Bolt Action - Benefits and Drawbacks

Benefits and Drawbacks

Bolt-action firearms have earned a reputation for being potentially more accurate and reliable than semi-automatic rifles. However, this depends on numerous other factors with regard to both firearm and ammunition, and modern semi-automatic rifles can be exceptionally accurate when designed as such. Because of the combination of relatively light weight, reliability, high potential accuracy and lower cost, they are still the choice of many hunters, target shooters and snipers. This is true because of the way that bolt action rifles close the chamber, but must be operated manually in single action. When a cartridge fires inside the chamber, the force from the charge is completely directed at propelling the bullet down the barrel (in an autoloader, part of the energy is used to cycle the action); however, some energy is transferred to the shooter through normal recoil. The bolt action's locking lugs are normally at the front of the breech (some designs have additional "safety lugs" at the rear) and this contributes to potential accuracy compared to a design which locks the breech at the rear, such as a lever action. Also, a bolt action's only moving parts when firing are the pin and spring. Since it has fewer moving parts and a short lock time, it has less of a chance of being thrown off target and less of a chance to malfunction. Since the spent cartridge has to be manually removed instead of automatically ejected, it helps a sniper remain better hidden, since not only is the cartridge not flung into the air and to the ground, possibly giving away the sniper's position, but the cartridge can be removed when most prudent, allowing the sniper to remain still until reloading is tactically feasible. Bolt actions are also easier to operate from a prone position than other manually repeating mechanisms and work well with box magazines which are easier to fill and maintain than tubular magazines.

The integral strength of the design means very powerful magnum cartridges can be chambered without significantly increasing the size or weight of the weapon. For example, some of the most powerful elephant rifles are in the same weight range (7-10 lbs.) as a typical deer rifle, while delivering several times the kinetic energy to the target. The recoil of these weapons, however, is correspondingly severe. One well known example is that bolt action rifles designed for the .223 Remington can usually safely fire the more powerful 5.56x45mm NATO, while auto-loaders might malfunction. By contrast, the laws of physics dictate that the operating mechanism of a semi-automatic weapon must increase in mass and weight as the cartridge it fires increases in power. This means that semi-automatic rifles firing magnum cartridges, while they do exist, tend to be relatively heavy and impractical for many types of hunting.

Some disadvantages of the bolt action include being the slowest of all the major manual repeating mechanisms, as it requires four distinct movements (as opposed to two distinct movements for lever and pump action, though straight-pull bolt actions likewise require only two distinct movements) and requires the trigger hand leave the gun and regrip the weapon after each shot, usually resulting in the shooter having to realign his sight and reacquire the target for every shot. It is also not ambidextrous, and left-handed models tend to be more expensive.

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