Published Jul 25, 2022 11:00 AM
Most people today gravitate to semi-automatic guns when picking out a new rifle, never thinking about a bolt-action rifle. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. To be fair, there are a ton of great semi-autos on the market, but there’s nothing quite like the feeling of working the buttery-smooth bolt in a high quality bolt-action rifle. Whether it came out of the box that way or it’s been broken in from being handed down through the generations, there’s just something about it that you can’t get from a semi-auto rifle.
Even though they may not be as popular today as they were in the past, there are still a plethora of great, brand new bolt-action rifles being made each and every day throughout the world. Thanks to that wide selection of offerings, though, it can be hard to narrow things down and pick the best bolt-action rifle.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Bolt-Action Rifle
Obviously, the final decision is up to you, but if you decide that your next big gun-related purchase is going to be a bolt-action, then here are some of the things you should think about before parting with your hard-earned money:
Determining how you’ll be using the rifle can help narrow down what you should buy. A rifle used just for plinking or target practice will often be much different than one used for a long hunting trip or competition shooting.
How you’ll use the rifle can help narrow down what features you want the gun to have. For example, do you need a threaded muzzle for a suppressor or a brake? Is a durable, all-weather finish most important given what you’ll be doing? Or perhaps you want something with an adjustable trigger for precision shots. All of these are available, but not all are available for a given make or model.
Money is always on everyone’s mind. Thankfully, there are some great bolt-action rifles out there at every price point. Just because one rifle is more expensive than another doesn’t make it better. Figure out your budget and then you can find rifles with the features you want for your intended purpose that you can afford.
Why It Made the Cut
Bergara’s barrels set the benchmark in the industry and are renowned for their quality.
- Guaranteed 1.0 MOA groups or less at 100 yards with quality factory match grade ammo
- fully free-floated barrel and one-piece action
- adjustable buttstock
- left-handed versions available
- only 4 of 7 calibers available in left-handed version
Built for hunters and long-range competitive shooters, the Bergara B-14 HMR is a top-notch rifle. The world-renowned fully free-floated Bergara barrel on this hunting and match rifle (hence the HMR) is complemented by the super-smooth B-14 action, which is a two-lug system with a sliding plate extractor and a coned bolt nose and breech to ensure smooth feeding and extraction of the cartridge. Molded into the stock for repeatable bedding and accuracy is an integrated mini-chassis. It’s also outfitted with a Bergara curved trigger designed to guarantee a crisp, clean pull every time you fire the rifle. The trigger comes set at about three pounds, the receiver has been factory drilled and tapped to fit Remington 700 style rings and bases, and the muzzle is threaded 5/8-24 for a suppressor or muzzle device.
Why It Made the Cut
The Weatherby’s action is considered by many to be the strongest in the world.
- Lowest in class bolt rotation of just 54°
- Standard and magnum configurations available
- Bolt has a full shroud to protect user in case of an ammo failure
- 23 calibers and 22 model variations to choose from
- Can be hard to find one in stock
Roy Weatherby’s signature cartridges are powerful, so his 9-lug, push-feed action was created to withstand the extra pressure generated by them. The Mark V also offers the lowest bolt rotation on the market, ensuring scope clearance and quick cycling. The buttery-smooth bolt is forged from one piece and features relief ports and a full shroud to protect the user in the case of an ammunition failure. With 23 calibers and 22 different model variations to choose from, there’s bound to be a Weatherby Mark V for any purpose, from chasing Alaskan sheep with an ultralight Backcountry Ti to sitting for Kansas whitetails with an Accumark Pro, you’ll find what you need.
Why It Made the Cut
The Winchester Model 70 didn’t get nicknamed “The Rifleman’s Rifle” for no reason.
- The “pre-64” controlled round feed action is standard production
- Available in 21 different calibers and 13 variations
- Popular Featherwight and Super Grade variations still available
- Available in traditional “blue and wood” as well as modern “composite and stainless” variations
- No longer a US-made product: made in Portugal by Browning for Winchester
Introduced in 1936, Winchester’s Model 70 has developed a cult following in the hunting and collecting community. The current production guns feature the “pre-64” controlled round feed action design, meaning that there’s no reason to avoid the model because of changes that were made a half-century ago. Whether you want a luxury model Super Grade with ebony accents and Grade V/VI walnut or a modern hunting rifle featuring Cerakote finish and a synthetic stock, there’s a Model 70 to fit your needs somewhere in the 21 different calibers and 13 different model variations. Plus, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get one of the best factory-produced bolt-action rifles available today.
Why It Made the Cut
The CVA CASCADE rifle is viewed by many to be “Bergara on a budget.”
- Available in standard barrel lengths and more compact short barrel lengths
- Sub-$600 price is hard to beat for what you get
- Compatible with all Savage 110 AccuTrigger two piece scope mounts
- Available in 10 different calibers
- Not as many caliber and model variations as other options on the market
The CASCADE is CVA’s first ever bolt-action centerfire rifle. With a sub-$600 price point, it’s hard to beat the quality you get from the CVA CASCADE, which is often considered to be a “Bergara on a budget.” The series features a threaded muzzle, making it ready for whatever muzzle device you want to use. The bolt design incorporates a 70° throw for smooth and fast operation, plus generous scope clearance. The synthetic stock is fiberglass reinforced and has a SoftTouch finish, while the buttstock has adjustable length of pull by way of a removable spacer – making it an ideal gun for still-growing youths, small-statured adults, or even the full-sized hunter who wants to shorten the stock to accommodate heavy winter clothing.
Why It Made the Cut
The Ruger American Rimfire offers the reputation of the 10/22 in a bolt-action package.
- Available in 17 HMR, 22 LR, and 22 WMR
- Compatible with other larger-capacity Ruger magazines in the appropriate calibers
- Many configurations come with a threaded muzzle
- Includes two interchangeable standard length of pull stock modules that provide comb height options for scope or iron sight use
- Some distributor exclusive configurations are hard to find
The Ruger American Rimfire bolt-action rifles offer the same reliability, versatility, performance, and affordability that shooters have come to know from the semi-auto 10/22 model. Available in 3 different calibers and multiple barrel lengths, finishes, and stock colors, you don’t have to settle for anything less than the exact bolt-action rimfire rifle you want. With the two length of pull and comb height stock modules, you can easily configure the rifle for use with iron sights or a scope. A 3/8″ rimfire scope base is machined into the receiver, which is also drilled and tapped for Weaver #12 bases. The Ruger American Rimfire also makes use of a patented Power Bedding integral bedding block system that positively locates the receiver and free-floats the barrel for outstanding accuracy.
How I Made My Picks
From budget rimfires to precision long-range rigs that cost more than my first car, I’ve been fortunate enough to shoot a lot of different bolt-action rifles over the years. I’ve learned that sometimes less is more and have been pleasantly surprised, while I’ve also certainly experienced guns where “you get what you pay for” applies—at both ends of the spectrum. As a result, I own bolt-action rifles at a variety of different price points in calibers and configurations that fit a variety of different purposes.
When it comes down to picking the right one for me, I evaluate bolt-action rifles using the following criteria:
Build Quality: What materials went into making the rifle and how does that translate into the finished gun? Does it handle like you’d expect for what it is, or does the action feel like it is full of sand? Is it built like a tank or does it need to be babied? Build quality will make or break a rifle.
Intended Use: If it’s a precision long-range rifle, what kind of adjustments does the stock have and how is it bedded? If it’s a hunting rifle, is it light enough for long treks in the woods? How you’ll use the rifle will help determine what aspects should be focused on when making a final selection.
Cost: Does this rifle provide a good value for the money? Am I getting what you would expect, or more, at a given price point?
Q: What is the best bolt-action rifle?
Two of the most popular answers for what is the best bolt-action rifle would be the Winchester Model 70 and the Weatherby Mark V. Winchester Model 70s made before 1964 and the current production guns are the best out there for that make and model. They’re not called “The Rifleman’s Rifle” for no reason. Weatherby Mark V rifles are incredibly well built, featuring the lowest bolt rotations available and the strongest actions on the market. They’re built like tanks.
Q: Are bolt-action rifles more accurate?
The short answer is yes, bolt-action rifles are generally more accurate than other rifles. In the simplest of explanations, this is because they’ve got fewer moving pieces each time the rifle fires compared to their semi-automatic counterparts. Less movement often equates to better accuracy shot for shot. However, semi-auto rifles have come a long way, and they can be incredibly accurate, too.
Q: What is the best .22 Magnum bolt-action rifle?
One of the best .22 Magnum bolt-action rifles you can buy is the Ruger American Rimfire, which was included on this list. Essentially, you’re getting the same reliability, versatility, performance, and affordability that shooters have come to know from the semi-auto 10/22 model just in a bolt-action model instead.
In my opinion, there will always be a place in the world for bolt-action rifles. They’ve just got a certain aura around them that tends to draw you in. Today’s world is full of cookie-cutter semi-autos that all look exactly the same sitting in a rack. Bolt-actions, however, have unique personalities that instantly set them apart from one another even when they’re grouped together along the wall.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a semi-auto rifle. I own plenty. I just think that shooters today shouldn’t immediately discount the bolt-action as an antiquated action of yesteryear. The new models that are released each year have proven that cutting-edge materials and advancements make their way into these guns, too.
It’s all about picking the right tool for the job, and in some instances, the best tool is a bolt-action rifle.