From Norway with Love: A Very Rapid Bolt Technique

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.

15 thoughts on “From Norway with Love: A Very Rapid Bolt Technique

  1. When you first mentioned this, I thought I’d give it a try. Two things I discovered were: 1) it’s easier with the .303 MKIV Enfield than Savage. The reason, IMO, is the cocking system of the Enfield is on the forward motion, where the Savage cocks upon lifting the bolt. So the Enfield bolt opens so much easier and I wonder if the Norski rifles are set up similar to the Enfield? I didn’t google-fu to learn, since it leads to point 2) This isn’t for me, especially since I’m probably- due to age- not ever going to be litning fast. So, it’s stick with tried and true slo-motion reloads.

    • I think that the tried and true methods are probably better to stick with. I see the application of this technique as very limited.

      I think that the Norwegian Krags were very, very smooth, but as far as I know still cock on opening type actions. The rifle they use now, the Sauer STR, seems to be extremely smooth with a short bolt lift, like my Sako. I think that the location of the bolt knob may be optimized for use with their technique though. Is the knob on the Enfield located in an appreciably different location than on the Savage?

      Thanks for reading.

    • This particular technique is really only “required” when all you have is a bolt gun and the barbarian hordes are inside the wire. Or, a pack of wolves is running up your back trail at bad breath range.

      Much like a parachute, in other words…

    • Not sure how much I really have to offer on this, though that won’t stop me waffling for a bit – I’m definitely interested in the technique and have played around with it some, but my shooting skills are just not good enough to do any meaningful tests or comparisons (hell, I’m still learning the basics of sighting, holding and trigger control!).

      I will say that the basic action design of the Lee Enfield variants certainly seems to lend itself to this general method of rapid fire and agree (with Shy Wolf) that the easy bolt lift common to cock-on-closing designs is a major factor (I would almost trade my left nut for a nice Norwegian Krag to mess around with).

      Another point to consider is the relative benefit of the additional speed gained – RS estimates an increase in the vicinity of 0.3sec and notes that this was disregarding instances where adjustments in sight picture were required. I’ve not done any formal timing but, for that (limited) part of my shooting WHERE I ACHIEVE RELIABLE HITS, most of the time it takes me to get the shot off is in aiming and trigger control i.e. working the bolt (whichever technique I employ) is a minor part of the equation in getting faster repeat shots HITTING the target. I hasten to re-emphasis that my shooting skill is not at a place where I can readily perform “compressed surprise breaks” so take that for what it’s worth.

      This brings me back to the shooting position – the Norwegians are tightly slung and prone – once natural POA has been established (strongest in prone?) then faster hits could benefit from improvements in bolt manipulation speed. RS – It’s really interesting that you found this technique of most benefit from offhand, where natural POA is easiest to deviate from. You’ve seized upoon the issue of the set up of the rifle at hand (particularly relative position of bolt handle to trigger) and bolt-lift effort required as being critical to how practical it is to employ the ‘Norwegian’ technique and this seems to be a limiting factor to your experiment.

      I guess you’re gonna need an SMLE, a Norwegian Krag and a Mauser to properly wring out this subject – looks like you might have to sell some chickens!

      I think when it’s all said and done, Pete is on the money in pointing out that this technique will only ever come into play in an ’emergency’ where you have only your bolt gun – in such a case, the range will be short and hits less challenging (providing you can still concentrate on shooting while peeing your pants). We’ve talked of this here before Re: mindset etc (“you can’t miss fast enough to catch up”) – the cool-minded rifleman will be making deliberate hits using a well-practised technique and I rather feel that 0.3sec will be neither here nor there. But I don’t know for sure.

      Your conclusion is the clincher for me – using this technique as regular part of the repertoire does introduce another decision to be made with potential ‘muscle memory’ confusion etc. Conversely, Jeff Cooper’s ‘bolt flick’ technique, which can be applied generically across all bolt actions, solves this dilemma while not giving away too much in speed.

      I’ll leave off with the question, “assuming your first shot goes where it is intended, how often do you need to get super fast, repeat shots on the same target?”

      cheers all and apologies for the long ramble.

    • Jonno, off the top of my pointy little head I can’t think of too many instances of hammering multiple shots into the same target, except large dangerous game charging in close where it needs to be “shot DOWN”. Theoretically with a major-caliber rifle one per target should be enough.

      You do raise good point though with “providing you can still concentrate on shooting while peeing your pants”. Sounds like a good skill to master. Since RS has been experimenting with all kinds of neat stuff lately, perhaps he can do an article on this???

    • Pete,

      Fred did advise me in a conversation once to wear Depends. That’s another story. I’m sure I’ll get there someday without having to try, so y’all will just have to wait.

      Jonno,

      The way your brain works I have trouble believing you’re as much of a beginner as you make yourself out to be.

      As for the other points. I think that I found it “useful” (maybe, though really maybe not so much) when the target is so large that natural point of aim is largely irrelevant. You’re right though, with good natural point of aim, such as with a sling or bipod, it could make it faster. What bothers me then is how effectively the trigger is pressed, because I just don’t think it’s as good for precision as establishing the trigger finger in the optimum position and working backwards from there.

      I don’t see myself selling chickens. 1. I like chicken, tastes good. 2. I like fresh eggs, tastes good. 3. If I start selling food, an overgrown arm of the US government known as the EPA will put a perimeter on what will be called a “compound” by our media and they will cut me down like a dog for being an unlicensed purveyor of food, and I’ll be smeared as a “right wing nutjob” with an aresenal of 2 guns and 150 rounds.

      Maybe I will sell something, but I’ll probably use the money to buy ammo or training. I want toys, but I want more to be really good.

      At this point, I’m going to put this technique away for a while and work on more basics. That is to say I think I agree with your conclusion, and therefore my own. Now that we’re all in agreement…

      cheers and thanks for the many good points.

    • RS, your question of the bolt position caused me to check and the results are interesting in some ways.
      In closed position, the bolts are very close to the same angle- about 3/8″ from the stock (useing rough framing measurements), and the knobs are very close to the same size.
      The big difference is the top of the bolt cycle. Again using guestimation measurements, the MKIV bolt has about twenty degrees less throw than the Savage- about a 70 degree throw compared to the Savage 90 degrees.
      Conclusion: the short action throw coupled with the cocking mechanics gives a speed edge to the Enfield.
      Thanks for being a great encouragement to thinking about my shooting.

    • My Sako has a 60 degree bolt throw. I really like it, but it’s not to say that I would not consider a standard 90 degree design at some point.

      The cock on closing desing is strange to me. It feels almost like it’s a spring assist opening or something, but I really didn’t feel like it was an advantage in the final equation.

      One thing I have found that does give a significant advantage with the Remington I sometimes shoot is an oversized bolt knob. More on that later.

  2. RS, the Enfield does act like a spring-assist opening. Nothing wrong with that. The advantage is that the bolt opening wrist movement is an inherently weak one, so why have it cock the striker spring as well as doing what it must (primary extraction)? The bolt closure movement is similar to a bench press, pushup, or punching movement – many times stronger due to the chest/shoulder/tricep muscle combination. Much better for compressing a spring.

    Don’t worry to much about precision of trigger press on the snapshot. About the only time that will matter is on the south side of the neck of a rapidly moving northbound deer that you spooked up at 20 paces. Other than that, the snapshot is used only a few steps away from butt-stroke and bayonet thrust distance, no need of gilt-edge precision…

  3. I found your blog a while ago and enjoy reading it. I hadn’t checked it in a while but saw this post. I’m a bit late to the party, but you may be interested in knowing that the technique you mention above is briefly discussed in W.E. Fairbairn’s classic book “All in Fighting”, published during the war in 1942. The book has a quick primer on rifle shooting including a page on close quarter fighting with the SMLE and some corresponding diagrams. One diagram shows firing with the middle finger while the thumb and forefinger manipulate the bolt. The book was released in the US the same year as “Get Tough!” but doesn’t have the rifle section.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *