Bolt Action or Semi-Automatic for Long-Range Competition?

  • Caleb Tillery

If you attend a series or league long-range match you are certainly going to see more bolt action rifles than semi-automatics. Is this because the sport has yet to adopt modern technology, or are bolt actions just that much superior to semi-automatics? 

When you look at the final match score you are, in my experience at least, unlikely see a semi-automatic in the top ten performers.

This has nothing to do with the accuracy of semi-automatic rifles. A high- quality semi-automatic rifle will be just as accurate as a bolt action. However, semi-automatics fall short because they tend to be more prone to malfunctions.

This is because the actions are tuned to cycle just enough to mitigate rearward recoil. This can lead to malfunctions because as the rifle gets dirty or changes environments, the action may cycle slower than the conditions it was tuned in. It’s almost as if the rifle were “accustomed” to a certain area.

The recoil is also more pronounced with a semi-automatic as well because the action begins to move immediately after the shot is fired. This causes problems when spotting impacts or maybe even misses because the gun is experiencing more recoil than a bolt action rifle.

While bolt action and semi-automatics are not much different in quality and accuracy, the technological advancements add variables and do not lend themselves well to competitive long-range shooting. The simplicity of a bolt action is what keeps them around and what will keep them at the top of the leaderboard for years to come.

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