Should you get a gas gun or a bolt gun to shoot long range?
If you want to throw a conversational grenade into a group of long-distance shooters, you can’t do much better than bringing up this question: Which is better for going long, bolt guns or gas guns? Then, sit back and watch otherwise calm people go a little nuts.
The age-old understanding is that bolt guns are more accurate, and while there is some validity to that, gas guns have come a long way and are being used more and more in competitions across the country.
Here’s a quick breakdown, and a little on how to choose the right downrange solution for you.
Most quality-built bolt guns AND gas guns are more accurate than the people who shoot them. Not to stomp any egos, but unless you’ve become an advanced downrange shooter, your rifle likely can shoot more accurately than you’re able to shoot it. It all comes down to what we’ll call mechanical accuracy v. practical accuracy. Put differently, if you put your rifle in a vise and had a mechanical trigger pull installed, you’d likely see tighter groups than you, holding that rifle, can produce in a practical shooting situation. Humans are always the weakest link in the system.
Bolt actions have the potential to be more inherently accurate. What does that mean? When you fire a bolt gun, there are two moving parts, and both of those parts perform their part in the firing sequence before the bullet leaves its casing. It’s an incredibly simple process made even more simple by better head space builds and heavier barrels.
Contrast that with a gas gun, where each shot extracts and loads the next round, powered by a complex system of gas management, each part crucial to the gun’s overall function. More moving parts, more complexity, more potential for things to go awry, affecting your accuracy, shot to shot.
But here’s an important point: Gas guns have come a long way since the days the whole “Gas v. Bolt” debate began. Today, with the growing popularity of the AR platform, shooters and manufacturers alike are building better quality guns with tighter tolerances and better components. There is still more that can go wrong, and more variation in a gas gun.
It’s true: Bolt guns, because of their simplicity, have the potential for greater accuracy. But in terms of practical accuracy, gas guns are not far behind.
Each type has its strengths and weaknesses. Bolt guns are a simpler animal, and that means that repairing them, cleaning them, and doing some of your own gunsmithing is far easier. They’re less likely to suffer a malfunction in the field, and, if you choose to use the same rifle to hunt, they can be fantastic for dropping game.
Gas guns, though, are a tinkerers dream. If you’re the kind of shooter who enjoys getting your hands dirty, you can swap out every part of your rifle and build it to your exact needs. Gas guns also do a far better job of managing recoil, keeping your eyes and your weapon on target for faster follow up shots. (Bolt guns … not so much.)
So, what does that mean for you? Bolt or gas gun, you can’t buy accuracy. You absolutely can buy products that enable you to be more accurate, but its your ability to pull the trigger and read the wind that will ultimately have the most affect on your group sizes, not whether you shoot bolt or gas.
Gas guns have come an incredibly long way and offer practical accuracy very similar to a bolt gun. So how should you answer the question, “Bolt or gas for long range?” Buy the highest quality rifle you can afford and top it with the best rings and optic you can get. Then, hit the range, and let your bolt gun, or gas gun, do the talking for you.
Want to take a deeper dive into Gas v. Bolt? Check out our podcast with Garret Grover of Rise Armament and competitive shooter Dillen Easley. Or, if you want to learn more about long-range shooting, checkout the first podcast in our series on going long.
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