|September - October 1999
Volume 31, Number
Sako Model 75 Varmint in .22-250 Remington. Jeff C
This page represents an exciting beginning. It is the
beginning of a new headline in Rifle, and it is the beginning of a new phase in my life
and career. The emphasis will be on quality and integrity, something that is not new
within these covers. It is a real treat for me to be able to contribute, because Rifle and
Handloader are the magazines I subscribed to when I wanted information. In the future
these pages will be filled with rifles and their practical use. My interest and knowledge
is about hunting rifles, used in a realistic environment.
We will explore the edges of their realmthe old, whose quality and performance we
should not forget and the new with talents and technology we might not have experienced
before. My test for the miraculous improvement or supposed advantage is: "Can you
prove it with a rifle?" rather than a computer. The first and most important lesson
in this business my old mentor, Elmer Keith, gave me was, "Be sure you can do it
before you write about it." That philosophy has served me well. It is doubtful you
will "read about it first here." Things will usually have some hard miles on
them before they receive my stamp of approval. Finally, even though it is my task to fill
them, these are your pages. While I am not so foolish to believe that everyone can be
pleased all the time, I will make a great effort to listen and respond with what you want.
Have you noticed that whenever someone is very good at what they do, they make it look
very easy? When Michael Jordan flies or John Elway throws a football, they seem to do so
without conscious effort. Their "tool" appears to be part of them and answers
their most subtle request as if it were attached to their nerves. The same can be said of
a person who is truly adept with a firearm.
There is only one dangerous part on any
firearm, rifles includedthe hole in the end. Before we can talk about safeties, bolt
locks, slings or triggers, we must understand that nothing, but nothing, matters except
the muzzle. I watched the great John Satterwhite move in a crowd of people with a long
gun. At first it was difficult to notice that he had the gun at all, even though he was
actively moving the piece and demonstrating its use all the while. I became fascinated
with the muzzle. It moved constantly, revolving, sweeping and turning. It did everything,
except point at any person. While he was striving to show many things, the undercurrent of
it all was muzzle control. The gun and man were one. Every rifleman should strive for the
same perfection, whether on a crowded range or in the woods alone. You must be aware of
that muzzle and everything around it, including yourself. When you do this perfectly, the
rifle is safe.
Once the whole rifle is under control, we can begin to consider some helpful ways to use
its mechanical details. To my surprise there seems to be considerable confusion about
safety, safeties, loaded chambers and the bolts themselves. Let's begin to simplify things
by putting a rifles use into two categories: when we are actively hunting and when we are
The "not actively hunting" occupies the greatest portion of time. When the rifle
is not active, its chamber should be empty. Depending on legal requirements and reason,
there are many times when the magazine should be empty also. Empty magazines are called
for when it is illegal to have any rounds in the rifle while it is in a vehicle or when
there is risk that some unknowing person might mishandle the piece. When we decide a rifle
should be unloaded we want to know it is unloaded. The magazine is easy. You can look and
see if there are any shells there, but the chamber is a little more difficult.
Bolt-action rifles usually hide their chambers. On models where it is easy to remove the
bolt, it is not at all wrong to pull the bolt out and look down the barrel from the
chamber end. Otherwise it is easy to test the chamber with your pinky. If you are going to
leave the magazine loaded, testing the chamber with your finger is the best plan. Once you
have determined the rifle is as "empty" as you want it to be, it is time to
close the bolt.
If there are cartridges in the magazine, you need to do two things at once: depress the
top round in the magazine so the bolt will ride over it and close the bolt. To do this you
cradle the bottom of the action in your left hand so your fingers can curl from beneath
and over the loading port. Those fingers push the rounds down while your right hand
manages the bolt itself. This can be done with the muzzle pointing down at the ground.
Alternatively, you can place the butt on your right thigh, muzzle up. Hold the action with
your right hand, depressing the cartridges with your right thumb while the left hand
pushes the bolt forward. Once the bolt is part way closed it is time to return the rifle
to the left hand.
Whichever method you use, watch the cartridges in the magazine carefully as the bolt moves
forward, just to be sure you have not made a mistake and let it catch a shell. Once you
are certain the bolt is closing on an empty chamber put your second (not trigger finger)
on the trigger and pull it firmly to the rear. As you do this, use your thumb to press the
bolt forward and to lower the handle. Doing so closes the bolt and lowers the striker in
one fluid motion.
Using your second finger has two purposes. First, it allows your thumb to be higher and
have more movement relative to the bolt, and most important it reinforces the safety
factor of having your trigger finger out of the guard, straight beside the trigger unless
you are going to fire. Any safety devise on the rifle should always be OFF before, during
and after the unloading and closing operation. In my world a safety ON is a bright red
flag that says, "This rifle is loaded and ready to make a loud noise."
While it might seem obvious to most, we must absolutely avoid closing the action and
lowering the striker on a loaded round. This is certainly the most unsafe way to carry any
rifle. Effectively the firing pin is resting on the primer. It only takes a little thump
on the back of the bolt to set it off.
For me there is little question about whether or not
chambers should be loaded when I am actively hunting. When I go into the woods or on the
mountain, my rifles are loaded with whatever safety the rifle has in the ON position. The
idea of being out hunting with the chamber empty and hoping to be able to load after you
have encountered game is simply ludicrous. The kruntchenclangen of a bolt will surely set
most game I have hunted to flight. A Cape buffalo is as wild as a whitetail and will
scatter at the slightest metallic sound. Elephants, on the other hand, will probably come
and try to kill you if you play jingle bells in their jungle. While hoping one of my elk
will stand and watch while you crank your bolt is pushing belief in the tooth fairy to the
With the understanding that our
hunting rifles are carried loaded, we must address the safety considerations of the act.
There are times when you should unload the chambercrossing fences or when you are in
terrain with dangerous footing are the most common. If there is danger you will fall,
better unload until the crisis passes.
Those who worry about brush pulling the bolt open while they carry their rifle on a sling
are probably missing the point. If the brush can open the bolt, it can also remove the
safety and pull the trigger. If you are hunting in the brush or trees that might play with
the rifles parts, better have the rifle in your hands.
Then too, the normal sling carry, "muzzle up behind the shoulder," might be an
easy way to carry a rifle, but it puts the piece out of reach, catches lots of limbs and
is very slow into action. If you are going to use a sling, the method used by European
Jügers is the best I have seen. It begins muzzle up, scope forward, over the left
shoulder. The sling should be long. Then, your left elbow is thrust forward, over the
barrel and sling. Then, the rifle is pressed behind your back with your left tricep. Now
the rifle is pinned solidly behind and out of the way, both hands are totally free to use
a binocular or walking staff, and the rifle is ready for instant action. To fire you only
have to lift your elbow over the barrel, grasp the forend normally and level the rifle.
Beyond this excellent sling method, there are three ways to carry the rifle that minimize
fatigue and control the muzzle. If you are with someone and in the lead, the muzzle must
be forward. To do this you can balance the rifle over your shoulder African PH style,
carry it in either hand scope up, or curl it in the crook of your arm. The latter two give
you complete control of the bolt and safety, even in the brush. If someone is in front of
you, or if you are alone perhaps the best way to pack a rifle is in your left hand muzzle
to the rear, forend resting in the crook of your arm, with your hand cupping the trigger
guard. At the same time, your thumb curls over the top of the bolt and holds it down. This
carry is physically easy because of the way it spreads weight and balances the rifle,
while it offers total protection of bolt and trigger. When I have to scramble through a
thicket, this is how I get it done.
Whatever method you choose, the efficient, safe and professional management of a rifle is
easy. The real essence is you must be competent enough to be trusted with a loaded gun, or
leave them alone. Then, do not use mechanical crutches. Simply take care of business, and
the rifle will serve you well.