Shooting World Forums banner

Semi versus bolt versus lever

5554 Views 13 Replies 8 Participants Last post by  elderberry99
If you look in the "semi" area, you see that I posted there, saying (just to stir some discussion) that I prefer semi's in rifles - because they seem much more convenient to the shooter.

Now, I have VERY VERY little rifle experience. A few shots recently on a Ruger 10-22 (in .22LR), and maybe 20 years ago, a few shots on some .3 caliber (probably .30-06) bolt action; don't even remember what kind of rifle that was. So the above statement is really not well founded.

So I would like to start a discussion here: What are the pro's and con's of bolt action versus lever action versus semi-automatic? This is for sport shooting (target shooting) and light hunting use, not for tactical or battlefield use. Does it make a big difference? Or should one instead find a rifle one really likes, judging for example by the fit or by the trigger feel, and go with whatever action it comes with? Are the answers different for different calibers (for example, it might be that for .17 HMR one should always go semi, whereas for large calibers one should always go bolt, just to make something up)?

Here are a few pro's and con's I can think off right off the bat:

Semis are more convenient. Just pull the trigger again. You can't forget to toggle the bolt first or pull the lever first.

Semis are less reliable, in particular in calibers where there is a wide variability in loads (such as .22): A semi that's designed and tuned for a middle-of-the-road cartridge might not work reliably with particular hot or soft loads.

Semis have more moving parts, meaning more work to clean, and more chance of something getting screwed up.

Semis can be shot faster, which might be an advantage for small fast-moving game, or if you know you missed partially on the first shot.

Bolts are more cumbersome than levers; you can operate a lever faster and more smoothly, without lowering the gun (I made that up, since I've never shot a lever gun, but it sounds plausible).

Bolt actions are more a "serious hunter" style. If you show up in a classy hunting party with a lever action, everyone will think you are a cowboy wannabee. If you show up to a costumed western cowboy event with an elegant English-style lever gun, everone will think you are a sissy with too much money.

Any other serious considerations?
See less See more
1 - 14 of 14 Posts
Well, opinion discussions are always fun. :) I've hunted deer with a Marlin 336 levergun in .35 Remington for quite awhile now. I'm in the process of going to a bolt-action, just because I'd like to be confident at slightly longer ranges.

I have to say that I think the importance of fast follow-up shots, at least in deer hunting, can be exaggerated. If you place your first shot reasonably well, most kills will be one shot. Maybe it's just me, but I like to try to make that first shot count, so I wait for a broadside or quartering shot, with the animal standing still or barely moving. I know some people shoot at walking or running deer, but I'm not confident enough about shot placement to try that. I guess what I'm saying is that my goal is to put that first shot right in the vitals, not hope to make up for missing it by firing more rounds.

So, for me, practice is essential. I feel I owe the deer a clean, quick death, and that's insured by making the first bullet the priority. Can you have both? Maybe so. The pumps, autos, and leverguns can be accurate, I'm sure. But I like simplicity too, since I'm subject to "buck fever" just like everyone else. Right ATM I'm thinking a bolt is the right rifle for me.
See less See more
My philosophies regarding game are much like Jeff's, a clean kill is essential to a hunt and that is best done on the first shot. With this in mind, the ability for rapid shots is not overly important if one does their part with that first one. My opinion s here are for big game, small game guns rate a different discussion.
The pros for semi autos, off the top of my head and in my estimation, are: lessened recoil due to weight and often gas operation; ability to quickly unload if it has a detachable clip; most people shoot multiple times if they pull the trigger (I own stock in the parent companies of Federal, Winchester, and Remington ammunition).
Cons: Complexity of mechanism, possibility of problems can be increased; many shooters rely on the ability to make multiple rapid shot rather than one well placed one; expense of gun and/or limited caliber options; gun weight; some can be finicky with ammo choice; sporting guns are often not as accurate as other action types.
Lever pros: nostalgic looks; mostly light weight; made for scabbard carry; adequate range and power for most hunting; many fairly inexpensive; some models have detachable magazines allowing for spitzer bullets.
Cons: many have tubular magazines necessitating ballistically inferior round nose or flat point bullets; those allowing spitzers are more expensive or no longer made; tubular magazined guns often unload through the chamber while working the action, in some models this can contribute to accidental discharges; are not considered to be overly accurate as a whole; many have no true safety other than at "half cock"; can kick tremendously in the larger calibers.
Bolt action pros: accuracy in many; caliber choice; weight; bullet selection; greater choice in stock and metal materials; ease or ability of fine tuning the action; many unload through the bottom of the gun either by magazine or release; simple operation and cleaning, reliability in all conditions.
Cons: weight (too heavy or light) in some cases; some models must be unloaded working the bullets through the action; too many to chose from.
As for some of your concerns, I don't think it is very likely for someone who is passingly familiar with their gun to forget to work the action of their gun. I shoot thousands of rounds of shotshells each year in semi auto or O/U shotguns and I have yet to forget to work the bolt or lever of my rifles. I have forgotten where the safety is but not to work the action. As stated, I don't place a lot of weight on fast follow up shots, a well placed first one is best. Like Jeff, I don't shoot unwounded, running deer. I haven't had a poor shot yet but I have gotten off a shot and worked the bolt to get off a second (though unneeded) shot before wounded game got out of sight on a couple of occasions, all were in Minnesota or Wisconsin woods and all coincidently were shot with either semi auto or lever rifles. Ideally, the rifle never leaves the shoulder to cycle the action in any rifle. Working a bolt while keeping the keeping the rifle on the shoulder and the target in the sights takes very little effort but virtually no one does this.
Over all, I don't see much use for a semi-auto in my case (at least in big game, small game is a bit different) as its pros do not benefit me much. I have toyed with getting one many times but the less expensive ones aren't "pretty" to me and the "pretty" ones are too expensive. I have a lever gun mainly because I didn't have one of that type for gun safety training. Since I bought it, I get around to using it now and again to further justify the purchase. As one can see, I prefer bolt for my big game rifles. They provide accuracy, power, carrying ease, and versatility in a very cost effective platform.
See less See more
Dang, I forgot to log in. The above opus is mine, uglydog.
Re: re: Semi versus bolt versus lever

Thanks for the discussion!

Anonymous said:
My philosophies regarding game are much like Jeff's, a clean kill is essential to a hunt and that is best done on the first shot.
Makes sense for large game: The first shot should kill the game, not maim and injure it. I think the situation is different for small game, where the first shot is more likely to completely miss the game (in which case the critter is probably leaving the battlefield rapidly, and you'll never get it with a second shot anyhow). So in a nutshell, it sounds like for game the ability to fire more rapidly is pretty darn pointless.

The pros for semi autos, off the top of my head and in my estimation, are: lessened recoil due to weight and often gas operation;
I would think that a .22 (both in LR and in WMR, and the related .17 cartridges) have very little recoil anyhow, so this doesn't matter so much. On the other hand, I've heard that the .22 magnum has a very nasty quick hard kick, which tends to kill the scope regularly on some rifles.

most people shoot multiple times if they pull the trigger (I own stock in the parent companies of Federal, Winchester, and Remington ammunition).
At the extremely low cost of .22 ammunition (pennies for .22 LR, a little more for .22 WMR), you're unfortunately not going to get rich of someone squeezing off three or four shots. Now, if this was shotgun slugs, that's a different story. Did you know that a Brenneke slug even in .410 gauge magnum is over $1 each (in 12 gauge they are closer to $2). Buy some stock in that. Or buy some stock in whoever makes the .357 sig ammo I occasionally use at the range. That's some serious money. By the way, that's one of the reasons to get a .22 rifle: It's a good introduction to rifle shooting, a good training rifle for the young gentleman, it might be useful for small pests around the house, and all this for pretty cheap.

Cons: Complexity of mechanism, possibility of problems can be increased ... some can be finicky with ammo choice
That's the things that really worry me about semis. I want a firearm to be perfect: Put ammo in, get it ready, and then any time you hit the trigger, it will shoot (and after shooting it for a while, it's easy to clean and maintain). That's why I like revolvers, and the super-reliable pistols like USPs. I don't want with zillions of finicky moving parts, or one which doesn't shoot when I hit the trigger, or one which has to be babied all the time to get the damn round to actually chamber, or one that has to be re-adjusted anytime a different ammo is called for.

There is nothing more unnerving than carefully aiming, pulling the trigger, and hearing just a "click" sound. My shotgun did this occasionally for a while (something terribly misaligned, firing pin hit primer off-center), and I find this to be an offence punishable by an extended trip to the gunsmith.

Reading your post, it seems to me that a bolt-action is the best choice, definitely in large calibers for large game hunting. It's really too bad one can't just rent one for a month, and so few are available as loaners on the range.
See less See more
Heck i like all three types.they all have good and bad points. its really,what you like to shoot.
but if you put lots of practice in you can get second shot off just as fast with lever or bolt.
There is no difference in the shooting of large or small game; in either case, one attempts to do so with the first shot. The small game target may be smaller but the distances are typically short. In your description of small game hunting, one would never do so due to the dismal chances of success. that fortunately is not true.
In my first post I stated I was replying in regards to big game hunting as you left the question open ended. In the case of rimfire rifles, I don't think action type makes much difference in the amount of recoil experienced. If anything, the semi auto 22LR seem to have more "kick" due to movement of the bolt. I have never heard of the recoil of a 22 WMR upsetting the innards of a decent scope but could see it if it were the $9.99 "deals" found in discount stores.
As for shooting multiple times, again I was speaking of big game and rather faceitiously at that. If you have ever been out in "the woods" during the opening day of firearms deer season you would know what I mean. Strings of several shots are common and rather disconcerting to me. I agree on your reasons for buying a 22, it is recommended by many. I have several but the two I use the most are a single shot and an auto as they are by far the most accurate rimfires I own.
Any gun can suffer misfires, proper maintainence usually prevents them. The problems with autos are not as great with many of them today as they were in the past but I still think most the other actions are more dependable. My ruger 10/22 has thousands of rounds through it and I think I cleaned it once to take the packing grease off. It has not had a misfire attributable to the lack of cleaning yet. I had a Remington 740 auto that finally wore the rails down and was converted to a pump. I have seen problems with about every common gun, mainly due to cleaning. As an aside, my Ruger Super Redhawk just developed a bent crane that won't allow the cylinder to close and latch. I guess revolvers aren't what they used to be.
I rely on bolts mainly because they most often fit MY purposes. I do own other action types as they are often the best I have found for a specific purpose due to caliber, ammo type, or price. Some are just plain fun to have and shoot. Regardless of action type, I have only one objective when I pull the trigger, put the first bullet where I want to on the target. Do this and the second one isn't very important.
See less See more
Great discussion, interesting points! Uglydog, before I forget, check your PM's; I sent you a message about my Marlin. :)

I've actually never hunted small game with a .22, unless you count woodchucks, which I grew up bagging for all the local farmers--not only did the chucks eat alot of vegetables, their holes were hell on farm equipment wheels. I was like the avenging angel oin groundhogs, and if I have to answer for my sins in the afterlife, I can only hope God's ok with whacking chucks. Not sure I would do it again, actually. I've developed this habit of only killing stuff I intend to eat, just personal, of course: I fully support the rights of others to shoot crows, etc. But I even let oyster crackers, skates, and sandbar sharks go when I'm fishing. :)

I do think that every animal I hunt or fish for, no matter what the size, deserves a clean, quick death--I'm hoping for one myself :lol: --and I regard practicing with the rifle of my choice and picking my shots carefully as something I owe to the cycle of nature. I like to be confident when I pull the trigger, but I also know I'll need a second or even a third shot some time. Hence my switch to the bolt action. Lately, I've been trying to boil my gun safe down to four or five guns that I'll have for the rest of my life. For rifle shooting, I'm very interested in improving my shooting out beyond 100 yards--and I'm doing so in order to put that second shot on target if I need to. Most deer are shot well below 100 yards, of course, but if I'm confident at 150, I'll know I can put a bullet in the vitals at half the distance.

Not that I'm preaching to anyone else. This past fall we had an old guy in deer camp who shot a running buck, and I mean running, two others saw him do it and said the buck did a cartwheel and never got up. Around the dinner table I realized that this was no accident; the guy had grown up out west and hunted all his life. My goals are far more modest--I'll be happy to fill a doe tag with an easy, clean kill. :D I think that's what we all want, though, huh? (The kill, not the doe--I'm just partial to them because the meat's tender :p ).

Anyway, I wish you all the best. My search for a rifle is narrowing down. For a time I was headed toward a .270, but now I've pretty much decided to stick with the 7mm-08, unless price becomes a huge issue. I'm looking hard at the Ruger MKII Compact, the Remington CDL, and the Remington model 700 Moutain Rifle, also the Browning A-bolt hunter is still in the running if I can find one at a reasonable price. I doubt I'll be able to get myself to buy a synthetic stock, even though I think it might be the smart thing to do. With the Ruger compact I think it's almost too "compact"--just a 16.5 inch barrel!

Sorry to ramble on so long--just felt like talking guns. :)
See less See more
Thanks for the heads up Jeff, I often forget to look there.
I know what you mean how some seem to be able to place great shots on running game but I hesitate to do so. I know I'll hit about any big animal I'd try at but I can't be 100% positive it would be in an instantly vital area. Drives were commonplace when I started out and I've spent many hours helping track wounded deer, more than I would have liked were never seen again. I don't practice as much with the rifle as I would like but I shoot enough shotgun to make hits on running targets fairly certain. I have much the same goals in hunting, make a clean kill and am happy with a doe as I am a meat hunter first and a trophy hunter second. My main goal deer hunting is to fill my tag or tags so I can go bird hunting, my true love.
You pretty much answered your own question treelogger :wink: Generaly a bolt action is the most accurate of the actions you mention but this is not a hard and fast rule as there are some lever actions and semis that can rival or exceed the accuracy of many bolt actions. Also the bolt is also the slowest to operate but with a little practise can be reasonably quick for multiple shots. I prefer a bolt gun for big game hunting, have rarely needed a second shot, prefer to make the first one count if possible. A semi- auto would come in handy if a person was inclined to shoot at running game. I prefer not to unless I am tracking a wounded animal. I do like a semi-auto for small game though because it does allow a quick second shot if you miss the first one. I recently got a HK SL8 semi-auto .223 cal. that I use as a varmint gun. It's great, it's just as accurate as most bolt actions, is very reliable and does give me a fast second shot if needed. I use this gun for longer range gopher shooting and use a .22 rimfire bolt action for the close shots. :D
See less See more
if you dont mind my asking, how much did that sl8 cost you? ive only seen one for sale around here, and the shop wanted 1800
I personally like the bolt action the best. I will take accuracy over quickness any day. Now if you where hunting with say a lever action 44mag or perhaps a 45-70 I dont think you will lose that much accuracy with theses cartriges
Chips, I paid $2100.00 Cndn. for the SL8. $1800.00 doesn't sound too bad if your talking Cndn $$$. $1800.00 US would be a bit much. :D
I have used semi-automatics, lever actions, bolt action, and slide or pump actions for sport shooting (target) and hunting.
I have used the bolt, semi and pump shotguns when I first started hunting as a youngster and got very used to the pump action as I am a left hander. The pump seemed to be the choice for me. The semi's always seemed to be a little too expensive for me at that time of growing up when cutting lawns and delivering newspapers was my way of getting money to support my shooting habits and quality ammo was not the priority when you can buy off the shelf at a local discount store.
When I moved out of NJ (shotgun only for hunting), I found I was able to use a rifle for hunting and immediately went for the semi-auto. I soon found that I was so used to using my Mossberg 500 and Remington 870 that I found myself pulling back on the fore-end stock after that first shot in efforts to cycle my second shot. I found that being so used to my pump shotguns, it was the most logical choice to stay with that same action for my rifles.
I have been using my pump actions now for many years in 30-06, .270, and now in .308. All my rifles have been Remingtons and I feel so much at ease with the pump or slide action rifle.
For that "fast" follow up shot, I feel the pump will give me just as much speed as any other action out there because that is what I am so used to using.
Bottom line IMHO, if you are not comfortable with the weapon of choice, you can use a submachine gun and still never get off that second shot when placement is priority!
See less See more
1 - 14 of 14 Posts
This is an older thread, you may not receive a response, and could be reviving an old thread. Please consider creating a new thread.