Is the Bolt-Action Rifle Obsolete?


Yes. No. …well, maybe. Bolt-action rifles have only been around since 1824. However, they were the main infantry weapon for almost every army on the planet for nearly a century. They proved to have a relatively fast rate of fire coupled with almost infallible reliability. For military commanders who were used to dealing with muzzleloaders, this advancement was a godsend. The vast majority of modern hunting rifles today are bolt-actions along with a large percentage of military precision rifles. Despite their much sexier semi-automatic cousins, the bolt-action maintains a high level of popularity among all walks of shooters. As far as their obsolescence goes, I would compare them to a high-quality kitchen knife. Fancier electric knives can turn a Thanksgiving turkey into a plate of unrecognizable scraps in seconds, but the standard-size kitchen knife your grandmother used is perfectly suited for most of the jobs it will meet—just like the bolt-action.

Rate of Fire

We might as well start with the feature that made the bolt-action popular. In 20th century warfare, he who put the most lead downrange had a distinct advantage. Muzzleloaders and early breechloaders could not keep up with the simplistic yet effective bolt-action design. Ironically, that same rate of fire is what retired the bolt-action from regular infantry service. During the Second World War, semi-automatic weapons grew in popularity and reliability. As the major powers pushed semi-automatic and automatic designs to the front lines, the bolt-action rifles were simply outmatched. However, for snipers and other precision sharpshooters, rate of fire is not important. Accuracy plays the highest role and that requirement continues to this day. While there are extremely accurate semi-automatic rifles, the bolt-action continues to be the dominant choice for these dedicated precision weapons systems.


Bolt guns are extremely rugged. Their tough construction allows manufacturers to use extremely powerful cartridges for their designs without significantly increasing the size or weight of the weapon. For example, some of the most powerful elephant rifles are nearly the same weight as a typical deer rifle. Nearly every available cartridge has a bolt-action version, although some cartridges are more popular than others are. The best selling bolt actions today include the .30-06 Springfield, .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester, 7mm Remington Magnum, .243 Winchester and even the .223 Remington. In the surplus market, the Mosin Nagant variants continue to be one of the most common rifles sold in the United States. The powerful 7.62x54R cartridge is relatively accurate and inexpensive. The rifles themselves, being of varying age from both China and the former Soviet Union, range greatly in quality. However, the robust design makes a platform that will likely outlive us all. For a survival situation, a Mosin Nagant is on my personal list to have around. The plentiful ammunition comes in bulk and lasts indefinitely.


Because of their famed ruggedness, lower production cost, reliability and accuracy, bolt-action rifles will never be obsolete. There simply is no better way to operate the chamber manually on a rifle. While their days as standard infantry rifles are long retired, we will likely never find a better platform for precision shooting or game hunting.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (11)

  1. The bolt gun is dead for most lefties who have a choice of semi-auto, pump, or lever action. The lever action predated the bolt gun if you include falling block rifles. Both the pump and lever action were distinctively American until the trench warfare of WWI, where you needed something that could be operated from below the berm, only then did the bolt get popular as soldiers came home and bought surplus guns that were much cheaper than the lever and pumps that hadn’t been mass produced at taxpayer expense.

  2. My favorite is a 30-06, it and the 8mm Mauser were what my uncles taught my brother and us on after initially showing the respect and disciple to go through the safety training at Doctor Mudds ranch in Maryland. [The doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth farm was seized by the state and until the late 1950’s early 60′ was a recognized trap shooting range with five stands, four disc throwers] But the scariest weapon I ever handled that summer when we had those two weapons were introduced to us in a junk yard on a Sunday out in the suburbs was the 8 mm Mauser. Kicked like a mule, where the Springfield seemed to jolt, both were a handful for a couple of 12-13 kids weighting in at about 100lb soaking wet. And the sound, our uncles love us, but my Da was also a WWII veteran and he told them to leave the bark on,so we were taught things by experience, we assumed the sound would be loud, they did not warn us of the noise, after the first firing and then off and on for several years I tended to tense up when approaching firing weapons, really put a bug in the back of my mind. But the power, when these rounds hit car doors, it left nothing to the imagination, these were not our little 22.! If you can use a scope, and needed meat because the Safeway is closed the 30-06 will bring home the meat. Great article.

  3. Quite a few years back, someone thought the single shot rifle was a dead elephant gun. Ruger thought different and came out with the ‘rifleman’s rifle’. Yup. A single shot they named the Ruger Number One. “One shot-One kill” is its mantra and, IMO, is right on target.

    As the Single Shot is also not dead and outgrown, neither is the bolt action- of which I am most fond.


  5. As long as there is a need for precision long range shooting there will be bolt action rifles. Just don’t tell me that is the only rifle I can use for close quarters self defense.

  6. I’m planning my next longgun purchase to be a Ruger M77 Gunsite Scout Rifle in 308 or an Mossberg MVP when they come out with the 308. I like the idea of the scout rifle in a battle cartridge for a couple different reasons. The shorter barrel makes it less cumbersome with an overall shorter length. With the larger bore you can still reach out and touch something. The higher capacity mags make them a big plus if needed for self defense. The bolt action accuracy is hard to beat, although some semis have caught up in recent years.

  7. The mad minute should have been mentioned, those Brits could really make those enfields run. Sure with I had got one when they were $100 at big 5!

  8. of course they aren’t even thogh I’m no longer able to personally able to use a bolt action rifle any more due to a stroke making my left had unable to hold one my son now owns it and does just fine with it I trained him years before I had the stroke !

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