Bolt Technique with the Weak Hand

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.

8 thoughts on “Bolt Technique with the Weak Hand

  1. Thank you for this article. It is so hard to find info about this type of bolt manipulation so your article is very helpful.

  2. I am Left handed and discussed bolt manipulation at length with John Pepper,who recommended the “old” model 70 Win. regardless of strong side proclivity .John told me it was like opening a jar of peaches,use two opposing forces thus increasing applied force
    1 roll rifle up with right hand and present bolt to left ,grasp bolt and lift as the right hand turns rifle down ,after round is chambered,right hand rotates the rife into the bolt as it lowered with left – this is a lot simpler than it sounds and provides the torque and power needed for adverse conditions ,John encourages this method regardless of which side the rife is being shot from

    • Very little difference between this and strong side bolt ,I found in string of fire that that the rotating may lower the butt,the important element for me was the positive force available when conditions were adverse albeit weather or equipment.Bolt position or design is a big factor also the dog leg bolts are hard for me to run.I like your blog I’m working my way through it,as an older shooter I have not found much written these days on gun fit which was a common topic 50-60 yrs ago and one that is still relevant
      a Couple of years I ago I had some rifleman take their favorite rifle and the drill was a paper plate at 50 yds timed from port arms,chamber loaded and safety engaged ,fire on command timed to first hit
      now when all had finished,I brought out a 1886 Winchester lightweight in .33 Win with aperture rear and post front (sourdough) and to the man each bested his time with a rifle he had never before shot,but thrown up your front sight was right where you were looking.These were long time accomplished shooters .
      I digress, I will stop the ramble.
      Again thanks for your hard work and dedication
      Bill Reynolds (Rawhider)

    • Hi Bill,

      For some reason blogger put your comment in the spam folder, so I apologize on their behalf for the delay in it’s posting.

      I’m not familiar with the term “dog leg” bolt. Is this the zig zag shaft leading to the knob, such as on a P17 Enfield? I do agree that bolt design would have a huge affect on which techniques work the best and how fast you can run them.

      What do think it was about the Winchester that made it faster? The sights? I’ve never handled an 1886, but I have a 94, and that thing just points nicely.

      I like your rambling, so feel free.

    • The 1886 lightweight,has a 1/2 magazine 22″ bbl and the balance and stocking create that rare treat,a snap-shooting rifle that points and tracks like a fine English shotgun. I dare say much of what we see today is marketing, guns designed by non-shooters for non-shooters it seems to me. The belief that technology trumps field-craft and practiced rifle skills is in my opinion wrong. You can’t buy it and when the gadgets don’t work then what,I think we have paid a huge price in the intelligence community for that same kind of wrong headed thinking – we are losing something and making a poor trade to boot me thinks.
      Continuing ramble –
      Rifles and what matters to me
      1. absolute reliability
      2.a good fit
      3 adequate cartridge for the purpose
      4 repeatable performance-It takes me a year a least to wring out a rifle ,I put up a target and shoot one shot from a cold clean barrel(sometimes a follow up shot) and do this at least once a week from -20 degrees to 100+ degrees and always on the same target at the end of the year that is my “group” In between I have made up dummy rounds for loading and function practice (WSM advocates will learn case design matters when it comes to loading and feeding)
      Something that is often over looked is akin to sex-appeal I have to like the rifle and enjoy handling it and throwing it up and snapping it and running it and liking to take it along when I go for a walk,there is something here that gives in edge of it’s just a tool mentality it seems to me.
      whew out breath

    • Feel free to keep going when you get your breath. You should start a blog, or write a book like Colorado Pete is doing.

      I have been thinking a lot lately about reliability, and also of short mags. I just kept nodding as I read your comment. Thanks.

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