Bolt Action Essentials


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Reasons To Own A Bolt-Action Rifle:

Ten Reasons To Own A Bolt-Action Rifle: Submitted by Slappy


With the popularity of AR-15 rifles ever on the rise, one might question the need or even the desire to own a bolt-action rifle. The AR style rifles are lightweight, easy to operate, highly customizable, reliable, versatile, accurate, and just plain fun to shoot. They are very practical and useful firearms that have come to represent all that is tacti-cool for many shooting enthusiasts. So what about the venerable bolt gun?

Long before semi-automatic rifles became the rage, bolt-action rifles were the mainstay in shooting sports. While semi-autos do have obvious advantages such as magazine capacity, rapid reloading, and rate of fire, the trusty bolt-action rifle is still an incredibly effective, popular, and useful firearm in today’s world. The following are 10 reasons (in no particular order) why every shooter should have at least one bolt gun in the safe.


A bolt-action rifle is ideal for teaching and improving marksmanship skills at every level. Studies have shown that a shooter will tend to shoot a bolt-action rifle more accurately than an equally capable semi-auto. Knowing that a follow-up shot is not just a simple trigger pull away forces the shooter to slow down, be patient, and focus more intently on the shot. This is a great way to learn and practice shooting fundamentals and get into the “zen” of marksmanship. Some quality range time with a .22 bolt gun can go a long way toward maintaining and improving the skills of every shooter. It is the perfect tool for indoctrinating new shooters in proper marksmanship technique. A marksman should strive to become one with the rifle and take every opportunity to improve his or her skill set. Remember, only hits count.

Reliability and Durability:

Generally speaking, most bolt-action rifles tend to be simple, strong, and well built. There are fewer moving parts than in a semi-automatic rifle, which means that there are fewer failure points that could cause a malfunction. The simplicity and strength of the bolt-action coupled with the fact that it is manually operated also means that it can handle a wider range of bullet weights and powder charges. Bolt action rifles are capable of reliably firing everything from very powerful magnum loads down to the lightest subsonic rounds. In many cases, bolt guns can safely and effectively function with ammo that might fail to cycle and/or damage some semi-automatic actions.

Effective Range and Accuracy:

Bolt guns are usually considered to be the preferred platforms for long-range shooting. Because they do not extract energy from the powder charge to operate the action, more of the potential energy in the cartridge can be used to propel the projectile. This can result in an advantage in effective range over a semi-automatic rifle of the same caliber. The very attributes that make bolt-action rifles reliable and durable also make them inherently accurate if they are manufactured and set up correctly. Many centerfire bolt-action rifles on the market today are capable of shooting three shot groups measuring an inch or less (1 Minute of Angle) at 100 yards with the right ammunition. This applies to hunting as well as target and tactical rifles as 1 M.O.A. has effectively become the industry standard. Many older hunting and military surplus bolt guns are also capable of outstanding accuracy with little or no modifications.

Price and Performance:

An accurate and reasonably well made bolt-action rifle can be much less expensive than a semi-automatic rifle with the same accuracy potential. While it is possible to spend many thousands of dollars on a custom bolt gun, a mass-produced rifle that is capable of 1 M.O.A or better can be had for less than $500. It is now becoming standard for these rifles to have free floated barrels, match grade triggers, and well bedded actions. The used market can yield even better deals. It is not uncommon for used hunting or military surplus rifles to be bought for under $400. In many cases, this price will include an entry-level scope. While a semi-auto can be just as accurate as a bolt gun, the cost can be prohibitive for many shooters. When it comes to rifles, the bolt-action can offer the best bang for the buck.

Ammunition Choice and Availability:

While semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 continue to be offered in a wider range of calibers, bolt-action rifles are available in more caliber choices than any other type of firearm. It is a safe bet that there is a bolt gun chambered in just about every caliber available today. This can be advantageous by providing a cartridge that is more precisely suited to the intended application and preferences of the shooter. Another important consideration is that during ammunition shortages, calibers that are popular in semi-automatic rifles such as .223/5.56 and .308 can be difficult to find. Many calibers used primarily by bolt-action rifles are often more readily available.

Ease of Cleaning and Maintenance:

Because bolt guns are simpler that semi-autos, they are also easier to clean and maintain. There are fewer moving parts to check and lubricate, fewer bolts, screws, and springs to manipulate and sometimes replace, and no gas tube to disassemble and clean. A well made and well cared for bolt-action rifle will last for generations with simple cleaning and maintenance.

Portability and Shootability:

Bolt action rifles can be made very lightweight and svelte. A tactical, competition, or military surplus rifle can be quite heavy and cumbersome of course, but lightweight, slender, and portable bolt guns are plentiful. The tradeoff for a very lightweight rifle is often an increase in felt recoil, so it is up to the shooter to select the rifle that provides the best balance between the two to achieve the desired shooting characteristics. If form follows function, then the sleek contours of a hunting rifle become very logical. There are few protrusions to catch on trees and brush or snag a hunter’s own gear as the rifle is shouldered or unslung. Bolt action rifles can be shot well from just about any shooting position, but they are especially suited to the prone and rested positions. Most of them do not have large protruding magazines that can make shooting from these positions more difficult. Most bolt guns can also be top loaded to fill the magazine or loaded one round at a time. This can be an advantage when shooting from the prone position as magazine changes can sometimes force the shooter to take time out and visually disengage a target when on the ground. For the shooter that requires higher magazine capacity, bolt action rifles with detachable magazines are available.

Hand Loading:

For those that hand load ammunition, it is easier to produce ammo for the bolt gun if you are reloading for the same rifle. The spent case does not need to be completely resized because it is going to be manually loaded into a chamber that it has already been fired from. It is also easier to save spent brass as the shooter can collect each case by hand after the shot. As long as excessive powder charges are not used, the cases are not as stressed and tend to last longer than those used in semi-auto rifles. The bolt-action also tends to be more tolerant of loading variables and inconsistencies as long as the rounds are loaded within safe pressure limits. This makes it the best platform for the beginning hand loader to learn and refine the required skills necessary to be safe, proficient, and successful.

Ammunition Usage:

Because a bolt action rifle has a slower rate of fire, the tendency is to use less ammunition during a day at the range compared to a semi-automatic rifle. Sending a full magazine downrange as quickly as possible in an AR-15 can be good practice and great fun, but that can get pricey and rapidly deplete ammo supplies. A more disciplined approach to shooting will not only improve a shooter’s skills, it can save money and ammo. Referring back to the topic of marksmanship, only hits count.

Legal Dynamics and Discretion:

Depending on the state a shooter resides in, the political and legal environment can be restrictive and even outright adversarial for owners of semi-automatic firearms. Some state governments are constantly trying to enact more regulations, restrictions, taxes, and even bans of any semi-automatic rifle that is deemed an “assault weapon” by anti-gun politicians. It is also possible that future federal legislation could be enacted that would be detrimental to owners of certain types of semi-automatic firearms. The bolt-action rifle is usually not the primary target of such legislation and is even allowed in many countries that have very restrictive gun control laws. The bolt gun seems to be viewed with less hostility than rifles such as the AR-15 and can afford a shooter a greater degree of discretion and acceptance when shooting in more restrictive states or countries.


Bolt action rifles add a great deal of versatility and capability to any shooter’s arsenal. They are a perfect complement to semi-automatic rifles as well as other action types, and can help broaden and improve the shooting skills of any firearms enthusiast willing to devote the time and effort to some disciplined marksmanship practice. Speaking of other action types, lever-action rifles share many of the same advantages of bolt-action rifles and also offer a few additional features and capabilities such as external hammers and rate of fire. They also have a few disadvantages such as being awkward to operate in the prone shooting position and limited caliber selection. However, they are also very rugged, reliable, versatile and capable firearms with a loyal following that deserve serious consideration.

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Parts of a Bolt Action Rifle:

Parts of a Bolt Action Rifle

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Popular Short Action By Manufacturer:

  • In Remington guns, short actions have a distance between receiver screws of 6.5”
  • In Winchester guns, short actions have a distance between receiver screws of 7.031”
  • In Savage guns, short actions have a distance between receiver screws of 4.275”

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Popular Short Action By Caliber:

  • 17 Remington
  • 204 Ruger
  • 20 PPC
  • 22 Hornet
  • 218 Bee
  • 221 Remington Fireball
  • 222 Remington
  • 223 Remington
  • 222 Remington Magnum
  • 22 PPC
  • 219 Zipper
  • 22 Bench Rest (BR)
  • 224 Weatherby Magnum
  • 22-250 Remington
  • 220 Swift
  • 6mm PPC
  • 6mm BR
  • 243 Winchester
  • 6mm Remington
  • 6mm-284 Winchester
  • 250 Savage
  • 260 Remington
  • 6.8 Remington SPC
  • 270 Winchester Short Magnum (WSM)
  • 7mm-08
  • 7mm Remington Short Action Ultra Magnum (SAUM)
  • 30 M1 Carbine
  • 30 BR
  • 30-30 Winchester
  • 300 Remington SAUM
  • 300 WSM
  • 308 Winchester
  • 32 Winchester Special
  • 325 WSM
  • 338 Federal
  • 35 Remington
  • 44-40 Winchester

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Popular Long Action By By Manufacturer:

  • In Remington guns, long actions have a distance between receiver screws of 7.350”
  • In Winchester guns, long actions have a distance between receiver screws of 7.570”
  • In Savage guns, long actions have a distance between receiver screws of 5.062”

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Popular Long Action By Caliber:

  • 240 Weatherby Magnum
  • 6mm-284 Winchester
  • 257 Roberts
  • 25-06 Remington
  • 6.5 x 55 Swedish Mauser
  • 6.5-06 A-Square
  • 264 Winchester Magnum
  • 270 Winchester
  • 280 Remington
  • 30-40 Krag
  • 30-06 Springfield
  • 303 British
  • 8×57 Mauser
  • 35 Whelen
  • 350 Remington Magnum
  • 45-70 Government

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Winchester Super Short Magnum (WSSM) Action By Caliber:

  • 223 WSSM

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Popular Magnum Action:

  • Remington: Any action longer than 7.350”
  • Winchester: Any action longer than 7.570”

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Weatherby Magnum Action By Caliber:

  • 257 Weatherby Magnum
  • 270 Weatherby Magnum
  • 300 Winchester Magnum
  • 300 Weatherby Magnum
  • 30-378 Weatherby Magnum
  • 338-378 Weatherby Magnum
  • 7mm Shooting Times Western (STW)
  • 7mm Remington Magnum
  • 7mm Weatherby Magnum
  • 340 Weatherby Magnum

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One comment on “Bolt Action Essentials

  1. While looking for 30.06 ammo during the latest mass shortage I would keep coming across boxes marked as “M1 Garand.” Some even said “30.06 Springfield M1 Garand” while the same manufacturer would offer straight up 30.06 ammo of the same brand and grains without the “Garand” marketing. My main concern was the useability of this “Garand” ammo in standard 30.06 rifles. I did notice a significantly slower velocity on the “Garand” marketed ammo (about 150-250 FPS depending on grain) indicating that the Garand ammo must be loaded slightly “cooler” but my question was “why?” There is information out there on this, but it takes at least a brown belt in google fu to figure out. Anyway here’s what I came up with. Please correct if at all wrong.

    It is the same calibre over all. IOW, both the M1 Garand and dad’s bolt action deer rifle shoot the 30.06 Springfield cartridge. The chambering should be the same in either case from what I can tell. It appears the modern Garand loads are downloaded a little bit to replicate the ammo of the day (its an old cartridge (going back to 1906) and obviously powder and metalurgy technology has changed for the better over time. Apparently the older Garands don’t like the higher pressure modern cartridges. They will usually shoot them, but they will be damaged over time. Not sure about the chamber failing or not because of this, but there have been reports of bent operating rods and other malfunctions for folks using modern ammo in the older rifles. There is also a “purist” contingent that likes to have as close to the original specs as possible for category specific competitions and the like.

    So again, as far as I can tell, the typical 30.06 will shoot Garand ammo but an authentic Garand shouldn’t be fed the hotter 30.06 ammo and only the slower/lower pressure Garand spec 30.06 stuff. That said, a standard 30.06 will pack less punch. For example, a 150 grain bullet (on the lighter side, where the velocity differential is biggest) most Garand loads will advertise 2750 fps while standard 30.06 loads will be 2950 or higher. E=MC2 and the C is by far the bigger force multiplier in that equation. That 200 fps difference means the standard round will hit with almost 400 foot pounds additional energy. That’s about what a standard 9/40/45 handgun round hits with in total, and that’s how much you will lose by using a Garand round in a standard 30.06. Fine for holes in paper, but for hunting just realize that you are leaving a lot on the table by doing so. Not to mention the drop over distance will be different as well.

    Does that mean you should avoid the Garand ammo if you don’t own a Garand? Not really. Actually it would be kind of a shame to keep a good stock of 30.06 ammo on hand but not have any to share with a buddy when he brings his classic Garand to the range, which he was probably going to let you shoot anyway. So pick up a few boxes; the price is on the lower side of new ball 30.06 ammo anyway. Just know what you have and when you’re using it.

    All of this may be wrong, do your own due dilligence, follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and all firearms safety rules. No internet trolls were harmed in the making of this opinion.


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