The Current State of the Affordable Bolt Action Rifle
The modern bolt action rifle has its roots in the designs of Peter Paul Mauser. The Model 1893 rifle, chamber in 7 x 57mm, was a deadly game-changer on July 1, 1898: the date of “The Battle of San Juan Hill.” Spanish General Arsenio Linares ordered 760 Spanish Army regular troops, equipped with 7mm Mausers, to hold the San Juan heights against an American offensive.
The embarrassing performance of the U.S. .45-70 Springfield Trapdoors and .30-40 Krag-Jørgensen bolt-actions led to an U.S. Army board of investigation that recommended dumping the Krag. In 1903, the M1903 was adopted in the .30-03 cartridge, this chambering lasting only a few years before being displaced by the .30-06. It was the Gewehr 98, more casually known as the Mauser 98, that in the minds of many, is among the greatest actions ever devised, with its main drawback is that it is comparatively costly to manufacture.
The entry-level, price-point rifle has been attempted again and again, with generally unsatisfactory results and more than a few factory recalls. In a modern sense, the Savage 110 designed by Nicholas Brewer in 1958 has assumed the role of the oldest continuously manufactured bolt-action rifle in the United States. Always an affordable rifle, it suffered from a poor trigger that was changed in 2003 with the addition of the Accu-Trigger in 2003. The Accu-Trigger changed the industry, for sloppy, creepy, heavy factory triggers are largely a thing of the past.
Still, the enduring love of low-cost has remained. Savage has had their Stevens line, Marlin tried the low-cost bolt action with the XL7, we had the Remington 710, the T/C Venture, and the Mossberg ATR / 4x4. Those models are all gone, with the problematic, safety-recalled T/C Smith & Wesson Venture not looking well at all, but still available.
In 2010, the Savage Edge (renamed the Axis) made its debut, with an under $300 street price. Though no one's idea of a beauty queen, the Savage Axis models have all been impressively accurate despite the heavier, old-style trigger and it seems that in terms of mass-produced, low cost centerfire rifles, everyone has been playing catch-up since then.
The price points in 2015 area are aggressive. The cheaply made, poorly stocked, well-plasticized Tikka T3 with its protruding box magazine may well be “entry-level,” but at roughly $600 it is overpriced in the value market. It does not compare well to the non-downgraded Weatherby Vanguard at sells for $580 or so. Browning enthusiasts may well prefer the already reviewed AB3 at the bit lower, current $500 level, less if you've already grabbed the $50 rebate. The Ruger American, tested recently several times, hits the $400 price level, but is not yet ready for prime-time.
The Savage Axis is currently in the $300 arena, with the Axis II Accu-Trigger with a mounted 3-9 scope at just under $400. These are amazing prices, as far as I'm concerned, in 2015. The Mossberg Patriot is an extensive line, to make an understatement, but the basic black versions are at the same blistering low $300 street price point range.
I've tested countless bolt-action rifles over the years. Even though the Savage Axis has been seemingly unstoppable in the value segment over the last few years, Mossberg has finally out-Axis-ed the Axis. With their truly excellent LBA trigger as standard, a flush detachable box magazine, a generally better stock design, effective recoil pad, smooth-feeding, reliable extraction, sub-MOA accuracy, and an aesthetically pleasing profile, the Mossberg Patriot has been one of the great, most pleasant surprises of 2015.
I'm not sure exactly how they did it, but the American-made Mossberg Patriot has now suddenly shot to the top of the low-priced centerfire rifle bracket. It was unexpected, to be sure, but Mossberg has a real winner and “the winner” in the low acquisition cost centerfire rifle market right now.
Copyright 2015 by Randy Wakeman. All Rights Reserved.