Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Proper Manipulation of the Bolt Action Rifle

I recently was afforded an invitation to review a set of short instructional videos about the manipulation of a hunting rifle. I was greatly humbled by the opportunity and the videos themselves had fairly good production value for a couple of enthusiasts producing them for You Tube. After a few moments I realized that I would have to greatly upset my new acquaintance. Despite having loads of enthusiasm and a modicum of military training- they were doing it wrong.

Dear reader- (in the gentlest voice possible)- if the butt of the rifle leaves your shoulder when manipulating the are doing it wrong. After a brief review of several other videos by different individuals the error was far more common than I'd like to believe and often demonstrated by professional folks who ought to really know better. I will admit- I have on occasion been so sloppy despite both knowing and training better.

In thinking back I realize that the grey in my beard must mean I am slowly fossilizing as well as the fact many new shooters view the bolt action rifle as an archaic device. In one of the "instructional" videos the host described one of the many advantages of the "modern sporting rifle" as being the butt could stay on the shoulder throughout the firing and reloading cycle. Hogwash.

In the ye olde days when Uncle Sam equipped millions of young men with the newest turnbolt rifle if you dropped the butt from your shoulder to work the bolt the drill instructor would quite likely walk up behind you and soundly crack you on your steel pot helmet with his swagger stick. You'd not be apt to make that mistake again. In all fairness, US soldiers haven't trained the bolt action rifle in well over half a century and the men trained under such tutelage are becoming rare birds in the field themselves. Finding serious rifle instruction for the bolt rifle is also difficult if one excepts the various "sniper" and "long range shooting" courses.

The end result is a lot of self taught enthusiasts teaching others to do it wrong. Not to diminish their contribution and enthusiasm for the armed arts but the operation of the bolt action should be this:

From the firing position:
1. Drop your right hand a few inches below the action.
2. Bring your hand, palm up sharply into the bottom of the bolt and pull back smartly until the bolt smacks the bolt stop.
3. Reverse your palm and push forward until the bolt's forward movement stops, allow the momentum of your arm to carry the bolt into the downward final position.
4. Since your hand will be palm rear, simply grasp the grip and extend your finger to the trigger.

You can do all the above actions without ever moving your left hand supporting the fore end or dropping the butt from your shoulder. With a little practice you can get surprisingly fast and reliable cycling of the action and never let your eye or the sights wander from the target.

The primary advantage of doing this is that you can keep your eyes downrange...pretty important in either the hunting field or the battlefield.

The other most common mistakes with a bolt gun are as follows:
1. Not working the bolt vigorously enough. Don't be that guy- work it like you mean it.
2. Getting your thumb mashed between the bolt handle and the ocular bell of the scope. I'm not overly picky about the thumb but you really don't need it with a bit of practice.
3. Looking at the action and not at the target.

Here is one of the few videos I found where they demonstrate doing it right. Thanks Ryan Gresham!

This is something that every discerning rifleman ought to practice every time they grab the rifle....dry fire practice and on the range.

Remember amateurs practice until they can do it right. Professionals practice until they can't do it wrong.


hodgeman said...

I received an email comment that I'll share in brief with the wider audience-

"The prevalence of sloppy bolt work is in direct correlation to the prevalence of the bench rest".

An astute observation, since proper bolt bolt is nearly impossible from the bench which has become the dominant feature on today's rifle ranges.

Even more reason to practice your field shooting positions.

Anonymous said...

Great post.

Thanks for the vindication too. I was looking a a rifle some time ago in a store I don't go to much and commented that the bolt would hit me in the nose. the clerk said, "yeah, but it's not like you would have your face there when you work the bolt." Ugh.

I'm not all THAT old, but I also don't see any advantage in time with a "modern sporting rifle", marketing parlance what we once called just a semi-automatic. The time it takes to work the bolt is roughly the time it takes to inhale. If you don't inhale, you won't be exhaling as you squeeze off the next round on the off chance you need one. Maybe I'm just not as skilled as some, but I find that if I don't breath correctly, it all goes downhill from there. That slow exhale settles my hold, and is what I time the squeeze of my trigger to in order to keep from accidentally jerking the trigger in the excitement. Almost every marginal shot I've ever made can find it's roots in forgetting to breath.

One disadvantage: I tend to pause a half second after a shot, and then work the bolt pretty quickly, even if I don't shoot. My rifle has a standing ejector, so the case kicks proportionately far. Work it quickly and it's in the next county. I can almost never find my brass.


hodgeman said...

Neil- better to fling the brass into the next zip code than leave it lying in the raceway!

Totally agree that breathing is the source of many shooting ills.

Chester said...

This is cool!