Best Buys in Bolt Rifles

Strong, reliable and accurate, bolt actions also fire powerful loads. But which models provide the best values?

Best Buys in Bolt Rifles

When New Yorker Walter Hunt invented his “Volitional Repeater” in 1848, there were no turn-bolt rifles on the market. In fact, there were no metallic cartridges! Hunt’s rifle, cycled by a ring that accepted one finger, fired case-less “Rocket Balls,” powder in their hollow heels ignited by external primers fed by a pill box device. Twice sold to investors, this balky arm got better after tinkering by Lewis Jennings and B. Tyler Henry. The resulting Henry rifle of 1860 saw limited use in the Civil War, fought almost entirely with caplock muzzleloaders. Oliver F. Winchester’s investment in the Henry’s development yielded the first Winchester rifle, the 1866, then the Model 1873.

Bolt rifles stateside trailed the work of Germany’s Paul Mauser, who in the 1860s explored the turnbolt action of the Dreyse needle gun from the Franco-Prussian War. After Remington agent Samuel Norris pulled promised funding, Paul set up his own shop with brother Wilhelm to develop a new action. (Oddly, Norris would file to patent Mauser’s rifle in the United States. In 1868, it became the first patented design to bear the Mauser name.) The Royal Prussian Military Shooting School was impressed by Paul’s work. In 1872, the blackpowder 11mm (.43) Mauser Model 1871 became Prussia’s infantry rifle. But financial success was still years away. After Wilhelm died young in 1882, it was clear to Paul that repeating rifles would own the future. He tweaked the 1871 and added a nine-shot tube magazine. As late as 1967, when American troops were toting M-16s, you could still buy a Mauser 71/84 rifle for $15.

A rapid succession of Mausers between 1889 and 1898 were exported to several countries. The ’98 was produced in many more — though France, Russia, Great Britain and the United States designed and built their own military rifles.

Meanwhile, the mechanism of Winchester’s 1873 lever action had reached its practical limits in the larger Model 1876. Then a Winchester salesman happened upon a second-hand single-shot rifle by an obscure Utah gunmaker. John M. Browning was still in his 20s, building guns in an Odgen shop with his four brothers, when Winchester VP Thomas Bennett rode the rails six days to buy all rights to that rifle. So began a 17-year relationship that gave Winchester more than 40 firearm designs, 11 from 1884 to 1886! 

While lever rifles from Winchester, Marlin and Savage ushered U.S. hunters into the 20th century,

bolt actions armed infantries world-wide. Our first smokeless-powder round, the .30-40 Krag, appeared in the Krag-Jorgensen rifle of 1892. The .30-03, then the .30-06, upstaged it a decade later. WWI confirmed the advantages of bolt rifles in battle. Later, surplus Mausers and Springfields sold cheap to hunters, who appreciated their simplicity and accuracy. Bolt actions could bottle the pressures of potent cartridges that strained lever actions. The turn-bolt was also best adapted for shooting far with optical sights.

So it is today. The vast majority of hunters favor bolt rifles. Many popular cartridges are offered only for turn-bolts. And they have become less expensive, relative to traditional lever actions, whose manufacture and assembly require more machining and hand work. Still, some bolt rifles are pricey. Mauser’s Model 98 now lists well into five figures. Ditto British magazine rifles by the best London houses and custom sporters by top U.S. gunmakers.  

I suspect most predator hunters, like me, must still budget for utility bills and truck insurance. We can ogle the beautiful without needing it afield. And while one rifle might serve for many tasks, we’d just as soon specialize. “Why sure, Sweetheart, I could use my deer rifle for prairie dogs, coyotes and elk. But, hey, you have more than one pair of shoes!” (Before adopting that line, consider others.)

Hunters seeking value in a new rifle — performance for the dollar — now have myriad choices. I’ve distilled a long list to include here “varmint” rifles with thick barrels and lightweight sporters you’d pack into the hills. Price range: $500 to $1,500. 

Bergara — The Bergara name comes from that of the Spanish town where in 1999 a factory was making rifle barrels for BPI Outdoors. Their accuracy became known on CVA muzzleloaders. OEM barrels for several gunmakers followed. Bergara’s first turn-bolts, the B-14 series, impress me with their stout, easy-running actions. Button-rifled, stress-relieved barrels are true to .0002-inch. My 9.5-pound HMR (Hunter Match Rifle) impresses me. It uses an AICS magazine and lists for $1,099. The HMR’s adjustable competition-inspired stock cradles an alloy “mini-chassis.” Ditto the Terrain Wilderness, with a more traditional grip ($1,249). Hunter and Ridge sporters (the Ridge with a threaded barrel) feature internal boxes and hinged floorplates, and weigh 7 to 7.5 pounds. The Wilderness versions with a SoftTouch stock finish add about $100 to their $879 and $929 base prices. Bergara’s 6.4-pound B14 Ridge Carbon Wilderness with a carbon fiber (CF) barrel lists at $1,499. Bergara offers a wide range of popular chamberings.


CVA — In 2020, CVA trotted out its first turn-bolt centerfire rifle, the $499 Cascade. A Cerakoted version followed, at $599. The action features a slick-shucking, low-lift, three-lug bolt and a flush-fitting detachable magazine. The 22-inch barrel is threaded, the gray synthetic stock well-shaped, with a SoftTouch finish. An SB (Short Barrel) Cascade came in 2022, with a 16.5- or 18-inch barrel in 6.5 Creedmoor, .300 Blackout and .308 Win. Last year, a Cascade XT (Xtreme) appeared, with a stiff 22- or 24-inch barrel, fluted, braked and bored for seven short- and long-action cartridges, 6.5 Creedmoor to .300 Win. Mag., including the straight .350 Legend and .450 Bushmaster. A long bolt knob assists with cycling. Black-Cerakoted steel complements the stock’s Realtree Hillside camo finish. MSRP is $850. The .270 Win. and .30-06 have joined the chambering roster for Cascades in Flat Dark Earth/Veil Wideland ($775).


Introduced four years ago, Franchi’s Momentum has a three-lug bolt and feeds from an internal box over a hinged floorplate. An Elite version appeared in 2022. Price hikes have put the standard rifle at $799. The Elite retails at $999. Two new Elites have joined them. The Varmint, with a heavy fluted barrel costs $1,179. The Momentum Elite All-Terrain, in .223 Rem. and .308 Win. lists at $1,449. It has a “scout rifle” profile, with iron sights and extended Picatinny rail. A modular M-Lok-friendly stock in True Timber Strata complements Midnight Bronze Cerakoting on the steel and high and straight cheek-rests are included. Three recoil pads adjust length of pull. The plunger ejector in the recessed face of the spiral-fluted three-lug bolt kicks cases smartly, fed from a polymer Magpul AICS magazine. The trigger breaks cleanly and adjusts down to 2.5 pounds. The 18-inch threaded barrel in .308 Win. wears a brake. Over bags with a 1.5-4.5x24mm Weaver scope, the Momentum Elite All-Terrain I’d snared for tests sent three Federal 175-grain Terminal Ascent bullets into a .75-inch group. 

Besides building military arms since it resumed production in 1952, Howa has manufactured bolt rifles for Smith & Wesson, Mossberg and Weatherby. Sporters under Howa’s own brand, distributed in North America by Legacy Sports International, include the new 39-inch Superlite. It scales just 4 pounds, 7 ounces with its 21-ounce Stocky’s carbon fiber stock, dipped in Obscura or Kryptek Altitude camo. The short action further trims weight with a small-diameter, twin-lug bolt forged in one piece. Its enclosed face has a plunger ejector and M16-style extractor. An adjustable two-stage trigger and a three-position side safety put you in control. The detachable polymer magazine is durable and quiet. The slender 20-inch barrel, in 6.5 Creedmoor or .308 Win., is threaded 1/2x28 and guaranteed to deliver three-shot groups inside 1 MOA. A Limbsaver recoil pad keeps you comfy at the bench. In the truck or scabbard, or sharing your hike up the mountain, Howa’s Superlight gives you accuracy and game-killing power in an agile package that weighs half as much as some hunting rifles. Its Picatinny rail is ready for the scope of your choice. Howa lists the Superlite at $1,399.

KimberEstablished in Oregon as a rifle manufacturer, Kimber operated for 21 years in New York State, where 1911 pistols ruled the product line. Now it’s headquartered in a 225,000-ft2 building on 80 acres in Troy, Alabama, where Kimber firearms are engineered and manufactured. The original 84M rifle sired sub-models on four actions: the 84M for .308-length cartridges, the 84SM for short rimless magnums, the 84L for the .30-06 clan and the 8400LM for belted magnums. Kimber has whittled its premium offerings and now prices them above $2,000. But the company’s synthetic-stocked Hunter series is still a real bargain. Based on the 84M action but distinguished by a flush-fitting detachable box, it comes in 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Win., in three stock finishes, with or without a brake. Like its predecessors, it has stainless steel bones, a clean profile and pillar bedding — a beautifully sculpted rifle that weighs just 5.5 pounds but delivers fine accuracy. MSRP: $1,066 to $1,151.  

Mauser — With Blaser and Sauer, Mauser production occurs at Isny, Germany. All three brands are owned by the L&O Group. The value star in Mauser’s line is the 18, named, like the mid-level M12 (but minus the M) for its model year. The 18 was developed to compete with the best of entry-level rifles stateside. It has a beautifully contoured synthetic stock but Spartan lines. Fit and finish trump those of most rifles at its price point. The exceptionally smooth action boasts an adjustable trigger, a three-position safety and a recessed three-lug bolt head chiseled from a full-diameter body. It accepts Remington M700 scope bases. Under a Blaser-branded scope, a Mauser 18 in 6.5 Creedmoor gave me sub-minute groups. First listed at $650, the Mauser 18 has climbed to $901 with an attractive Savanna Tan stock ($1,007 in camo). Choose from 14 chamberings, .223 Rem. to .300 Win. Mag. and 8.5x55 Blaser.

MossbergRetail prices on Mossberg’s Patriot bolt-action series start at just $484. Despite a modest MSRP, my Patriot rifle balances nicely, functions smoothly, wears useful iron sights, weighs 6.5 pounds — and has punched groups as tight as .7 MOA. While this walnut-stocked version isn’t the least expensive of its kind, it sells for well under the $800 mark. Its handling and accuracy, and responsive LBA (New Lightning Bolt) trigger (standard on all Patriots and user adjustable from 2 to 7 pounds), make it one of the best values of any rifle in my rack. Mossberg lists this rifle in 16 chamberings and many configurations, with popular features such as Cerakoting, iron sights, Picatinny rails, camouflage finish, adjustable and “tactical” stocks, even packages with a 3-9x40mm Vortex scope.

RugerThe 6.3-pound Ruger American Rifle delivers fine accuracy at a ridiculously low cost. My American in 6.5 Creedmoor has torn a single hole with three shots. After a 20 percent climb in price, this rifle is still a screaming bargain at $599. Now there’s a “Gen II” version, with a removable oversize bolt knob, a three-position tang safety and a spiral-fluted, threaded barrel. An AICS magazine is secured by a prominent latch in front of the guard. “Splatter finish” on the stock grips your hand. A detachable cheek-rest brings your eye to the axes of scopes in medium or high rings. Butt spacers with a soft pad adjust length of pull from 12 to 13.8 inches. Standard and short-barreled Ranch versions retail for $729. Prices of rifles in Ruger’s Hawkeye series have vaulted over $1,500, but the Hunter, Compact Hunter and Predator have paused below that mark. The walnut-stocked, stainless Hunter sells at $1,429 in a suite of chamberings. The laminate-stocked Predator, with its beefier profile, lists for $1,469.

SavageSince its 1958 debut, the Savage 110 (listed initially for $110) has given hunters reliable function and fine accuracy in a package that won’t break budgets. Inflation has buoyed prices in the series, now including dozens of sub-models, but I recently hunted with a new rifle that lists at a modest $639. The 110 Trail Hunter’s Cerakoted action and medium-heavy barrel snuggle in a synthetic stock over-molded by Hogue for a “grippy” surface. This weatherproof bolt action comes in 15 chamberings, .223 Rem. to .300 Win. Mag., with the 6mm ARC, 7mm PRC and .400 Legend on that roster. Barrels of 18 to 24 inches put rifle weight between 7 and 8.4 pounds. The Trail Hunter has a detachable box, a three-position tang safety and Weaver scope bases. Another 110, Savage’s Switchback ($699), features butt-stock shims that adjust length of pull from 12.8 to 13.8 inches. Its olive-green synthetic stock wears black grip panels. The threaded barrel comes with a brake. A scope rail has 20 minutes of “gain” for long shots. AccuTrigger? Of course!

Tikka — During WWII, Sako (it’s Socko, not Sayko, a merciful distillation of suojeluskuntain yliesikunnan asepaja) worked with Finnish company Tikka to produce a battery of arms. After the war, they collaborated on a host of other projects. Tikkakoski Works moved to Sako’s Riihimaki factory in 1989. Tikka’s Whitetail rifle gave way in 2003 to the T3, an elegantly simple twin-lug bolt rifle with an adjustable trigger, detachable polymer box and the hammer-forged barrel of the pricier Sako 75. The T3X followed, with a bigger port for easier top-loading. The T3X now comprises 16 sub-models — “300 variations,” according to Tikka — in a wide range of chamberings. Current prices start at $749, with most rifles listing at under $900. (and

Weatherby — Nearly 100 employees now produce rifles in Weatherby’s modern 75,000-square-foot factory in Sheridan, Wyoming. It includes 100- and 300-yard underground ranges for testing. “Vertical integration makes us less dependent on outside suppliers,” says company president Adam Weatherby. The Mark V action is the soul of 23 Weatherby rifle models. One, the Mark V Hunter, squeezes under a $1,500 price lid. Cerakoted, with a polymer stock, it’s available in 17 chamberings, including Weatherby’s own .240, .257, 6.5 RPM, .270 and 7mm, and the long-action 6.5-.300 and .300. The company’s Vanguard series, on stout, smooth-functioning Howa actions, delivers value in rifles starting below $630. The walnut-stocked Vanguard Sporter, at $929, is barreled to 15 cartridges, including .257, 6.5-.300 and .300 Weatherby. The Sporter, with a handsome Boyds laminated stock, lists at $849.

Winchester — At $1,280 to $1,300, the Featherweight Model 70 is the sole version of Winchester’s flagship bolt rifle now listing for under $1,500. A distinguishing feature, restored to all Model 70s, is the Mauser-style non-rotating extractor, for controlled-round feed. The 70 comes in 15 chamberings, .22-250 Rem. to .338 Win. Mag. and .325 WSM. The less expensive Winchester XPR series is barreled to 16 popular cartridges, .223 Rem. to .338 Win. Mag., and boasts several variations, including a walnut-stocked Sporter. The rifle’s three-lug full-diameter bolt is nickel Teflon-coated for easy travel in a receiver machined from bar stock. Cartridges strip from a detachable box that can be topped off in the rifle. The standard M.O.A. trigger impresses me. Prices: $570 to $920.


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