What Makes A Bolt Action Rifle Great?

    There are many factors to consider before shelling out your hard earned cash on a bolt action rifle, and in this video we go through a few characteristics that we feel are desirable. As some of the least restricted firearms in the world, people in almost any country can obtain a bolt gun and while there is no one size fits all rifle, this may help you narrow your choices.

    Transcript …

    – [Voiceover] What makes a bolt action rifle great? Or rather, better than the competition? Well, for me, there are a few things I look for, being something of a bolt action aficionado.

    They are my favorite guns to shoot, the most fun to run with haste, and the guns most commonly used to hunt around the world.

    Hunting laws vary from state to state and country to country, but across most of the U.S.

    and Europe, and of course elsewhere, the dominant system for hunting is the bolt action.

    While double rifles are used for large game in Africa somewhat commonly, their price is offputting to all but the most well-off or dedicated sportsman.

    Elsewhere, the humble bolt gun is king because of the number of manufacturers, reliability, capacity, affordability, and, usually, strength.

    The reason your friends might get jealous if you tell them you have a pristine large ring Mauser action just sitting around is because it can take everything from your poodle shooting cartridges, all the way up to 375 H and H, or 458 Winchester.

    Really, a large ring action to a gunsmith is like a blank canvas to an artist.

    No gun has an after market that can even compare, nor the variety of tools, options, and so on.

    There’ve been approaches to how to make the best bolt action systems.

    The German approach with the Mauser seems to have been around action strength.

    The British Lee–Enfield shines when it comes to rapid fire.

    The American Springfield and Canadian Ross rifles are exceptional target rifles, and the Mosin–Nagant is a rifle.

    But, what features make a bolt action rifle exceptional? Why did the Mauser action endure, when the Enfield and Mosin actions essentially died with the Enfield and Mosin? Well, to shed some light on this, here are a few factors that I and many hunters find desirable in a bolt gun.

    First is a fixed magazine.

    The last thing I want in a hunting rifle is a magazine I can lose in the field by bumping a lever.

    While detachable mags make sense in a modern military application, this is not a good feature in a hunting rifle.

    Next, I prefer a three-position safety.

    I like the ability to lock the action on safe, or keep the rifle on safe while extracting a live round.

    You shouldn’t have to put the rifle on fire to perform a task where discharging the rifle is not intended.

    I prefer a one-piece bolt head and body.

    The French Lebel, Russian Nagant, and British Enfield all have two-piece bolt, body and heads, and this poses a problem for the Enfield, especially.

    In fact, armorers who worked on these guns would change the bolt head out as the rifles got out of head space.

    Also, it’s worth noting that, on the InRange Channel, they have had multiple Enfields go down, and, on one, the bolt head popped above the channel in one of the strangest bolt action malfunctions I’ve ever seen.

    I also prefer a way to remove the bolt that doesn’t involve pulling the trigger.

    People often cite this as not being a big deal, but it’s been beat into my head that you don’t pull the trigger of a gun unless you are intending to discharge it.

    I also strongly prefer a cock-on-open.

    While I don’t think there are any cock-on-close hunting rifles on the market, cock-on-open is superior for hunting.

    You accomplish primary extraction and cocking of the action in the first motion, and when you bolt forward, there is less resistance.

    Say you’re taking a shot at a target at 200 yards or so.

    When you’re looking through an optic, or even irons for that matter, and are bolting forward, fighting the firing pin spring results in a gun being thrown off target much more than when you use a cock-on-close rifle.

    Next up is a Mauser-style claw extractor.

    Not only does it rip the cartridge case out of the chamber with haste, and very reliably, but it facilitates controlled feed.

    Push feed exists almost entirely because of ease of manufacture and cheapness.

    A bolt action rifle for hunting should be front-locking as well.

    While rear-locking actions make sense in a military context, where sandstorms, muddy trench conditions and so on are everyday facts of life, rear-locking actions sacrifice action strength, and are more prone to case stretching.

    These are the design features I look for when considering a bolt action hunting rifle.

    Some of you all may prefer other approaches to the same problem, and, that’s fine.

    These are just what I have found suit me best over the years.

    The market has a lot of great offerings, and while not all of them have these features, I wouldn’t necessarily disqualify one for missing one of the marks.

    So, do your research, find out what works for you, and happy hunting.

    Big thanks to Ventura Munitions for helping us out with the cost of ammunition in our videos, and we hope to see you all next time.

    Alex C.

    Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.