After a month of shooting left handed, I became alright at running the bolt. It didn’t come easy, but it finally “clicked” to some degree. I don’t have it in every position, but I think I could get there. After the month of shooting left handed is up, I’m going to make this a part of my everyday routine until my preference for shooting right handed is less strong. If you're looking for my work on strong hand bolt technique look here and here
I turned to all the existing material on the internet and found… not much in the way of anything helpful or exciting. The common piece of advice was “watch Saving Private Ryan. The sniper is left handed and uses a 1903 bolt action rifle.” I found the clip on youtube. HOLLYWOOD FAILS AGAIN!!! He’s slow and breaks his cheekweld.
The notable exception to the usual internet drivel was a web page called Thoughts on the Manipulation of the Bolt Action Rifle on Fr. Frog’s Pad. He has a lot of info by Whelen and Jeff Cooper; the only problem is that it’s “organized” in a somewhat random fashion, which I didn’t have a problem with.
The most helpful source of information I found was from Whelen himself in the book I reviewed in November, The Hunting Rifle.
"We must not forget the 'south-paw.' If, because you are left-handed or because
of defective vision in the right eye, you have to shoot left-handed do not think
that you will be handicapped badly with a bolt action rifle. It is almost as easy to
operate a bolt action rifle left as right-handed if it is done right. As the left hand
releases its grip on the pistol grip the right hand should twist the forearm a little to
cause the rifle to cant slightly to the left. The left elbow must be raised from the
ground or the left knee. Without taking the butt of the rifle from the shoulder,
reach over the action with the left hand and grasp the handle with the thumb and forefinger, thumb under the bolt, knob back in the crotch of the thumb and forefinger, last three fingers on top of the receiver. Now by twisting the wrist, assisted by pressure of the little finger on top of the receiver, raise the bolt handle all the way up with a rapid, powerful twisting motion of the wrist. Now pull the bolt all the way to the rear, keeping the hand on the bolt in the same position and with the heel of the hand on top of the bolt-sleeve and rear end of the cocking piece. Be sure you pull the bolt hard all the way to the rear. Keep the knob of the bolt handle deep in the crotch of the thumb and the forefinger, then at once push the bolt forward with the heel of the hand contacting the rear of the bolt. At once push the bolt handle down with the forefinger and a twist of the wrist. The second finger also assists in this pressure. This method, when learned, is very much easier and faster than trying to grasp the bolt handle between the little finger and the palm of the hand as many attempt to do. Left-handed operation is slightly slower than right-handed, not because it is any more difficult when learned, but because it is necessary for the left elbow to be removed from the ground or knee. Nevertheless it is quite easy and very fast."
This description by Whelen is a pretty good point of departure for anyone. Idiosyncrasies of your particular system will likely dictate changes, minor or major, from it. I have a scope, as will 99% of normal shootin’ folk shooting a bolt action, so we’ll have to work a little harder.
Don’t expect this to be as good as the technique on your strong side. It can be good, but there will still be some drawbacks. You might have a slight breach of cheekweld, which hopefully you don't have on your strong side. Have the intention of maintaining your cheekweld, and any separations won't be a big deal. Practice getting right back on. Working the bolt from the "wrong" won’t be quite as fast; maybe a half second slower at best. Some positions will pose significant challenges in even reaching the bolt. You get the idea. Anyway, onward!
Here’s what I found:
There are two paths you can choose and I think that both are valid in different situations. Since my bolt handle is on the right side, I considered running with a “modern carbine technique” approach and working the bolt with my right hand while maintaining my “master grip”. The other approach would be to reach over the top with the left hand. I decided for the majority of my shooting to use the method that covers the shortest distance, which would be left hand over the top.
The first step in working that bolt is to get the left thumb to the knob. You should be thinking about efficiency with every move you make. Note that it’s a very short distance from the firing hand to the bolt knob:
The main consideration is still what? Yes, you got it. Efficiency. To get the rest of the hand to the bolt knob, keep the inside of the wrist in contact with the stock while rotating (pronating) the hand to clear the pistol grip. Remember back to your study of Five Animal Kung Fu, and use the Snake style.
Sorry ladies. That is a wedding band you see there.
When our happy family of fingers reaches the bolt knob, it’s time to get it moving. The wrist is still in contact with the stock, which will provide some leverage to the thumb in order to get the bolt knob up. The little finger will be on the side of the scope, which will also provide a little leverage:
Bend the wrist to move the fingers rearward. Make sure to bring the bolt all the way back (HARD!):
Bend the wrist forward, exactly the opposite of the previous motion.
Close the bolt with the fingers:
Get the hand back to the pistol grip.
This goes pretty fast. Here’s some live action:
The other alternative, like I said before, is to use your right hand to run the bolt. This works best when the front of the rifle is support, as on a bipod. Just grip it and rip it. Make sure you remove the trigger finger as you work the bolt.
Here’s a free bonus tip. You’ll want to check your rifle’s chamber before dry fire to make sure it’s not loaded, or before live fire to make sure it is loaded. Here’s an easy and efficient way I found to check the chamber. With the left hand on the rifle’s pistol grip and thumb wrapped around the grip, use the thumb to open the bolt.
Keep the thumb in contact with the bolt and pull the bolt knob to the rear with the thumb.
After to check what you need to check, push the bolt close with the thumb on the bolt knob and index finger on the bolt shroud.
When the bolt is all the way forward, use the thumb to close it.
I've found that my length of pull, being quite long at 14.25", is finally causing problems with something. With the sling on in prone, I haven't yet figured out a way to work the bolt without letting the butt drop from my shoulder; it's very hard to reach. I'll continue to work on it and report back if I figure it out.
There. I hope you have fun with the rest of weak handed month.
There. I hope you have fun with the rest of weak handed month.