I’ll always have an accurate bolt-action .223, but the capabilities of a well built AR-15 have changed my thinking, as well as the contents of my gun safe. A few years back I maintained a 26″ Remington VSSF Model 700, as well as lighter “walking varminter” – a 20″ Model Seven. Both shot well and the M-700 was a true .5 MOA performer. However, experience with several varmint-type AR-15s confirmed reports of stellar accuracy – a surprising twist considering the supposed inferior accuracy of semi-automatics.
Around 15 years ago I owned a Bushmaster V-Match. It shot below .75 MOA with good .223 ammo. Later, we procured a couple Bushmaster 24″ Varminters as tactical over-watch rifles for agency use. Based on their performance I picked up a third personal Varminter. These are flat-tops with free-floated forends, decent triggers, fluted 1×9 barrels and non-threaded muzzles. All consistently shoot right around .65 MOA with good ammo like Hornady 55 grain, and even lighter 40 grain, TAP.
In 2004 a fellow firearms instructor and I drove 2100 miles for a prairie dog shoot. We brought lots of .223 ammo and several bolt-actions, including our heavy-barrel M-700s. We got in a bunch of shooting during a very entertaining three days.
However, when engaging hamster-sized targets at 300+ yards wind is a significant factor. A miss will will kick up dust, which helps determine the correct hold for follow-up shots. Relocating these small targets can be tough after running a bolt. It takes time, resulting in lost opportunities. At that point we’d been testing various precision AR-15 rifles. It didn’t take us long to realize the advantages offered by fast follow-up shots……..
Scene two, 2009: We were back in the Nebraska Pan Handle for a return engagement. I had my Bushmaster Varminter and Mike had a 24″ Rock River. We each had an ammo can full of 20-round magazines, which are legal for anti-gopher operations. Our plan was to load no more than 5 rounds per magazine in order to maintain cool barrels.
This lasted maybe 5 minutes. Brass was flying and sod poodles were break-dancing. The combination of accurate rifles, Leupold Varmint Hunter reticles, and quick follow-up shots noticeably multiplied the carnage quotient. We did stop for a while on day #2 to uncase our bolt-guns. After less than a box of ammo we were back on the AR-15s, hot barrels and all.
Having watched Mike shoot some incredible groups with his heavy-barreled RR (and because of experience with others), I bought a 24″ upper. It was special ordered with a slower, 1×12, stainless barrel, and has a Wylde chamber. That’s a hybrid SAAMI/NATO cut, and fixes much of the slop associated with a looser mil-spec chamber. Our interest leaned toward light, match-grade .223 bullets calibrated to the highly effective Leupold VH hold-over lines.
Like Mike, I wasn’t disappointed. Groups were on par with our pet HB M-700s, running .5 MOA. This begs the question: Why even bother with our bolt-action varmint rigs? That’s a personal decision. In my case, I condensed the inventory to one in-between, 20″ M-700 Compact Tactical (which was recently reviewed here). Interestingly, my slower-twist 1×12 Rock River fires lighter bullets with accuracy similar to the quicker 1×9 Remington. Go figure.
Since an AR-15 is the ultimate transformer, it’s easy to switch out upper receivers. During winter months I push out two pins and replace the varmint assembly with an 18″ coyote killing upper. Rifled 1×8, it too shoots darned well, in this case with slightly heavier and tougher bullets. The familiar Rock River two-stage match trigger probably doesn’t hurt. The shorter version doubles as a do-all rifle.
Between both iterations I’m able to enjoy year-round shooting, thanks to this accurate and highly adaptive system.
Yep,If I had 1200-2000$ for a rife,600$ for mags1000$ for optics, 30-50$ a box for match ammo and 300-800$ for spare parts, that might be a fun toy. But without a factory grid to support it post SHTF, its just a door stop. A good bolt rifle will do anything an AR will, better& longer. A good remington 700 or savage 110 can be had for 1/4 the price of a Match AR . As I never kill for fun,only food, I have no need of a “varment” rifle, and I think the 5.56/223 is almost useless for hunting anything bigger than coyotes. I don’t understand the logic, of preping for the “big crash” and owning wepons that only work till the mags give out. Then buying a wepon with the worst /most failure prone mag on earth. Why own a SURVIVAL wepon that MUST have gallons of refined petrochemicals ,every year, to run? If you belive the grid will go down. Why stockpile a wepons system that CANNOT be maintained without it? P.S. Its not just ARs I feel this way about ALL semi-auto mag fed wepons. Wihout a factory grid they become useless REAL fast. Ray in Ky
I’ve got no dog in this fight, but I couldn’t let your response go by unanswered. My purpose here is to do nothing by warn a fellow prepper – friendly advice you may wish to consider before it all goes to hell and you can’t fix it after that.
1. The optic, ammo and spare parts don’t cost anymore for an AR15 than your beloved bolt action. Often they are less. Compare the cost of bolts, firing pins and triggers.
2. A good bolt action will not do anything an AR will? Seriously? Think about it. How long would a guy with a muzzle loader last against your bolt rifle? Not long most likely. The same gap in capability exists between your bolt action and the AR. In a defensive role, the bolt action is at terrible disadvantage. Even purpose dedicated sniper rifles are now mostly auto-loaders. If it comes down to a gunfight, the guy with the AR is going to win most of the time.
3. There is no need to have any more spare parts for a modern day AR than a Rem 700 BA rifle.
4. It is an urban legend that the 5.56 is not big enough to take down most wild game. Absolutely false. It may not be as “humane” as a larger caliber, but I have watched a loco horse taken down with a 5.56 in one shot. I’ve personally taken 250lb deer and 300lb hogs without issue. I wouldn’t hesitate to take on anything short of a T-Rex with a 5.56. I may need more than one shot, but that’s the point isn’t it? I have a whole box of pills hanging right in front of the trigger.
5. The AR, especially in piston configuration, is one of the most reliable weapons on earth. Failure rates are less than 1 in 10,000. Even the DI configuration fails 1 in 6,000. Most bolt guns never even see 6,000 rounds in their lifetime. The days of failures in Vietnam are long gone. Even the grit of Iraq rarely caused failures – I know – I was there.
6. The AR takes no more lube than any bolt action. A barrel is a barrel, a bolt is a bolt. They both need cleaned and the latter lubed. They both take the same amount. A piston AR doesn’t get any dirtier than a BA gun round for round.
7. Without a factory grid, I’ll take scavenging for AR parts over looking for bolt action parts any day of the week. There are sooooo many more ARs out there now. Unlike the bolt guns, 99% of the AR parts are interchangeable with what the military, police and DHS people are carrying, not to mention the millions and millions in private hands.
A good bolt gun is $800ish versus $900 for a good AR. For $100 more and the SAME cost of ownership, I’ll take a rifle I can hunt and fight with. For a difference of one Franklin, I’ll take the rifle that offers the most flexibility, configuration and best chance of survival.
I don’t think that the differences between the pros and cons of bolt action vs semi-auto could be described any better. Just wanted to say thank you for such a clean, well organized and clearly thought out response.
Geepers, that’s alot to digest at one sitting, and here I was wrestling with whether to stay with open sites or keep the red dot’s on, battery availability or just rely on open sites, the red dots have such a quick target set, the area I’m in hardly affords an area with a 200yard or further shot due to the density of brush and tree stands…. so to know your AO and what work’s best is knowledge worth time invested, ammo capability, in the event your having to use such from different sources, thank you for the tested, trued, knowledge… but RM, there’s your chance at 20 seconds of fame via the big tube, you’d be a big hit and listed with every interest for further show’s, an icon, to be idolized, ahem,,,,,,, happy trail’s!
No, I didn’t hear very positive things about how people were portrayed in the first season. They featured a family from Maine, Primitive Skills School. I talked to the guy in-person. He wasn’t happy with how it turned out. He said they came already knowing what story they wanted to pitch.
Very nice article Graduate Shootist. The concentration factor & engineering makes this seem like a very interesting hobby or sport.
Know anything about a Dragunov ? I have a chance to get one and I like the bigger 7.62×54
I’ve been using firearms that utilize the 7.62mm X 54R for close to ten years now, and I completely endorse the round, since it has 90% of the power of a .30-06 with a 1/4 of the cost per round, since billions were produced and exported to the West. That being said, the SVD (Dragunov) uses a 10 round standard magazine ( a cool feat, considering the huge Rim on the cartridge case). I’ve found that with standard non-corrosive Ball Ammunition accuracy is within .75 moa at 600 meters, a fella who uses an actual Soviet as opposed to a Bulgarian I was using was getting .50 moa at 750 with Privi Partisan Match Grade. Individual Mileage may Vary… If you can get the piece for what you can afford, then by all means obtain said piece and enjoy a well-designed larger caliber semi-auto without the sky prices of 7.62mm X 51mm NATO or .30-06 You’ll like the results.
With Respect to the Graduate Shootist;
As a working class schmoe, who can barely afford to feed the semi-autos I currently possess, let alone any others in the future I cannot but help to think that while varmint shooting might be a fun diversion on a Summer’s Afternoon, however times being what they are, I’m not about to trust anything to a Direct Gas Impingement operating system. Not No, Hell No Snake! If semi-auto is the answer to the question, then it’s going to be short-stroke gas piston, or delayed locking blowback or not at all. My H&K SL6 is doing .5 MOA with 62gr Lake City at 500 meters, with just a ACOG and that’s only with a 17-in barrel, the 24-in whopper that Graduate has. Different Strokes for Different Folks.
I have 3 gunsafes full of high dollar bolt rifles. Cooper, kimber , hill country etc. I love accurate rifles! I have no interest in 3,4,5 moa rifles. That said, I also have 3 gunsafes full of AR 10s and Ar15s. They are just as accurate as bolt rifles! Less recoil, fast follow up shots without having to move the rifle off the target. I probably shoot 2-3 thousand a year with only a handful of malfunctions. Then it usually bad ammo. Just like any equipment, keep it clean, a little lube, and rock on!! ARs are the only rifles that interest me now. One catalog from Brownells, you can do anything you want to a AR!! Build it anyway you want. Can’t do anything close to that with a bolt gun. SHTF I want a good AR and as much ammo as I can carry. Nuff said!!
Looking for a bushmaster AR15 223 varmiter prefer stainless but can be a blue barreled gun