Short Action vs Long Action: What's the Difference

VD October 10 2021

Short Action vs Long Action, who is the winner? This has always been a very popular debate among weapon enthusiasts. Undoubtedly, many interesting arguments have been produced to show the superiority of the respective rifles over the years. But for newcomers, all of this won't be very meaningful unless they first know the difference between both of these rifles.

Generally, a short action rifle will have a length of no longer than or not more than. The bolt must also be able to accommodate at least 1.68" from the back of the receiver face to its front end. This type of weapon is usually designed for cartridges with a length up to 2.860 inches and weight up to 70 grains while using a bullet that has an ogive with a radius that measures no less than .338 inches (bullet diameter).

Short Action calibers include 25-06 Remington, .243 Winchester, 300 AAC Blackout, 6mm Creedmoor, etc.

A Long Action Rifle on the other hand can have a length bigger than, which means it would be bigger and bulkier. Its bolt can accommodate a cartridge that is up to 3.34 inches in length with a weight of up to 100 grains using bullets with ogives that measure no less than .473 inches (bullet diameter).

Long Action calibers include 7mm-08 Remington, 300 Winchester Magnum, 308 Winchester, etc.

In order to achieve accuracy and better performance in shooting, it is important for you to know the difference between both of these rifles. This knowledge will be very helpful in deciding which one suits you best when purchasing a new firearm or even just for fun!

Difference between Short Action and Long Action Rifles

A smaller rifle that uses a cartridge of length 2.3-2.8 inches is called short action. Whereas a rifle bigger than a short action rifle that utilizes a 2.8-3.34 inches cartridge is known as the long action. These numbers are only an estimation as some manufacturers categorize them in another way.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a trend of creating custom cartridges for various needs was in. This trend resulted in making more than 100 different cartridges by the mid of century. All of these different sizes were a pain for the manufactures. In order to make the rifles economical and adaptable, the manufacturers normalized the dimensions so four lengths could use multiple cartridges.

The most popular of these is the short action cartridges with length from 2.23 to 2.825 inches and weight from 55 grains up to 70 grains. The long-action size cartridge range from 3.05 inches in length and 110 grain to 130 grain with a bigger magazine capacity compared to the short action rifles.

The four primary lengths in detail

  • Magnum-length cartridges have a length of around 3.6 inches(more than 3.34). 375 H&H is a popular magnum-length cartridge. It is a popular choice among professional hunters of dangerous games. The gun enthusiasts describe its accuracy as “it shoots like a laser beam”.
  • Long/Standard action has a length from 2.8 to 3.34 inches. 30-06 is a well-known example. This original cartridge was introduced in 1906. The length has been kept to maintain interoperability with the earlier action designs.
  • Short action uses a length of 2.3 to 2.8 inches—for example, 308 Winchester. It was first introduced in 1952 and rapidly became a standard-action cartridge. This design offers a smaller and lighter package than magnum and long action.
  • Mini action has a length below 2.3 inches. 223 Remington is a very famous example. It was created in 1964 and uses a short case of .308 diameter. It is also known as the 5.56 NATO or 223 Remington Magnum.

These four lengths offer various choices for gun owners to choose from. Which one should you be choosing? The long action has higher magazine capacity, but it requires more care and attention than the short actions when subjected to heavy recoils, such as rifles chambered for magnum cartridges. If you want to use your rifle for mainly target shooting, then you’d better go with shorter-length rifles so they are easier to carry around. But if you need something powerful for hunting big game, longer action is the way to go!

30-06 Springfield Long-Action

Manufactured in 1906, Springfield cartridge weights 150 gr with a speed of 2700 fps (feet per second). The cartridge stayed in the limelight during 2 world wars and other smaller conflicts during the 1950s.

With time 308 Winchester took Springfield's place on the battlefield. But 30-06 didn't go out of the picture and got prestige on the home front. It is still famous among hunters due to its versatility.

Versatility is Springfield's primary advantage as it can carry bullets from 110 to 225 gr. The case has enough space to be loaded as a light recoiling cartridge to a heavy load around. You can hunt anything from a squirrel to a moose.

So the long action offers many possibilities to the hunters to hunt animals across the globe. But this action is more complex than the short and magnum actions. It requires a high level of maintenance as it doesn't have an extractor groove on the cartridge that can be dented due to heavy recoil.

308 Winchester Short-Action

Introduced in 1952, 308 Winchester replaced Springfield by 1960. This cartridge is the main culprit behind short action vs long action war.  The goal behind making this round was to propel 30 caliber bullets to the same speed by using a small amount of better quality powder than 30-06.

The goal was achieved and 308 Winchester maintains the same speed as 30-06. But it also opened a new chapter in firearms history. Engineers now had to make rifles with short sleek actions to make the most out of this cartridge. Many hunters now suggest that 308 is more accurate than 30-06 due to its smaller chamber dimension which enlarges case capacity without increasing the size of action dimensions.

Short action rifles are lighter, cheaper, more rigid, and accurate compared to long actions for various reasons including rifle weight, recoil force applied on bolt carriers, etc.

The cartridge also has a strong following in the hunting world. Its shorter size and lighter weight are loved by many hunters. It also has lighter recoil.  

Some people claim that 308 Winchester also has the versatility of 30-06. That might not be entirely true because it has a problem shooting weights heavier than 180 gr. The primary strength of this cartridge is its adaptability, as it can use bullets of different calibers. You can use a 10 mm bullet to shoot an elk.

In short, 308 Winchester is a perfect cartridge for hunting small and medium-sized animals as it is lighter, smaller, and more accurate. But if you need something powerful for hunting big game then go with 30-06 Springfield long action cartridge.

Objectively speaking, there is not much difference in both short and long action rifles. The best way to choose a rifle is to ponder what you will use it for. 

We hope this article has provided you with the information to make an intelligent decision when choosing between short action vs long action rifles.