Bolt-action
Overview
 

Bolt action is a type of firearm action
Firearm action
In firearms terminology, an action is the physical mechanism that manipulates cartridges and/or seals the breech. The term is also used to describe the method in which cartridges are loaded, locked, and extracted from the mechanism. Actions are generally categorized by the type of mechanism used...

 in which the weapon's bolt
Bolt (firearm)
A bolt is a mechanical part of a firearm that blocks the rear of the chamber while the propellant burns.In manually-operated firearms, such as bolt-action, lever-action, and pump-action rifles and shotguns, the bolt is held fixed by its locking lugs during firing, forcing all the expanding gas...

 is operated manually by the opening and closing of the breech (barrel
Gun barrel
A gun barrel is the tube, usually metal, through which a controlled explosion or rapid expansion of gases are released in order to propel a projectile out of the end at a high velocity....

) with a small handle, most commonly placed on the right-hand side of the weapon (for right-handed users). As the handle is operated, the bolt is unlocked, the breech is opened, the spent shell casing is withdrawn and ejected, the firing pin is cocked (this occurs either on the opening or closing of the bolt, depending on design), and finally a new round/shell (if available) is placed into the breech and the bolt closed.
Encyclopedia

Bolt action is a type of firearm action
Firearm action
In firearms terminology, an action is the physical mechanism that manipulates cartridges and/or seals the breech. The term is also used to describe the method in which cartridges are loaded, locked, and extracted from the mechanism. Actions are generally categorized by the type of mechanism used...

 in which the weapon's bolt
Bolt (firearm)
A bolt is a mechanical part of a firearm that blocks the rear of the chamber while the propellant burns.In manually-operated firearms, such as bolt-action, lever-action, and pump-action rifles and shotguns, the bolt is held fixed by its locking lugs during firing, forcing all the expanding gas...

 is operated manually by the opening and closing of the breech (barrel
Gun barrel
A gun barrel is the tube, usually metal, through which a controlled explosion or rapid expansion of gases are released in order to propel a projectile out of the end at a high velocity....

) with a small handle, most commonly placed on the right-hand side of the weapon (for right-handed users). As the handle is operated, the bolt is unlocked, the breech is opened, the spent shell casing is withdrawn and ejected, the firing pin is cocked (this occurs either on the opening or closing of the bolt, depending on design), and finally a new round/shell (if available) is placed into the breech and the bolt closed. Bolt action firearms are most often rifle
Rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

s, but there are some bolt-action shotgun
Shotgun
A shotgun is a firearm that is usually designed to be fired from the shoulder, which uses the energy of a fixed shell to fire a number of small spherical pellets called shot, or a solid projectile called a slug...

s and a few handgun
Handgun
A handgun is a firearm designed to be held and operated by one hand. This characteristic differentiates handguns as a general class of firearms from long guns such as rifles and shotguns ....

s as well. Examples of this system date as far back as the early 19th century, notably in the Dreyse
Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse
Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse was a German firearms inventor and manufacturer. He is most famous for submitting the "Dreyse needle gun" in 1836 to the Prussian army, which was adopted for for service in December 1840 as the Leichte Perscussions-Gewehr M 1841—a name deliberately chosen to...

 needle gun
Needle gun
The Dreyse needle-gun was a military breechloading rifle, famous as the main infantry weapon of the Prussians, who adopted it for service in 1848 as the Dreyse Zündnadelgewehr, or Prussian Model 1848...

. From the late 19th century, all the way through both World Wars, the bolt-action rifle was the standard infantry firearm for most of the world's militaries.

In military use, the bolt action has been mostly replaced by semi-automatic
Semi-automatic firearm
A semi-automatic, or self-loading firearm is a weapon which performs all steps necessary to prepare the weapon to fire again after firing—assuming cartridges remain in the weapon's feed device or magazine...

 and selective fire
Selective fire
A selective fire firearm has at least one semi–automatic and one automatic mode, which is activated by means of a selector which varies depending on the weapon's design. Some selective fire weapons utilize burst fire mechanisms to limit the maximum or total number of shots fired automatically in...

 weapons, though the bolt action remains the dominant design in dedicated sniper rifle
Sniper rifle
In military and law enforcement terminology, a sniper rifle is a precision-rifle used to ensure more accurate placement of bullets at longer ranges than other small arms. A typical sniper rifle is built for optimal levels of accuracy, fitted with a telescopic sight and chambered for a military...

s. Bolt action firearms are still very popular for hunting and target shooting. Compared to most other manually-operated firearm actions, it offers an excellent balance of strength (allowing powerful chamberings), simplicity, and potential accuracy, all with a light weight and low cost. The major disadvantage is a marginally lower practical rate of fire than other manual repeating firearms, such as lever-action
Lever-action
Lever-action is a type of firearm action which uses a lever located around the trigger guard area, to load fresh cartridges into the chamber of the barrel when the lever is worked. Most lever-action firearms are rifles, but lever-action shotguns and a few pistols have also been made...

 and pump-action
Pump-action
A pump-action rifle or shotgun is one in which the handgrip can be pumped back and forth in order to eject a spent round of ammunition and to chamber a fresh one. It is much faster than a bolt-action and somewhat faster than a lever-action, as it does not require the trigger hand to be removed from...

, but this is not a critical factor in many types of hunting and target shooting.

History

The first bolt-action rifle was produced in 1824 by Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse
Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse
Johann Nicolaus von Dreyse was a German firearms inventor and manufacturer. He is most famous for submitting the "Dreyse needle gun" in 1836 to the Prussian army, which was adopted for for service in December 1840 as the Leichte Perscussions-Gewehr M 1841—a name deliberately chosen to...

, following work on breechloading  rifles that dated to at least the Ferguson
Ferguson rifle
The Ferguson rifle was one of the first breech loading rifles to be widely tested by the British military. Other breech loaders were experimented with in various commands, including earlier versions of the Ordnance rifle by Patrick Ferguson when he was in the "Fever Islands" . It was often...

 of 1776. Von Dreyse would perfect his Nadelgewehr
Needle gun
The Dreyse needle-gun was a military breechloading rifle, famous as the main infantry weapon of the Prussians, who adopted it for service in 1848 as the Dreyse Zündnadelgewehr, or Prussian Model 1848...

 (Needle Rifle) by 1836, and it was adopted by the Prussian Army in 1841. It became the first bolt-action weapon to see combat in 1864. The United States purchased 900 Greene rifles in 1857, but this weapon was ultimately considered too complicated for issue to soldiers and was supplanted by the Springfield rifle
Springfield Rifle
The term Springfield Rifle may refer to any one of several types of small arms produced by the Springfield Armory in Springfield, Massachusetts, for the United States armed forces....

, a conventional muzzle loading rifle. During the American Civil War, the bolt-action Palmer carbine was patented in 1863, and by 1865, 1000 were purchased for use as cavalry weapons. The French Army adopted its first bolt action rifle, the Chassepot rifle, in 1866 and followed with the metallic cartridge bolt action Gras rifle in 1874 .

European armies continued to develop bolt-action rifles through the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, first adopting tubular magazines as on the Kropatschek
Kropatschek
A Kropatschek is any variant of a rifle designed by Alfred von Kropatschek. Kropatschek's rifles used an tubular magazine of his design, of the same type used in the German Mauser Gewehr 1871/84 and the Japanese Type 22 Murata.-Variants:Austria-Hungary:...

 rifle and the Lebel rifle, a magazine system pioneered by the Winchester rifle
Winchester rifle
In common usage, Winchester rifle usually means any of the lever-action rifles manufactured by the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, though the company has also manufactured many rifles of other action types...

 of 1866. Ultimately the military turned to bolt-action rifles using a box magazine; the first of its kind was the M1885 Remington-Lee
M1885 Remington-Lee
The M1885 Remington-Lee is a bolt action, box magazine repeating rifle designed principally by James Paris Lee. It first appeared in 1879, manufactured by the Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company. Eventually Remington took over production and produced the famous Model 1885 Remington Lee Navy Rifle...

, but the first to be generally adopted was the British 1888 Lee-Metford
Lee-Metford
The Lee-Metford rifle was a bolt action British army service rifle, combining James Paris Lee's rear-locking bolt system and ten-round magazine with a seven groove rifled barrel designed by William Ellis Metford...

. The Mauser G93 was considered the epitome of this type of action, and its descendents became the standard against which all such rifles are measured. World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 marked the height of the bolt-action rifle's use, with all of the nations in that war fielding troops armed with various bolt-action designs.

During the build up prior to World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, the military bolt-action rifle began to be superseded by the semi-automatic rifle
Semi-automatic rifle
A semi-automatic rifle is a type of rifle that fires a single bullet each time the trigger is pulled, automatically ejects the spent cartridge, chambers a fresh cartridge from its magazine, and is immediately ready to fire another shot...

 and later assault rifle
Assault rifle
An assault rifle is a selective fire rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine. Assault rifles are the standard infantry weapons in most modern armies...

s, though bolt-action rifles remained the primary weapon of most of the combatants for the duration of the war; and many American units, especially USMC
United States Marine Corps
The United States Marine Corps is a branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for providing power projection from the sea, using the mobility of the United States Navy to deliver combined-arms task forces rapidly. It is one of seven uniformed services of the United States...

, used bolt-action '03 Springfields until sufficient M1 Garand
M1 Garand
The M1 Garand , was the first semi-automatic rifle to be generally issued to the infantry of any nation. Called "the greatest battle implement ever devised" by General George S...

s were available. The bolt-action is still common today among sniper rifle
Sniper rifle
In military and law enforcement terminology, a sniper rifle is a precision-rifle used to ensure more accurate placement of bullets at longer ranges than other small arms. A typical sniper rifle is built for optimal levels of accuracy, fitted with a telescopic sight and chambered for a military...

s, as the design has potential for superior accuracy, reliability, lesser weight, and the ability to control loading over the faster rate of fire that alternatives allow. There are however, many semi-automatic sniper rifle designs, especially in the designated marksman
Designated marksman
The designated marksman is a military marksman role in a U.S. infantry squad. The term sniper was used in Soviet doctrine although the soldiers using the Dragunov were the first to use a specifically designed designated marksman's rifle. Sniper is also used in Russian doctrine...

 role.

Today, bolt-action rifles are chiefly used as hunting rifles. These rifles can be used to hunt anything from vermin
Vermin
Vermin is a term applied to various animal species regarded by some as pests or nuisances and especially to those associated with the carrying of disease. Since the term is defined in relation to human activities, which species are included will vary from area to area and even person to person...

, to deer
Deer
Deer are the ruminant mammals forming the family Cervidae. Species in the Cervidae family include white-tailed deer, elk, moose, red deer, reindeer, fallow deer, roe deer and chital. Male deer of all species and female reindeer grow and shed new antlers each year...

, to large game, especially big game caught on a safari, as they are adequate to deliver a single lethal shot from a safe distance.

Bolt-action shotguns are considered a rarity among modern firearms, but were formerly a commonly used action for .410 entry-level shotguns, as well as for low-cost 12 gauge
Gauge (bore diameter)
The gauge of a firearm is a unit of measurement used to express the diameter of the barrel. Gauge is determined from the weight of a solid sphere of lead that will fit the bore of the firearm, and is expressed as the multiplicative inverse of the sphere's weight as a fraction of a pound . Thus...

 shotguns. The M26 Modular Accessory Shotgun System (MASS) is the most advanced and recent example of a bolt-action shotgun, albeit one designed to be attached to an M16 rifle or M4 carbine using an underbarrel mount (although with the standalone kit, the MASS can become a standalone weapon).
Mossberg 12 gauge bolt-action shotguns were briefly popular in Australia after the 1997 firearms law changes, but the shotguns themselves were awkward to operate and only had a three-round magazine, thus offering no practical and real advantages over a conventional double-barrel shotgun.

Some pistols are bolt action, although this is uncommon, and such examples are typically specialised target handguns.

Major bolt action systems

There are three major bolt action system designs: the Mauser system, the Lee-Enfield system, and the Mosin-Nagant system. All differ in the way the bolt fits into the receiver, how the bolt rotates as it is being operated, the number of locking lugs holding the bolt in place as the gun is fired, and whether the action is cocked on the opening of the bolt (as in the Mauser system) or the closing of the bolt (as in the Lee-Enfield system). The vast majority of bolt-action rifles utilize one of these three systems, with other designs seeing only limited use.

Mauser

The Mauser M 98 bolt system was introduced in the Mauser Gewehr 98
Gewehr 98
The Gewehr 98 is a German bolt action Mauser rifle firing the 8x57mm cartridge from a 5 round internal clip-loaded magazine that was the German service rifle from 1898 to 1935, when it was replaced by the Karabiner 98k. It was hence the main rifle of the German infantry during World War I...

 and is the most common bolt action system in the world, being in use in nearly all modern hunting rifles and the majority of military bolt-action rifles until the middle of the 20th century The Mauser system is stronger than that of the Lee-Enfield with its two locking lugs just behind the bolt head is able to better handle higher pressure cartridges (i.e. "Magnum" calibre centrefire rifle cartridges), while the Lee-Enfield or Mosin-Nagant actions require some strengthening to do the same task. A novel safety feature was the introduction of a third locking lug present at the rear of the bolt that normally did not lock the bolt, since it would introduce asymmetrical locking forces. The Mauser system features "cock on opening", meaning the upward rotation of the bolt when the rifle is opened cocks the action. A drawback of the Mauser M 98 system is that it can not be cheaply mass produced very easily. Many Mauser M 98 inspired derivatives feature technical alterations, such as omitting the third safety locking lug, to simplify production.

The controlled-feed Mauser M 98 bolt-action system simple, strong, safe, and well-thought-out design inspired other military and hunting/sporting rifle designs that became available during the 20th century like the:
  • Gewehr 98
    Gewehr 98
    The Gewehr 98 is a German bolt action Mauser rifle firing the 8x57mm cartridge from a 5 round internal clip-loaded magazine that was the German service rifle from 1898 to 1935, when it was replaced by the Karabiner 98k. It was hence the main rifle of the German infantry during World War I...

    /Karabiner 98k
    Karabiner 98k
    The Karabiner 98 Kurz was a bolt action rifle chambered for the 8x57mm IS/7.92×57mm IS cartridge that was adopted as the standard service rifle in 1935 by the German Wehrmacht. It was one of the final developments in the long line of Mauser military rifles...

  • vz. 24
    Vz. 24
    The vz. 24 rifle is a rifle designed and produced in Czechoslovakia from 1924 to 1942. It was developed from the Mauser Gewehr 98 line, though is not a clone of any specific Mauser model. The fit and finish are of the highest quality....

  • Type Zhongzheng rifle
    Chiang Kai-shek rifle
    The Type Zhongzheng rifle , also known as the Chiang Kai-shek/Jiang Jieshi Rifle and Type 24 after the Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, was a Chinese-made copy of the German Mauser Gewehr 98, the forerunner of the Karabiner 98k. Pre-production of the Chiang Kai-Shek rifle started in August...

  • M1903 Springfield
  • Pattern 1914 Enfield
  • M1917 Enfield
  • Arisaka
    Arisaka
    Arisaka is a family of Japanese military bolt action rifles, in production from approximately 1898, when it replaced the Murata rifle, until the end of World War II in 1945...

     Type 38
    Type 38 rifle
    The is a bolt-action rifle. For a time it was the standard rifle of the Japanese infantry. It was known also as the Type 38 Year Meiji Carbine in Japan. An earlier, similar weapon was the Type 30 Year Meiji Rifle, which was also used alongside it. Both of these weapons were also known as the...

    /Type 99
    Type 99 Rifle
    The was a bolt-action rifle of the Arisaka design used by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II.-History:During the Second Sino-Japanese War in the 1930s, the Japanese soon found that the 8×57mm IS cartridge the Chinese used was superior to the 6.5×50mm cartridge of the Type 38 rifle,...

  • M48 Mauser
    M48 Mauser
    The M48 Mauser is a post World War II Yugoslavian version of the Belgian Fabrique Nationale designed Mauser Model 1924 short rifle which was produced under contract by the "Kingdom of Yugoslavia" beginning in 1928 and ending with the Nazi occupation in 1941. After World War II, the Yugoslavs took...

  • modern hunting/sporting rifles like the CZ 550, Heym Express Magnum
    Heym Express Magnum
    The Heym Express Magnum is a series of very powerful German rifles of the 1990s designed for hunting big game. They are available in 19 different calibers from the .300 Win Mag to the hugely powerful .500 Jeffery and .600 Nitro Express...

    , Winchester Model 70
    Winchester Model 70
    The Winchester Model 70 is a bolt action sporting rifle. It has an iconic place in American sporting culture and has been held in high regard by shooters since it was introduced in 1936, earning the moniker "The Rifleman's Rifle". The action has some design similarities to Mauser designs and it is...

     and the Mauser M 98
  • modern sniper rifles like the GOL Sniper Magnum
    GOL Sniper Magnum
    The GOL-Sniper Magnum is a bolt-action sniper rifle designed by the German company Gol-Matic GmbH of Birkenau, Hesse. The rifle is available in tactical as well as sporting and match configurations.-Design:...

     and Zastava M07
    Zastava M07
    The Zastava M07 is a modern military sniper rifle developed and manufactured by Zastava Arms, Serbia. The sniper rifle M07 is designed on the basis of the Mauser 98 bolt action system, the barrel is made of chrome-vanadium steel. The rifle is loaded from a detachable magazine with the capacity of...



Versions of the Mauser action designed prior to the Gewehr 98's introduction, such as that of the Swedish Mauser
Swedish Mauser
"Swedish Mausers" are a family of bolt-action rifles based on an improved variant of Mauser's earlier Model 1893, but using the 6.5x55mm cartridge, and incorporating unique design elements as requested by Sweden. These are the m/94 carbine, m/96 long rifle, m/38 short rifle and m/41 sniper...

 rifles and carbines, lack the third locking lug and feature a "cock on closing" operation.

Lee-Enfield


The Lee-Enfield bolt action system was introduced in 1889 with the Lee-Metford
Lee-Metford
The Lee-Metford rifle was a bolt action British army service rifle, combining James Paris Lee's rear-locking bolt system and ten-round magazine with a seven groove rifled barrel designed by William Ellis Metford...

 and later Lee-Enfield rifles (the bolt system is named after the designer and the barrel rifling after the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield), and is a "cock on closing" action in which the forward thrust of the bolt cocks the action. This type bolt can be used on modern magnum rounds and is found in several bolt-action .50 BMG rifles today. Since the Lee-Enfield's locking lugs are at the rear of the bolt, repeated firing over time can lead to receiver "stretch" and excessive headspace; accordingly, the Lee-Enfield bolt system features a removable bolthead, which allows the rifle's headspace to be adjusted by simply removing the bolthead and replacing it with one of a different length as required. In the years leading up to WWII, the Lee-Enfield bolt system was used in numerous commercial sporting and hunting rifles manufactured by such firms in the UK as BSA, LSA, and Parker-Hale, as well as by SAF Lithgow in Australia. Vast numbers of ex-military SMLE Mk III rifles were sporterised post-WWII to create cheap, effective hunting rifles, and the Lee-Enfield bolt system is used in the M10 and No 4 Mk IV rifles manufactured by Australian International Arms.
  • Lee-Enfield (all marks and models)
  • Ishapore 2A1
    Rifle 7.62mm 2A1
    The Rifle 7.62mm 2A/2A1 is a 7.62mm NATO calibre bolt-action rifle adopted as a reserve arm by the Indian military in 1963....

  • Various hunting/sporting rifles manufactured by BSA
    Birmingham Small Arms Company
    This article is not about Gamo subsidiary BSA Guns Limited of Armoury Road, Small Heath, Birmingham B11 2PP or BSA Company or its successors....

    , LSA
    London Small Arms Co. Ltd
    The London Small Arms Company Ltd was a British Arms Manufacturer from the years 1866-1935.Based in Tower Hamlets, London, London Small Arms Co...

    , SAF Lithgow, and Parker-Hale
    Parker Hale
    Parker Hale Ltd. was a United Kingdom firearms, air rifle and firearms accessory manufacturer, located in the Gun Quarter of the city of Birmingham, England. It was originally founded by Alfred Gray Parker and Arthur Hale. Parker-Hale Limited began manufacturing high quality precision shooting...

  • Australian International Arms M10 and No 4 Mk IV hunting/sporting rifles

Mosin–Nagant

The Mosin–Nagant action, created in 1891, differs significantly from the Mauser and Lee-Enfield bolt action designs. The Mosin-Nagant design has a separate bolthead which rotates with the bolt and the bearing lugs, in contrast to the Mauser system where the bolthead is a non-removable part of the bolt. The Mosin-Nagant is also unlike the Lee-Enfield system where the bolthead remains stationary and the bolt body itself rotates. The Mosin-Nagant bolt is a somewhat complicated affair, but is extremely rugged and durable; it, like the Mauser, uses a "cock on open" system. Like the Lee-Enfield bolt system, the Mosin-Nagant system can be suitable for use with modern "Magnum" calibre centrefire rifle cartridges (the BOHICA Arms .50 BMG being one), although it is worth noting that its standard Russian 180-grain 7.62x54R ammunition is comparable to some loadings of the 7 mm Remington Magnum
7 mm Remington Magnum
The 7mm Remington Magnum rifle cartridge was introduced as a commercially available round in 1962, along with the new Remington Model 700 bolt action rifle. It is a member of the belted magnum family that is directly derived from the venerable .375 H&H Magnum...

. Although this bolt system has been rarely used in commercial sporting rifles (the Vostok brand target rifles being the most recognized) and never outside of Russia, large numbers of military surplus Mosin-Nagant rifles have been sporterized
Sporterising
Sporterising, sporterisation, or sporterization refers to the practice of modifying military-type firearms either to make them suitable for civilian sporting use or to make them legal under the law.-Modifying for sporting use:...

 for use as hunting rifles in the years since WWII.

One interesting aspect of the Mosin-Nagant rifle's long and varied history comes from the wars for independence between Finland and the Soviet Union. Large numbers of these Mosin-Nagant rifles, some Russian, and some made by foreign countries such as France and even America for Tsarist Russia, were inherited and then re-worked by Finland into various models prior to WWII. The Finnish M28 is widely considered to be one of the finest and most accurate military rifles ever produced; Simo Häyhä
Simo Häyhä
Simo Häyhä , nicknamed "White Death" by the Red Army, was a Finnish sniper. Using a modified Mosin–Nagant in the Winter War, he has the highest recorded number of confirmed sniper kills - 505 - in any major war....

, one of the most successful military snipers of all time, recorded over 500 kills with a standard-issue Finnish M28 Mosin-Nagant rifle over the course of about 100 days. Amazingly, Häyhä accomplished this feat without the use of a scope, as he preferred iron sights.

Other designs

In addition to the most common bolt action systems, others have been devised that failed to achieve the ubiquity of the Mauser, Lee-Enfield, and Mosin-Nagant designs. Some of the most notable of these are the Canadian Ross rifle
Ross rifle
The Ross rifle was a straight-pull bolt-action 0.303 inch calibre rifle produced in Canada from 1903 until the middle of the First World War....

, the Swiss
Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 Schmidt-Rubin
Schmidt-Rubin
The Schmidt-Rubin rifles were a series of Swiss Army service rifles in use between 1889 and 1953. They are distinguished by the straight-pull bolt action invented by Rudolf Schmidt and use Eduard Rubin's 7.5x55mm rifle cartridge.-Schmidt-Rubin 1889:...

 and Austro-Hungarian
Austria-Hungary
Austria-Hungary , more formally known as the Kingdoms and Lands Represented in the Imperial Council and the Lands of the Holy Hungarian Crown of Saint Stephen, was a constitutional monarchic union between the crowns of the Austrian Empire and the Kingdom of Hungary in...

 Steyr-Mannlicher M1895
Steyr-Mannlicher M1895
The Steyr-Mannlicher M1895 rifle is a bolt-action rifle, designed by Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher that used a refined version of his revolutionary straight-pull action. It was nicknamed the "Ruck-Zuck" by Landsers...

 designs. All three are straight-pull bolt actions, but are entirely unrelated designs. The Ross and Schmidt-Rubin rifles load via stripper clip
Stripper clip
A stripper clip or charger is a speedloader that holds several cartridges together in a single unit for easier loading of a firearm's magazine. A stripper clip is used only for loading the magazine and is not necessary for the firearm to function...

s, albeit of an unusual paperboard
Paperboard
Paperboard is a thick paper based material. While there is no rigid differentiation between paper and paperboard, paperboard is generally thicker than paper. According to ISO standards, paperboard is a paper with a basis weight above 224 g/m2, but there are exceptions. Paperboard can be single...

 and steel design in the Schmidt-Rub rifle, while the Steyr-Mannlicher uses en-bloc clips. The Schmidt-Rubin series, which culminated in the K31
K31
The Karabiner Model 1931 is a magazine-fed, straight-pull bolt-action rifle. It was the standard issue rifle of the Swiss armed forces from 1933 until 1958, though examples remained in service into the 1970s...

, are also known for being among the most accurate military rifles ever made. Yet another variant of the straight-pull bolt action, of which the M1895 Lee Navy
M1895 Lee Navy
The Lee Model 1895 was a straight-pull, cam-action magazine rifle adopted in limited numbers by the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps in 1895 as a first-line infantry rifle...

 is an example, is a camming action in which pulling the bolt handle causes the bolt to rock, freeing a stud from the receiver and unlocking the bolt.

Another notable design is the Norwegian
Norway
Norway , officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic unitary constitutional monarchy whose territory comprises the western portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula, Jan Mayen, and the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Bouvet Island. Norway has a total area of and a population of about 4.9 million...

 Krag-Jørgensen
Krag-Jørgensen
The Krag-Jørgensen is a repeating bolt action rifle designed by the Norwegians Ole Herman Johannes Krag and Erik Jørgensen in the late 19th century. It was adopted as a standard arm by Denmark, the United States of America and Norway...

, which was used by Norway, Denmark, and briefly the United States. It is unusual among bolt action rifles in that is loaded through a gate on right side of the receiver, and thus can be reloaded without opening the bolt. The Norwegian and Danish versions of the Krag have two locking lugs, while the American version has only one. In all versions, the bolt handle itself serves as an emergency locking lug. The Krag's major disadvantage compared to other bolt-action designs is that it is usually loaded by hand, one round at a time, although there were made a box-like device that could drop five rounds into the magazine, all at once. This made it slower to reload than other designs which used stripper or en-bloc clips. Another historically important bolt action system was the Gras system, used on the French Mle 1874 Gras rifle, and the Mle 1886 Lebel rifle, which was first to introduce ammunition loaded with nitrocellulose-based smokeless powder
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

.

More recently the Blaser company has introduced a new straight-pull action where locking is achieved by a series of concentric 'blades'.

Operating the bolt

Typically, the bolt consists of a tube of metal inside of which the firing mechanism is housed, and which has at the front or rear of the tube several metal knobs, or "lugs", which serve to lock the bolt in place. The operation can be done via a rotating bolt
Rotating bolt
Rotating bolt is a method of locking originally developed by Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher and found in his Steyr-Mannlicher M1895 straight-pull bolt-action rifle designed for and issued to the Austro-Hungarian Army...

, a lever, or a number of systems. For example, one setup is a straight-pull design, such as the German Blaser R93 rifle
Blaser 93 Tactical
The Blaser LRS 2 and Blaser Tactical 2 are German sniper rifles, used by German and Dutch police forces as well as the Australian military and special police units. The rifles are manufactured by the German fire arms manufacturer Blaser. The LRS 2 and Tactical 2 rifles are straight-pull bolt-action...

. Straight-pull designs have seen a great deal of use, though manual turn-bolt designs are what is most commonly thought of in reference to a bolt-action design due to the type ubiquity. As a result the bolt-action term is often reserved for more modern types of rotating bolt-designs when talking about a specific weapon's type of action, however both straight-pull and rotating bolt rifles are types of bolt-action rifles. Lever-action
Lever-action
Lever-action is a type of firearm action which uses a lever located around the trigger guard area, to load fresh cartridges into the chamber of the barrel when the lever is worked. Most lever-action firearms are rifles, but lever-action shotguns and a few pistols have also been made...

 and pump-action
Pump-action
A pump-action rifle or shotgun is one in which the handgrip can be pumped back and forth in order to eject a spent round of ammunition and to chamber a fresh one. It is much faster than a bolt-action and somewhat faster than a lever-action, as it does not require the trigger hand to be removed from...

 weapons must still operate the bolt, but they are usually grouped separately from bolt-actions that are operated by a handle directly attached to a rotating bolt.

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Most bolt-action firearms are fed by an internal magazine
Magazine (firearm)
A magazine is an ammunition storage and feeding device within or attached to a repeating firearm. Magazines may be integral to the firearm or removable . The magazine functions by moving the cartridges stored in the magazine into a position where they may be loaded into the chamber by the action...

 loaded by hand, by en bloc
Clip (ammunition)
A clip is a device that is used to store multiple rounds of ammunition together as a unit, ready for insertion into the magazine or cylinder of a firearm. This speeds up the process of loading and reloading the firearm as several rounds can be loaded at once, rather than one round being loaded at a...

, or stripper clip
Stripper clip
A stripper clip or charger is a speedloader that holds several cartridges together in a single unit for easier loading of a firearm's magazine. A stripper clip is used only for loading the magazine and is not necessary for the firearm to function...

s, though a number of designs have had a detachable magazine or independent magazine, or even no magazine at all, thus requiring that each round be independently loaded. Generally, the magazine capacity is limited to two to ten rounds, as it can permit the magazine to be flush with the bottom of the rifle, reduce the weight, or prevent mud and dirt from entering. A number of bolt-actions have a tube magazine, such as along the length of the barrel. In weapons other than large rifles, such as pistol
Pistol
When distinguished as a subset of handguns, a pistol is a handgun with a chamber that is integral with the barrel, as opposed to a revolver, wherein the chamber is separate from the barrel as a revolving cylinder. Typically, pistols have an effective range of about 100 feet.-History:The pistol...

s and cannon
Cannon
A cannon is any piece of artillery that uses gunpowder or other usually explosive-based propellents to launch a projectile. Cannon vary in caliber, range, mobility, rate of fire, angle of fire, and firepower; different forms of cannon combine and balance these attributes in varying degrees,...

s, there were some manually operated breech loading weapons. However, the Dreyse Needle fire rifle
Needle gun
The Dreyse needle-gun was a military breechloading rifle, famous as the main infantry weapon of the Prussians, who adopted it for service in 1848 as the Dreyse Zündnadelgewehr, or Prussian Model 1848...

 was the first breech-loader to use a rotating bolt design. Johann Nicholas von Dreyse's rifle of 1838 was accepted into service by Prussia
Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

 in 1841, which was in turn developed into the Prussian Model 1849. The design was a single-shot
Single-shot
Single-shot firearms are firearms that hold only a single round of ammunition, and must be reloaded after each shot. The history of firearms began with single-shot designs, and many centuries passed before multi-shot designs became commonplace...

 breech loader, and had the now familiar arm sticking out the bolt to turn and open the chamber. The entire reloading sequence was a more complex procedure than later designs, however, as the firing pin
Firing pin
A firing pin or striker is part of the firing mechanism used in a firearm or explosive device e.g. an M14 landmine or bomb fuze. Firing pins may take many forms, though the types used in landmines, bombs, grenade fuzes or other single-use devices generally have a sharpened point...

 had to be independently primed and activated, and the lever was only used to move the bolt.

Benefits and drawbacks

Bolt-action firearms have earned a reputation for being potentially more accurate and reliable than semi-automatic rifles. However, this depends on numerous other factors with regard to both firearm and ammunition, and modern semi-automatic rifles can be exceptionally accurate when designed as such. Because of the combination or relatively light weight, reliability, high potential accuracy and lower cost, they are still the choice of many hunters, target shooters and sniper
Sniper
A sniper is a marksman who shoots targets from concealed positions or distances exceeding the capabilities of regular personnel. Snipers typically have specialized training and distinct high-precision rifles....

s. This is true because of the way that bolt action rifles close the chamber, but must be operated manually in single action. When a cartridge fires inside the chamber, the force from the charge is completely directed at propelling the bullet down the barrel (in an autoloader, part of the energy is used to cycle the action); however, some energy is transferred to the shooter through normal recoil. The bolt action's locking lugs are normally at the front of the breech (some designs have additional "safety lugs" at the rear) and this contributes to potential accuracy compared to a design which locks the breech at the rear, such as a lever action. Also, a bolt action's only moving parts
Moving parts
The moving parts of a machine are those parts of it that move. Machines comprise both moving and fixed parts. The moving parts have controlled and constrained motions....

 when firing are the pin and spring. Since it has fewer moving parts and a short lock time, it has less of a chance of being thrown off target and less of a chance to malfunction
Firearm malfunction
A firearm malfunction is the partial or complete failure of a firearm to operate as intended. Malfunctions range from temporary and relatively safe situations, such as a casing that didn't eject, to potentially dangerous occurrences that may permanently damage the gun and cause injury or death...

. Since the spent cartridge has to be manually removed instead of automatically ejected, it helps a sniper remain better hidden, since not only is the cartridge not flung into the air and to the ground, possibly giving away the sniper's position, but the cartridge can be removed when most prudent, allowing the sniper to remain still until reloading is tactically feasible. Bolt actions are also easier to operate from a prone position than other manually repeating mechanisms and work well with box magazines which are easier to fill and maintain than tubular magazines.

The integral strength of the design means very powerful magnum cartridges can be chambered without significantly increasing the size or weight of the weapon. For example, some of the most powerful elephant rifles are in the same weight range (7-10 lbs.) as a typical deer rifle, while delivering several times the kinetic energy to the target. The recoil of these weapons, however, is correspondingly severe. One well known example is that bolt action rifles designed for the .223 Remington
.223 Remington
The .223 Remington is a sporting cartridge with almost the same external dimensions as the 5.56×45mm NATO military cartridge. The name is commonly pronounced either two-two-three or two-twenty-three. It is loaded with a diameter, jacketed bullet, with weights ranging from , though the most common...

 can usually safely fire the more powerful 5.56x45mm NATO
5.56x45mm NATO
5.56×45mm NATO is a rifle cartridge developed in the United States and originally chambered in the M16 rifle. Under STANAG 4172, it is a standard cartridge for NATO forces as well as many non-NATO countries. It is derived from, but not identical to, the .223 Remington cartridge...

, while auto-loaders might malfunction. By contrast, the laws of physics dictate that the operating mechanism of a semi-automatic weapon must increase in mass and weight as the cartridge it fires increases in power. This means that semi-automatic rifles firing magnum cartridges, while they do exist, tend to be relatively heavy and impractical for many types of hunting.

Some disadvantages of the bolt action include being the slowest of all the major manual repeating mechanisms, as it requires four distinct movements (as opposed to two distinct movements for lever and pump action, though straight-pull bolt actions likewise require only two distinct movements) and requires the trigger hand leave the gun and regrip the weapon after each shot, usually resulting in the shooter having to realign his sight and reacquire the target for every shot. It is also not ambidextrous, and left-handed models tend to be more expensive.

Safety and headspace

On used bolt-action firearms, especially, the headspace should be checked with headspace gauges prior to shooting to ensure it is correct, and to prevent over-stressing chambers and cartridge brass. Some bolt-action rifles, such as the Lee-Enfield
Lee-Enfield
The Lee-Enfield bolt-action, magazine-fed, repeating rifle was the main firearm used by the military forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth during the first half of the 20th century...

, have a series of different length bolts available to extend the service life of the rifle, for taking up any wear of the bolt and chamber occurring from long years of service. In the case of the No. 4 Lee-Enfield bolt, the bolt heads themselves are replaceable separate from the bolt and are marked 0, 1, 2, or 3, with each bolt head in sequence being nominally 0.003" longer than the bolt head numbered one less, for easily taking up any action stretching that may have occurred. It is possible to replace such a bolt head without tools by disassembling the bolt from the action, unscrewing the bolt head, and replacing the bolt head with the next higher number bolt head, for restoring a safe headspace.

Furthermore there are many subtle issues involving the provenance of a rifle and its ammunition. Many calibres have dual civilian/military uses but are not completely identical - e.g. the .308 Winchester
.308 Winchester
The .308 Winchester is a rifle cartridge and is the commercial cartridge upon which the military 7.62x51mm NATO centerfire cartridge is based. The .308 Winchester was introduced in 1952, two years prior to the NATO adoption of the 7.62x51mm NATO T65...

/7.62mm NATO and .223 Remington
.223 Remington
The .223 Remington is a sporting cartridge with almost the same external dimensions as the 5.56×45mm NATO military cartridge. The name is commonly pronounced either two-two-three or two-twenty-three. It is loaded with a diameter, jacketed bullet, with weights ranging from , though the most common...

/5.56mm NATO have very slight differences in chamber sizes. Military ammunition often has thicker brass, and harder primers. Over major wars there were literally millions of surplus rifles converted to civilian uses (sporterized), many may be unsafe with modern ammunition - caution is required with any ex-military bolt action.

See also

  • Antique guns
    Antique guns
    An antique firearm is, loosely speaking, a firearm designed and manufactured prior to the beginning of the 20th century. The Boer War is often used as a cut-off event, although the exact definition of what constitutes an "antique firearm" varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction...

  • Blowback (arms)
    Blowback (arms)
    Blowback is a system of operation for self-loading firearms that obtains energy from the motion of the cartridge case as it is pushed to the rear by expanding gases created by the ignition of the propellant charge....

  • British military rifles
    British military rifles
    The origins of the modern British military rifle are within its predecessor the Brown Bess musket. While a musket was largely inaccurate over 80 yards due to a lack of rifling and a generous tolerance to allow for muzzle-loading, it was cheaper to produce and could be loaded quickly. The use in...

  • Browning A-Bolt
    Browning A-Bolt
    The A-Bolt Rifle is a bolt-action rifle designed by the American Browning Arms Company. It is manufactured by Miroku Corp in Japan. The A-Bolt replaced the Browning BBR in 1984. It is a popular hunting rifle due to its accuracy and availability....

  • Carcano
    Carcano
    Carcano is the frequently used name for a series of Italian bolt-action military rifles and carbines. Introduced in 1891, this rifle was chambered for the rimless 6.5x52mm Mannlicher-Carcano Cartuccia Modello 1895 cartridge. It was developed by the chief technician Salvatore Carcano at the Turin...

  • Gas-operated
  • K31
    K31
    The Karabiner Model 1931 is a magazine-fed, straight-pull bolt-action rifle. It was the standard issue rifle of the Swiss armed forces from 1933 until 1958, though examples remained in service into the 1970s...

  • Krag-Jørgensen
    Krag-Jørgensen
    The Krag-Jørgensen is a repeating bolt action rifle designed by the Norwegians Ole Herman Johannes Krag and Erik Jørgensen in the late 19th century. It was adopted as a standard arm by Denmark, the United States of America and Norway...

  • Lebel rifle
  • M1903 Springfield rifle
  • M1917 Enfield rifle
    M1917 Enfield rifle
    The M1917 Enfield, the "American Enfield" , formally named "United States Rifle, cal .30, Model of 1917" was an American modification and production of the British .303 caliber P14 rifle developed and manufactured during the period 1917-1918.-History:Before World War I developed, the British had as...

  • Mannlicher-Schönauer
    Mannlicher-Schönauer
    The Mannlicher-Schönauer is a type of rotary magazine bolt action rifle produced by Steyr-Mannlicher for the Greek Army in 1903 and later was also used in small numbers by the Austro-Hungarian Armies.-Design Characteristics:In the late 19th century, the...

  • MAS-36
    MAS-36
    The MAS Modèle 36 is a bolt-action rifle. It was adopted in 1936 by France, and was intended to replace the Berthier and Lebel series of service rifles. It was manufactured by MAS The MAS Modèle 36 is a bolt-action rifle. It was adopted in 1936 by France, and was intended to replace the Berthier...

  • Mosin-Nagant
    Mosin-Nagant
    The Mosin–Nagant is a bolt-action, internal magazine-fed, military rifle invented under the government commission by Russian and Belgian inventors, and used by the armed forces of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and various other nations....

  • Mosquefal
    Mosquefal
    The Mosquefal M968 is a variant of the earlier 1908 DWM Brazilian Mauser rifle; differenciated from this by its lighter weight, shorter barrel, curved bolt, and by the caliber. The M908 was chambered for the 7x57mm Mauser cartridge, then popular throughout Latin America...

  • Recoil operation
    Recoil operation
    Recoil operation is an operating mechanism used in locked-breech, autoloading firearms. As the name implies, these actions use the force of recoil to provide energy to cycle the action...

  • Remington 700
    Remington 700
    The Model 700 series of firearms are bolt-action rifles manufactured by Remington Arms since 1962. All are based on the same centerfire bolt action. They often come with a 3, 4 or 5-round internal magazine depending on caliber, some of which have a floor-plate for quick-unloading, and some of which...

  • Ruger M77
    Ruger M77
    The Ruger M77 is a bolt-action rifle produced by Sturm, Ruger & Company. It was designed by Jim Sullivan during his three years with Ruger. The rifle features a traditional Mauser-style two-lugged bolt with a claw extractor.- Design and features :...

  • Spencer repeating rifle
    Spencer repeating rifle
    The Spencer repeating rifle was a manually operated lever-action, repeating rifle fed from a tube magazine with cartridges. It was adopted by the Union Army, especially by the cavalry, during the American Civil War, but did not replace the standard issue muzzle-loading rifled muskets in use at the...

  • Weatherby
    Weatherby
    Weatherby, Inc. is an American gun manufacturer founded in 1945 by Roy Weatherby. The company is best known for its high-powered magnum cartridges, such as the .257 Weatherby Magnum and the .460 Weatherby Magnum...

  • Winchester Model 70
    Winchester Model 70
    The Winchester Model 70 is a bolt action sporting rifle. It has an iconic place in American sporting culture and has been held in high regard by shooters since it was introduced in 1936, earning the moniker "The Rifleman's Rifle". The action has some design similarities to Mauser designs and it is...

  • Service rifle
    Service rifle
    The service rifle of a given army or armed force is that which it issues as standard to its soldiers. In modern forces, this is typically a highly versatile and rugged assault rifle suitable for use in nearly all theatres and environments...

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