The bolt action rifle is an American favorite. Currently the American shooting public enjoys a greater selection and a higher quality of bolt action rifle than ever before. After the MSRP of a bolt action rifle passes a certain point (as the ones in this comparison do) companies can no longer afford a product with major issues; the modern American market simply will not tolerate too much trouble with a rifle and as a result the rifles of today are pretty darn good. All the models covered here are decent equipment and have passionate advocates. So, if they are all so good, how do you rate them?
To begin with we’ve boiled these guns down to the components that are common to all of their many variants. Modern bolt gun manufacturers tend to use one action and build countless special purpose models around them. Here we are only concerned with the action, trigger and other features common to all models.
With this comparison we’re also looking decades forward to try and judge how useful these actions will be if the owner uses and abuses it until it’s time for a new barrel, adding some spare parts, conversion to a new caliber or the adoption of handloading as a hobby. The rifles compared here aren’t cheap, so we want to be able to get all the mileage we can out of them — even if some of the concepts are rare considerations.
Rating ten extremely popular rifles isn’t easy, but we’ve tried to do our best to let the prospective buyer know which will give them the most bang for their buck over the longest period of time with the most options. It’s probably not possible to do this without making someone grumpy or seeming to slight a product that is considered excellent by many but, hey, what’s the point in ranking something if it doesn’t bring about a good argument or two?
Ergonomics – This rating reflects the smoothness of the bolt throw both rearward and forward. The position of safeties or other controls is too subjective to rate, but bolt throw is fairly quantifiable.
Trigger - This rating reflects our opinion of the trigger. Is it adjustable? If so, is the method for adjustment user-friendly?
Feeding/Extraction - This rating is, by and large, theoretical. All the actions compared here have pretty good feeding and extraction systems, but some are considered more reliable than others.
Scope Mounting - This rating reflects the ease with which a new owner can get a scope mounted onto their new purchase. Mechanically, all the systems used on these actions are sound, but some are preferable to others in terms of ease of installation or availability.
Accuracy - Obviously, the accuracy of a rifle has a lot to do with the particular model and cannot be predicted based solely upon the action, but some of these actions do tend to produce better accuracy overall due to differences in their design.
Long Term Cost of Ownership - This rating reflect the cost that will be incurred over the service of the action or rifle. If something breaks what does it cost to replace? Are spare parts easily obtainable?
Reliability - This rating reflects how much a particular action can be trusted day-to-day and hunt-to-hunt. All the actions compared here are considerably more reliable than those that came before them, but some are still better than others.
Durability - This rating reflects how many beatings, rough falls, treks in rough weather and rounds fired the action can be counted on to withstand. All of the actions compared here should outlast their owners by many years, and some may outlast a few generations.
Versatility - This rating reflects what can be done with a particular action and how well the design lends itself to variations.
Fit/Finish - This is the only rating that reflects considerations outside the action and trigger. Companies tend to be rather consistent in their overall fit and finish from model to model, so this category is predictable to a certain extent.