For those who have been reading my blog for a while, you’ll recall that I have mentioned this bolt technique pretty much whenever I talk about bolt work. I find it very impressive to watch the Norwegian competitors shoot their competitions. For the record, I’m not an employee of Norway and have no affiliation with the country, and do not expect any monetary gains from my expressed admiration for their shooting style or competitions (thanks for the free cruise guys!). For what it’s worth, the British are said to have used this technique to great effect in wars past, but it seems to be lost as a living technique there.
The most basic way to describe the technique is that the middle finger is used to actuate the trigger while the thumb and index finger remain on the bolt knob. This eliminates the “dead space” that is present in the standard technique. I’m defining “dead space” as the time it takes to move the hand from the pistol grip to the bolt knob at the beginning of the bolt cycle, and the time it takes to get from the bolt knob back to the pistol grip and trigger at the end of the bolt cycle.
I tried this technique in several positions. I have seen the Norwegians use it in prone with the sling, but that was not workable for me. I think their rifles are set up specifically to shoot prone with easy access to the bolt knob with that technique. Some of the Enfields also seem to be set up to work with this technique, perhaps Pete or Jonno could shed some light. I also tried in sitting, kneeling, and rice paddy prone, with varying degrees of limited success. With bolt work, a limited success amounts to failure in my mind, so I moved on.
What I did find that was workable was the offhand position. This lead, in part, to the article and video on multiple close range moving targets.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this technique. Let’s begin with the advantages. The main advantage is that it is lightning fast. The hand position is basically in the optimum position to run the bolt, so I don’t think you can find a faster, more positive technique to cycle the bolt. A second advantage is that working this technique seems to have, in my case, trained the way my hand moves in such a manner that is has also improved my standard bolt technique in terms of speed, power, and a more positive bolt cycle.
There are some disadvantages to this technique in my opinion. The first thing that comes to mind as a compromise is the quality of the trigger press. I don’t think that the problem is necessarily the use of the middle finger to actuate the trigger. It’s easy enough to get used to that. I think what is more significant is the way the hand position sets the angle on the trigger. Ideally, the trigger finger should dictate the position for the rest of the hand, with the pad of the trigger finger pressing the trigger straight to the rear. In this technique the tip of the finger ends up on the trigger.
Not the best position for the trigger finger, but it works for when less than the utmost precision will do.
The second disadvantage that comes up is that I don’t think it is possible to press the trigger while the thumb and forefinger hold the bolt without imparting movement to the bolt during the trigger press. Mind you, this can be reduced to a very small movement that may not produce a noticeable detrimental effect in many applications.
With the two above mentioned disadvantages in mind, I think it is illustrative to watch the electronic scoring system in the Norwegian competitions as these bolt gunners hit the target. There are usually some fliers. Their shooting is very, very good considering what they are doing, but I think that this technique may not be the best when absolute precision is required.
There are other disadvantages that present more significant issues for the field rifleman. This technique is difficult to use when quickly bringing the rifle to the shoulder, such as in a snapshot. Consider that the thumb and the index finger are holding the bolt. Also consider what this grip on the bolt may cause to happen if the rifle is lifted explosively to the shoulder. If the bolt is lifted at all prior to firing, it must be closed prior to attempting a shot or a malfunction will ensue. Also consider that the middle finger, which is the trigger finger, should be indexed prior to shooting. This leaves the ring and little finger to grip the rifle. This is not a very positive grip.
Speaking of grip, when using this technique the firing hand is not available to grip the rifle and pull it into the shoulder pocket. The Norwegians sling up tight, which makes the firm grip unnecessary. To use this technique in offhand, the support hand must keep sufficient tension on the rifle to keep the butt in the shoulder.
Another disadvantage to the technique is that you may find, as I did, that it isn’t viable in any position other than offhand due to problems with reach. (This paragraph is a stub. You can help Rifleslinger expand this paragraph by clicking this link).
Taking into consideration the above mentioned disadvantages, I don’t believe that they pose a real problem in real-world offhand shooting. The trigger technique is more than adequate for a MOPP (minute of paper plate) level of accuracy at 100 yards (the pewter standard for offhand accuracy). Likewise, the issue of not having the firing hand to grip the stock is something that is relatively easily gotten used to as far as holding the stock in firing position.
The other problem, that of mounting the rifle, is overcome by starting out with a normal hold, index finger indexed outside the trigger guard, bottom 3 fingers gripping, thumb where you like it. To actuate the technique for its intended purpose, that of quick successive shots, after the first cycling of the bolt with the standard technique, keep the thumb and index fingers in position on the bolt handle, and prepare for firing with the middle finger (index it outside the trigger guard unless you are sighted in and ready to fire).
Let’s take a look at the mechanics of the technique. I would first encourage you to take the time to watch it in action by clicking on the following link: http://www.nrk.no/nett-tv/klipp/656242/ There is an excellent slow motion portion showing John Olav Ågotnes, whose technique is probably unparalled (although Finn Amundsen is probably my favorite to watch,click this and go to 11:06 through 16:23, and specifically 13:50 to 13:57 for slow motion ).
Ågotnes’ stage in the finals is from 32:50 to 33:40 in the video, and the slow motion portion is from 33:31 to 33:40. Here is a still photo that I lifted from the Norwegian video (if I wasn’t supposed to do this, well y’all from Norway can come and get me [or ask me to remove the photo]).
Notice his hand position his index finger, contrary to what you might think would be the optimum position, is wrapped over the top of the bolt knob. The thumb is obviously at the rear, and the bottom of the bolt knob touches the top of the trigger (middle) finger.
This technique in action has a very different feel to what I’m used to. There seem to be 3 primary points of control on the bolt knob: the base of the middle finger on the bottom of the bolt, the index finger on the front of the bolt, and the thumb at the top/rear of the bolt. The base of the middle finger seems to be the primary point of control on lifting the bolt, and much of the movement to bring the bolt to the rear.
Two of the three points of control
View from the rear on where the knob is placed in the hand. The grip is left open only so you can see the placement.
The hand is now closed and ready to fire or work the bolt.
Initial opening is driven primarily by the base of the middle finger.
The index finger now joins in to bring the bolt to the rear.
The last bit of movement to the rear is really all in the wrist. It’s a snappy rearward motion intended not only to positively eject your empty case, but also to ding up the case mouth. Yay!
The thumb finally gets to play and pushes the bolt forward.
Nearing final bolt closing the wrist begins to snap back down.
Wrist is down, and so is the bolt.
Another option would be to keep the hand in the position that Cooper called the “bolt flick”. This allows the middle finger to move a bit more independently to actuate the trigger. This is also probably a bit more in line with how most of us work the bolt anyway.
Alternate “bolt flick” position for this technique.
Front view of the “bolt flick” variation.
With either technique, be sure to keep the hand from rotating with the bolt (pronating). There is a tendency for the hand to pronate by moving with the bolt as it rotates. This increases the amount of movement you need to open the bolt, although it slightly decreases the amount of force needed to open it. I’m going to stick with speed and economy of motion over being a wuss and letting the bolt knob tell my hand what to do.
Also try to keep the movement localized as much as possible. Moving a lot of the arm, and even the shoulder will disturb your stance and sight picture, and will probably slow you down as well. Efficiency and smoothness are the orders of the day. Do as I say and not as I do in my videos. I don’t at any point consider what I’m doing a finished product.
So how much faster is this technique than the standard bolt technique? I think the difference amounts to about 0.3 seconds. When I did my snapshooting, I would sometimes to doubles, triples, or quadruples. The first bolt manipulation would be the standard technique I that have described in other articles. I would then transition to the Norwegian technique as I described above. The first split would be in the neighborhood of 1.4 to 1.5 seconds. Successive splits would be as fast as 1.2 seconds, discounting the longer splits that were due to having to make a minor adjustment to the sight picture.
Now that I have covered the technique in depth, I need to address a final, and more significant, disadvantage. Since the technique does not work in all positions, adopting it for offhand shooting presents the problem of having more than one technique to work with. I have a feeling that unless this is addressed very carefully, this sets up the user for problems under stress. Having multiple options slows down reaction time, and has the possibility of causing the flow to break down if/when the “muscle memory” gets confused.
I don’t know if the extra speed offered by this technique is worth the tradeoff of adding another decision to be made. I’ll let you know as I work with this more if it causes problems. In the meantime I welcome your comments.