Long Action vs. Short Action – Telling the Difference

Do you know the difference between Long Action and Short Action rifles? If not, do not feel bad, you’re not alone. Many gun owners of various experience levels face the same dilemma. The fact is few shooters have a need to know the difference. However, if you are building a rifle or ordering parts for an old one it is important to know what you have and even how to tell the difference.

In this post below, we’ll breakdown the important information that will allow you to understand the difference between long and short actions, which rifles, or calibers fall into each category, and the benefits one offers over the other.

The Differences

Many readers may think the difference between a short or long action is the length of the action itself. While this is true – shorter actions are shorted in length compared to long actions – it is slightly more complicated than that. Short action rifles also include a smaller ejection port, weigh less, and are generally a bit stiffer. We will discuss the advantages of each below.

Identifying a Short vs. Long Action

One would think identifying which action your rifle utilizes would be as easy as reading the specifications listed on the barrel. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case. Unlike caliber, barrel length, and a host of other useful information the action type is not generally listed.

Many owners will tell you to simply measure the action. While this will work when comparing actions from the same manufacturer, it is not fail-proof. The problem is that there are no universal sizes for either short or long actions. Each manufacturer decides on action sizes and the difference may be less than ½-inch.

A more reliable measurement that will help you identify which action your rifle uses – the distance between the front and rear action screws. These screws are found on the bottom of the stock fore and aft of the trigger and magazine/loading port, which hold the barrel action to the stock. When purchasing replacement parts, specifically a new stock, many makers will list this distance in the product description. When taking this measurement remember to measure from the middle of one hole to the middle of the other hole. Also, do not mistake the trigger guard screws for action screws. Since the difference between a short or long action can be as little as ½-inch either mistake can be critical.

Of course, having this measurement only matters if you know what each manufacturer identifies as short or long action. To help we have compiled a list of the major manufacturers and most common action lengths:

 

Manufacturer Short Action Length Long Action Length
Browning A-Bolt 7.25″ 8″
Browning X-Bolt 7.25″ 8″
Howa/Weatherby 7.25″ 7.75″
Marlin X7 7″ 7.5″
Mossberg Patriot 4.715″ 5.225″
Remington 700 6.5″ 7.35″
Remington 788 6.75″ 7.062″
Ruger 77 MKII 7.625″ 8.375″
Ruger American 4.046″ 4.578″
Savage 1st Generation 4.522″ 5.062″
Savage 2nd Generation 4.275″ 5.0622″
Savage 3rd Generation 4.400″ 5.062″
Thompson Center Venture 6.906″ 7.468″
Winchester 70 7.031″ 7.57″

If your model is not listed above, there is yet still another means of identifying action type- the cartridge type. In most cases cartridges measuring less than 2.8″ will utilize a short action. Long actions will not exceed 3.340″. Calibers larger than this will generally use a magnum action, or a special purpose action specifically designed for that cartridge.

Below is a list of the most common calibers in both short and long actions.

Short Action Long Action
.17 Remington .240 Weatherby Magnum
.204 Ruger .25-06 Remington
.222 Remington .257 Remington
.222 Remington Magnum .270 Winchester
.224 Weatherby Magnum .30-06 Springfield
.22-250 Remington .35 Whelen
.243 Remington .45-70 Government
5.56 NATO 7mm Remington Magnum
.243 Winchester 8×57 Mauser
.250 Savage
.260 Remington
.270 WSM
6mm Remington
.30-30 Winchester
.308 Winchester
.300 WSM
.325 WSM
.338 Federal
.35 Remington
.44-40 Winchester
7mm-08

Remember, caliber length is not the perfect means of identifying action length. However, it is more reliable than simply eyeballing or guessing.

What Rifles Support Different Length Actions?

In theory, several rifle models support both the short and long action. However, there is no single rifle that supports both.

Each rifle is designed and built to utilize a specific action. Because many manufacturers produce popular models of different calibers. This means it is possible to purchase a popular model, say a Remington 700, in either a short or long action variant.

Although some calibers are offered in short or long action variants, there is usually a slight difference between each preventing interchangeability. Examples would include the 6.5 Creedmore (short action) and 6.5 SAUM (long action).

The Benefits of a Shorter Action

Many articles are touting the benefits of a shorter action. Experts will claim the shorter action allows for faster cycling times, increased accuracy, and even lighter weight. But does any of this matter?

Truth be told, the short actions offer little advantage over its slightly larger brother. When you consider there is no standard for either category it is possible to have one manufacturer’s long action that is smaller, or only slightly longer, than another’s short action. Even when comparing both actions from a single manufacturer the difference is so small that the average shooter will not be able to take advantage of it.

If you are a competition shooter or tactical sniper, the difference can be more important. The shorter time it takes to cycle the action can allow faster follow-up shots. The stiffer short action can allow hair-splitting difference in accuracy. In limited applications, this can be important. For most shooters, it is a bragging point rather than a need.

This should help determine the difference between the short action and the long action. And, more importantly, you can now tell the difference. While this may not mean much during your next hunting trip it will save plenty of time (and money) when it comes time to order new parts.

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