The bolt action rifle has been with us for nearly 200 years and remains a favorite of hunters, range shooters, military snipers and collectors. Its appeal lies in its simplicity, accuracy, reliability, affordability and ease of maintenance. Lots of people also appreciate its classic profile.
If you are in search of a new sport rifle you’d be wise to consider getting a high-quality bolt action rifle. Below, we’ve brought together 10 of the best bolt action rifles on the market today.
1. Savage Axis II Bolt Action
When it comes to high-quality bolt action rifles it’s hard to say one is clearly the best when compared to all the others. But if we have to choose one to start our list we can’t think of a more worthy rifle than the Savage Axis II. The Axis II is beautifully balanced, has a profile that acknowledges the past while living in the present, comes with a factory mounted 3-9×40 scope and will chamber 10 different rounds.
The Axis II also has a fully adjustable AccuTrigger, a light and comfortable synthetic stock and a detachable box magazine. The action on the bolt is smooth like butter, and the dual position tang safety is both effective and conveniently located. No matter how you look at it, the Axis II is one of the great overall values in bolt action rifles.
2. Tikka T3X Long Range Tactical Rifle
The Tikka T3X Long Range Tactical Rifle provides an extremely stable platform capable of enabling precise shots over great distances. Isn’t that what you want your hunting rifle to do? From the modular chassis that accepts a range of AR grips to the Teflon coated bolt that provides smooth as silk action and the adjustable stock, the T3X is purpose built to deliver.
Of course, such a versatile, lightweight, dependable, state-of-the-art bolt action rifle is going to set you back more than a few Benjamins. But if you live for the perfect shot and you can make the stretch it would be hard to argue against having one of these puppies in the cabinet.
3. Bergara B-14 HMR
The Bergara B-14 HMR has an aggressive profile that announces its intention to put your round where you want it to go. The molded stock is light and svelte and bears little resemblance to the typical hunting stock. But when combined with features like the aluminum bedding block and QD bipod it’s going to give you the best chance to take out your target.
The 3 pound trigger occupies the middle ground and is a good all-purpose weight for hunting and matches. The action is very smooth and satisfying and the 5 round AICS mag can easily be swapped out for 10 rounder. With its attractive price point, rock-solid build quality and versatility the Bergara B-14 HMR is going to find a lot of fans.
4. Remington Model 700 Bolt Action
If you’re fond of simple, classic design, comfort and reliability meet the Remington Model 700 Bolt Action rifle. The 700 has been around for a half century and remains relevant because of its simple, low-maintenance dependability and accuracy. The 700 is light, has an adjustable trigger and chambers a .308 Win, which is one of the most, if not the most, popular big-game cartridge in existence.
The 700 is not here to break any molds or take hunting in a new direction. It’s here to reassure you that there is still a place in the post-modern, digital world for simple, effective, affordable tools that are well thought out and well-built.
5. Ruger Precision Rifle
The Ruger Precision Rifle is in many ways, at the other end of the bolt action spectrum from the Remington Model 700. While the 700 sports classic lines and familiar features for hunters to snuggle up to, the Ruger offers up a head-snapping design and components intended to put rounds in the bullseye at 400 yards.
At around 11 pounds, the Ruger Precision Rifle is heavy. Then again it’s not meant to be slung and carried miles through the wild in pursuit of big game. It’s a precision rifle for precision match shooting. Action is smooth and clean, and there’s an optional Magnum Muzzle Brake to absorb recoil from magnum rounds.
6. Savage 110 Bolt Action Rifle
Like it’s cousin the Axis II the Savage 110 Bolt Action Rifle is an impressive value that does not disappoint when it comes to performance. It features the Savage fully adjustable AccuTrigger, a 5 round detachable box magazine and it’s chambered for .450 Bushmaster rounds that will take down both elk and moose.
The 110 has an 18 inch barrel that helps keep the weight down, provides a forward Picatinny rail mount for your optics (although, unlike the Axis II you’ll have to provide your own scope), and a synthetic stock that’s light and comfortable. If large game are your thing the Savage 110 should be on your shopping list.
7. Ruger Precision Rimfire Rifle
If you’re not concerned with taking down moose or elk but just want a high-quality sport rifle for the range or small game, the Ruger Precision Rimfire is an outstanding choice. It features an adjustable trigger so you can find your sweet spot, can accommodate mags of up to 25 rounds, and has an adjustable bolt that lets you mimic a full-size centerfire rifle.
The Ruger Precision Rimfire chassis is fashioned from glass-filled nylon that’s light and tough, and features a cold-hammer-forged 26 inch barrel that guides the round to its final destination. At under $500 this is a good entry level, small game rifle or a rifle for those days when you just feel like having some fun at the range.
8. Remington 783 Bolt Action
The 783 is another Remington bolt action rifle that makes an outstanding everyday, or entry level rifle. It’s accurate, reliable, affordable and boasts classic lines that need no justification. The CrossFire trigger is set to a default of 3 1/2 pounds, but can be adjusted to your tastes. The 783 is light and comfortable and has a free-floating barrel that helps promote accuracy.
Action is smooth and dependable, the SuperCell recoil pad gives your shoulder a break, the factory mounted 3-9×32 scope is very serviceable and the 2-position thumb safety is effective and easy to engage. The 783 costs about half what a good smartphone costs. We know which one we’d rather spend our money on.
9. Thompson Center Compass II
The Thompson Center Compass II is another affordable bolt action rifle with classic design overtones. But it’s more than a pretty face. It has an adjustable trigger and will chamber 10 different rounds. It’s light and well-balanced and offers smooth, reliable action.
You can take the Compass II along whether you’re heading to the range, to grab some small game, or if you’re in pursuit of deer, or even elk. Perhaps best of all, the Compass II can be had for about the price of an iPad, and will be relevant about 20 times as long.
10. Mossberg MVP LC Bolt Action Rifle
The last of our best bolt action rifles is the Mossberg MVP LC. If you just glanced at it for a moment you could be forgiven for thinking it was a semi-automatic because it doesn’t embody any of the classic design cues we associate with the iconic bolt action. But a bolt action it is, and an outstanding one at that.
The resemblance between the MVP LC and a semi-automatic goes beyond just its profile. It’s also chambered for 5.56mm NATO rounds and accepts AR-15 mags. The trigger is fully adjustable down to 2 lbs and up to 7 lbs, it’s very light and interacts with your shoulder via a mil-spec Magpul CTR 6-position collapsing buttstock.
What is a Bolt Action Rifle?
Repeating rifles offer 4 different types of action: bolt action, lever action (1), pump action (2) and semi-automatic action. For those who don’t know, “action” is defined as the method used by the rifle to handle the ammunition (3). That is, to load the ammo, lock it in place, fire it and extract the spent shell. With the bolt action rifle, pulling the bolt back removes the spent shell from the chamber and ejects it. Once the spent casing is ejected a new cartridge is pushed up from the clip and then locked in place by pushing the bolt forward and locking it down.
The bolt action was more or less perfected by the end of the 19th century and has seen only modest refinements in materials etc, since then. It is an extremely dependable type of action that almost never jams and allows the user a level of engagement with their weapon that semi-automatics can’t.
What are the Benefits of a Bolt Action Rifle?
The bolt action rifle has been around a long time now and despite remarkable advances made in firearms technology over the past century, it has managed to retain its place among the pantheon of legendary weapons. The reasons for this are many, but primarily come down to…
Dependability – It’s hard to pick one benefit of the bolt action rifle to start this list with. But dependability is as good as any. The bolt action is renowned for its reliability which is one of the main reasons people choose them over semi-automatics. The general rule with mechanical devices is that the fewer moving parts, the fewer things that can go wrong. And that is certainly the case with the bolt action rifle. Unless someone has a compelling need for a semi-automatic, choosing one over a bolt action really doesn’t make a lot of sense. But to each their own, of course.
Ease of use – The action of the bolt action rifle is as uncomplicated as the rifle itself. Some people revel in this simplicity, taking their time working the bolt, chambering the next round, lining up the next shot. Not to get too carried away, but there’s something almost sacramental about it. You really have a sense of control over the rifle that is sometimes lacking with a semi-automatic. That sense of control is magnified even further by fact that the bolt action is typically lighter than a semi-automatic. And, just as a bit of icing on the cake, the small number of moving parts and the simplicity of the rifle also means that it is much easier to maintain than a semi-automatic.
Accuracy – The combination of light weight and simplicity helps produce a degree of accuracy that is hard to match. It’s one of the reasons (though not the only one) snipers have historically preferred bolt action rifles over semi-automatics. Also, some (not everyone) think the bolt action to be a better balanced rifle than the semi-automatic, and that this also contributes to the rifle’s accuracy.
Versatility – Although things like balance and accuracy are open for debate, one thing that is beyond dispute about the bolt action rifle is its versatility. Bolt action rifles will accommodate a range of ammo types, including custom ammo. So whether you need to chamber a light, fast round or one intended to pack maximum wallop, the bolt action has you covered in a way a semi-automatic doesn’t.
Affordability – In most cases a quality bolt action will cost less than a quality semi-automatic. This is largely a function of that simplicity we keep talking about. There are fewer parts to manufacture and the rifle is much easier to assemble. Both of those things work to keep costs down. While there are exceptions to every rule, for the most part the bolt action is the more affordable choice.
Power – As we mentioned, the bolt action rifle will chamber an array of different ammo. That includes even the longest and most powerful magnum rounds. Say you’ve got your heart set on taking down some woolly mammoth and want a bolt action that will chamber a .458 win mag or a .458 Lott. No problem. Contrast that to an AR that currently tops out with the .308 win. “Wait a minute!” you say, “What about 50 BMG semi-automatics?” Yes, there is such a beast, but they are hard to get your hands on and can set you back to the tune of $2,000 – $3,000 or more. Contrast that to .458 win mags that can be had for less than $1,000.
Other benefits – Additional benefits that come with the bolt action rifle include the more stealthy profile, the fact that the bolt action is typically quieter than a semi-automatic and the fact that you have greater control over the discharge of the shell.
Things To Consider With a Bolt Action Rifle
If you don’t have a lot of experience with bolt action rifles it can be difficult to tell a good one from a bad one. So, we’ve compiled a short list of some of the things you’ll want to look for.
Trigger – The quality of the trigger is extremely important, especially if you want to take advantage of some of the benefits of having a bolt action rifle. The trigger can be as light as a pound or two, or as heavy as 5 pounds for hunting. Whatever weight you choose the trigger needs to be consistent, with nice smooth action. The action of the bolt should also be smooth and essentially effortless.
Feel – How the rifle feels, the ergonomics of the rifle, has a lot to do with your experience of the gun. The feel of the rifle should be comfortable and solid and the stock should facilitate proper technique and enable you to control recoil. Overall, the rifle should be well-balanced and promote proper technique. The weight of your bolt action rifle will depend in large part on its intended use. If you are a range shooter you’ll probably want a heavier rifle because it’s more stable and produces less recoil. If you’re a hunter you’ll likely want something lighter that enables movement and doesn’t weigh you down.
Accuracy – Accuracy is one of the strongest selling points of the bolt action. So if yours is coming up short in the accuracy department then something is wrong, either with your technique or with the rifle itself. If the problem is your technique that can be corrected with practice. But sometimes the problem lies elsewhere. Accuracy problems can pop up with a discount bolt actions that look good but hide subtle design flaws or inconsistencies. For instance, sometimes the bolt does not lock down completely. This can cause vibration in the barrel that affects accuracy.
The finish – Obviously taste is subjective. What floats one person’s boat is not going to appeal to someone else. The important thing is that you get a rifle that speaks to you. Fortunately, there are all types of finishes available from blued, to anodized, to cerakote, nickel boron and more. As for stocks, some folks are all-in on classic wooden stocks, while others will prefer a laminate stock, fiberglass stock or even a plastic stock. If shedding weight is your primary concern and you have the money to spend, consider a carbon fiber stock.
Why Do Snipers Use Bolt Action Rifles?
While semi-automatics have made inroads in recent years among the sniper fraternity, bolt actions still tend to be the go-to choice. There are three primary reasons for that:
#1: Accuracy – When you have one shot that has to hit its mark, the bolt action is the way to go.
#2: Variety – Semi-automatics certainly have their upside but they can’t compete when it comes to the number of different ammo types you can chamber in a bolt action rifle. That includes ammo that is well-suited to long range accuracy.
#3: Reliability – Largely due to its simple construction and few moving parts, the bolt action is an extremely reliable firearm. Reliability matters when your job is to take out hostiles over long distances.
What do People Use Bolt Action Rifles For?
There are three primary uses for the bolt action rifle. The most popular use is for hunting because, with their renowned accuracy, you have a good chance of bagging your game even at a significant distance. Some people use them exclusively on the range. But for most people, the range is just for practice. They want to be able to bag that trophy when they get out in the field. Finally, bolt actions are the weapon of choice for many, if not most, snipers. Although, the number of snipers in the armed forces is small, and some say, dwindling (4).
Do Bolt Action Rifles Ever Jam or Malfunction?
The bolt action is widely considered the most dependable type of rifle. But nothing is perfect and jams and malfunctions have been known to happen, albeit rarely. When jams do occur in bolt action rifles the problem can usually be traced to the ammo. Another possibility is that the gun owner has not maintained the weapon properly. This can lead to fouling (5) which, in turn, can cause damage to the chamber, firing mechanism and/or the ejector. Fouling can get so bad that parts can actually fuse together. When this happens you have major problems.
Can You Use a Bolt Action for Dry Fire Practice?
If your bolt action rifle is new or relatively new, dry firing should not cause any harm, although dry firing is not recommended if you have a rare weapon, simply because if something goes wrong it may be difficult to find parts. That said, you might want to use dummy rounds (6) or “snap caps” anyway, just to add a layer of protection for your firing pin. Again, though, most modern bolt action rifles are dry fire friendly, so it’s up to you.
Are Bolt Actions More Accurate Than Lever Action Rifles?
The conversation around accuracy typically involves the bolt action vs the semi-automatic. But what about the lever action rifle? Is the bolt action more accurate than the lever as well? Generally, yes. Bolt action rifles are normally heavier than lever action rifles, and weight is important for stability, and stability is crucial for accuracy etc. The tubular clip of the lever action rifle can also have a negative effect on stability, and, as a result, accuracy.
The Bottom Line
The bolt action rifle remains the go-to rifle for accuracy and dependability here in the 21st century. Like the bicycle, it’s an example of a simple, highly effective technology that has remained essentially unchanged – except for materials and manufacturing processes – for more than a hundred years.
Bolt action rifles are a favorite with hunters worldwide not just because of their accuracy but because they are light, affordable, easy to maintain and rarely jam. If you are in search of a new hunting or range rifle you can’t lose with one of the outstanding bolt action rifles on the above list.