Learning to Run a Bolt-Action For Real – Chris Baker Goes Over Getting Started in Practical Rifle Shooting

When it comes to my shooting hobbies, sometimes I feel like a bit of a black sheep. I am neither a race gun driver, nor a benchrest shooter. I don’t blast IDPA targets and Texas stars with an STI DVC Open, or break 200 rounds per minute cyclic smoking brown cardboard with my braked JP Enterprises AR-15. I don’t compete in F-Class, and I don’t even do Cowboy Action (cue a complete lack of surprise from our readers).

What really appeals to me as a shooter is developing what I’ll call “riflecraft”, which to me means shooting from traditional marksmanship positions at targets at short and medium ranges in different weather and light conditions. LuckyGunner’s Chris Baker has begun covering use of bolt action rifles as practical weapons, and his second video on the subject – embedded below – is well worth watching:

Something Chris alludes to in the video is that this sort of practical riflecraft isn’t a major part of the training scene today in the United States, although it once was. Unlike defensive pistol shooting, where you can find hundreds of classes in the United States alone, and many times more basic pistol courses, for traditional/practical riflecraft, there are really only a handful of options in the entire country. Chris identifies Project Appleseed as being one of the most accessible basic traditional marksmanship courses, and I can vouch for it (Appleseed was my first formal firearms course as an adult). He also names just two other advanced courses, Gunsite’s “270” course, and Randy Cain’s Practical Rifle class.

Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • tiger

    Shoot to hit v. Spray and pray……

    • iksnilol

      eh, you still hit well going fast. I shot 5 shots in less than half a minute and I scored 48 out of 50 points (.22 LR bolt action, prone, at 100 meters).

  • Mi

    In a lot of European countries, these skills are still common. In Scandinavia at least, the most common rifle drill among civilians is shooting multiple shots in short succession at a moving (moose shaped) target, from the standing position. Most European hunting rifles are designed to have the bolt run fast and hard, and the iron sights are generally designed to be used on driven hunts, when the expensive large objective, high magnification stalking scopes are detached from the rifles.

    • iksnilol

      That’s where short sight radius is appreciated.

    • Shankbone

      I would like to know more about the European target courses you are describing. The moose target sounds very practical for practicing hunting shots.

    • AlanHan

      An east-coast American, I married a Swede thirty-six years ago. We live in the US but often vacation on her family farm. About 5 clicks away is the moose-on-rails. I love it. I can still remember my first run (34? years ago, and my first use of a bolt-action), scoring 21. My brother-in-law finally found something about me to brag on. Next round naturally, was….18. Laugh. (I was a pheasant/quail hunter in prior years.)

  • Goody

    If you’re close enough to a target that a 2.5 power optic is slowing you down, tilt the rifle 45 degrees and point it like a shotgun. You can hit a 10″ circle at 25m this way, though it will be slower and less accurate than a 1x optic.

  • AK™

    Up here in Alaska,theres a local outfit and they have their own course. It deals with bears. You use a shotgun loaded with slugs,and theres a bit of a time limit but hey..semi-auto shotty..

    • gusto

      we have a beartest in my country

      80meters 4 shots in 40sec
      40meters 4 shots in 40 sec
      and then 2 shots in 5 sec a couple of meters in front

      40 seconds is pretty long I reckon and doing the test against a static target does not prepare you for a charging bear who cna run 35mph

  • iksnilol

    So you mean to tell me that a bolt action isn’t basically an antique decorative item and can actually be used?

    Shocked, that’s what I am. Quite simply shocked.

    • PK

      No kidding. I guess my impression that most firearms enthusiasts started with single shots and bolt actions before moving to modern firearms was quite mistaken. I still love to run “battle” courses with bolt action rifles.

      • Ken

        I guess it’s half true, because military surplus bolt actions were so cheap and plentiful a lot of people bought them as their first guns.

    • d_grey

      Like what you did there good sir, tally ho! :v

    • Bob

      I have one “decorative” firearm, an old 1912ish single shot in 12 gauge. Badly worn chamber, not safe to fire. The design has me wondering about crunching some numbers (rifle burns faster and hitter than shotgun, don’t’cha know) and if they look good, fabricating a replacement front end complete with new barrel that would turn it into a single rifle of some kind. It would be absurb and I will probably never even crunch the numbers, but it is an amusing thought to make a new front half in 7.62×39 or something like that so you have a half new and half antique gun. Do it right and you could still put the old half back on and put it over the fireplace. ;D

  • PK

    I didn’t realize this was in any way unusual or a less common skill to have.

    • derpmaster

      I’d wager that a lot of younger or new to the sport shooters don’t have these skills, as everybody seems to only care about AR magdumps at 12 yards after spinning in three circles while being yelled at by a guy with a goatee who tactically tickles you with a feather duster.

      Jokes aside, that psycho with the Ruger No. 1 must have been incredibly skilled to reload so fast.

      • DZ

        Most of my trigger time is on military bolt actions, mosins and later mausers. Being poor and ammo being cheap, not to mention the panics played a big role in it. Since not being poor, ive got AR’s and stuff but it’s just not as fun as thumpers like the mosin and 8mm semi autos.

    • BrandonAKsALot

      I, personally, have zero bolt action skillz. My first actually nice bolt action is my K31 and I only go that a couple years ago and honestly, I suck with it. I’m more accurate with my AK, mostly because of lack of practice, knowledge, and time behind bolt actions. I’ve just been getting the urge to build up a nice bolt action from a Mauser action. There’s just only so much time and money.

      • Ryfyle

        I use a Mosin. the most you have to do is smooth out the rough edges and it works magically well.

        • BrandonAKsALot

          Oh yeah mines great. Aside from the sticky bolt, magazine that falls open during fire, nose diving rounds, casings that don’t eject out of the receiver, and piss poor accuracy and this is after anything out the rough edges. But, besides that its a fantastic gun! And it had the added feature of needing a hammer to install the bayonet.

  • User

    Wow do you also have such a fin cooler at your barrel? (not sure if thats whats on the photo but look similar). How well does it work?

  • alex waits

    Gun fighting like its 1870s.

  • Slim934

    So who manufactures now what would be considered a good “practical rifle”?

    • De Facto

      I’ve fondled various bolt actions at the local gun shop, the only ones in my price range that seemed solid were CZ. I was disappointed with the Mossberg MVP, it’s construction seemed flimsy.

      You can still get a Yugo Mauser for less than 400, and they’re pretty decent guns, and Swedish Mausers & K31’s are nice, with a fast action that’s also very solid. More expensive though, tend to fetch between $500 & $700 depending on condition.

    • Goody

      Look for Mauser or Sako style extractor, and a feed system with a little bit of wiggle room. A bad example of the latter is my Tikka 223 – it took me a few hours to tune the mag to feed them at just the right angle, with the feed lips bent just right. I can imagine that if I ran it hard powder fouling would come back into the mag and shut it down. A good example is the .470 rim Tikkas, Howas, Rugers, FN bolties, modified Remingtons (extractor) and of course Sakos. Euro rifles are commonly built to be run hard, with driven hunting demanding rapid bolt work as the norm, rather than the exception.

      • Tassiebush

        I’m sorry to hear that about your tikka. 223. Mine (also. 223) behaves well. I can sort of see how one might get some trouble though. The mags are definitely not their optimal feature.

        • Goody

          My 308 T3 runs hard, works like a trojan and hits inside a half minute even after being flogged for nearly 2 years. Just the steel 223 mag insert is a bit of a dud sometimes. 🙁

          • Tassiebush

            Man I feel bad for you in that! ?I definitely think you’re entitled to expect more! Glad your .308 is good though! I’m actually thinking about grabbing one before next Fallow season so it’s good to hear such positive insights.

  • Gary Kirk

    Now I wanna do some action shooting with my 375 H&H..

    Wait.. No I don’t..

    • Goody

      3 recoil pads and 9 sweaters is a good look, though.

      • Gary Kirk

        Yeah, I could deal with the recoil.. It’s the repeated assault on my wallet that scares me..

  • John Yossarian

    Appleseed also does full-distance events, teaching the concepts in either one or two day courses. 40 out of 50 hits scores a “Long Range” rocker that goes below the RIfleman patch.

  • A Fascist Corgi

    I’ll never understand why younger shooting enthusiasts would care about Jeff Cooper or bolt action rifles. His teachings and the firearms that he promoted are outdated. Semi-automatic rifles are capable of shooting 1 MOA – which is perfectly viable for snipers.

    • Bob

      I am not a sniper. I am a civie and I can shoot any rifle I please, thank you very much. In fact, I would also point out that in some parts of the world gun laws and restrictions force some people to figure out at least some of these skills if they want to shoot anything. Now, if you will excuse me, my old Lee Enfield would like some lovin’…

      • Marcus D.

        I think that shooting a .22 bolt action at small targets at 100 yards is a lot of fun, at least it was before the round became “obsolete.” Most hunting rifles are bolt actions, and the moral rule of “one shot, one kill” still applies.Semi-auto rifles do not teach the patience to take a good shot, but instead promote banging away as fast as one can until the mag is empty.

    • Goody

      Weight, reliability, cost and accuracy have bolt guns winning the trifecta, or quadrifecta, or something for budget minded shooters looking for something to carry.

      • Ryfyle

        Or likes to have the ability to stop cars and car sized mammals in one good shot.

    • CJS3

      Actually, I think the example given at the beginning of the video is a good counter to your position. No matter your opinion, proficiency is the key argument being made.

  • GearHead

    Can anyone ID his rifle? It looks real slick!

    • Goody

      Tikka, and yes they are slick. Get one in a 308 size rim or bigger if you want to really run it.

  • Bob

    Hmmmm… I do like slamming the action around quickly with my Lee Enfield and Mosin, so that reference to some modern rifles having issues with attempts to run them fast has me worried if I ever look to buy one… (OK, the Mosin isn’t exactly greased lightning, but when I slam it around it doesn’t jam. ;D)

    • Good point, Bob. Takes a lot of effort to slam one around, but they tend to work. I’ve probably seen more malfunctions with R700s than Mosins…

      • Tassiebush

        Weatherby vanguards and tikka t3 both seem to take fast cycling very happily in my experience.

  • Tassiebush

    That definitely makes me want to grab my copy of Art of the Rifle back off the shelf.

  • BrandonAKsALot

    Except that’s not the case. All cosmo was removed long ago and it’s been through over a tin of 54r. I do know a little about my firearms. Do I even Mosin? Not unless I have to.

    • Ryfyle

      Your Mosin’s cursed then.