Defining the best bolt-action rifle is like laying claim to the best breed of dog. Each has character traits that identify their strengths, abilities, power, and skills. Over time, modifications and developments through battle-tested wear or range-tested accuracy tend to win out. Not only are the following some of the most popular breeds of bolt action, they are time tested and more than capable of holding their own.
Bolt-action rifles are characteristic in nature. Early models were designed to allow a reliable, consistent level of firepower and accuracy. They continue to earn their place in modern warfare, rote survival, and sport hunting. While surpassed by modern rifles in speed of discharge, the slow, steady action of a bolt system allows for fewer fly-away rounds and greater concentration.
Barrels have been adapted over time to accept several forms of ammunition. In most cases, ownership of these quality rifles is handed down from generation to generation.
Below are the Best Bolt action rifles in history ranked according to users:
The signature Mauser bolt action is the foundation for numerous dependable rifle designs. It had its start with a short-barreled rifle intended for use on horseback and cavalry units. But it soon traveled the world, being adopted by militaries in Spain, Germany, China, Persia, Chile, and Sweden, just to name a few. Each culture made only slight modifications to improve the rifle over time and many found it to be far-and-away one of most reliable actions on the market. The full-length wood stock is also easy to identify this rifle from any other. During the course of its service use in WWI and WWII, the 18” barrel was lengthened to improve field accuracy, and some versions were adapted for use as sniper rifles. Off the battlefield, the Mauser went on to become a preferred hunting rifle putting the 6.5X55MM bullet to the test both on the battle field and on the range. Short barreled versions are highly sought after and the proven bolt action has been adapted to fit newer modern bolt rifles by other manufacturers.
With more than 3 million units built since 1903, the Springfield M1903, still holds a strong line of sniper success today. This masterpiece was the official arm for US military in WWI and served prior to the M1 Garand. Still, even in the wake of the success of the M1 Garand, the Springfield M1903 continued to earn its place in the marksmanship arena and civilian use as a historical icon of accuracy, dependability and lifelong service. This rifle saw action at various levels from WWI all the way up through the Vietnam War and is the trademark of tried and true. The detachable box magazine inspired generations of similar magazine-style bolt-action rifles for decades.
Dubbed “The Rifleman’s Rifle,” the Winchester Model 70 replaced the Model 54 and was produced between 1936-1963. It saw limited use during WWII but gained popularity from snipers in Vietnam. Over time, it earned the title of “Bolt-action Rifle of the Century.” The barrel sizes ranged from 22-28” and more than 15 different calibers. After 1964, some changes weren’t as well received by aficionados and sporting enthusiasts and Winchester went back to the pre 1963 design in 1992. Models prior to 1963 are prized and valuable to collectors and enthusiasts. The many variations allowed riflemen to select the style and firepower to meet their needs with a consistent tried-and-true model. The bolt action and fixed magazine allows a steady, consistent level of firepower that is easy to load have at the ready-just in case. It also introduced a 3-position safety and adjustable trigger.
The Lee-Enfield, specifically the short, magazine version, (SMLE) is known worldwide. It evolved over the course of WWI as variations of powder and mechanical advantages answered the call of duty. It was used in service for more than 20 years. Lighter and shorter than other field rifles, this model served two World Wars as a preferred weapon of choice. Despite the shorter barrel at 25.2,” this hulk weighed in at 8.7 lbs. unloaded and had a few bolt location quirks. Still, it’s arguable that the dependability, accuracy, and field-tested durability of this firearm was a testament of true grit and embodiment of the Allied forces who carried it into battle. The 10-round magazine allowed rapid, consistent fire for the era and allowed for 20-30 rounds per minute. Canadian rangers still actively use the SMLE today. More than 17 million have been produced to date.
In order to mass-produce a high-end hunting rifle for the everyday outdoorsman, Remington developed the 700 series bolt action rifle. The accuracy and quality of this small caliber rifle spawned the next generation of bolt-action firepower. With the aim of creating a quality rifle that is also affordable, they hit their mark with the masses with the model 700. This rifle has a standard 24” barrel and a detachable box magazine chambered in multiple calibers. There were a few models with a 26” barrel. This series evolved into target shooting and even a semi-automatic version with more than 764,000 rifles in over half a century of production.
The Weatherby brand is known for its high quality, high velocity rifles. The Mark V is at the top of that list. Mostly because the designer, Roy Weatherby, made sure to develop these rifles as gifts to those among the upper echelon with the standard of quality to match. This bolt-action rifle is touted as one of the strongest in the world, with astounding test results as hard proof. It uses an improved Mauser style action with a pistol style grip and has several barrel sizes and lengths to meet the custom demand for each owner. The design is straightforward, consistent, and top-notch. While they answer the call of performance, collectors often contribute to the firepower with highly decorated stocks, barrels, and sights. In many ways, the Mark V is as much a work of art as it is a lethal weapon.
This bolt-action rifle proved its worth for more than 50 years as a Russian standby. It fires a 7.62X54 rimmed cartridge that even in the late 1800s had the ability to reach out and touch an opponent. Russian snipers well respected for their ability to pick off German officers at a distance. In field use, it had its limitations, though. The barrel is a heavy, 32” long run, designed to be fired with the bayonet in place, adding even more length and awkward positioning. Some variations had shorter barrels, but the average infantryman had to lug around the long version.
Size doesn’t always matter – especially when you’re able to take out the smallest threat with a single shot. The Marlin 780 is a silent but deadly standby for those in the know. The 21.25-inch long barrel was machined with micro grooved rifling, which significantly improved accuracy as intended. It has a 7-round box magazine capable of both .22 short and .22 long. For the price, if you can find one, they’re worth keeping on hand for small game, rodents, and as a solid way to introduce firearms to youth and newcomers. The 780 had a limited run up until 1989 when it was replaced with the Marlin 880. But this simple, effective rifle is touted as an apex of accuracy.
Developed in 1959 as a hunter’s mainstay, the Savage Model 110 has entered the cannon of iconic hunting firearms. Even with the later start off the production line, it has been in production longer than the Remington Model 70 and continues to be a steady competitor. Barrel lengths range from 20-26” and the 110 has become the design basis for subsequent Savage models. While it started out as an affordable option for hunters, it has evolved into a sought-after piece for both outdoorsmen and law enforcement. The barrel and design elements have been adapted over time to meet the needs of hunters while incorporating camouflaged synthetic stocks, and a broad spectrum of calibers for various forms of hunting. In many cases, Savage 110 components have evolved to meet low-cost demands while maintaining the long-established expectation of quality.