By Luke Brandenburg

Although many modern shooters don’t know it, the bolt action has been used for almost two centuries in rifles. Learn why the bolt action rifle is the most common choice for hunters today!

When it comes to rifles, one of the longest living and heated debates revolves around the action. As with all the other firearm options, there are pros and cons to every style. The key, as always, is to learn the advantages of each action type and choose the one that works best for your personal needs.

Bolt Action Rifle History

Although the first bolt action rifle was actually produced in 1824 by a German inventor and manufacturer. It wasn’t until 1864 that the first one saw combat. The Palmer carbine became the first bolt action to be used for combat in America during the civil war.

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Throughout the rest of the 19th century, inventors and armies around the world continued to develop the bolt action rifle. By the time World War I came around, all of the armies involved in the combat were giving their troops bolt action rifles. Although it was superseded by the semi-automatic rifle by World War II, the bolt action still holds a significant place in battle among sniper units. Today, the bolt action rifle is widely used for hunting.

Advantages of a Bolt Action Rifle

Modern bolt action rifles represent some of the strongest and most accurate firearms in existence today. There is a reason that most hunters prefer bolt actions (besides the fact that they are so easily available).

A Rifle You Can Depend On

The dependability of the bolt action rifle is widely known and respected. Most believe that this dependability is the biggest advantage bolt actions have over semi-automatic rifles. As with any other mechanical tool, the simple design of the bolt action stands behind its reliability. There is just not that many things that can go wrong with it.

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Semi-automatic actions are much more complex with many more moving parts. They can be very vulnerable to feed failures and various other problems. Bolt action rifles have a very long track record of getting the job done time and time again, even in the toughest of conditions.

Ease of Use

Another big advantage of the simple bolt action design is its ease of use. You don’t have to be an expert in firearms or have any mechanical background to understand how the action works. This makes it much easier for the majority of shooters to use. Not to mention, the maintenance on it is much less complicated than with a semi-automatic.

The lack of moving parts in the action also make the gun slightly lighter. Even the smallest amount of weight reduction can make a huge difference to a novice shooter. Light weight guns are easier to carry and move around without making any noise. Extra weight makes getting the rifle into the firing position difficult, especially for those who don’t use the firearm often.

Deadly Accuracy

The idea that the bolt action is more accurate than the semi-automatic action is still a subject up for debate. However, the general rule used by most shooters for years has been that bolt actions offer better accuracy.

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This, again, can be partly traced back to its simple design that keeps unnecessary movements from effecting the bullet trajectory. Another contributing factor could be that most bolt action rifles feature one piece stocks that can better support the barrel and action than a two piece stock can.

Great Versatility

While some shooters can contest the accuracy advantage of the bolt action, no one can argue that the bolt action offers better versatility than the semi-auto. Bolt action rifles are available in almost every caliber made today, and once you choose a caliber, they won’t limit the type of ammo you choose for that caliber. Bolt actions can work with a wide range of ammunition from slow and heavy to fast and light. They can also fire custom brass ammo.

Along with greater ammo and caliber flexibility, bolt actions also offer better scope variety. They work well with a range of traditional and cutting-edge scope designs. Bolt action rifles also provide better flexibility at close to long range engagement, and allow you to free float the barrel if needed.

Less Painful to Purchase

When it comes time to make the final decision on a rifle, finding the semi-automatic you want could be difficult. Once you do find it, getting it at the right price may be even more challenging. Bolt action rifles are easily accessible at your local gun shop and cost less to manufacture. This makes them much less expensive in general.

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Other Advantages

There are several other advantages to bolt action rifles, although many of them are more tactical in nature. One of the most obvious and basic advantages of the bolt action revolves around the discharge of the shell after firing. While a semi-automatic may throw the shell several feet into the air, you can discreetly grab the empty casing after firing with a bolt action.

Bolt actions are also a little bit quieter, work better for suppression, and have a smaller visible profile than semi-automatic rifles if you’re really trying to stay hidden.

Bolt Action Disadvantages

Although the bolt action rifle is the best choice for most shooters, the semi-automatic does have it beat in two key areas. The recoil of a large caliber bolt action rifle can be quite significant for many shooters. Semi-automatics offer greatly reduced recoil, and for some hunters, that one factor makes them worth it.

The other obvious disadvantage of the bolt action is the rate of fire. No matter how good you get at it operating your bolt action rifle, you will never reach get the same rate of fire that you could with a semi-automatic. While this could come into play in some hunting situations, most hunters don’t need to fire another round seconds after firing the first one from a high powered rifle. The bolt action is easily sufficient for the majority of hunting scenarios.

Unless recoil is your top priority, there are few reasons why you should choose anything but a bolt action rifle for hunting. However, you should still take a look at several options if possible. It is always better to get a feel for what you really like before spending your hard earned money on a certain gun just because someone like me told you it was the best choice!