The first bolt-action rifle was produced in 1824 by Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse, following work on breechloading rifles that dated to at least the Ferguson of 1776. Von Dreyse would perfect his Nadelgewehr (Needle Rifle) by 1836, and it was adopted by the Prussian Army in 1841. It became the first bolt-action weapon to see combat in 1864. The United States purchased 900 Greene rifles in 1857, but this weapon was ultimately considered too complicated for issue to soldiers and was supplanted by the Springfield rifle, a conventional muzzle loading rifle. During the American Civil War, the bolt-action Palmer carbine was patented in 1863, and by 1865, 1000 were purchased for use as cavalry weapons. The French Army adopted its first bolt action rifle, the Chassepot rifle, in 1866 and followed with the metallic cartridge bolt action Gras rifle in 1874 .
European armies continued to develop bolt-action rifles through the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, first adopting tubular magazines as on the Kropatschek rifle and the Lebel rifle, a magazine system pioneered by the Winchester rifle of 1866. Ultimately the military turned to bolt-action rifles using a box magazine; the first of its kind was the M1885 Remington-Lee, but the first to be generally adopted was the British 1888 Lee-Metford. The Mauser G93 was considered the epitome of this type of action, and its descendents became the standard against which all such rifles are measured. World War I marked the height of the bolt-action rifle's use, with all of the nations in that war fielding troops armed with various bolt-action designs.
During the build up prior to World War II, the military bolt-action rifle began to be superseded by the semi-automatic rifle and later assault rifles, though bolt-action rifles remained the primary weapon of most of the combatants for the duration of the war; and many American units, especially USMC, used bolt-action '03 Springfields until sufficient M1 Garands were available. The bolt-action is still common today among sniper rifles, as the design has potential for superior accuracy, reliability, lesser weight, and the ability to control loading over the faster rate of fire that alternatives allow. There are however, many semi-automatic sniper rifle designs, especially in the designated marksman role.
Today, bolt-action rifles are chiefly used as hunting rifles. These rifles can be used to hunt anything from vermin, to deer, to large game, especially big game caught on a safari, as they are adequate to deliver a single lethal shot from a safe distance.
Bolt-action shotguns are considered a rarity among modern firearms, but were formerly a commonly used action for .410 entry-level shotguns, as well as for low-cost 12 gauge shotguns. The M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System (MASS) is the most advanced and recent example of a bolt-action shotgun, albeit one designed to be attached to an M16 rifle or M4 carbine using an underbarrel mount (although with the standalone kit, the MASS can become a standalone weapon). Mossberg 12 gauge bolt-action shotguns were briefly popular in Australia after the 1997 firearms law changes, but the shotguns themselves were awkward to operate and only had a three-round magazine, thus offering no practical and real advantages over a conventional double-barrel shotgun.
Some pistols are bolt action, although this is uncommon, and such examples are typically specialized target handguns.
Read more about this topic: Bolt Action
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