The Long and The Short of It
Q: Do you think there is any real advantage to a short action versus a long action when it comes to getting off a fast second shot at a wounded or running animal? I've read that short actions are more rigid, more accurate, and slightly faster to cycle since the bolt travels from .750 to 1 inch less. Most American gunwriters seem to applaud the advantages of a short action, but I'd like your honest opinion.
A: There's no hard and fast rule as to what constitutes "short" and "long" actions. A few riflemakers make only two lengths, but most make three and Sako makes four tailored to suit different length cartridges. Short actions are generally designated as those which accept the .308 family of cartridges which are up to 2.8" in overall length. Typically long actions are up to 3.4"and made to handle the .30-06 family of cartridges as well as magnums of similar length such as the 7mm Rem. Mag. .300 and .338 Win. Mag. As a rule, the receivers of short actions are 3/4 to 1-inch shorter than those of long actions. Hence the bolt and magazine assembly are also shorter resulting in a reduction in weight of about 4oz.
From a practical standpoint the extra distance the short action bolt travels is less than an inch and any difference in travel time wouldn't be noticed in the field. The only area where I can see an advantage to short actions is when they are chambered for one of the Winchester Short Magnums which represent real improvements in ballistic and shooting performance. For example, the .300 WSM has about 10 percent less capacity than the .300 Win. Mag . but achieves the same velocity with less powder and 34 percent less recoil. This shows the real advantage of a combination of a short cartridge with a short action.