Bolt action

A bolt-action firearm is typically a rifle that is manually operated (i.e. by hand), specifically that the opening and closing of the breech is controlled manually by a bolt. The term "action" references the means by which a firearm operates.

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A Mauser M94 bolt-action rifle


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, a lever, or a number of systems. For example, one setup is a straight-pull design that use a rotating bolt, such as the German Blaser R93 rifle. Straight pull designs designs have seen a great deal of use, though manual turn-bolt designs are what 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 and Pump action 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.


Most bolt-action firearms are fed by an internal magazine loaded by hand, by en bloc, or stripper clips, 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. Typically, the capacity has been limited to several 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 older bolt actions had a tube magazine, such as along the length of the barrel. In weapons other than large rifles, such as pistols and cannons, there were some manually operated breech loading weapons. However, the Dreyse Needle fire rifle 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 in 1841, which was in turn developed into the Prussian Model 1849. The design was a single-shot breach 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 then later designs however, as the firing pin had to be independently primed and activated, and the lever was only used to move the bolt.


Throughout the 1800s breech-loading bolt-actions continued to develop following a steady progression, seeing widespread adoption and continual improvements in design. WWI marked the height of the type's use though automatic loading designs were starting to be used.

During and after World War II, the military bolt-action rifle was superseded with the semi-automatic rifle and later assault rifles. However, the bolt-action is still common among sniper rifles, as snipers value the design's 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 in existence, especially in the designated marksmen role.

Bolt action rifles are chiefly used as hunting rifles now, which of course was their primary purpose to begin with. These rifles can be used to hunt anything from varmint, to deer, to birds, and especially big game caught on a safari, as it alows for a terminal shot from a safe distance.

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