We can compare bolt action rifle and semi-auto by specs, but it doesn’t tell the full story of which rifle to fare with.
An alternative approach is to setup a course of fire that simulates an environment where you would have to utilize the skills necessary in long range precision shooting. That is calculating windage, elevation, etc, with targets at various ranges and timed.
Before going on, you’re probably thinking what does this have to do for the folks into hunting. This all depends on what you’re hunting and the prize that you’re going after. Maybe, its land management where you have to rid of hogs or coyotes. After seeing this course of fire you can figure out which rifle you would need to get the job done. Ok, onto this course of fire explanation.
Walt Wilkenson of Gunsite, a former Special Ops marksman came up with this one termed “Larue”. He’s assisted by Larry Vicker, Larry will be shooting with a 308 Surgeon and an SR-25 from Knights Armament.
The video below shows three different courses of fire, the third one is what you want to pay attention to as this is probably the best to test the competency between the bolt and semi-auto rifle. So the explanation of the course is off of the 3rd course of fire shown in the video. (16:28 time)
Walt explains the first course that places several large steel targets at closer range (200 to 300 yards). Second course has smaller target setup at farther distance.
Two guys up front on a wedge, and three guys in the back in a wedge. This simulates that they know there’s a sniper in the area and they’ve gone prone and made themselves a much more difficult target to hit, a shoulders-and-head sized target.
Larry goes through the course of fire shooting both rifles while being timed.
-Bolt rifle time was at 29 seconds to complete.
-Semi-auto rifle time was at 27 seconds to complete.
As you can tell with a semi-auto its all about how quickly you can engage the next target if needed to. Where as if you’re going after that 20 pointer and out at a great distance, go with a good bolt rifle.
Larry:TacTV fans, we’re back out here at Gunsight for a classic Small Arms dilemma. Bolt-action vs. Semi Automatic 308 shootoff. Hooking back up with my good buddy Walt Wilkinson, retired special-forces Sgt. major, who acts as an instructor here at gunsight. We’re gonna stretch both guns out, see how they shake out head-to-head. Definitely not gonna wanna miss this episode of TacTV.[Intro] Larry:The 308 Bolt gun I wanted to use this year on TacTV is actually a custom bolt-action rifle. One of the things I want to tap into that’s still a trend that’s ongoing, and a few years ago it’s really the way you more or less had to get a surgically accurate boltgun. You essentially took a Remington 700 action, trashed everything but the action and the bolt itself and possibly the trigger mechanism, and you sent it off to a gunsmith, and he put a high-speed barrel on it, bottom metal, custom stock, the whole nine yards, and essentially built it like a lot of guys do with a custom 1911. What’s happened is, that’s spawned the natural evolution of companies looking at ‘how can we upgrade the action, instead of taking a run-of-the-mill Remington 700 action and customize it, let’s take that concept and upgrade it.’ And the one that in my opinion defines that concept is Surgeon. They’ve taken the Remington 700 Action, taken it to a whole nother level. Extremely well-made, has a built-in Picatinny rail, EDM Raceways, they put a lot of features in it that kinda no matter how much money you spent on a Remington 700 action, you would not be able to put it into the gun. And it kinda becomes the benchmarks for a custom actions for people that have custom bolt-action rifles built. I contacted the Surgeon guys, and I kinda specced out a gun more or less that I saw on their website. This particular barrel has a Krieger barrel, one in ten twist Krieger barrel with a surefire flash suppressor up front that interfaces to a suppessor that I already have in my inventory, my buddy Randy Pennington at Mile High Shooting Accessories supplied the Nightforce 3 1/2-15 scope for a mount, my personal favorite, and a stock that really caught my eye when I was looking on the Surgeon website, the J-Allen Enterprises stock, and they even added a TacTV logo, for LAV.
Larry:This is a really slick gun, and I can tell you first-hand, if you’re looking for a custom bolt-action Sniper Rifle, Surgeon is gonna be a hard one to beat.
Larry:Alright, for the Semiautomatic 308 rifle, for this particular episode, I decided to go with the Knights Armament SR25 Carbine. It has a 16-inch barrel, and this particular variant has the dimples to lighten it up. Now I taught a battle rifles class in Florida last November, November 2012, and most of the class, including myself, was running the Knights Armament SR25 Carbines, and to be honest with you, I was extremely impressed at how well the gun shot, and how reliable they were. This is a pretty impressive gun, and Knights has spent a lot of time debugging this thing and getting it up to speed.
Larry:I know first-hand there’s guys in special operations are going to a smaller gun like this, verses a full-size M110 or SR25. That allows them to maneuver the gun in confined spaces, or if they have to do CQB, it gives them the ability to do it. Now, I would want a scope like the Schmidt and Bender 1-4, something allows me to get down closer to one power and as a red-dot sight, but I wanted to try out one of the new Kahles scopes. This is a Kahles 3-12. Kahles was a player to some degree years ago in the Sniper Rifle optic market, and for a number of years they got out of it. Just recently, they’ve reintroduced some optics to get back in the game. I wanted to try one out, they’ve always been world-famous for excellent optics, we’ll see how this shakes out when I shoot it in terms of actual use. Now, of course, I’ve mounted it to the rifle with the spur mount, my personal favorite, and I also have a set of the Knights Armament flip-up offset sights, so in case for whatever reason the optic was trashed and you couldn’t get it off, you could use the Iron Sights for close-range engagements.
Walt: Five rounds, one at a time, take your time, focus on the reticle.
Larry:Alright, going hot.[Bang]
Walt: Don’t think about the next one, don’t think about the last one.[More firing]
Walt: Last one. [Bang] Alright. Let’s go measure it. That’s a good group at 300. Let’s kinda look what we’ve got here… Center to center, three. Right on. One MOA group, three-hundred in this variable wind. Switch guns.
Larry:Alright, goin’ hot.[Firing]
Walt: Unload and Clear.
Walt: Alright, as we were discussing, definitely a lot lower.
Walt: We had a lot more variable wind during this string than we did with the bolt gun. Without that one flier, that’s three and a quarter, so still, you know.
Larry:Not a bad group.
Walt: That’s doable.
Larry:Good, now we’re heading over to the four-hundred?
Walt: Right. We’ll start working four to eight.
Larry:Good, let’s do it.
Larry:Alright Walt, you got me out here on Long Range Ridge, take me through what’s up first.
Walt: Ok, this is firing point number one, Larry. We as a team will go through and mill these targets, come up with a range, dial that up on the scope, then engage them. Now our basic ranges run here from… I’m gonna say, 350 to 875.
Walt: Anywhere in-between those. Each one of these firing points up here has five targets. Ok
Walt: So we have to search ’em, talk, mill it, dial it, read the wind, and then hit.
Larry:Shoot it. Well we also have another name for this, right?
Walt: To the students, this turns into ‘Frustration Ridge’. Targets are a lot smaller than what they do before, and the wind going across from this hilltop across the valley to the other ridge line is sometimes–well, always, hard to read.
Larry:Well, I’m looking forward to it. Let’s do it.
Walt: Alright, let’s get in position.
Walt: Larry, let’s start searching for targets.
Larry:I see something right off the bat.
Walt: Ok, where at?
Larry:It appears to be a pepper-popper shape underneath a tree.
Walt: Alright I see what you’re talking about, right arond Reference Point 1. That’s twelve inches wide across the chest, what do you mil it at?
Larry:Like, a .75, .8.
Walt: That puts it right about at 450. Dial 3.2.
Walt: Tell me when you’re ready.
Larry:I am ready.
Walt: Favor left.[Fire]
Walt: Down. Point-five left. Point five.[Fire]
Walt: Good hit.
Walt: Okay, Larry. I’ve got a second target. That Juniper bush at the center of reference point one, look at ten O-clock, and you should catch one there.
Larry:Yeah I see it.
Walt: Alright. Larry. Dial 3.9.
Walt: Alright, tell me when you’re ready.
Walt: Left, point-three.[Fire]
Walt: Favor right. [Fire] …That particular target is hard to hit, because it’s the perfect color of the background.
Walt: Plus, for a spotter, if you don’t catch the trace, you’re not gonna see where the bullet hits in that vegitation.
Larry:Yep. You’re kinda screwed.
Walt: Alright, let’s scan for our next one.
Larry:I see one up at checkpoint 2
Walt: Alright. Larry, Dial 6.7
Larry:Got it. 6.7
Walt: Shooter ready…Left, .5[Fire]
Walt: Good shot, Larry.
Walt: Alright, Larry, got another target. The top of the dirt right at the edge of the woods, there’s a log. You see the target behind it?
Walt: Alright, let’s dial 8.2. 8.2. Alright, tell me when you’re ready.
Larry:I am ready.
Walt: Left. Point-six.[Fire]
Walt: Mighta been. I lost the trace due to the muzle blast on the dirt. Sounded good though.
Larry:Sounded good and I didn’t see any kick-up!
Walt: Alright, looks good! Larry, I’ve got our last target.
Walt: Alright, look behind the stump off center-right.
Larry:Well, it’s very hard to make out. Appears to have a green head, and a brown body.
Walt: Alright, that’s it. Extrapolatin’. Larry, dial six-point-zee-ro.
Walt: Left. Point-five. [Fire]…No joy.
Walt: Left. Point-eight! [Fire] …Absolutely nothin’. Hard one to hit! No background, hard to see.
Larry:Yeah, looks like he lived to fight another day.
Walt: That completes all the targets here. Let’s move.
Larry:Cool. That’s a serious course of fire.
Larry:The first lineup here on long-range ridge was very challenging. I saw right off the bat what Walt was talking about, calling this Frustration Ridge. The targets were very difficult to see. With the naked eye, to be honest with you, they were almost impossible, you had to get down behind the glass and really search, and he had to guide me into a few where I wouldn’t have found them. Remember we’re shooting at Pepper Poppers down range. They’re like twelve inches wide, several hundred yards downrange. And if you miss it on that particular target, you have no real reading on where the shot’s going, unless your shot went low and kicked up dirt, in that case, you went over the shoulder or over top or around the side, and it basically went into the trees. We had no feedback on where the rounds were going. As a matter of fact, the last target was extremely hard to see, hiding behind a stump and, to be honest with you, I barely made it out. He had higher magnification with the spotting scope, and made all the difference in the world. Very, very challenging course of fire.
Larry:Walt, I’m gonna go way out on a limb here, say this is position 2.
Walt: You have learned something this morning, Larry. Ok, this is in fact position 2. Alright, varies a little bit: Targets are a little bit inside what we shot over on position 1, they stand out a little more, but still, you’re gonna have to work for ’em.
Larry:And I can tell, you know, the wind’s picked up.
Walt: Yes, we’ve got a [wind?] coming in, eight gusting to thirteen or so, though, so we’re gonna have to be quick on the wind call, and quick on the trigger.
Larry:Well I’ve got the bolt gun out here, we’re gonna fire it up, see how it rolls.
Walt: Well you’re gonna need it.
Larry:Alright, cool. Here we go.
Walt: Ok, let’s start searching for targets!
Larry:Ok, right off the bat, there’s one down here on the low-right.
Walt: I’m on it, go ahead and mill it for me.
Larry:It looks like .9.
Walt: I can live with .9. Dial one-point-nine.
Walt: Alright. Shooter ready?
Walt: Favor left! [Bang] Whack. Good hit.
Walt: Okay, you had a second target.
Larry:Yeah, base of the tree.
Walt: Ok, to the left of reference point one, right there, ok. Dial 2.8 for me.
Walt: Shooter ready. Left. Point-four.[Bang, thwip]
Walt: Down, point-five. Favor left.[Bang, Twang]
Walt: Good job. That looks done.
Larry:So obviously the first went right over.
Walt: Yep. Over the shoulder.
Walt: Alright, Larry. Got another target.
Walt: Go to a reference point one.
Walt: From the top of that tree, come up two and a half mils.
Walt: Got it right there?
Walt: Alright. Dial five-point-four.
Larry:Got it. 5.4.
Walt: Shooter ready?
Walt: Left point-six.[Bang, Thoom!]
Walt: Left, point-two.[Bang…TWANG]
Walt: Good hit. Alright, Larry, got another target.
Walt: 14 mils left. See him on the left-hand side of the juniper?
Larry:Yep. Yeah, stripe? Diagonal stripe?
Walt: Yeeep. Good. You’re on him. Dial six-point-eight for me.
Larry:Got it. Six-eight.
Walt: Left, one mil. [Bang] Oh, baby. Left. Point five. [Bang] Oh, come on, wind. We’re gettin’ killed. Left, point-eight. [Bang…twang!] Finally.
Larry:Money shot! Alright, hey, uh, Walt, I think I got the last one.
Walt: Alright, where at?
Larry:Ok, down from the last engaged target, go left twelve mils.
Walt: Alright, I’m on it. Alright. Dial five-point-eight.
Walt: Five eight. Shooter ready?
Walt: Left. Point-seven. [Bang]… We’ll adjust as-is. Left, point-four. [Bang] Left, one mil. [Bang] …Klang.
Walt: That’s all five. We’ve got ’em all.
Larry:Second course of fire we hit after lunch, wind had picked up. Now, one thing that was in our favor was the targets were much easier to see. What did work against us though, was shooting across this ravine, and the winds got really squirrley, especially the further out we got. The Scalpel handled pretty well, it was an extremely accurate gun, but it was a very challenging course of fire, and it was because of the atmospherics.
Larry:Alright Walt, before the end of the day, we’ve got a third position, correct?
Walt: Correct. What I’ve done here Larry at position three is set up two courses of fire. The first course of fire: Larger targets, slightly closer ranges, which should lend itself to the semi doing better. The second course of fire: LaRue much smaller, and at a greater distance, which should give the advantage to the bolt gun. Now what I’ve got set up, basic same configuration for both runs: Two guys up front on a wedge, and three guys back in the back in a wedge.
Larry:And the theory I guess with the LaRues is, they know there’s a sniper in the area and they’ve gone underground and I guess– they’ve made themselves a much more difficult target to hit.
Walt: Right. So what you’ve got is just kind of a shoulders-and-head sized target, which is what you would have if the guy was in the prone. Let’s knock it out.
Larry:Let’s do it.
Dave: Sniper ready. Stand by… [Beep]
Walt: Give it more wind. Less wind. Perfect wind, do it again. More wind. Ooh, that’s it good shooting.
Larry:That last one got away, was it wind that got me?
Walt: You were right ‘n right. You got the rest of ’em really good.
Larry:So what was the final time, Dave?
Dave: That run was just over twenty-seven seconds.
Dave: Sniper ready. Stand by. [Beep]
Walt: Hit. Hit. Hit. Going to right. Hit. Far one on the left. Hit.
Larry:That’s why it’s called the Scalpel!
Walt: Good shootin’.
Dave: Walt, that one was just over twenty-nine seconds.
Walt: Twenty-nine seconds. Good time. Can’t beat that with a stick.
Walt’s master plan worked! Semi-auto Vs. bolt gun.
Larry:Alright Walt, you’ve been around the block, give me your thoughts right off the top of your head, 308 bolt gun Vs. semi-auto.
Walt: Bolt gun single-purpose. That’s it. When you have to have a great degree of accuracy. Other than that, that’s all it can really do. Semi, it’s a multi-mission gun. If you have to carry it as part of a team, or you need to put it into a designated marksman role, you have the ability to do both.
Larry:That’s why you see so much in the military, particularly in 308 when they have the option available, they’re going more in that direction, and they’re getting more and more away from 308 bolt guns.
Walt: If you have multiple targets, and you’re trying to run the action as quickly as possible, with a 308 you’re going to be able to manage the recoil, and get on the second target quickly.
Larry:Now here’s the other issue: The very best semi-autos will generally shoot minute of angle, that’s kind of the gold standard for semi-auto 308s. A run-of-the-mill 308 bolt gun will shoot a Minute-of-angle. And many, like this surgeon, will shoot substantially better.
Larry:So if accuracy is a premium, that definitely kinda tilts the scale to the bolt gun.
Larry:But, if you’re willing to give up a little bit of accuracy, and you need follow-on shots, you know, then that’s where the gas gun comes up.
Walt: Right. It’d be a viable member of a team in a firefight. This is not all that great when you’ve got a lot of targets close-range and you need no accuracy, what you need is large magazine capacity. That is what an individual needs to have.
Larry:So as it boils down, no surprise here, if extreme accuracy is your requirement, you need to be looking at a bolt gun. If follow-on shots with a reasonable degree of accuracy is what you need, semi-auto all the way. Take it from the LAV and the Waltster, baby.[Outro]
Sources: Vickers Tactical, TacTV