4 Reasons You Need A Bolt Action Rifle

Today, it's not a given that every gun owner has at least one bolt gun in their safe. Here are a few reasons to pass on that next semi-auto.

A Savage Model 11 Scout rifle.
A Savage Model 11 Scout rifle.mfg photo

Many of todays’ shooters fit a demographic that’s much different from just a generation ago. They love to shoot and the AR style rifle is their long gun of choice. If that describes you, why would you want to look at a bolt action? Several reasons.

Accuracy

While some AR-style rifles are very accurate, no semi-auto can ever match the inherent accuracy of a bolt gun. A semi-automatic rifle must work with rather loose tolerances in parts and ammo, which degrades accuracy, plain and simple. A custom bolt action will have all the parts, including the chamber, fitted with precision to a minimum specification.

A bolt action also allows for a cartridge to fit in the chamber better and tighter. If this were the case with a semi-auto, because of how the action moves and the forces involved, it would be a jam waiting to happen—but the simpler bolt action handles it fine. The result is better accuracy.

There's a reason AR-style rifles have their own separate category in long-range competition and do not compete head to head with the bolt actions. That’s because the bolt action will usually win, and it has nothing to do with a shooter's skill.

Right now, long range shooting is growing in popularity, and if you want to play in that arena, the bolt action is the rifle of choice.

Power

A Barrett M99 .50 BMG bolt-action rifle.
A Barrett M99 .50 BMG bolt-action rifle.mfg photo

A bolt action rifle can be chambered for any cartridge that an AR style rifle can use, and hundreds that an AR can’t.

While ARs can handle any width cartridge, even 12 gauge shotgun shells—depending on the size of the receiver—but like most semi-auto rifles, the platform is limited to short-action rifle cartridges. But a bolt action can be chambered for anything from a .22 LR through the largest and longest magnum cartridges—plus it can handle any width, shotgun shells included.

For example, the current ceiling for the AR platform when it comes to long-range applications is set at cartridges like the 6.5 Creedmoor or the .308 Win. for long range work. Both are great cartridges and are available in a bolt gun, but other, more powerful .30-caliber rounds like the .300 Win Mag or the .338 Lapua are out of the AR's reach, meaning those long-range targets are as well.

The CZ American Safari Magnum is a dangerous game rifle chambered in .375 H&H Magnum, .416 Rigby, .458 Win. Mag., and .458 Lott.
The CZ American Safari Magnum is a dangerous game rifle chambered in .375 H&H Magnum, .416 Rigby, .458 Win. Mag., and .458 Lott.mfg photo

A bolt action can also be built to use the biggest and most powerful cartridges in the world and if you want a .458 Lott—because you are worried about a Jurassic event releasing a T-Rex in your neighborhood, or even if you just want a big, bad gun because it’s cool—the bolt action is by far the most affordable and best performing option. Semi-auto rifles are made that can handle huge cartridges like the .50BMG, but they are mostly made for military applications and are not typically affordable for the average gun owner.

Similarly, there are many AR-style rifles on the market chambered for long-action cartridges, but they require highly customized receivers that are a long way from mil-spec, and are mostly priced on the higher end of expensive, like this Petra from Falkor Defense in .300 Win Mag. for $5,800. For comparison, you can get a bolt-action Savage 11/111 Long Range Hunter in .300 Win Mag for $1,117 or a Mossberg Patriot in .300 Win Mag with a synthetic stock and a Vortex scope for $537.

An example of a Remington 700, one of the mostly widely owned bolt-action rifles.
An example of a Remington 700, one of the mostly widely owned bolt-action rifles.mfg photo

Dependability

No other rifle action is as dependable and as trouble-free as a bolt action. The mechanism has been around since the 1800s and has proven to be completely dependable through literally generations of use by hunters and soldiers. When a rifle absolutely, positively must operate with optimal, repeatable accuracy, the bolt action is the safest bet and it’s about as close to fool proof as a repeating rifle can come.

An example of a Mossbeg MVP rifle.
An example of a Mossbeg MVP rifle.mfg photo

A bolt gun can also handle "questionable" ammo that a semi-auto could not. Say it’s the zombie- or some-other-sort-of-apocalypse and you are forced to buy some oddball ammo of questionable heritage on the black market. While a semi-auto may not even chamber the ammo, let alone cycle it, the bolt action has huge camming power to chamber ammo that’s on the outer edge of tolerances and would be too tight a fit for other guns.

The Springfield Model1903 was the last bolt gun that served as the U.S. Army's service rifle, before being replaced by the M1 Garand ahead of World War II.
The Springfield Model1903 was the last bolt gun that served as the U.S. Army's service rifle, before being replaced by the M1 Garand ahead of World War II.photo from wikipedia

When it comes to safety, of course, we don't ever want to use potentially dangerous ammo if we can help it, but in the event of an overload, the bolt action is by far the strongest option and the design is best suited to survive the event, or at the very least, help ensure the shooter survives intact.

Because You Don't Have One

If you are into guns, you simply must have a bolt action rifle. It’s the premiere rifle design and no gun safe is complete without at least one. Several, of course, are always better.

An example of a Mannlicher M1895 carbine.
An example of a Mannlicher M1895 carbine. Military surplus bolt guns from the early and mid-20th century are still available at good prices.photo from Pinterest

So which bolt action to choose? There are thousands of new and used models out there, but there's on that's perfect for you. I'll explain how to figure out which gun that is next time.