Long vs Short Action: Chart of Rifle Cartridge Lengths

action length Long vs Short Action: Chart of Rifle Cartridge Lengths

Rifle actions come in different lengths to accommodate different lengths of bullets. Knowing the action length of a rifle is important to understand what length of bullet you can put in the rifle.

In general, cartridges under 2.8″ in overall length are considered short action. Cartridges between 2.8″ and 3.6″ are long action, and cartridges over 3.6″ require a magnum action. However, there are many exceptions such as the 6.5 PRC, which is considered a short-action cartridge despite its 2.955″ length.

The problem with that general rule is that there are so many exceptions. The exceptions occur because rifle and cartridge makers like to bend and shape what we consider “short action.” It also depends on the particular rifle. For example, Browning may make the action slightly longer than Winchester, so Browning may consider a cartridge as “short action” which would require a standard action in a Winchester rifle/magazine. It just depends.

short vs long action rifles Long vs Short Action: Chart of Rifle Cartridge Lengths

It simply isn’t possible to give specific numbers such as those bolded above to say what is and isn’t a short action cartridge. Those are general guidelines, but there are many exceptions.

Common Rifle Cartridges, and Their Action Lengths

CartridgeAction LengthCartridge Overall Length (in)

What is a short-action rifle? The term “short action” refers to a rifle designed to accept cartridges up to approximately 2.8″ in length, or similar to the length of a .308 Winchester. However, specific rifle designs sometimes accept slightly longer cartridges up to 2.955″ in a short action.

What is a long-action rifle? The term “long action” means a rifle that accepts cartridges between approximately 2.8″ and 3.6″. A common example of a long action is the .30-06 or the .270 Winchester. Long actions are sometimes referred to as “standard-length action.”

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What Happens if an Action is Too Short for the Cartridge?

action length too long Long vs Short Action: Chart of Rifle Cartridge Lengths

As you can see in the image above, this cartridge will not load in this rifle. This is a short-action rifle, with a cartridge that is too long to fit. The back of this cartridge is pushed all the way back against the bolt face, but the rear wall of the magazine, but the front of the bullet can’t fit down into the mag well. Even if this rifle were chambered for this round, it wouldn’t load because the cartridges wouldn’t fit in the action or the magazine.

This is a common issue when selecting a VLD bullet on a cartridge that is very close to the limit for the action.

Suppose you hand load a cartridge such as the 6.8 Western. Its cartridge overall length is 2.955″, which is right on the edge of what we could possibly call a “short-action” cartridge. You select a Berger VLD hunting bullet which is very long and slender, and you want to seat that bullet far out from the mouth of the case for better accuracy on your particular setup. It’s possible that the cartridge may not chamber in your particular rifle if the action is too short.

Each rifle will be slightly different in how long the “short action” will be. It may chamber in one rifle, but not another.