Semi-auto vs. Bolt action

So you are trying to make a decision here.  Which one should I go with?  Well I’ve hunted with both, and during my squirrel hunting tenure I would have chosen differently at different times in my life.  My squirrel hunting style and techniques have changed through the years.  I was what I deemed a “gunner” in my early years and that title lends it self greatly to a semi-auto.  I now find myself to be more of a “sniper” as I demand accuracy, and a bolt rifle usually is more accurate.  There are some states like Pennsylvania, that will not allow hunting with a semi-auto.  I guess they believe it to be an unfair advantage to the game?

The Gunner Years…..

Squirrel Hunting with a Ruger 10/22

For the most part I would say that a semi-auto will be the less expensive choice.  A Marlin Model 60 for instance, sales for around $180.00, and to my knowledge Marlin has sold over 12 million of that rifle, since its introduction!  How about a Ruger 10/22 (every firearm owner should own at least one of these) they start around $225, and if you want to “trick it out” you can easily jump in the thousands of dollars.  (I’m currently experimenting with a 10/22 build that is sub $1000, and very accurate.  More on that soon.)   Marlin 795, certainly, at $140 it’s accurate enough to handle the job.  Now if I left your favorite out, don’t get upset, I could spend all day naming adequate rifles, use what works for you.

I started my semi-auto debut with my Daddy’s Marlin Model 60.  Then I purchased myself a Remington 597 when I turned seventeen.  I dropped plenty of squirrels with that rifle, with iron sights, back when these eyes were much sharper.  After this I moved to the Ruger 10/22.  I don’t recall if I used iron sights long, because it soon was equipped with a red dot sight, and boy could I lay them out with that rig, but most shots were under 35 yards.  I’m not above hunting with a semi-auto now, I’ve just grown to love the bolt action rifle.

Sassy Koda T-bolt

So bolt action rifles are a whole different category.  Some manufacturers to look at are CZ, Savage, Marlin, Ruger, Zastava, Anschutz,  Cooper and so on.  If you’ve been on my page long, or checked out the Youtube page, you know I’m a fan of the CZ 452 rifles.  The accuracy that they produce for the price they go for (around $425 new) lends extreme value in the market.  Quite a few CZ’s will hold there own with the much higher priced Anschutz rifles.  Savage and Marlin both offer a very budget friendly options, in the Savage MK II ($225) and the Marlin XT-22 ($200).  Ruger is actually in this game now with the Ruger American Rimfire ($250), and I’m excited about this rifle.  For the longest time you had to spend $700+ with Ruger to buy there 77/22 model.  I’m glad someone at Ruger became budget minded finally.  This new rifle also works with the 10/22 magazines!

CZ 452 17Hm2

There is something to me that ‘s iconic about running that bolt after making a shot at a squirrel.  I guess it has the same feel as a big game rifle.  There is certainly some argument that mounting a scope on a semi-auto can be done lower, as there is no bolt throw to worry with.  Meaning that your bolt handle may contact your scope.

Given a choice between the two, at this point in my life, I’d pick a bolt action rifle.  I’ve spoken to a gunsmith, my buds use to bed there squirrel rifles, and his statement was, “If I can hit a bottle cap at 25 yards with a 10/22, that’s all I need to take a squirrel.”  There’s not a truer statement.  For me it’s preference.  Hunt with what you enjoy.  Now get out there and make some memories, whether it be semi-auto or bolt action.

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14 thoughts on “Semi-auto vs. Bolt action

  1. Great site you have here Nate! I started hunting squirrels as a kid in the early 70s. All I had to start with was a slingshot, then I moved to archery, and then a marlin 70. A few years ago I bought a CZ452 because it was left handed, and a quality left handed bolt action is hard to find. I still haven’t shot the 452, as I have been hunting with air rifles. My favorite rifle is less than 32″ long with the silencer and dime size accurate at 40 yards. The woods I hunt are very dense and most shots are around 30 yards. The light weight, small size, and lack of report is very advantageous. Silenced firearms are not legal where I live, but air rifles are. Having only 1/8th the energy of a .22 rimfire, I keep all shots at 40 yards or less, and only take headshots.
    The air rifle also allows me to practice in my backyard.

    On another note. We’ll be selling our house this spring and moving to the north Carolina coast. There is a large wood just a short kayak paddle from our place, and the Croatan Forest is about an hour drive counting the 20 minute ferry ride.

    1. Glad you are enjoying the site. I think you’ll enjoy NC. Hard for me to break away from a canned CZ for an air rifle. I do see that they are very effective and very mission specific. I just bought a kayak so I’m looking forward to fishing trips on it, with the opportunity to access lands that are locked by water.

  2. Just wanted to chime in, my new favorite squirrel gun is the bolt action Savage Mark II BV. Used to use a Ruger 10/22 that I changed the original barrel for a 22″ sporter barrel. A whole bunch of bushy tails hit the dirt with that gun. Not a single squirrel I shot at last year with the Savage got away! I too am a sniper now. Happy hunting to all, safe season.

    1. Sniping to me is the most fun way to go after squirrels. Glad you’ve got an accurate rig. Good hunting to you also.

  3. The older I get the more I appreciated the furry little “Tree Rat”. I grew up hunting water fowl, pats, and woodcock, but after seven heart attacks my walking all day days are over. Now I spend a lot of time in the woods with my cross bow or my .22’s. I’ve found that all the walking I did when I was younger caused me to miss a lot of nature you can only see when you’re sitting under an oak or a beechnut tree. I’ve also found that I have a renewed respect for the .22 rimfire. I’ve always had a .22LR but they were used very seldom. I shot registered trap for over forty years but my days of serious competition are behind me and now I’ve found competitive egg shooting, where a good optic allows the failing eyes and reflexes the ability to compete. And shooting something that explodes makes your adrenalin flow again. So now, whether I’m using my Izhmash cm-2 for eggs or my Marlins Models 60 or XT-22VR I seem to be using my .22’s all year long. And I’m getting out side more, and for a dividend you acquire some of the finest tasting meat you can put on a table.

  4. While I have not yet gotten into tree rat hunting, no place to go yet, I’m a BIG fan of the CZ 452’s. I don’t think the accuracy can be beat for the money. Unfortunately in most of MD I’m probably going to be stuck having to use a shot gun.

  5. My squirrel hunting started out just like yours, and I’ve taken the same steps as you. I actually just ordered a CZ 452 Trainer online today if you can believe that. Some places still have them, yet none have the 455 Trainers.

    1. bob i think you came out way ahead with the 452 vs the 455. i, like nate, am a cz afficianado and have several of them. i also have several ruger 10/22 rifles that,while not in the same league as my cz 452’s, are quite accurate.
      good luck with the cz but be careful as they are very addictive,


      1. So far I’m having excellent results with my 455. This is my first CZ and I’ll tell ya, i’m impressed. Seeing the success y’all are having with the 452 has me interested in one of those as well. I’ll keep watching gunbroker and maybe I’ll get lucky.

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