As more and more law enforcement agencies and military units/organizations purchase semi-automatic precision rifles for their marksmen and snipers, civilian shooters are inclined to purchase similar rifles for their own use. While this option should always be available to civilian shooters, it may not be the very best choice.
In general, semi-automatic rifles cost more than bolt action rifles, although there are very expensive examples of both available on the market. For an entry-level shooter who may not have the budget of a department or unit, though, the added cost of available semi-autos may not be justified.
AR-platform precision rifles in .308 and similar cartridges start at approximately twice the cost of “good” bolt action rifles. For example, the Remington 700 SPS Tactical has an MSRP of $757 and a “street” price of $550-600. It wouldn’t serve the needs of every shooter, but it’s reliable, most likely quite accurate, and has a decent trigger. In comparison, the Remington R-25, which is not exactly marketed as a “tactical” rifle but could easily be used for such purposes, has an MSRP of $1631 and is often seen in stores for approximately $1300.
The primary advantage of the semi-auto rifle is, of course, faster followup shots. For a sniper who must shoot multiple bad guys in a short period of time, especially at close to medium distance, the difference between a bolt action and a semi might literally be life or death.
For those who don’t expect to face large numbers of opponents, or those who are only looking to shoot paper or steel targets, the necessity for a rapid followup shot may not be as great. Only the shooter knows what he or she really needs, though.
When it comes to accuracy, semi-automatic weapons have long been maligned by proponents of bolt-action rifles. Modern semi-autos, though, give up very little if any accuracy and precision to their bolt-action competition.
One other advantage of the AR platform rifle is that it may be easily broken down and stored or transported in cases or bags that aren’t obviously intended for firearms. Until recently, the only bolt actions which shared these characteristics were relatively expensive and rare. However, Thompson/Center recently introduced the Dimension rifle, which not only allows the user to break down the weapon, but also switch between a number of calibers/cartridges in only a few minutes.
Even though not every shooter needs these features, T/C is selling the Dimension for just about $600 on the street, which is not bad for any decent bolt action rifle. T/C barrels are excellent, and the modularity of the rifle is a very nice benefit. It might not gain a whole lot of traction in the market right away, but it’s a positive step in a market segment normally dominated by rifles which have changed little from a design standpoint in over 100 years.
Again, while semi-automatic rifle platforms may dominate new sales for the law enforcement and military close-to-medium-range precision rifle market, the bolt action rifle is still a viable choice for many applications. Shooters should decide which fits their needs best within their budgetary limitations and make a rational and logical purchasing decision, not one driven by “rifle envy.”