I promised pictures for this installment. I have some, but not as many as I had hoped. My schedule is tighter than I would like, and I also had some issues with lighting and a rookie cameragirl. I was hoping for at least two views of stills and video, but I only have one of each. At least they are from different angles. I also wanted a live fire video, but I haven’t had the opportunity to get to the range in the last few days. I will add more media as I get the chance.
I have posted still frames of my bolt work before. In the past I would stop and pose for each frame. The problem with this is that when moving the bolt slow, I can only attempt to approximate the movement I actually use under actual speed. I found out that I had inadvertently been misrepresenting the technique I use, which hasn’t changed much over time or over rifles. What I have this year that I didn’t have before is a camera that takes several photos per second. This allows me to work the bolt at actual speed and still get some photos. I still run into the issue of not being able to get full detail of any one bolt cycle (the camera takes approximately 5 frames per second). I usually get three photos of each cycling. What I did was compile photos from several bolt cyclings and compile a photo montage that provides a decent representation.
I discussed using natural, arc-like movements. Let’s take a look at how that might work when using a bolt that has a narrowly constrained, rectangular movement. The following photo represents the three possible extreme positions of the bolt.
The blue line in the photo represents an approximation of the movement of the hand that I think should be taken. How can that be reconciled with the constraints of the mechanism itself? I think that the reason it’s possible is that the body parts in contact with and around the bolt have a bit of give that allows the bolt to find its own path to some degree. The why is not so important as the fact that it works well. The takeaway is that what I think is the most efficient movement is an arcing, whip-like movement.
The following video shows two bolt cycles at both full speed and 1/8 speed. I apologize for the lack of editing to make the video more time efficient, entertaining, “not horrible”, or “at all worth watching”. Maybe that’s because I’m not a “professional photographer”. I’m not what you would call “smart”. I don’t “shower every day”. I live in a “van down by the river”. Sorry. Video:
A bit more detail can be seen in the photos. Note that I post the photo then discuss what’s going on below it (just so you know which picture I’m talking about):
At this point the trigger has been pressed and the striker has fallen. The hand remains in the firing position until follow through is complete.
The hand has just made contact with the bolt knob via moving directly to it. The thumb remains in the same place it was during firing for leverage and a fixed point of reference. The specific location of the thumb placement will vary depending on you and your rifle, but mine is part way on the stock, part way on the receiver tang. This is also a kinesthetic anchor point for my technique, or one of the focal points I pay attention to
The bolt is completely unlocked at this point, and the knob is at the extreme limit of height. I believe that the thumb is still in place at its anchor point at this time.
The bolt knob has started moving to the rear, evidently due to the contraction of fingers and movement of the hand to the rear. The thumb at this point has left its anchor point, which keeps it from getting juiced like a grape.
Continuing to the rear, I think that the elbow and shoulder to a lesser degree come into play.
The bolt is at the rear limit of travel. This is the point of transition. Note that the hand is flexed rearward, in preparation to “crack the whip” forward.
Moving forward now. It’s difficult to see but the point of contact, hand to knob, is at the thumb between the two knuckles, nearer to the base. Although it appears as though the hand is closed around the knob, it is open, and no effort is being made to keep it either open or shut.
The bolt has moved a bit more forward at this point. The only real difference in the body position is that the wrist has straightened out.
Now it really appears as though the hand is closed, but it is still open. It is probably tense, due to the need to gain sufficient leverage to close the bolt. Thumb position is key here. I believe that it needs to be right on top of the bolt knob to prevent slippage or loss of leverage. Also note the slight rotation of the wrist towards pronation. This gives a boost to the movement, adding extra snap without requiring a faster movement through space. The wrist has also completely straightened out from its cocked back position, indicating that booster stage has delivered its complete payload.
The bolt is now either at, or more likely near, completion of locking.
Upon the receipt of the kinesthetic cue that the bolt is completely locked, the hand begins a smooth transition back to firing position. I really slow things down at this point in preparation for a smooth, safe stop. Note that my trigger finger is seeking to return to the trigger, where it was at the initiation of this motion. I think this is normal, seems to be “industry standard” and is my default. I have not considered whether it violates rule 3 or whether it is, in fact, safe. I have not yet caused an inadvertent discharge through the employment of this technique, but that does not mean that it’s safe.
The hand is now back in firing position, and the cycle is complete (cue music from Lion King soundtrack: Circle of Life Death- perhaps a Weird Al style remake?). The trigger finger does get set gingerly back to the trigger.
I hope that I’m getting close to a technique that has the four components of efficiency, reliability, smoothness, and utilizing natural movements. I want to make clear that I don’t consider any of this to be the final word. I’m still working on it, and I don’t think it’s perfect. A month ago I was missing the bolt knob more often than not due to the new stock changing the ergonomics of the rifle. I have been faster with this rifle, and to be frank I am still in the process of rebuilding the technique.
As for efficiency, from the slo-mo, it looks like it’s not bad, but that my hand moves unnecessarily to the outside as it approaches the knob. I also think there might be a slightly excessive gap between my thumb and forefinger at the transition between opening and closing the bolt, when it is stationary at the extreme rear limit of travel.
As for reliability, I think it’s very good. It could be better. I want to discuss that in a future article. It could be worse. I want to discuss that in a future article.
Smoothness is a cultivated attribute, rather than one intrinsic to the technique. I’m getting there and still working on it.
I think the movements I’m utilizing are very natural and flow very well into one another. This comes from repetition. The technique refines itself with work.
As for speed, which as I have stated, is a bi-product instead of an attribute of the technique, I think that any bolt cycle that takes less than one second beginning at the hand in a firing position, and ending in exactly the same position is sufficiently fast. I think a half second would be ideal, but probably not worth pursuing as a goal in and of itself. When there are so many other things to practice, it’s just not worth over-refining this. Also, to be completely realistic, any application for which one might choose a bolt gun over a semi-auto does not likely require a high rate of fire. This is my admission that I have been a little silly to spend so much time on bolt technique. I have two excuses, I enjoy it, and to provide for the education of others.
I don’t advocate trying to micro-tune the portions of your body, e.g., individual joints, that move during your bolt technique based on my photos or video. I don’t think it would work. Although I went into detail as to what parts of the hand and arm were moving and when they were moving, I never think about it during the technique. I hope that there are cues here that you can use to find your way, but in the end you have to practice and get a feel for it yourself. I can point the way, but I can’t take you where you are going. My advice is to find a good technique, get smooth, and just let the speed come with time.
In the next installment I will cover more specifics and an “internal” discussion on how to make the bolt work stronger and smoother.