Everyone in the firearms community knows the famous quote from Han Solo in the first Star Wars film about how ancient weapons and hokey religions are no match for a good blaster. In the context of the film, Han is mocking Luke’s lack of skill with the comparatively “ancient” lightsaber; Han rests comfortably in the knowledge of his own skill at arms with his pistol.
Over my relatively short time in the firearms industry, that quote has been trotted out to jokingly show support for the following guns: revolvers, 1911s, pump-action shotguns, bolt action rifles, lever action rifles, single action revolvers, side-by-side shotguns, and archery. I’m sure you’ve probably heard it too if you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet reading about guns. Another fun Star Wars quote frequently applied to the shooting sports is Obi-Wan’s line about lightsabers being a more “elegant weapon” than blasters.
However, the Star Wars films fairly conclusively prove in the later episodes that Luke’s ancient weapon (and his hokey religion, but I’ll leave that discussion for the CaPC blog) are more than a match for good blasters and the modern technology brought to bear by the Empire. It could be argued that Luke’s training and impressive skill at arms with his lightsaber is a deciding factor in the fate of the entire galaxy. Which brings us around in a fairly roundabout way to the point of this article, which is the relevance of seemingly archaic weapon systems in this modern era, specifically bolt action rifles.
Why bolt guns? Well, when you’re looking at the relevance of modern firearms, bolt guns are the ones that for me are the hardest to justify. Pump shotguns are easy – they’re more reliable than semi-autos and can use the widest range of ammo from less-lethal all the way to magnumturboturkeyslayer rounds. Revolvers? Sure, a little slow to reload, no less relevant for civilian self-defense now than they were 100 years ago. But bolt guns perplex me, and perhaps it’s due to a lack of familiarity with the platform. I don’t have a lot of stick time behind a bolt gun, so when I look at guns like the excellent Ruger Scout Rifle, I can’t but help think “what does this do that I can’t do better with a semi-auto?” Now, I should note that we’re confining this discussion to civilian self-defense, because when you get into hunting and long range accuracy discussions, there are plenty of good reasons to get a bolt gun.
But in today’s world of 6 pound AR15s with 30 rounds of Hornady TAP on board that will shoot accurately out to 500 yards, what’s the point of the venerable bolt gun? Are they still relevant as self-defense tools in this modern age? The big problems that I see with bolt guns as self-defense tools are these:
- Lack of capacity
- Slower to operate
- More complex to operate
I did a little research, and there are not any major rifle manufacturers making a bolt gun in .223 that accepts standard AR mags, which would address the capacity issue pretty handily. (Editor’s note: when researching this article, we neglected to check Mossberg. Mossberg makes the MVP rifle, which is exactly what we’re looking for) For a while, Remington made their pump-action 7600 rifle in .223 for AR mags, but it didn’t sell well and was discontinued. Which actually is the crux of the issue, when you really get down to it. See, I like bolt guns, despite my general lack of trigger time on them compared to modern sporting rifles. I like the tactile sensation of operating the gun, I like the way they handle, in general they’re just nice to shoot. So if, for example Ruger took their existing M77 Tactical in .223 and changed the magazine so it would take AR mags, I’d buy one right away. I think that’s cool.
But the buying public doesn’t. Why pay $1200 for a bolt action rifle when you can pay $800 for an AR15? Honestly? I can’t think of a good reason, and that’s why I think bolt action rifles have lost their relevance as a primary civilian self-defense tool.
How little research did you do? The Mossberg MVP is chambered in 5.56 and takes most standard AR mags.
I checked Ruger, Remington, and Savage; to be honest I don’t think of Mossberg as a rifle company – I think of shotguns when I think Mossberg.
Check out the Mossberg MVP. A bolt-action that takes AR-15 magazines.
Dig out the wallet brother, there is an MVP with your name on it.
So, when I was researching this article, I went and checked Ruger, Remington, and Savage. Not once did I swing by Mossberg, because when I think Mossberg I think “shotguns” not rifles. But you are right, this is a thing and it looks rad.
T&E sample requested!
I did a review on it a while back for the Firearm Blog, and I wasn’t too impressed with it. It had potential, but it wasn’t put together as well as I would have liked.
Additionally the bolt is slightly cheaper than the AR, not dramatically so but still cheaper. While I will still go to the AR as my go to gun for almost any situation, I think under very particular circumstances the bolt is an excellent choice.
1. Legally speaking it is dang near the only choice for some people. For instance, Aussies need permission from God to own a semi-auto (though contrary to popular reports, it is not impossible), however a 10 round, detachable magazine .308 bolt gun isn’t bad. If for some god-aweful reason I were forced to live in California or some such non-sense I think it might be a decent choice for some applications.
2. While the price point is not great in .223, the price point comparison between a quality .308 bolt gun and quality .308 semi-auto rifle is a bit better and the average ammo capacity disparity between the bolt (detachable magazine type like the Ruger Gunsite Scout) and semi-auto isnt as great (10 vs. 20 in .308 as opposed to 10 vs. 30 in the .223s).
As I said at the outset, I still wouldnt make it my go to gun but I dont think it is as bleak as you think. As far as pushing the capabilities of the average bolt gun user I think there are existing possibilities in Gunsite’s Rifle 270 class as well as the small network of Vintage Military Bolt Action Rifle matches and other historical themed 2-Gun style matches out there. Oh, and of course if you want lower price point training (except for ammo) the Appleseed format is fairly friendly to bolt action rifles (especially if your rifle has detachable magazines and especially if the Appleseed is a full distance shoot).
I’m thinking of getting the new Ruger American Rifle in .22, just because it looks like a fun gun to shoot. While any gun could be used for self defense, I think most people buy bolt actions for the precision, hunting, or fun. I have always wanted a lever action .22, looks like fun.
As I see it, the advantage a bolt gun has on a semiauto is, with a few notable exceptions, one of cartidge capacity, not magazine capacity. In a general sense, an average working class bolt gun is chambered in a big-game caliber and up (with nearly no limit). Guns in the .223 family of cartridges are mainly used for stuff under a pound, and the .308 family, nominally the thumper of the semiautos, is the realm of beginning hunting rifles. The .270 and .30-06 are world standards on game from deer and up, but few semis can handle that cartridge (alas for the non-importable Garand). There are dozens of chamberings more powerful than the ’06 class, but the only semiauto that they fit is the Browning BAR. The problem here is that for most applications, all these are grossly overpowered for use against human sized targets under average conditions. In certain cases, bolt guns such as the .300 Win Mag, .338 Lapua, and .50 BMG are deployed in battle, but they are way too much to issue in general. So they really don’t make sense for a first choice PDW. That being said, three maxims come to mind- first, there is no overkill, only kill or not kill; Second, beware the man with only one gun- he probably knows how to use it, and third, the best gun for self defense is the gun you have, not the gun you want. A very real reason to train withh bolties from time to time is because there are millions of them, they are affordable, and they may be the only thing available in a pinch.
What did the LA Cops go looking for, when they were confronted with Full-auto AK47’s and Body Armor? It wasn’t their Issue Pump Shotguns with Slugs, and it wasn’t more SideArms… They went to the closest gun Store and grabbed the Remington 700BDLs in .308 Winchester, 30-06, and .270 and all the ammo they could carry. That is what put down those Bad Guys. They would have had to do the SAME THING if they had issued their M16s or AR15s, as they were out of their league, with those as well. when you need Knockdown Power, at distance, a .308 Winchester, 30-06 is what you use, and every SWAT Team has a FEW of these deployed, for just such occasions. Gee, I wonder why? Duh……
Check your facts, Jack. During the North Hollywood shootout, one of the gunmen committed suicide, and the other was brought down by fire from SWAT officer’s M16 rifles. In 5.56.
The SMLE .303, I love this rifle u can generally squeeze 11 rounds into the mag and 1 in the chamber, the action is fast and smooth, the rounds do Damage that’s why the .303 is a popular hunting round, good variety of ammo from surplus to modern high performance hunting rounds. If you find a good barreled rifle you can fire 600 yard easy, probably wont have the best MOA but you will hit the silhouette. And they can be gotten at an affordable price, I would be comfortable using my enfield as a club not so much my AR. If your going to go bolt I’d recommend an Einfield, that’s just my opinion. Easy to shoot won’t break the bank.
Not just SWAT team M16s — There was a gun store owner who basically slid all his AR15s across teh counter when officers came in. I remember because of the huge kerfluffle when it came out that by doing so, he technically was violating the law.
Probably way off topic to what is being discussed at the moment, but I like what the bolt gun forces me to be…accurate. It may only be me, but I find myself enjoying the ‘spray and pray’ part of the semi-auto rifle too much when I”m shooting one but when I have my bolt-action out, I tend to quiet down and focus much more on where I’m hitting. It may be in part to knowing I have far less ammo and it takes much longer to reload than the semi’s so I make them count or I’ve watching Saving Private Ryan too many times and have delusions of grandeur.
Maybe the bolt-action is for guys like me that still like a manual transmission in a car or truck. I know there isn’t a good reason to buy a new car with one but dammit they are much more fun to drive than a boring automatic gear box. I think it may be the same reasoning behind those that love a bolt-action rifle.
I’m an ancient weapons kinda guy. Next to my bed is a Stag 1L and an M1 Garand shortened to M1 Carbine length by Shuff’s. (My optional BM59 muzzles brakes makes it a bit longer but it kicks no more than the Stag with 77-grain 5.56.) There are home-invasion robberies around here. The Bad Guys have taken the “Police” shirt further by wearing body armor. (Recently on ebay was ex-SWAT body armor complete with POLICE on the front.) The 16.1-inch barreled Shuff’s Mini-G will not only go through the armor, in calmer times it’ll put all eight rounds in the DRT (Dead Right There) zone at 200 yards using 1940-spec iron sights…and only slightly younger eyes. For a lefty, an M1 is pretty perfect. And my Dad was pretty fast at replacing the clip. I’m getting an International Harvester version from CMP as soon as they’re available…assume the price doesn’t double. Oh, by the way: The Garand was, by name, on DiFi’s “nice” list. It has an eight-round internal magazine. Mine has a receiver and barrel older than I am.
Bolt actions are for the people who want a lightweight rifle, that they can carry a lot and make that one shot on an 8″ target from a field position 360 yards out on a cold morning. As for the “operator”…well there are better choices. Bolt action in .223 is about right above “single shot break open” and “.22lr pistol” for the gun I’d like to have when someone smashes in my front door with a sledgehammer and a serious meth problem. It would be better than a sharp stick, but I’d prefer something like a shotgun with buckshot, or slugs. Or a handgun with a crapload of 9mm hollowpoints. Or an AR with an even bigger crapload of frangible rounds and a reflex sight. Soooo, yes. A bolt action for home defense is kinda hokey. 😀
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