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Bolt Action vs. semi-automatic .223 rifles

Gun Tips by Donald K. Burleson

November 2010

Question:  Which is more accurate in a .223 caliber, a bolt action or a semi-automatic rifle?  Is it a myth that bolt action rifles are more accurate than semiautomatic rifles?

Answer:  I'm not a AR expert, but in general, experts say that it is true that bolt actions are more accurate than semi automatic rifles.  Also see my notes on Range and Trajectory of .223 AR-15 rifle bullets.

  • As a general rule, semi-auto hunting rifles won't group as well as most bolt-action guns.

  • If you are a hunter or a sniper, where you are only going to get one shot at your prey, then a bolt action may be marginally more accurate.  However, using a supersonic bullet at 8,000 yards, you have a full 7 seconds between the first trigger squeeze and the pray hearing it, enough time to get off several shots.

  • However, based on the muzzle velocity or the rifle, the bullet may have left the barrel before the recoil begins, so having a bolt action will not matter.

  • Some note that since the semi-automatic .223 usually has a gas-operated delayed blowback, it makes no difference whether you use a bolt action of semi-automatic .223 as far as bullet ballistics are concerned.

  • Some also say that beginners who have trained on a bolt-action are much more accurate when they advanced to a semi-automatic, suggesting that a bolt-action .223 is as good training aid for beginning riflemen.

  • In the .223 rifles, expects says that any differences in ballistics & accuracy would be so small you wouldn't notice.  The general consensus is that Bolt action is more accurate than semi-automatic AR’s,  but modern day ARs are catching up and the military is starting to switch over to semi-automatic target sniper rifles.

Note: The opinions expressed on these pages are the sole opinion of Donald K. Burleson and do not reflect the opinions of Burleson Enterprises Inc. or any of its subsidiaries.

Suggestions?  We are always seeking new tips for the professional at leisure, and any suggestions would be most welcome.  If you find an error or have a suggestion for improving our content, we would appreciate your feedback. 

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