Bolt-Action Rifles: Why You Should Hunt with One

As time has gone by, an increasing number of hunters eschew bolt actions in favor of semi-autos; it really is understandable. Semi-autos are simple to operate, easy to work on yourself, and offer a higher round count for situations where you’re hunting something like a sounder of feral hogs. But if you’re a deer hunter or just want to try something different, why not hunt with a bolt-action rifle? There are numerous pros to hunting with a bolt, and we’re going to tell you why.

winchester rifle
Winchester is renowned for their bolt-action rifles. (Photo credit: Winchester)

Bolt-Action Rifles are a Classic

The bolt-action rifle has been around for generations and is truly a classic. There’s nothing quite like using a bolt that’s been passed down in your family. Even if you don’t have an inherited gun, they remain wonderful tools. This is especially true of the classic wood stock designs that have an aesthetic reminiscent of decades past. Yes, the synthetic stock bolts are certainly rugged and well-made, but it’s just not the same.

Bolt-actions were invented in the early 1800s by German inventor Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse. At that time, the rifle worked with needle-fired cartridges, which were basically an older version of modern centerfire. That early bolt was the Dreyse rifle and it legitimately changed the face of warfare thanks to its higher rate of fire and greater accuracy. After that, bolt-actions became quite popular. Unfortunately today, it seems like they don’t see nearly as much use as they should.

Bolt-Action Rifles are Accurate — and Precise

Perhaps one of the greatest things about bolt-actions is their capability for incredible precision. A properly designed and manufactured bolt-action gives hunters an edge. It really does matter. Sometimes greater accuracy is the difference between meat in the freezer and missing a shot. It all depends on the day and the situation. Although semi-autos can certainly be precise, a quality bolt-action will always win the battle of which platforms offer superior precision. It’s another reason why it’s also a good idea to have a truly well-made bolt-action — so you get that impressive precision on target.

Bolt-Actions are Reliable and Durable

Throughout the years, I’ve had all manner of things happen during hunts. Trigger pins fell out of AR platforms, handguns refused to cycle due to getting dirty and dry, and magazines failed. Perhaps the most reliable, durable platform for hunting is the bolt-action. It’s a simpler, more straightforward operating platform that’s capable of withstanding all sorts of abuse. Furthermore, because a bolt-action requires fewer pieces than an AR platform, you don’t have as much to carry or worry about. Sure, you could get a bolt-action with a detachable box magazine, but that comes down to personal choice.

springfield bolt action rifle
Bolt-actions are available in just about every caliber imaginable. (Photo credit: Springfield)

Bolt-Actions Come in a Variety of Calibers

You can find a good bolt-action rifle chambered in just about every caliber imaginable. Whether you’re looking for a 35 Whelen, 25-06 Remington, or 416 Rigby, it’s out there. Bolt-actions range from diminutive cartridges best for prairie dogs and plinking to big bores perfect for dangerous game. If you prefer more standard options, there are plenty of 6.5 Creedmoor, 223 Remington, and 308 Winchester chambered bolt-actions.

Bolt-Action Handguns are Fun — and Effective

A good bolt-action pistol like the Nosler M48 or Remington XP-100 simply can’t be beat for hunting fun. Chambered in larger calibers, these pistols are fantastic for hunting. If you’re picturing a tiny Glock-sized pistol though, you’d be mistaken. Bolt-action pistols are larger and work best when shooting from a rest or with a bipod. For example, the Nosler M48 has a standard barrel length of 15 inches. It has a pistol grip and, as a handgun, doesn’t have a stock for shouldering. It also features a bedded action, free-floated barrel, and threaded muzzle with the latter making adding a suppressor simple.

Bolt-action pistols are excellent for hunting and add a great deal of enjoyment for shooters interested in handgun hunting or those who simply want a different approach. These guns are quite precise and, while they might require some practice, you’ll find they’re fun to shoot and addictive to hunt with.

Bolt-Actions are Lighter

While it isn’t true of every bolt-action on the market — some have very heavy chassis systems, many bolts are a lot lighter than their semi-auto counterparts. This is great for hunters who need to tote their guns deep into the fields and woods. They’re especially good for sheep hunters, who are required to truly go the distance with their guns. In addition, if you get a bolt-action rifle made with a carbon fiber barrel and stock, it’s even lighter. There’s a lot to be said for the joys of having a truly lightweight rifle, especially as a hunter.

Bolt-Actions are Great for Dangerous Game

If you’re going to hunt something like a cape buffalo, guess what? You’ll want a big bore bolt-action rifle. Even if you stay within the United States and simply want to go after a bear, you might find bolt-actions suit you best. This is doubly true if the bear in question is a grizzly. Big bore bolt-actions are fantastic and ideal for predator hunting in general. If this intrigues you, check out bolts in 375 H&H, 416 Remington, and 458 Winchester Magnum.

custom bolt action rifle
This custom 35 Whelen was made by Swift River Gunworks. (Photo credit: Swift River Gunworks)

Bolt-Actions can be Fast

I mention this because many gun owners incorrectly assume bolt-action rifles can’t be fired quickly. If you spend some time at the range, you’ll discover rapid fire with a bolt-action is possible. Just because a gun is a bolt rather than a semi-auto doesn’t mean it cannot be cycled quickly. Just like with any firearm, getting used to running a bolt-action smoothly and quickly takes time and practice.

Bolt-Actions are Good Brush Guns

Maybe you’re doing a spot-and-stalk or have to traverse through trees and brush to get to your stand. For these scenarios, classic bolt-actions are great brush guns. Solid stocks don’t catch on branches and the lack of a pistol grip means a reduced risk of snagging. Also, if you’re using iron sights, there’s not an optic to bump or scrape on trees. Classic bolts are streamlined and simple, offering a nice option for times when hiking in dense thickets and woods is unavoidable and you’d really like to avoid getting hung up.

Bolt-Actions are Beautiful

Sometimes you just want a good-looking gun that looks right in the woods. There’s something about a wooden stock and blued finish that just looks appealing in a deer blind or tree stand. The aesthetic might not appeal to everyone, but many gun owners appreciate the bolt-action rifle’s appearance even if they don’t prefer shooting them. Just think how good your big buck pictures will look with a bolt-action rifle in them.

What’s your favorite thing about bolt-action rifles? Tell us in the comments.

Kat Ainsworth Stevens is a long-time outdoor writer, official OGC (Original Gun Cognoscenti), and author of Handgun Hunting: a Comprehensive Guide to Choosing and Using the Right Firearms for Big and Small Game. Der Teufel Katze has written for a number of industry publications (print and online) and edited some of the others, so chances are you've seen or read her work before, somewhere. A woman of eclectic background and habits, Kat has been carrying concealed for over two decades, used to be a farrier, and worked for a long time in emergency veterinary medicine. She prefers big bores, enjoys K9 Search & Rescue, and has a Master's Degree in Pitiless Snarkastic Delivery.

Sign Up for Newsletter

Let us know what topics you would be interested:
© 2024 GunMag Warehouse. All Rights Reserved.
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap