Why are bolt-action rifles still around?

This is a discussion on Why are bolt-action rifles still around? within the Defensive Rifles & Shotgun Discussion forums, part of the Related Topics category; Now I am really going to show my ignorance with this question...but here goes. I've wondered about this for awhile but the thought has been ...

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Thread: Why are bolt-action rifles still around?

  1. #1
    Distinguished Member Array DefConGun's Avatar
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    Why are bolt-action rifles still around?

    Now I am really going to show my ignorance with this question...but here goes.

    I've wondered about this for awhile but the thought has been rekindled again from a couple of different shows I've seen in the past couple of days. With today's technology, I would imagine that something as old as bolt-action technology would have long ago seen its days of effectiveness. In the past two days, however, I've seen two different shows that have to do with snipers and sniper rifles and on both shows, something was said to the effect that a bolt-action is more accurate than a semi-automatic.

    My question is why? What makes bolt-actions more accurate than semi-autos? With today's technology, why haven't we found something that is more effective than a bolt-action?

    Any insight you can provide is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    DCG

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  3. #2
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    There are a couple of reasons. Bolt actions have a lot of steel in them so they are stiff. The stiffness allows for less flex under recoil impetus, this helps. Second, bolt actions are easy to bed and to free float. The bedding keeps the action from twisting, pinching or binding under recoil and contributes to accracy. The propper bedding OR free floating of a barrel helps with the harmonics of the barrel and this, again, really helps with accuracy. Also because they have been around so long most gun makers have had 60 to 100 years with their own designs to work out the bugs and to improve the triggers. Add all this up, if you have a stiff, strong, tried and true action bedded in a solid bedding with a free floated barrel you are going to have a very accurate weapon. With the power behind most full size rifle cartridges a first shot hit means that a fast reload isn't needed.

    There are some very accurate semi autos out there but they generally take more work, time and money to perfect. Economically speaking the bolt action is still the top dog. It can be made and made right for less money and it still does the same job as most semi autos. First shots count more than follow ups.
    It is surely true that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make them drink. Nor can you make them grateful for your efforts.

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    Senior Member Array SFury's Avatar
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    Bolt actions also allow for a lighter gun too. Think of how little is needed for the action compared to a semi-auto, or lever action rifle.

    They are a simple and effective design. You don't really have issues with them. I prefer the bolt action rifle to any other for those reasons.

    My Father's old semi-auto 30.06 weighed almost 13 lbs. The bolt action .270 he replaced it with weighs just under 8 lbs. With all the gear we carry in during the cold Wisconsin gun season cutting out extra weight helps tremendously.

    Granted, when a bolt action rifle has issues, it's like a revolver. You're most likely done with the firearm until you visit a gunsmith. It's the one downside to that type of rifle.

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    "What makes bolt-actions more accurate than semi-autos?"

    That is becoming much less true these days especially with regard to the AR platform rifles which has been advanced to the degree that they can now be made to be incredibly accurate tack drivers.

    The first Israeli Military Industries Galil (a refined & completely re-engineered AK) w/ its 1/12 twist rate is also extremely accurate with the proper bullet weight.

    That having been said the "bolt action" rifles are very likely here to stay.

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    Along with what has already been said the simple fact is simplicity.

    The bolt gun locks up the same way everytime by design. This ability allows for the 1st shot, the cold bore shot, to have the same POA and POI as the last round fired.

    As a general rule a semi auto anything will lock up differently especially on the first shot where the action was worked by hand to chamber a round. Whether you rack it fast or slow, hard or soft it will lock up differently. Now here is where the fun comes in. High end semi auto sniper systems and handguns are hand fitted and assembled to make sure that it locks up the same way everytime so that first shot accuracy can be obtained but this can be time consuming and expensive.

    When shooting a semi auto anything rifle or pistol for accuracy I put the first round off the target to let the weapon "mechanically seat or time itself" for the lack of a better phrase and fire the group from there. You have to realize the most important shot for a Police or Military marksman is the first one and it must go right where he needs it to, everything after that is just icing on the cake.
    "A first rate man with a third rate gun is far better than the other way around". The gun is a tool, you are the craftsman that makes it work. There are those who say "if I had to do it, I could" yet they never go out and train to do it. Don't let stupid be your mindset. Harryball 2013

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    Member Array beni's Avatar
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    It's quite simple. People are still buying them. As long as there is a demand for bolt action rifles the market will continue to supply that demand.
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    Surprised nobody had mentioned cost... Bolt actions in rifle calibers are typically cheaper than a semi-auto version. Not everybody can drop a grand on a rifle.

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    VIP Member Array Rob99VMI04's Avatar
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    A few states do not allow hunting with Semi autos. Therefore, a bolt gun is a very viable option. Plus there is a lot of history in a bolt action. People also have a tendency to buy and use what they where first taught to shoot. Boy Scouts, teach with a single shot bolt action. Many folks hunted with Dad or Grandpa with a bolt gun. I just got my dad into hunting he killed his first deer last year at age 60. He used a Lever action .308 Winchester M88 pre 1964 I bought for him 3 years ago. Now he is chomping at the bit to shoot a deer with his 1924L Sport Mauser. THis gun has been in the family for over 60 years and has never havested a deer. I can't wait for deer season.
    Last edited by Rob99VMI04; July 20th, 2011 at 01:46 PM.
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    Distinguished Member Array DefConGun's Avatar
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    Thanks for all of the wonderful answers. It has definitely shed some light for me. It sounds like technology is closing the gap between bolt & semi-auto but isn't it amazing at how such an old design has remained to be viable for so long?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob99VMI04 View Post
    A few states do not allow hunting with Semi autos. Therefore, a bolt gun is a very viable option. Plus there is a lot of history and in a bolt action. People also have a tendency to buy and use what they where first taught to shoot. Boy Scouts, teach with a single shot bolt action. Many folks hunted with Dad or Grandpa with a bolt gun. I just got my dad into hunting he killed his first deer last year at age 60. He used a Lever action .308 Winchester M88 pre 1964 I bought for him 3 years ago. Now he is chomping at the bit to shoot a deer with his 1924L Sport Mauser. THis gun has been in the family for over 60 years and has never havested a deer. I can't wait for deer season.
    Very cool. I hope it all works out well & that your dad gets a deer!

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    I enjoy playing with rifles from off the bench rest at the range. I love to handload and appreciate the convenience of not having to chase down brass cases that are gritty from plopping in the dirt.

    The better bolt actions are tough and accurate. Their day is far from through.

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    VIP Member Array dukalmighty's Avatar
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    One more reason is for Military snipers,in a situation where they are in Indian terrirory something as little as a semi-auto ejecting a brass case can give away their position where they can eject and catch a spent case in a bolt gun,also chances of a bolt gun failing to go into battery or jamming are a lot less when you are working the action and not relying on gases coupled with environment like sand or cold weather gumming up the action enough to prevent the bolt from going fully closed
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    Distinguished Member Array claude clay's Avatar
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    the comment about 'dropping a thousand' on a rifle....much of the cost and a great deal of a rifles accuracy is in how the rifling is made. button swaged , hammer forged or cut rifled.

    each method has its advantages and depending on how well the process is done at the manufacturing level determines much of the rifles assembled accuracy.

    a good action with a good barrel and trigger set proper in the stock; seldom under $1000 plus the glass figure closer to $2000 for a rifle that will be print at 1000 yards a 6" group

    in 1998 a friend that has a metal working machine shop and i took 3 Remington 700's in 308 and blue-printed them.
    including the glass ( Burris 8 x 32 ) they came in at $1750 each. we shot a great deal at 1000 yards and all 3 were under 6"
    we sold one and still each have the others. my daughter will get mine.
    along with the dies that we cut for the chambers and the brass that belongs to each gun.

    technology has not changed enough in the intervening years such that we could build anything better today at the same price.
    and paying more is not going to get you any that much better.

    anyone for zombies at 1000 yards?
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    Distinguished Member Array MinistrMalic's Avatar
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    There you go: it's a combination of cost, accuracy, and dependability. For a sniper, having your location given away by spent casings gleaming in the sunlight is a bad idea. For a hunter, maximum accuracy is the goal and a bolt-action is still usually more accurate out of the box. Finally, a really accurate semi-auto is usually very expensive, and a lot of people can't afford that. For me, my elk gun is a Weatherby Vanguard bolt action chambered in 7mm Rem Mag. One shot, one kill, super accurate, fairly light, and I picked it up with a nice Leupold scope on it for $450.
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    Not to mention that some gun folks tend to be sentimentalists.

    Bolt actions are still around for the same reasons that black powder rifles, ball and cap revolvers, side by side shotguns, and the Colt SAA are still around. There is something newer that can do the job of any of those more efficiently, but that doesn't necessarily make it better.
    JDE101 likes this.
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