Bolt vs. AR: What's the Best Predator Rifle?

Bolt vs. AR: What's the Best Predator Rifle?

Few things equal the thrill of a predator coming to a distress call. It can produce an adrenaline dump strong enough to make even the best shooters crumble. Having experienced it countless times over the years, I've found the best cure is having utmost confidence in your equipment, especially your firearm.

The best hunters I know pack two guns to each and every stand, calling with a shotgun across their lap and a rifle by their side. Scatterguns reign supreme inside of 50 yards. However, packing two guns is a pain, and nothing is worse than packing just a shotgun and having a dog hang up out of range. So a rifle it is. But which one? I could go through each and every action type, but you don't have the time and I don't have the space. So let's stick with the bolt action and the AR and compare them in seven categories that matter most: modularity, cartridge compatibility, ergonomics, accuracy, fire rate, reliability and field performance.

Results

OVERALL WINNER: AR

The final tally is 3 for the bolt gun and 4 for the AR. It's simply the best predator rifle ever created. Tell us your thoughts on the perfect predator gun: do you prefer bolt rifles, ARs or something else?

Shown here is an MMC Armory Tactical 16.1 chambered in 5.56 NATO and topped with a Trijicon ACOG 3.5x35. When paired with a FoxPro call, MMC's 16-inch pencil-profiled barrel and Trijicon's optic make for a winning predator package.

Fire Rate

WINNER: AR

Everybody misses. I've seen it so many times. Hell, I missed my first eight coyotes. But the fact of the matter is we hunt predators to control populations and have fun, so if you miss a freebie shot and the coyote hits warp speed, keep on churning through brass. Why? Because it's a blast and you've got more rounds on tap. Best case, you connect on the most difficult shot in the hunting world. Worst case, you get to shoot a whole lot. This one is obvious. ARs offer the quickest follow-up shots in the business.

Ergonomics

WINNER: AR

Swap a stock or glass bed it. Maybe just change the scope mounts or put an aftermarket bolt knob on. Either way, you've done something significant with a bolt gun. With an AR, that same treatment only begins to customize a rifle. Think of all the components — dozens upon dozens of them. On an AR, every single one is eligible to be swapped out, from the grip to the gas block to the sling mounts. The sky is the limit. Nothing can be tailored more to individual shooters.

Modularity

WINNER: AR

As great as the aftermarket is for the Remington or Savage bolt guns, nothing compares to the do-dads you can bolt onto the versatile AR platform. Different uppers can be swapped by popping two pins, giving you the ability to go from .223 to the wonderful 6.5 Grendel in mere seconds. Trigger swaps are easy, too, so there's no reason to keep that god-awful Mil-Spec unit. Toss it out and install a match grade trigger. It's the single best upgrade an owner can do. Even better, everything can be done at home with a few simple tools. The 10-22 used to own the aftermarket. No longer. All hail the new king of modularity: the AR.

Cartridge Compatibility

WINNER: Bolt Gun

I like the .223, but many prefer hotter rounds, such as the .22-250 or .243. How many .22-250 ARs have you seen? Olympic Arms makes one, but it's rare. AR-10s are available in .308, .260 or .243, but in reality they are few and far between€¦and heavy. AR-15s chamber .223-sized cartridges, whereas bolt guns can be had in a plethora of predator-worthy rounds, from the tiny .17s to the wind-defying .25-06. If you like more horsepower than the .204 or .223 provide, a bolt gun is the answer.

Reliability

WINNER: Bolt Gun

Lift the bolt, pull it rearward, and then push it forward. Now shoot again€¦and again and again. It's tough to beat a bolt gun's simplicity, as they always operate, even when dirty. As reliable as an AR is, its weak point is the direct impingement system, where burning gases are funneled back into the action. Remember the saying, 'Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery '? Well think about this for a second. Countless semiautos have copied nearly every part of Stoner's design except one — the direct impingement system. That says something. A piston-driven AR may level the playing field as far as reliability goes, but a bolt gun still prevails.

Accuracy

WINNER: Bolt Gun

ARs shoot freakishly well. In fact, I'd argue better than the average bolt gun. From a hunter's standpoint, however, this matters little. The majority of shooters can't outshoot their equipment from a bench rest. That's a fact. Field positions, off sticks or a bipod, are tougher yet, so any differences are negligible. Yet, until ARs start beating bolt guns in benchrest competitions, the bolt gun edges out its semiauto rival. The bolt action is the most accurate firearm in existence.

Field Performance

WINNER: AR

I used to believe 16-inch-barreled ARs handicapped the .223. Then I chronoed six loads through my coyote guns, ranging from 50 to 64 grains in weight. The results shocked me. Four of the loads shot faster in the bolt gun's 22-inch tube, but it wasn't by much. In fact, none of the four were more than 75 fps faster than in the AR's 16-inch barrel. Believe it or not, the other two loads, my uncle's 50-grain reloads and Winchester's 64-grain Razorback XT, were actually faster in the AR's shorter tube by 99 and 128 fps! The overall averages for the six loads were startling: AR: 2,941 fps. Bolt gun: 2,945. Crazy. Near equal accuracy in a shorter, handier package is tough to beat, and I'd happily lose speed in order to gain dexterity. But having an instantaneous follow-up shot on a missed or second dog tips the scale in the AR's favor.

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