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The Best Bolt Action Rifle
Hunters today have a wide variety of choice in the types of firearms they can purchase and the best bolt action rifle historically remains consistent as one of the most popular firearm types for hunting.
The best bolt action rifle offers the shooter an excellent balance of strength, reliability, durability and accuracy. It has a lighter weight than self-loading guns and it is easier to disassemble to clean and then re-assemble because it has fewer moving parts.
The best bolt action firearms are primarily rifles though there are also bolt action shotguns and even a few bolt action handguns.
From the end of the 19th century until after both World Wars, the best bolt action rifle was the standard firearm for most of the military infantrymen in the world.
How Does A Bolt Action Rifle Work?
The name bolt action is given to a firearm on which the weapon's bolt is manually operated by a small handle which opens and closes the breech (barrel), typically from the right side (for right-handed users).
As the user operates the handle, the bolt is unlocked and the breech is opened, then the fired cartridge case is ejected and the firing pin is cocked. A new cartridge (if available and/or required) is put into the breech then the bolt is closed.
The disadvantage of the best bolt action rifle is a slightly lower practical rate of fire when compared to other manual repeaters, like pump-action or lever-action rifles. The generally superior accuracy compensates in various ways for this limitation.
Different Design Approaches To Bolt Actions
There are three major designs of bolt action systems.
The Mauser system is the most common and used by almost all modern hunting rifles. The Mauser is the “cock on opening” action previously described. The upward rotation of the bolt to open the breech cocks the action.
The Lee-Enfield system is a “cock on closing” process. The forward thrust of the bolt in this case cocks the action. This can be used with modern magnum rounds and is found on some .50 caliber BMG rifles today. Continuous use and the use of higher-pressure hand loads can lead to “stretching” and too much headspace, which can be adjusted by replacing the Lee-Enfield bolt head with a different size one if required.
The Mosin-Nagant bolt system is a complicated arrangement using a separate bolt head which rotates with the bolt and the bearing lugs. Although the Mosin-Nagant bolt action system is used on the highest volume-produced bolt action firearm in history, it lends almost none of its design elements to modern bolt action firearms engineering.
Additionally, like the Lee-Enfield system, the Mosin-Nagant bolt action guns are unsuitable for modern high-pressure and “magnum” type cartridges due to their design and manufactured strength which limits the firearms to lower-pressure cartridges.
All Bolt Action Rifles Need To Be Maintained And Adjusted Properly
When purchasing a bolt action rifle preowned, have the headspace checked by a gunsmith or armorer with a headspace gauge to make sure it is correct to prevent damage to chambers and brass.
When purchasing dual military/civilian rifles (rifles brought home from wars and converted for hunting), be sure they are safe for modern ammunition.
Military ammo has harder primers and thicker brass so be very cautious with them. The bolt and action assemblies come factory “fitted” because the trigger, headspace and locking lugs have to do their part together as a precision unit.
The trigger must function in an exact way, the headspace must be accurate and the locking lugs must bear weight equally for the bolt and action to work as it should.
The factory includes a rifle serial number applied to the action and to the bolt to indicate they are a matched pair. If you find a rifle that you are considering buying that has mismatched serial numbers, it is potentially dangerous to shoot and should be considered unsafe until you have it checked out thoroughly by a competent armorer or gunsmith.
It's All About What You Want And Need In A Firearm
Choosing the ultimate in deer hunting rifles can be overwhelming due to all the choices in designs and calibers, stocks and barrels, and actions that are available.
It largely becomes a matter of personal preferences based on what you hunt and where you hunt it. The 223 bolt action rifle types have made an astounding appearance in sheer numbers because so many hunters want to shoot smaller game and varmints during the off-season from their big game hunts.
Aaron Pass, a noted hunter and hunting writer, states that as far as the caliber needed for deer hunting rifles, for all-round deer hunting purposes a cartridge capable of shooting a 120 to 150 grain bullet faster than 2,500 fps (feet per second) is satisfactory out to 200 yards or so.
Remember that as velocity increases, so will the effective range of the bullet. Within those parameters, caliber becomes a matter of your personal choice.
Thoughts On Choosing Deer Hunting Rifles
In Chuck Hawks' online hunting column, he recommends thinking about selecting deer hunting rifles in terms of whether you are hunting in woods and brush country or in long range country.
In brush and woods country where shots are generally within 200 yards or less, you can use short action cartridges. These cartridges have plenty of reach and power for the hunting conditions you are facing but the rifle firing them is slightly shorter and handier when you are moving and stalking game animals.
Deer hunting rifles for long range need to be able to handle shots of from 200 yards, to over 300 yards or more. Select a rifle with a maximum point blank range (MPBR) of +/-3inches at around 300 yards. Adding a variable power scope in the 3-9x40mm range will be a good complement to any of these firearms.
Quality examples of woods and brush rifles are the Browning AR Mar II Lightweight Stalker, which is gas operated and has a significantly reduced recoil, and the Kimber Model 84M Classic, which is one of the best bolt action rifles and is one of the best handling firearms available.
Others are the Marlin Model 336, the Remington Model Seven, and the Ruger No. 1. The Ruger Model 77 bolt action rifle is considered one of the finest bolt actions manufactured in the United States.
Recommended examples of great medium to long range deer hunting rifles for open country hunting include the Browning A-Bolt II Medallion, which is one of the smoothest operating and best bolt action rifles with 60 degree bolt operation and excellent accuracy, and the Ruger No. 1, which has a 26 inch barrel.
The Remington Model 700 is the best-selling bolt action rifle in the history of firearms and it is available in a variety of calibers.
The Weatherby Mark V Accumark is a highly accurate rifle with a synthetic stock plus a stainless barrel and the Weatherby Mark V Deluxe comes with a gorgeous patterned walnut stock and an adjustable trigger mechanism.
The Weatherby Vanguard SUB-MOA is a stainless/synthetic that is weather-resistant.
Not All Game Has Antlers
Not all rifles are used to hunt deer and other big game. Sometimes you may need a rifle to take care of problems with unwanted animals on your property.
Varmints are non-game animals that are destructive to your native or domestic animals and vegetation. Groundhogs, gophers, possums, coyotes, weasels, skunks, raccoons, feral hogs, crows, rats, rabbits and many other small animals can invade your property and do tremendous damage.
While in a great many cases a proven and capable rifle like the venerable Winchester .30-30 can (and often does) take care of them (many ranch trucks keep a fast-handling lever-gun handy for varmint problems that arise), there are certain characteristics that are more helpful to have in, for instance, dedicated varmint hunting rifles.
The Savage Bolt Action And Other Bolt Action Models For Varmint Hunting
Varmint hunting rifles often have heavier barrels because the extra mass of the heavier barrel absorbs the heat of repeated fire and reduces the felt recoil.
It's a fine distinction, but varmints are said to be hunted. . .and normally, with a few notable exceptions, they are not generally stalked in the way other game is.
The shooter establishes him or herself in a fixed position, often with a 223 bolt action rifle, usually using sandbag rests, a bipod or shooting sticks for extra stability. Since there normally are no bag limits on varmints, many shots, even up into the thousands, may be fired over the course of a day's shooting.
Varmint hunting rifles often have stocks with wider forends to stabilize their weight on shooting bags and various types of rifle rests. They also include high combs on the upper portion of the buttstock for proper cheek placement (generally called cheek weld) providing easier use with high-powered optics.
These rifles generally do not include open sights because the magnifying optics allow for a much more accurate shot on very small and distant targets. Since varmints are smaller prey than deer, large caliber bullets are not generally needed.
Lightweight bullets give a flat trajectory and that makes range estimation less important for shot-to-shot accuracy and calibers as small as .14 are used, often with exceptionally high starting velocities like the Savage B Mag and the Savage 17 WSM.
The newer .20 caliber .204 Ruger is nicely suited to varmint hunting although the .22 caliber centerfire cartridges have historically been the most popular by a wide margin.
Nearly all varmint guns are rifles but there are several very capable pistols as well in that category that can more than hold their own, like the popular Thompson-Center G2 Contender and Encore single-shot pistols in addition to bolt action specialty pistols by Savage, Remington and a few other manufacturers.
In urban areas, air rifles are more suitable choices for varmint hunting rifles for safety and noise reasons. Where firearms are not legal for use, or their use is impractical, the limited penetration and noise of air gun pellets will not usually disturb the neighbors.
Air guns are also capable of surprising accuracy, making them a good option in many urban situations where they are allowed as well as in many rural applications that don't call for an actual firearm.
Some great varmint hunting rifles include the semi-automatic AR 15 Varmint, the CZ 527 Varmint, the Rock River Arms Predator Pursuit Rifle and the Savage 223 bolt action rifle Model 116. Also notable are the Weatherby Vanguard, the Ruger 12 series, the Rock River Arms Varmint A4 and the Mossberg® MVP Varmint Rifle.
The AR 15 rifle type has really come on strong in the last decade due to the wide proliferation of manufacturers and the resulting lower costs available to consumers from competition. AR 15 rifles and their clones can be exceptional varmint rifles, competing with the best 223 bolt action rifles on a very even footing. You may find that the best bolt action rifle for you is, in fact, not a 223 bolt action rifle at all, but a semi-automatic AR 15 or clone.
The aspiring varmint hunter will have no difficulty in finding suitable firearms with which to pursue this extremely interesting and challenging activity.
Rifles With Bolt Actions Come In Many Configurations
Regardless of whether the game you hunt is large or small or somewhere in between, there are a great many high quality bolt action firearms worthy of being called the best bolt action rifles.
They're commonly used for big game and deer hunting rifles as well as specialty varmint hunting rifles and target rifles as well.
There is undoubtedly a suitable bolt action rifle in an extremely useful configuration available in your area that will meet your specialized individual hunting and shooting requirements, so choose the best bolt action for your hunting needs and get out in the fresh air so you can have some fun with it!