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Comment For: Action Type And Rate Of Fire (part On

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Action Type and Rate Of Fire (Part One)

Posted: 1/12/04 2:44 pm


Five Shots Rapid! An Examination of Rifle Action Types and Rate of Fire.

(Note: Due to this post's length--6300 words--I've had to split it up into two parts. Minor revisions incorporated into this post from the original on 13 January.)

How fast can you fire that bolt-action Mauser? That old lever-action Winchester? That semi-auto? Was Chuck Connors’ magazine-emptying fusillade during the opening credits of The Rifleman a masterful feat of gunhandling or just so much Hollywood hokum? And just how many shots can you expect to get off when you’re being charged by a large, irate animal 30 feet away?

Last summer this recoil-addled correspondent decided to find out for himself, so with a truck full of representative firearms and a case of ammunition, Your Humble Narrator hied out to the open desert of the Great American West, endured a couple of afternoons of 113-degree heat, dined on steaks smoked over creosote-bush coals, and slept out under a magnificent star-filled sky, all in the endeavor to answer these and other pressing questions. (For instance, who the hell encourages this idiot to keep posting this stuff?)

* * * * *

During the last four decades or so, while other members of this Forum were no doubt busy getting rich investing their discretionary income in California beachfront real estate or Microsoft stock and watching their portfolios swell like Pamela Anderson’s bustline, Your Man in the Big Dez was pissing it all away on firearms (as well as a few other colorful vises). This has left me barely able to afford dented cans of off-brand cat-food for taco night on Wednesdays, and my retirement plans have been reduced to squatting under a flat rock in the Sierra Nevada and living off roadkill like a two-legged coyote. Along the way, though, I have managed to stuff a couple of gun safes full of interesting and eclectic iron, so much so than even the Eminent Mr. Hood himself expressed amazement the last time he peered inside. Combine this with an inquisitive and skeptical nature inculcated by the Jesuits and we have all the ingredients to conduct an experiment such as the one you’re about to enjoy (or, perhaps more accurately, grudgingly endure) in this week’s installment of The Woodsmaster Weapons Forum.

* * * * *

Bolt-action, lever-action, pump-action, semi-auto and single-shot: We all intuitively think we know that one is faster to operate than another. It must be so! But a few hundred years ago, we all intuitively knew the earth was flat, too, and even today some of us continue to believe that politicians are capable of truthfulness; that professional wrestling or NASCAR is somehow honest, unscripted competition; or that if we grill our steaks using Brand X propane, a platoon of Victoria’s Secret supermodels models is guaranteed to parachute into our next backyard barbecue wearing little more than the smallest patch of strategically placed lace and their famously pouty looks.

So. Viewed under the harsh magnifying glass of the stopwatch, do we really know the truth about rate of fire, or have we simply once again deluded ourselves with wishful thinking? After all, there is no trap so deadly as the one we set for ourselves (thank you, Raymond Chandler).

These are the questions you ask yourself when you’re too cheap to pony up for cable, and your social life has descended to the depths of my own.

Rather than just give you more of that unsubstantiated opinion (because everyone’s an expert on the Internet!) which passes through lesser websites with the palpable stench of a ground-rolling goat fart, or just steal someone else’s work and publish it as though it were my own, I decided to find the truth—or a reasonable facsimile thereof—before spewing forth. And there seemed to my small and simple mind only one way to accomplish this: by firing five-shot strings as rapidly as I could from a series of representative firearms. I tried to make this as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as possible, at least in terms of caliber and sights. I wanted to know how fast I could fire, say, five shots at a target that was close. Say, 30 feet away. Say, like a large, charging animal.

Maybe some of you have had the good fortune to have shot a Rapid Fire stage in the military, or in High Power rifle competition. If not, I urge you to do so. But rapid fire at Camp Perry is a different creature from what we’re talking about here: First, it’s fired very deliberately and shot for score—a pretty careful score if you’re playing the game seriously or trying to qualify Expert. Compared to a close-encounter with a hostile animal, the targets are distant—100 and 300 yards in most cases. And my old High-Power rulebook defines the rapid stage as ten shots within either 60 or 70 seconds (from standing to sitting or standing to prone, respectively), including one reload of the magazine. (This usually means two five-shot magazines fired back-to-back, or a two-shot magazine followed by an eight-shot magazine for the M1 Garand). You don’t need to be a genius to do the math: allowing for the time it takes to recharge the magazine once and the time it takes to get into position, right off the bat we know a skilled operator with a bolt gun (because these strings were regularly shot with bolt guns and stripper clips in the old days, and some still are) should be able to get off an aimed shot at the very least once every five seconds or so with a substantial amount of precision.

I make no pretensions of being anything more than average when it comes to rapid-fire skills. It’s been close to two decades since I seriously participated in any High-Power rifle competitions, although back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I shot for score with an ’03 Springfield I did manage to hold my own, and I did my time in the 600-yard pits. And I will also admit a little more a passing familiarity with firearms. Consequently, as the advertising monkeys say, your mileage may vary, and you may fire your strings faster or more slowly.

Scientists will note that this experiment doesn’t necessarily prove which action type is faster, but only which action type I can operate faster on a given day. True—and I invite them to perform their own experiments and publish their results. Until that time, the important aspect of today’s little screed should not change: Since all of these strings were fired by one shooter (me), on the same weekend, and with rifles of as close to the same chambering as I could manage, the relative points of which actions facilitate faster shooting should stand as representative. Adjust your speed up or down depending upon your proficiency or lack thereof, but, action-to-action, I imagine your relative speed will remain as illustrated here.

Moving on, let’s take a look at our players, and see what they could do.

Rifles Tested (In order of action type):

Bolt Action

Ruger M77 Mk II, .308 Winchester

Ruger M77 Mk II, .30-’06 Springfield

Remington Model 600, .260 Remington

Model 1896 Krag Carbine, .30 Govt. (.30-40 Krag)

Rifle No. 5, Mk III (Lee Enfield Jungle Carbine), .303 British

Steyr Scout, .308 Winchester

Lever Action

Marlin 336, .30-30 Winchester

Winchester Model 94, .30-30 Winchester

Straight-Pull Bolt Action

K31 Schmidt Rubin, 7.5 x 55 Swiss

Steyr Mannlicher M95/35, 8 x 56R

Pump Action

Remington Model 740 "Gamemaster," .308 Winchester


Rifle, Cal. .30, M1 (M1 Garand), .30-’06 Springfield

Single Shot

Ruger No. 1; 30-’06 Springfield

New England Firearms Handi-Rifle, .308 Winchester


Where possible, I chose rifles firing cartridges of similar length and power—comparing times for a .22 autoloader against a .375 H&H Magnum bolt gun is meaningless. Still, small variables creep into the equation, such as stock design, weight, sights, and so on. I tried to choose firearms which minimized them. With the exception of the M1 Garand and the K31 Schmidt Rubin (both heavy military arms), all of these rifles are general representations of typical sporter-weight guns with barrels generally between 19 and 22 inches, and weighing between six and eight pounds or so.

Sight configuration is also a factor. Ideally, all of the weapons tested would have had identical sighting arrangements. This was not possible; however, with the exception of the Steyr Scout (which utilized a 2.3X Leupold Intermediate Eye Relief telescopic sight) and the Remington Model 600 (1.5-5X Leupold set on 1.5 power), all of the rifles here were fired with iron sights. Sometimes this meant an aperture rear sight (SMLE, Marlin 336, Winchester 94, M1 Garand), and sometimes an open blade rear sight (the rest, generally). In order to minimize sight reacquisition as a variable in the testing, the rifles here were not fired for pinpoint accuracy. Yet simply sending unaimed rounds out into the sagebrush of the Great American West didn’t seem appropriate either, so a twelve-inch by twelve-inch cardboard square was used as a target, set 30 feet away. This proved quite easy to acquire and hit, yet still required me to take aim at something. Firing rapid for small groups and into a small target becomes more a test or shooter skill, gun fit, sighting system, and a particular rifle’s/ammunition’s inherent accuracy than purely action type alone, and it’s not my intention here to explore one individual model of firearm over another for speed, but rather one action type versus another—hence, the largish sampling.

While not all of the rifles were chambered for the same cartridge, they are all comparable, reducing or eliminating the recoil variable of much larger or smaller cartridges. Just as important, they are all pretty representative of a "typical" deer-class hunting cartridge which one would normally be carrying in the woods.

Without exception, all rifles were operated without taking them from the shoulder—even the break-open NEF Handi-Rifle and the Ruger No. 1 single-shots. It is an absolute necessary to learn this in order to fire rapidly, yet this is a skill very few possess, much less practice. (See for yourself at your local shooting range: few shooters do anything but fire from a rest, and fire slowly. And if a shooter isn’t using a benchrest, he’s probably standing in some bastardization of the offhand position, yet still dropping the rifle from his shoulder in order to cycle the action and reload.)

All the bolt guns were right-handed actions, fired by a right-handed shooter (lever guns, pumps, and single-shots are, naturally, equally suited for right- or left handers).

All the firing was standing, offhand, with no supports and no sling used. Again, this is not the recommended drill for accuracy, but for a fast, unanticipated shot (or two or three) at exceedingly close range, it seems the most realistic position.

Times were clocked by an assistant, started from the report of the first shot, and stopped at the report of the last shot. The strings were also tape-recorded along with a base-line time count to eliminate any variables of tape speed, and the tapes were played back and re-clocked to double-check the results.

All times are for five-shot strings, including four reloading cycles from the magazine. (Read that carefully: These times include reloading the chamber from the magazine, not reloading of the magazine itself as in formal High-Power competition. Single-shots, naturally, have no magazine of reserve cartridges.) The strings were started with a live round in the chamber, four rounds in the magazine, and the safety off—again, the intent was not to introduce items such as safety design and placement as variables. While it’s obvious that getting off five shots in the time a determined bear takes to cover 30 feet is a virtual impossibility no matter what the action type, the five-shot strings provided a more clear spread of times for clarity. In addition, had a shooter more time/distance on a particular target, the five-shot string more accurately represents the time required to shoot a magazine dry. Single-shot rifles were fired starting with a round in the chamber and the remaining rounds either held between the fingers of the off hand and/or in a cartridge holder attached to the shooter’s left (off-hand) wrist.

For the initial shot, rifles were held on target, sights aligned, ready to fire, index finger outside of the triggerguard. In the case of the exposed-hammer guns, the hammer was cocked and ready to fire. The action was worked as rapidly as possible, and the rifle was fired as soon as the sights were in alignment with any part of the cardboard target.

Bolt Travel

I was curious as to whether bolt travel would have any significant effect on bolt cycling times. Bolt travel is a factor of two variables: First, and most important, the length of the cartridge in question—longer cartridges necessarily require longer actions, and consequently longer bolt travels. Rather than produce a different action for every single cartridge length, most manufacturers build their rifles on one of two action lengths (short and long), sometimes adding a third for true magnum-length cartridges. To test for this, I compared two Ruger M77 bolt guns, one chambered for the .308 Winchester (short action) and one chambered for the .30-’06 Springfield (long action). Typically, the difference between a short action and a long action is about 3/8 (0.375) of an inch; the difference between the two Rugers is 0.435 (just under 7/16) of an inch. The same applies between a long action and a magnum action—the difference between my Winchester Model 70 long-action’s bolt throw and my Winchester Model 70 Classic Super Express .375 H&H Magnum’s is 0.322 (just over 5/16) of an inch. These are not industry-wide standards, though, and the actual measurements must be derived from brand to brand and model to model.

In reality, I suspected the extra length would add little time; however, I have found that long-action rifles bring the bolt back closer to the shooter’s face, and depending on the rifle’s length of pull (the stock length from butt to trigger) this itself may slow the cyclic speed more psychologically than mechanically, as it may intimidate the shooter. With a well-designed stock, proper technique, and a realistic length of pull, however, I found precious little difference in times due to action length alone.

The second factor influencing bolt travel is the design of the action itself, specifically (with bolt guns) the location of the locking lugs either in front of or to the rear of the magazine. And that’s precisely why I included the Lee Enfield Jungle Carbine: It features rear locking lugs. This, plus an excellent bolt-knob placement and generous camming geometry on the lugs, gives the Lee Enfield family of rifles a reputation for rapid bolt manipulation, due in part to the fact that (because of the lug location) the bolt travels a relatively shorter distance than in other common rifles chambered for similar cartridges. A nice theory, but does it in fact translate to a faster rate of fire? How much shorter is the SMLE’s bolt throw? And was it any factor? Let’s chart ’em all.

Bolt Travel In Inches, Longest to Shortest

(Note: This is travel of the bolt itself, not bolt lift and not travel of the lever for a lever-action rifle or the forearm for a pump-action. )

Marlin 336, .30-30 Winchester: 2.288 inches

Winchester Model 94, .30-30 Winchester: 2.315 inches

Model 1898 Krag Carbine, .30-40 Govt. (.30-40 Krag): 3.630 inches

Rifle No. 5, Mk III (Lee Enfield Jungle Carbine), .303 British: 3.653 inches

Rifle, Cal. .30, M1 (M1 Garand), .30-’06 Springfield: 3.880 inches

Remington Model 600, .260 Remington: 3.625 inches

K31 Schmidt Rubin, 7.5 x 55 Swiss: 4.070 inches *

Ruger M77 Mk II, .308 Winchester: 4.155

Remington Model 740 "Gamemaster," .308 Winchester: (Apx) 4.35 inches **

Steyr Scout, .308 Winchester: 4.470 inches

Ruger M77 Mk II, .30-’06 Springfield: 4.590 inches

Steyr Mannlicher M95/35, 8 x 56R: 5.090 inches

Ruger No. 1; 30-’06 Springfield: NA

New England Firearms Handi-Rifle, .308 Winchester: NA


*The Swiss Schmidt Rubin uses a separate bolt unlatching handle which moves an additional (measured) 0.675 inch before unlocking (or re-locking) the bolt. Thus, while bolt travel per se is 4.070 inches, the real-world travel of the handle is 4.745 inches)

**The Remington 740 was measured using other means than the balance of the rifles, but I feel this is close enough to include here.

I included the Krag carbine because, while often overlooked today, Krags, too, have a oft-cited reputation for rapid bolt manipulation due to a single locking lug, a shortish bolt lift, and excellent bolt-handle design. The Ruger M77s are representative of most other American bolt guns (Remington Model Seven and 700, Winchester Model 70, Savage) and Mauser derivatives in general, while the little Steyr Scout features a "butterknife" bolt handle disliked by some, but of which I am rather fond in carbine applications.

The late Finn Aagaard published several articles on bolt-action rifle speed. One, appearing in the September 1982 issue of the American Rifleman, made note of the following:

"Smoothness is of much consequence in a bolt-action, whereas the length of the bolt travel really is not. The slickest action in my rack is that on a [55]-year-old [Winchester] Model 70 chambered for the .375 H&H Magnum cartridge. Despite its half-inch longer bolt throw, it is significantly faster than a new and still slightly rough short-action Ruger Model 77 [Mark I] in .243 Winchester."

With this, I must agree. For example, the two lever guns, chambered for the same cartridge, showed a significant difference in time, due almost exclusively to the Winchester’s being 50 years old and well-worn, and the Marlin’s relatively tight state of tune. Of the "modern" bolt guns, the little Remington 600 has probably seen the most use, and while I didn’t attempt any measure of how worn-in one of these bolt guns has become, the difference between stiff and smooth is quite obvious when one cycles the action. And it makes a big difference. Note that action friction is not an absolute: it’s easy to lap in a bolt’s cocking and extraction cams (taking care not to lap the locking lugs), and cycling the action 1000-2000 times with the trigger removed will accomplish the same thing through simple use, albeit it a little slower.


Experience has shown me that my most dependably rapid manipulation technique for turnbolt guns usually comes with pinching my index finger and thumb together, with the bolt knob between the two. This works just as well with the "butterknife" bolt handle typical of Mannlicher carbines and the Steyr Scout, especially since the Steyr’s "knob" stands away from the stock when the action is unlocked. For guns with a straight bolt (one which is not bent down) such as the VZ24 Mauser or the Swedish Model 96 Mauser long rifle, I open the bolt using the center of my palm to strike the bolt knob.

For lever actions, I use the middle, ring, and little finger of my shooting hand to thrust the lever down while simultaneously pulling my index (trigger) finger out of the triggerguard.

In the First World War, the British used a unique technique during something referred to as the "Mad Minute." Remember, this was an age of massed, frontal trench assaults, where a rifle company might be faced with literally hundreds or thousands of assailants charging at close range. When Tommy Atkins needed to send rounds downrange prestissimo, he used his thumb and index finger to manipulate the bolt, but fired the piece with his little finger or middle finger on the trigger, without ever gripping the stock with his right hand and without ever releasing his pinch-grip on the bolt knob. While I’ve played with this technique in the past, I did not attempt to use it for these experiments.

Most bolt-action rifles in this country use the opening bolt lift to cock their strikers—virtually all of the current, American-made bolt guns (Remington Models 700 and Seven, Ruger Model 77, the entire Savage line, Winchester Model 70) as well as any Mauser-1898-based design cock on opening. The Mauser 1896 (and most other pre-98 "small-ring" Mausers), the SMLE family, and the P14 and P17 Enfields, though, cock on closing. While cock-on-opening actions are generally preferred in this country, in reality I find cock-on-closing actions a bit smoother to operate rapidly from the shoulder. Or at least I thought I did. In this sample, only the Rifle No. 5, Mk III (Lee Enfield Jungle Carbine) is a cock-on-closing design. As to whether this resulted in a more rapid rate of fire. . . .

Not all cock-on-opening actions are created equally, either. My little Remington Model 600 (no longer in production; this specimen vintage 1966), while still a two-lug, 90-degree lift design, offers a bolt lift considerably lighter than the other bolt guns sampled here. Three-lug bolt designs, such as the Browning A Bolt, often feature shorter bolt lifts (60 degrees), but that also often comes with high bolt-lift values. The Steyr Scout offers an (approximately) 70-degree bolt lift. While we’re beginning to split hairs here, a shorter bolt lift is in theory faster; personally, I think that a lighter bolt lift is just as important or moreso—and I thought that’s what the cock-on-closing actions had to their advantage: their bolt lift is extraordinarily light.

"Straight-Pull" actions, while unfamiliar to many North American shooters, are exactly what they sound like: a bolt-action rifle where the bolt handle is simply yanked straight back and pushed straight forward with no upward-rotational "bolt lift" or downward-rotational "bolt lock" movement of the hand. The two straight-pull actions examined here—the Swiss K31 Schmidt Rubin and the M95/35 Mannlicher—both require a simplified bolt technique. Both rifles do require a surprisingly hefty tug and push on the bolt, though, as the initial backwards travel both unlocks the bolt (both bolts rotate to lock as does a "conventional" turn-bolt) and accomplishes the primary extraction of the cartridge case. It would be easy enough to measure the forces required here with a scale, but suffice it to say that they’re comparatively stout. The K31’s bolt handle is an elongated vertical knob (reminiscent of the upper-case letter "T" turned sideways), which I manipulated by curling the first joint of my index and ring fingers around for the pull-open stroke (hand held with index finger up, little finger down), and closed by pushing forward with the base of my hand where the thumb joins the palm.

The M95/35’s bolt resembles a conventional straight-handled bolt action—its bolt handle sticks out horizontally and perpendicular to the stock, with a round knob on the end. Here, I held my hand in a palm-down orientation, hooked the second joint of my index finger over the ball for the opening stroke, and closed the bolt by pushing forward while grasping the knob between the bent index finger and the base of my thumb. As for the perceived speed advantages of a straight-pull bolt compared with a "conventional" turn-bolt rifle, I direct you to the table of times for some surprises.

Slowing Down to Go Fast

Long ago on the racetrack, I learned that in order to go fast, you often need to slow down. Counterintuitive? Perhaps, but true, nonetheless. By slowing down, your movements become smoother and you eliminate wasted, jerky motions, and with smoothness comes speed, whether you’re riding a motorcycle, peeling potatoes, or working a rifle’s bolt.

In the course of this experimentation, I dry-fired a couple of preliminary five-shot strings with each rifle prior to shooting for the record. I timed these dry-fire sequences as well, and they underscored this point. When I attempted absolute maximum speed, my smoothness went out the window, and I often produced a greater time, due to inability of getting the sights on the target smoothly, not cycling the action efficiently, or needing more time to get my shooting hand back into position. These errors, committed in the search for speed, produced increases in time so significant as to cause the string to be aborted or discarded as non-representative.

Our Friend The Bear

Since part of this whole shootin’ match was to see just how many shots one could get off at a practical target—our theoretical charging bear or rhino or feral Chihuahua—it behooves us to figure out how fast that theoretical animal is covering his real estate. Many authorities state that a bear can charge at about 30 miles per hour, so, using that figure, I calculated how fast a 30-mph bear (or Tyrannosaur, or ambulance-chasing lawyer) can cover some distances:

Speed at 30mph:

30 feet in 0.68 second

50 feet in 1.14 seconds

100 feet in 2.27 seconds

Now, even the profoundly mathematically challenged in the class should notice a couple of things at this point. Most important, with any manually operated action, you’re only going to get one shot off if the bear is 50 feet or closer, and even that presumes that the rifle is in your hands, a round in the chamber, hammer/striker cocked, safety off, and lined up on the target. Your first shot better count. And that is perhaps the most important piece of data here.

(An aside. Once upon a time, I was charged by a young, male African lion over open ground at a distance of perhaps 50 yards. There stood a substantial chain-link fence between myself and the animal, and consequently I had little to fear. The charge was only a bluff to intimidate me (which it did quite effectively, thank you very much), and the lion pulled up short. Still, it was an experience which I will remember to my dying day—the lowered head, the incredible, fluid speed, the tiny, sloped frontal area the lion offered. While I maintained control of my bladder and sphincter, I have serious doubts that I could have managed even a single aimed shot from the shoulder unless I already had the rifle in shooting position. Do not fool yourself into thinking you will have much time to deal with a determined charge of any type, be it from a bear, a bull, or even wild dogs. The lion experience was quite unnerving, even with the fence in place. If you find yourself in such a dangerous situation, your rifle belongs in your hands, and either in a high-ready position or with the butt already in place against your shoulder. You will have no time to look down at your weapon—your eyes must remain on your target, and you’d better be able to operate your safety and action by instinctive feel alone.)

Times (Fastest to slowest, times in seconds):

Rifle, Cal. .30, M1 (M1 Garand), .30-’06 Springfield: 2.06 seconds

Remington Model 740 "Gamemaster," .308 Winchester: 4.53 seconds

Remington Model 600, .260 Remington: 5.05 seconds

Winchester Model 94, .30-30 Winchester: 5.50 seconds

Ruger M77 Mk II, .308 Winchester: 5.97 seconds

Marlin 336, .30-30 Winchester: 6.44 seconds

Steyr Scout, .308 Winchester: 6.53 seconds

Ruger M77 Mk II, .30-’06 Springfield: 6.88 seconds

K31 Schmidt Rubin, 7.5 x 55 Swiss: 7.78 seconds

Rifle No. 5, Mk III (Lee Enfield Jungle Carbine), .303 British: 8.28 seconds

Steyr Mannlicher M95/35, 8 x 56R: 8.47 seconds

Model 1898 Krag Carbine, .30-40 Govt. (.30-40 Krag): 8.71 seconds

Ruger No. 1; 30-’06 Springfield: 14.38 seconds

New England Firearms Handi-Rifle, .308 Winchester: 17.22 seconds

(Should one wonder, the cyclic rate for most machineguns ranges between 700 and 1000 rounds per minute. That translates into between 0.429 and 0.300 second—note the decimal placement—for five rounds. Ain’t automation grand?)

* * * * *


It’s no surprise that the semi-auto was the fastest of the rifles tested, and that the two single-shots were the slowest, by substantial margins in each case. It is a little surprising, though, to note really how close the balance of the manually operated actions are. Yes, some did allow faster rates of fire than others, but in the practical world they (mostly, with the exceptions of the single shots) are all so close as to be more-or-less equal.

Second, I was surprised that the Lee Enfield placed where it did—considerably slower than the long-action, Mauser-derived Ruger M77 in .30-’06 Springfield. Conventional wisdom and folklore held that it was much faster—not the case for me, even after repeated strings.

The two supposedly fast straight-pulls were also decidedly uninspiring, especially the M95/35. Both extraction and cocking effort were very high with this piece. Any speed advantage which it was supposed to bring was thoroughly debunked in my experience, and I was decidedly unimpressed. Even the K31 fared no better than midpack.

The Krag, too, was a disappointment in terms of pure speed. I love Krags, and their action is buttery smooth in operation. But in my testing they proved the slowest of any of the magazine-fed repeaters. Who’d a thunk it?

At the end of the day, I’d have to say two things which are difficult to measure objectively counted for far more than action length or any of the slide-rule stuff. And those two were the smoothness and effort taken to operate the action (less effort is better/faster), and the sights. Because as much as I tried to standardize the sights, several observations are undeniable. First, a telescopic sight set on very low power (and by that I mean less than 2.5X) or an aperture are much faster, even in this extremely coarse use, than a U or V notch set halfway up the barrel.

And a particular note concerning the lever actions, one that’s especially troublesome. The lever guns were the only rifles during which I had to abort a string of fire, and I had to do it fully fifty percent of the time, usually at the second or third shot. With both guns I had the same difficulty: When the lever is not closed fully, the rifle will not fire. The Marlin 336 used a pistol grip and a curved lever, while the Winchester 94 used a straight grip and straight lever, but the issue was the same for both. This certainly is operator-induced, but it’s notable that this operator did not induce any other malfunction in any other rifle used here—and I have shot plenty of lever guns.

This bothers me enough that based on this alone I’d have reservations using a lever action for this kind of work. While the Winchester was a touch over 0.11 second faster than the Ruger M77 short action for the second shot (the Remington Model 600 was faster than the Winchester by close to the same margin) the bolt guns were wholly reliable.

(See Part Two of this post for Conclusions)

Edited by: ML at: 1/13/04 11:31 am


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Action Type and Rate Of Fire (Part Two)

Posted: 1/12/04 2:46 pm


(This is part two of a long post)


I imagine very few Forum members have had or ever will have any legitimate reason to shoot a bear in self defense—or at least we hope that is the case. Still, were I choosing a rifle for bear defense, I would choose it first on the basis of the cartridge it fired—and as I’ve said many times before in this Forum, I’d look for something in the .375 H&H class, or at the very least in the heavy (200- to 220-grain) .30 calibers, launching tough bullets designed to penetrate deeply, and sending them out in the neighborhood of 2700 fps. Next, I’d opt for a good set of iron sights (a wide, flat-topped blade up front and a large "ghost ring" aperture rear), or a very low power (1X-1.5X) telescopic sight with at least three inches of eye relief. I’d look for an example with a good trigger. Only then would I be concerned about action type—and I’d probably choose a bolt gun for its strength, robustness and simplicity, although those characteristics (or lack thereof) are more traits of individual models than of an action type per se.

As we’ve seen here, the difference between the fastest and second fastest isn’t much worth noting at close distances. And familiarity, skill, practice, and proficiency most certainly count for far more than the weapon itself.

Americans, I’ve observed throughout the years, are often quite good at ignoring lessons they might learn from the rest of the world, or even our own past. Here we are concerned with stopping our theoretical bear, and we come up with all sorts of jiggery-pokery we convince ourselves will work. There is, of course, a place where for more than 100 years man had gone up against beasts far more dangerous than any North American bear, not by accident, but deliberately. And that place, of course, is Africa.

In Africa, there exists a creature known as the Stopping Rifle. This is an arm carried by a professional hunter to stop charging, dangerous game, animals like upset lions, elephants, and cape buffalo. While many hunters use magazine-fed bolt-action repeaters, the ne plus ultra of stopping rifles continues to be the big double. Big as in .500 Nitro Express or something similar. Double rifles offer two shots as fast as recoil allows, or virtually instantaneously if one yanks on both triggers at once (depending, of course, on rifle design). Nothing (short of a machine gun) is faster for a second shot—not even a semi-auto (and even I don’t own a semi-auto .500 Nitro). Yes, stopping rifles are expensive, and Americans seem loathe to fork over more than $500 for any rifle. But if you’re really concerned about your wedding ring ending up in a pile of steaming bear dung, I suggest you investigate what professionals choose, and not what you’d just like to own because John Wayne fired blanks through one on a Hollywood movie set.

Some may ask why this experimentation was limited to rifles. Certainly most shooters can fire a double-action revolver or semi-automatic pistol much faster that a manually operated rifle. And while I will often carry a large-caliber revolver in the backcountry, and have even dispatched both deer and a medium-sized black bear with the .44 Remington Magnum, I must underscore the point that no one should ever seriously delude themselves that a handgun is absolutely dependable bear-stopping medicine. The issue is not the handgun itself, but the cartridge which it fires. Even the most powerful handgun cartridges pale in comparison to most rifle cartridges. To handicap yourself to this degree is dangerous thinking if you truly believe that you will be encountering large bear. And while you may be able to fire your .38 special or 9mm Parabellum quickly, you’ll likely find yourself unable to maintain that same rate of fire with a .44 Remington Magnum, .480 Ruger, or .454 Casull due to the substantial increase in recoil-recovery time. Had I to stop a charging bear at close range tonight, without reservation I would choose a .375 H&H rifle or a 12-gauge slug—even if they were single-shot models—over a revolver of any size. At close range, we’ve learned that there’s in all likelihood time for only one shot (remember, that beast is covering 50 feet in 1.14 seconds), and I want that shot to be delivered in a decisive, accurate manner. It does me little good if I mortally wound the bear and he expires in a minute or two—I may very well look as though I’ve been fed through God’s own woodchipper by then. No, we need to put the animal down, immediately and decisively, and with the first shot. Maybe you think you can count on a pistol to do that. And maybe you’re counting on Divine Intervention, or the bruin being smote by an errant hunk of cosmic debris falling from the heavens at the precise moment of the charge, too. Say, maybe those Victoria’s Secret swimsuit models will parachute into your fantasy and save you!

Powerful handguns most certainly do have a place in the outdoors, though. They will perform well on a variety of lesser animals in the wilderness, and of course their mere presence is often a deterrent in the case of two-legged predators. But speed of fire is not the true issue with handgun choice in the backcountry—power and accuracy are the limiting factors, and speed of recovery from a shot is often inversely proportional to the power of the cartridge in question. When it comes to bear, a handgun in the woods is more of a security blanket and a morale booster than an informed solution. Undoubtedly, it is better than nothing, and personally I will continue to carry a large-caliber revolver in many back-country situations, mostly because they are versatile, handy, light, and serve well in many other wilderness situations. Often, you’re more likely to be wearing a handgun than carrying a rifle at the critical moment of need, and undoubtedly a .44 Magnum on your hip is more useful than a .375 H&H left back at the tent. But when bear is on the menu, no handgun offers anywhere near the performance of a sensibly chosen rifle, and no amount of sugar coating or wishful thinking is going to change that.

* * * * *

Well, I see the time has come for me to crawl back into my spider hole and pull the lid closed for the night. If you’ve gotten this far, I at least hope this has proven an evening’s inexpensive entertainment, if not an informative one. Who knows—perhaps one of these days, Mr. Hood will invite Mr. Hay up to his Idaho retreat to produce a "Firearms for Wilderness Survival" video in the Woodsmaster series, and then you’ll never have to actually have to suffer through this much self-indulgent over-written crap again.

Regardless, if you have any interest at all in rapid fire, I encourage you to maintain proficiency with the arm of your choice, and to remember the four rules:

1. All firearms are loaded.

2. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

3. Never let your muzzle cover something you are not willing to destroy.

4. Be sure of your target and what is behind it.

As always, best regards, travel safely, and good shooting. Follow the advice of that grand outdoorsman, Townsend Whelen: Never carry any more than what you need, and always choose the best equipment for the job. And finally, never, ever lie to yourself when it comes to serious matters in the outdoors.



© 2004. To be reproduced in whole or in part and in any form only with expressed permission of the original author.

Edited by: ML at: 1/13/04 11:33 am


Posts: 469 | IP:

Eric Stoskopf

Cool Calm Calamity

WM Vol.? Firearms for Wilderness Survival featuring Bill Hay

Posted: 1/12/04 5:41 pm


Great idea! I second the motion.

Well...thanks to my desire to "suffer through" Ml's "much self-indulgent over-written crap", I had to run out for more paper and a new ink cartridge! Time well spent!

I have not had had the opportunity to fully digest ML's short novel, but skimming through the pages as they were being spit from the printer, it's obvious we have another "ML Classic" on our hands.

If Wally would do the honor of saving it to the Hoodlums FAQ section, I promise to do my part by adding it (with his permission of course) to "ML's Corner" which can be found



Edited by: Eric Stoskopf at: 1/12/04 5:48 pm


Posts: 2361 | IP:

Bill Hay

Registered User

Re: WM Vol.? Firearms for Wilderness Survival featuring Bill

Posted: 1/12/04 6:05 pm


Ahhh.. Youze kuckleheads lay off, ya hear?

There ain't nothing I got to say that others haven't said, and better. You think I make this stuff up? Had to have learned it somewhere...

Ron has probably a better grasp of wilderness guns than most, he can add a "Woodsmaster Tip" to one of his videos that covers things quite well, and doesn't have to bring me in to do it.

And feed me, and make me drink whisky....

Hummm..... Get's ya to thinking don't it?


"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power."

-- Abraham Lincoln

A webpage... of sorts...


Posts: 3696 | IP:


I survived WASP


Article copied to FAQ...

Posted: 1/12/04 8:54 pm


and the original left here for discussion. Of course it went into my personal archive first.

Nicely done ML and I found it useful. Your articles are always of interest to me, so it doesn't go unnoticed when you don't show up for awhile.

Welcome back.



Of all the things I've lost, I think I miss my mind the most.

Wally Merrin


Posts: 1018 | IP:


Registered User

Re: Action Type and Rate Of Fire (Part One)

Posted: 1/12/04 10:29 pm


great article! I missed the comment about your pieces being self indulgent and overwritten, but it's total BS. Informative, interesting and well written as always!

Non Serviam


Posts: 123 | IP:

Brother Dan

Registered User

excellent read! as always!

Posted: 1/13/04 4:27 am


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Posts: 387 | IP:

Lean Wolf

Registered User

Excellent report, ML...

Posted: 1/13/04 10:30 am


I've always found it interesting to try and shoot at moving targets as opposed to "off the bench." A bit more realistic than always benchrested.

When I lived in Los Angeles, there was a series of firing ranges owned by a man named Wes Thompson, in the high desert country of Santa Clarita, north of L.A. (It's all subdivivions, now.) For a number of years, I and several friends leased one of Thompson's ranges. This was also where the Southwest Pistol League/IPSC held its competition shoots.

Anyway, because we had a mountain as a backstop, and a berm down range where a person could "hide," we would take an old tire, tape a white sheet of notebook paper on it, and then, at the far end of the range, a guy would roll the tire down the berm at the shooter, who would try and hit the white sheet of paper, as it came up time and time again. (Obviously, the guy rolling the tire dropped down behind the berm for safety.)

As the notebook paper was changed each time the "roll" was setup, it was very easy to see if the target paper had been hit.

Certainly not a scientific test, but very interesting as to how difficult it was to hit a rapidly approaching target. Over quite a few different days of shooting, I think I hit the paper squarely maybe three or four times, but I don't recall ever hitting it squarely the very first shot. Kinda had to get used to the rolling tire and when the white square came up facing me.

We used rifles, handguns, and shotguns with slugs.

That's the only time I ever had a chance to shoot at a "charging" target. Eye opening, to say the least.

Again, I found your article very interesting and enlightening.



Posts: 438 | IP:


Registered User


Posted: 1/13/04 10:38 am


I've revised my original posts just a touch this morning: If anyone is archiving them, they should discard what was posted previously and archive these new (and now-posted) copies. The changes are minor--bolt-travel numbers for the Model 600 Remington, a little punctuation, an error Mr. Hay caught (Thanks!), and some general Englishing-up of some poor style.

Mr. Merrin, I would be in your debt if you would replace the original posts in the FAQ section with these newer versions.

Sorry about the edits. Thanks for your patience. Hope you continue to find the information useful.



Posts: 470 | IP:

Dirttime Dude

He's got yer 6

Holy Crap and wow...Im blown away.

Posted: 1/13/04 1:47 pm


(This message was left blank)


Posts: 2026 | IP:
Hind sight is an exact science until historians or politicians get involved.

Nothing is so simple that it can't be misunderstood.

I have regular bowel movements, I just wish they were voluntary...

My dad started walking five miles a day when he was 60. Now he's 91, and we don't know where he is.


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