Bolt action rifles were the mainstays of armies across the globe for nearly over half a century, and today we pick what we believe to be the five best ever fielded. The list factors in effectiveness, fun factor, historical significance, and ease of use.
Mauser derivatives and predecessors to the 98 were excluded from the list, or it would have been 5 Mausers. Derivatives included the Arisaka series, Springfield M1903s, and the P14/M1917
All five of these guns are fantastic, and we recommend you get behind them should the opportunity present itself!
The Krag–Jørgensen is a repeating bolt action rifle designed by the Norwegians Ole Herman Johannes Krag and Erik Jørgensen in the late 19th century.
A distinctive feature of the Krag–Jørgensen action was its magazine. While many other rifles of its era used an integral box magazine loaded by a charger or stripper clip, the magazine of the Krag–Jørgensen was integral with the receiver (the part of the rifle that houses the operating parts), featuring an opening on the right hand side with a hinged cover. Instead of a charger, single cartridges were inserted through the side opening, and were pushed up, around, and into the action by a spring follower.
The design presented both advantages and disadvantages compared with a top-loading “box” magazine. A similar claw type clip would be made for the Krag that allowed the magazine to be loaded all at once, also known as the Krag “Speedloader magazine”.
Normal loading was one cartridge at a time, and this could be done more easily with a Krag than a rifle with a “box” magazine. In fact, several cartridges can be dumped into the opened magazine of a Krag at once with no need for careful placement, and when shutting the magazine-door the cartridges are forced to line up correctly inside the magazine.
The design was also easy to “top off”, and unlike most top-loading magazines, the Krag–Jørgensen’s magazine could be topped up without opening the rifle’s bolt. The Krag–Jørgensen is a popular rifle among collectors, and is valued by shooters for its smooth action.
The Lee–Enfield bolt-action, magazine-fed, repeating rifle was the main firearm used by the military forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth during the first half of the 20th century. It was the British Army’s standard rifle from its official adoption in 1895 until 1957.
A redesign of the Lee–Metford (adopted by the British Army in 1888), the Lee–Enfield superseded the earlier Martini–Henry, Martini–Enfield, and Lee–Metford rifles. It featured a ten-round box magazine which was loaded with the .303 British cartridge manually from the top, either one round at a time or by means of five-round chargers.
The Lee–Enfield was the standard issue weapon to rifle companies of the British Army and other Commonwealth nations in both the First and Second World Wars. Although officially replaced in the UK with the L1A1 SLR in 1957, it remained in widespread British service until the early/mid-1960s and the 7.62 mm L42 sniper variant remained in service until the 1990s.
As a standard-issue infantry rifle, it is still found in service in the armed forces of some Commonwealth nations, notably with the Bangladesh Police, which makes it the longest-serving military bolt-action rifle still in official service. The Canadian Forces’ Rangers Arctic reserve unit still used Enfield No.4 rifles as of 2012, with plans announced to replace the weapons sometime in 2014 or 2015. Total production of all Lee–Enfields is estimated at over 17 million rifles.
The Lee–Enfield takes its name from the designer of the rifle’s bolt system—James Paris Lee—and the factory in which it was designed—the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield. In Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Southern Africa and India the rifle became known simply as the “three-oh-three”.
The Karabiner Model 1931 (K31) is a magazine-fed, straight-pull bolt action rifle. It was the standard issue rifle of the Swiss armed forces from 1933 until 1958 though examples remained in service into the 1970s. It has a 6-round removable magazine, and is chambered for the 7.5×55mm Swiss Gewehrpatrone 1911 or GP 11, a cartridge with ballistic qualities similar to the 7.62×51mm NATO/.308 Winchester cartridge.
Each rifle included a 6-round detachable box magazine with matching stamped serial number. A charger is used to load the magazine from the top of the receiver.
The Karabiner Model 1931 replaced both the Model 1911 rifle and carbine and was gradually replaced by the Stgw 57 from 1958 onwards.
Although the K31 is a straight-pull carbine broadly based on previous Swiss “Schmidt–Rubin” service rifles and carbines, the K31 was not designed by Colonel Rudolf Schmidt as he was not alive in 1931 to do so. Mechanical engineer Eduard Rubin was the designer of the 7.5×55mm Swiss ammunition previous Swiss service rifles and the K31 are chambered for.
The Karabiner Model 1931 was a new design by the Eidgenössische Waffenfabrik in Bern, Switzerland under Colonel Adolf Furrer. The first 200 K31s were made in May 1931 for troop trials, thus the model number of 1931.
The MAS-36 is a short, carbine-style rifle with a two-piece stock and slab-sided receiver. It is chambered for the modern, rimless 7.5×54mm French cartridge, a shortened version of the 7.5×57mm MAS mod. 1924 cartridge that had been introduced in 1924 (then modified in 1929), for France’s FM 24/29 light machine gun.
The rifle was developed based on French experience in World War I and combines various features of other rifles used, like the British SMLE rifle (rear locking lugs resistant to dirt), the U.S. M1917 Enfield rifle (turned down bolt, peep sight), and the German Mauser (five-round box-magazine), to produce an “ugly, roughly made, but immensely strong and reliable” service rifle.
The MAS-36 bolt handle was bent forward in an “awkward fashion” to bring it into a convenient position for the soldier’s hand, some of which found today have since been bent backward into a facing-downwards position like that of many other bolt-action rifles. The MAS-36 had a relatively short barrel and was fitted with large aperture (rear) and post (front) sights designed for typical combat ranges.
Typical for French rifles of the period, the MAS-36 had no manual safety. It was normally carried with a loaded magazine and empty chamber until the soldier was engaged in combat, though the rifle’s firing mechanism could be blocked by raising the bolt handle. The MAS-36 carried a 17-inch spike bayonet, reversed in a tube below the barrel. To use the bayonet, a spring plunger was pressed to release the bayonet. It was then free to be pulled out, turned around, and fitted back into its receptacle.
Like the Lebel model 1886 rifle, the MAS-36 featured a stacking hook offset to the right side of the barrel for standing a number of the rifles (usually a trio) upwards.
In February 1934 the Heereswaffenamt (Army Weapons Agency) ordered the adoption of a new military rifle. The Karabiner 98k was derived from earlier rifles, namely the Mauser Standardmodell of 1924 and the Karabiner 98b, which in turn had both been developed from the Gewehr 98.
Since the Karabiner 98k rifle was shorter than the earlier Karabiner 98b (the 98b was a carbine in name only, a version of Gewehr 98 long rifle with upgraded sights), it was given the designation Karabiner 98 kurz, meaning “Carbine 98 Short”. Just like its predecessor, the rifle was noted for its reliability, great accuracy and an effective range of up to 550 yd with iron sights and 1,090 yd with an 8× telescopic sight.
The Karabiner 98k is a controlled-feed bolt-action rifle based on the Mauser M 98 system. Its internal magazine can be loaded with five 7.92×57mm Mauser cartridges from a stripper clip or one-by-one. The straight bolt handle found on the Gewehr 98 bolt was replaced by a turned-down bolt handle on the Karabiner 98k.
This change made it easier to rapidly operate the bolt, reduced the amount the handle projected beyond the receiver, and enabled mounting of aiming optics directly above the receiver. Each rifle was furnished with a short length of cleaning rod, fitted through the bayonet stud. The joined rods from 3 rifles provided one full-length cleaning rod.
The Mauser Karabiner 98k rifle was widely used by all branches of the armed forces of Germany during World War II. It saw action in every theater of war involving German forces, including occupied Europe, North Africa, the Soviet Union, Finland, and Norway. Although comparable to the weapons fielded by Germany’s enemies at the beginning of the War, its disadvantages in rate of fire became more apparent as American and Soviet armies began to field more semi-automatic weapons among their troops.
Still, it continued to be the main infantry rifle of the Wehrmacht until the end of the War. Resistance forces in German-occupied Europe made frequent use of captured German Karabiner 98k rifles. The Soviet Union also made extensive use of captured Karabiner 98k rifles and other German infantry weapons due to the Red Army experiencing a critical shortage of small arms during the early years of World War II.
Many German soldiers used the verbal expression “Kars” as the slang name for the rifle.
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