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Skills Check: Bolt-Running Speed Drill

Skills Check: Bolt-Running Speed Drill

With the popularity of semi-automatic rifles, I imagine there are shooters who don’t know much about bolt-action rifles. These rifles have been with us for a long time and there must be millions of them in use today, so let’s talk a little about running the bolt.

By “running the bolt,” I mean the action of reloading the chamber of the rifle by lifting and pulling back on the bolt handle, then pushing it forward and down. This accomplishes extracting and ejecting the empty cartridge case from the chamber and loading a fresh round of ammunition in the chamber to ready the rifle for firing. In courses at Gunsite Academy, we insist this be done immediately after a shot and with the butt of the rifle still in the shoulder; the idea is to quickly and efficiently reload the rifle should another shot be needed.

OK, all that sounds pretty easy but how do you go about grasping the bolt handle when running the bolt? Jeff Cooper taught shooters to grasp the bolt knob between the thumb and finger and run it quickly and forcefully, up, back, forward and down. The military usually teaches the flat-hand method where the hand, bladed something like a karate chop, is used to lift the bolt handle. Next, the hand is turned with the palm facing rearward to pull the bolt back then the hand is turned palm forward to push the bolt closed and down.

This is much more quickly accomplished than explained. Lastly, here’s a technique used by some high-power shooters. They lift the bolt with the trigger finger and run it backward with the palm facing the rifle. Keeping the open palm facing the rifle, the bolt is then pushed forward and down with the thumb as the trigger finger goes to the trigger. When done correctly, this is a bolt flick and can be done quite rapidly. Actually, all these techniques become very quick with practice.

For this drill, you will need a bolt-action rifle loaded with a round in the chamber and four rounds in the magazine, safety engaged or “on.” Place a steel or paper target at 100 yards (50 yards for a rimfire rifle) and, on the start signal, fire five aimed rounds in 10 seconds. There are three stages: First stage is from standing, second from sitting or kneeling and the third from prone, for a total of 15 rounds.

Run the bolt quickly, shoot carefully and see how you do. You might surprise yourself with the speed and efficiency of the bolt-action rifle.

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