Keefe Report: Affordable Bolt-Action Rifles

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posted on July 21, 2015
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The American rifle is in transition. Why? Because the affordable, modern bolt-action has finally come into its own.

When Ron Coburn saved Savage from closing, he did it by backing the economical Model 110 as the single most viable product in the company’s line. Nicholas Brewer’s 1958 design was conceived from the ground up to be easily manufacturable, which was great for Savage, but it was also a gift to shooters of all levels thanks to an accurate barrel, a simple bolt and a method of barrel attachment that allowed for zero excess headspace. Years later, the addition of the AccuTrigger made a great gun even better, and the reasonable price remained a significant selling point. For a while, Savage had most of the economical bolt-gun market to itself, save for competitors such as the Weatherby Vanguard and Tikka T3. 

Seeing opportunity, other companies entered the affordable bolt-action business, including Remington with its Model 783, the Marlin XL7, the Mossberg ATR (which has evolved into the Patriot), the Ruger American Rifle, and, more recently, the Browning AB3 and Winchester XPR. Savage economized even more with its Axis and Axis II series. Rifle buyers voted with their checkbooks.

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The Mossberg ATR has evolved into the Patriot.

As bolt-actions could be had for the same price, or not appreciably more, than a single-shot or lever-action, consumers flocked to the better mousetrap. Suddenly, the demand for low-price, single-shot rifles could be met by one major importer: CVA. And lever-guns were driven into disparate categories; the affordable .30-30 Win. as offered by Henry and Mossberg, the big-bore guns offered by Henry and Marlin and the nostalgic Cowboy guns from Henry, Marlin, Uberti and Winchester. The once-ubiquitous Model 94 became an expensive specialty gun. The days when tens of thousands of .30-30s were made every month in “Gun Valley” are gone. And although Remington Outdoor Co. has the Marlin Model 336 line up and running, the question remains as to whether consumers want them or not.

That today’s crop of economical bolt-actions deliver reliability and good triggers at an affordable price is no longer in question. And while they are doubtless designed to be manufactured quickly and cost effectively, that does not mean they are not capable of exceptional accuracy. Savage, once again showing leadership in this area, proved so with its Model 110 BA line in chamberings up to .338 Lapua Mag. But now the bar has been reset again with the Ruger Precision Rifle shown on this month’s cover.

Sure, the action of the Ruger American Rifle, on which the new gun is based, is economical to make, but the engineering behind it is extremely sound. How sound? Enough to be the basis of the next step in the evolution of the affordable bolt rifle. The Ruger Precision Rifle is nearly capable of half-minute-of-angle accuracy and is, so far as I can tell, the most accurate production rifle in the Sturm, Ruger & Co. catalog. It offers top-quality components, features and accuracy normally found only on custom rifles costing four times as much. What the Precision does is offer a long-range rifle within the budget of most shooters, and you can read about the Ruger Precision Rifle here.

Although I still prefer blued steel and American walnut (thankfully both are enjoying a slight resurgence), the American bolt-action is changing, and the face of that change looks like the Ruger Precision Rifle.

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