relationship in unfortunate ways.


  15. lee OTI Staff #

    A couple of clarifications:

    -The shotgun wielding chick doesn’t get naked; she’s fully clothed when she shows up at this spa/resort. She gets a towel and robe and drapes them over her shoulder to conceal the shotgun.

    -I’m not sure how _Sphere_ came up in the comments, but the Michael Crichton novel I’m referencing is _Next_, his final novel, which was published in 2006.


  16. perich OTI Staff #

    @Lee: I think we all got the impression you were referring to Sphere when you wrote, right above the Crichton quote:

    . . .but you may not have read Michael Crichton’s novel Sphere:


  17. lee OTI Staff #

    Wow, I wrote that? I gotta lay off the drugs. Sorry for the confusion.


  18. Hmmm... #

    To Jonathan,

    I totally agree that firearm misuse is horrific in movies and television. Particularly in those movies made FOR television. However, I will have to respectfully disagree with your take on pulling the hammer back on a semi-automatic pistol. While this is not required to fire the gun, it does usually reduce the trigger pull from several pounds to a little over one, thus making the gun easier to fire. This is called a ‘hair trigger’, and can make things decidedly scary when you have one pointed at your head.

    As for the shotgun sound, I usually find that when formed with human vocal chords we emphasize the closing more than the opening of the chamber. So I would therefore spell it “Shick-Chick”

    And it is a sweet, sweet sound…


  19. David #

    To Matthew and Jonathan,

    Did you get to watch Phone Booth? The bad guy gives the best explanation, and I’m paraphrasing here:

    “Do you know why the hero/bad guy cocks the gun right at the last moment? He could have done it a long time before, but he chooses to do it just then. Do you know why? Because that sound is SCARY”. It’s intimidation, nothing more.

    Oh, and the shotgun sound is sweet …


  20. Hannah #



  21. Logan Wilson #

    The only proper pump sound for a shotgun, imo, is *cher chunk*
    Really emphasises the viceral feeling of hearing the sound, if it doesnt exactly capture the sound sound for sound.


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