Fieldsports Channel: How to Cycle a Bolt-Action When a Cape Buffalo Is Trying to Murder You

I am not someone who has ever had the opportunity to travel to Africa to tackle the Big Five* most dangerous and difficult animals to hunt on the continent (and arguably the planet), and fully admit my novice status in this area. Karamajo Bell I am not.

*For those who do not know, the Big Five are the: Cape buffalo, African lion, African elephant, African leopard, and either the black or white rhinoceros (considered together as one of the Big Five).

So, instead of listening to me, I direct you to two people who truly do know what they’re doing. In the video below, recorded and published by the excellent Fieldsports Channel, Southern African Wildlife College trainer Pieter Nel and course manager Dr. Kevin Robertson explain the somewhat counter-intuitive best way to cycle a big game rifle when staring down a potentially deadly animal attack:

While it might seem like the best way to quickly down a dangerous animal that didn’t oblige you with the first shot would be “Mad Minute” style speed shooting from the shoulder, Mr. Nel and Dr. Robertson explain why this isn’t the most reliable method. The first reason this isn’t ideal has to do with the special nature of big game bolt action rifles: Unlike most hunting rifles used in other continents (which are populated primarily by smaller game), big game African rifles are typically magnum-length bolt actions, usually of the Mauser pattern or similar. These rifles have a much longer bolt stroke than normal, which means there is a much higher chance of short-stroking the action when cycled with the butt firmly in the shoulder. With a Mauser-style fixed extractor, if the rifle’s bolt is not retracted swiftly and fully to the rear, then the spent case will not clear the bolt face and will remain within the grasp of the extractor claw. If the bolt is then cycled close, this causes a sort of doublefeed with the spent case and the fresh round.

The second reason Mr. Nel and Dr. Robertson give is situational awareness: With the rifle in your shoulder and the bolt cycling in front of your face, there is a great deal of material in front of your eyes occluding your vision and potentially distracting you. This reduces your ability to track a game animal, and potentially could add critical seconds between the last and the next shot.

Instead of cycling from the shoulder, Nel and Robertson suggest cycling the rifle from a lowered position, which adds power to the rearward stroke of the bolt (and therefore reliability to ejection), and clears the shooter’s vision, allowing them to better track the animal.

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


  • ActionPhysicalMan

    Self defense against someone shooting at you is hardly murder.

    • Independent George

      It’s coming right for us!!!

  • AC97

    I believe this is also the same reason they make double rifles.

    Granted, those are more expensive…

    • idahoguy101

      Yes, for professional hunters guiding hunting clients.

    • valorius

      I rather suspect a 12 gauge double barrel firing Brenneke max barrier penetration slugs would work just as well. Those slugs will penetrate a level IIIA vest and still penetrate in excess of 30″ of ballistics gel.

      I keep a few of those in my side saddle, in case of T-Rex attack. 😀

      • Connecticut Shotgun makes a side by side 20 gauge with rifled barrels and user-adjustable regulation. Unsure if there’s a 12 gauge version yet but it’s a start.

        • Grant

          Sounds like a budget .600 Nitro Express. All you would need is some brass cases and a bullet mold.

      • The_Champ

        That slug is a hefty load but I think you need to review your ballistics and you will find that the big calibers used in Africa provide far superior ballistics to any 12 gauge load.

        • valorius

          Check out Dixie slugs.

          “The Original Dixie Terminator12 is a reintroduction of the famous British
          Paradox Load. Like the original Paradox load, it has a .730″-730 gr hard
          cast heat treated bullet. Unlike the original, it is loaded today in a
          modern 3″ 12 ga. Mag. hull with modern components. The original Paradox
          was loaded to two velocity levels…black powder at 1000’/” and Cordite
          at 1200’/”

      • Anonymoose

        I read somewhere that professional hunters (safari guides) like to carry semi-auto 12s loaded with magnum slugs.

        • Anton Gray Basson

          I doubt that, 375 H&H is considered the minimum on elephants, so if you’re guiding in Big Five country and can legally carry rifle while guiding youre going with 375, most like 416 or 458.

          • Anonymoose

            Most countries have minimum caliber and/or energy limits, and if they have minimum calibers people tend to mess around and use wildcats necked up to .375. As for energy, Lightfield makes a 3.5″ sabot slug that produces 4759 ft-lbs at the muzzle, but since it’s a sabot slug you’re limited to using the Mossberg 835 or 935 since they’re the only company that makes 3.5″ rifled barrels. If you have the 935, that gives you 5 shells with a little more energy than a .375 and you don’t have to work the bolt.

          • Anton Gray Basson

            I am sure your numbers hold up and it may be a great option for cats but I doubt a sabotted slug would out penetrate a monolithic bullet.

        • RA

          Never seen a PH with a 12 gauge, EVER.

        • gusto

          semi-autos are pretty much banned or not the norm in most of Africa

          I have read about 12g pumps with buckshot/slugs being good lion/leopard medicine thou

          but not for buffalo and the other big five

          heck they usually carry doubles that pack a silly punch, because most often they don’t have to shoot anyway but if they need to they need to deliver

  • Cal.Bar

    Ok. so…. YOU traipse our to the middle of nowhere, track down a cape bison. SHOOT IT without provocation, not killing it, so it charges at you and IT is the one trying MURDER you?
    Irrespective of the hunting aspect, the word “murder” in the title might be just a tad off don’t you think?

    • EC

      I have nothing against hunting or hunters (even trophy hunters), but really “murder” is the wrong way to put it.

      That animal is clearly acting in self-defence. If it kills the hunter, that would be reasonably lawful and morally acceptable.

      • Gary Kirk

        Only if it has the state approved self defense license..

        • wetcorps

          Does South Africa have savannah doctrine?

    • Bob

      I agree, and its a Mauser styled fixed ejector, not extractor

    • Bierstadt54

      Nah. I think “murder” is spot on. It conveys the determination of the cape buffalo to make make you DEAD. If we are talking about the ethicality of the cape buffalo trying to kill you, I would certainly consider the cape buffalo to be entirely justified in the attempt. I am a hunter. I would never begrudge an animal doing anything it could to survive or get revenge. That is part and parcel of hunting, of the wild itself. I consider the “murder” title to be a mark of respect to the power and willpower of the cape buffalo.

      • valorius


      • Gary Kirk

        The difference between “real” hunters, and most hunters.. Real hunters hunt things that will return the favor..

        • iksnilol

          No, hunters just hunt things. It’s irrelevant if it wants to kill you or not.

        • pun&gun

          I’d say it’s more the difference between real sport hunters, and people who harvest prey animals. The latter category just makes you a predator; nothing wrong with it, but there’s not a lot to brag about in killing an animal whose role in the ecosystem is to be hunted and eaten by other creatures. Tangling with something that can and will kill you back makes you an apex predator, and that’s something different.

        • r h

          but they still uses ALOT of gear and technology so its still not much of a gamble. the taxi ride to the third world airport your leaving from presents more dangers..

      • EC

        If “murder” essentially means to make something dead, then wouldn’t hunters be “murdering” the animals they hunt?

        I think we would both agree that “murder” is the wrong word to use for a hunter killing prey… so why would it be the proper word for prey killing the hunter?

        • Phillip Cooper

          “Meat is murder!”

          That’s right, Princess… tasty, tasty murder.

    • It’s hyperbole, princess.

    • valorius

      If the Buffalo had gotten the hunter it would definitely have been justifiable homicide.

    • Gary Kirk

      Go take yourself on a walk amongst cape buffalo, and enjoy the peaceful nature of the creature firsthand then.. You do not have to shoot at them (or most of the “big 5”) for them to want to “murder” you..

    • pun&gun

      “Murder” isn’t technically or legally correct, but it does capture the mindset of the cape buffalo pretty well. Those are considered the most dangerous game animal for a reason. Unlike most animals who prefer to avoid people and attack only if provoked, cape buffalo will go out of their way to kill you.

      • r h

        so if a D bag shows up to where you live and shoots you, when you try to stop him YOU are the murderer…?
        im confused this sounds like anti gun logic to me..

        • pun&gun

          Murder is only possible against a human. My point was that Cape buffalo are aggressive enough that they’d be trying to kill you whether you were hunting them or not.

    • William

      Go and hug a tree, Cal.Bar.

  • Ooh, ooh, I know the answer to the title question – “quickly!”

    • Keiichi

      … or, more accurately, “frantically”…

      • iksnilol

        No, frantically = fumbling.

    • Sam Damiano

      Make haste, slowly.

  • jack smith

    what kind of scope did [both of them] they have on their rifles?

    • The_Champ

      One of the Aimpoint sporting models I think, but I could be mistaken.

  • valorius

    God invented double rifles for a reason.

    • Gary Kirk

      Eh.. 2 rounds pretty quick, judging you remember which trigger to pull in that instant (if it’s not a reset single trigger).. Then you have to remember which you have.. Or a common manual of arms, with most likely 3+1 capacity.. I’ll stick with my bolt 375 H&H, and 460 Weatherby..

      • valorius

        And if you miss? You’re not recovering and cycling the bolt on any rifle in time. Those old double rifles were prized for a reason.

      • Wetcoaster

        Pretty sure the guide is supposed to be with you with another loaded double just in case no matter what you’re carrying.

    • Giolli Joker

      And Fuchs invented the double bolt action for a couple of reasons.

      • pun&gun

        But the rifles had to be sold rather than freely distributed, because they were all out of Fuchs to give.

    • Edeco

      They were actually invented by the Johann Ablaturk, a 15th cent. Hungarian. In his system a piece of slow match was set between the barrels so one would go off a few seconds after the other. This was a useful force multiplier for the cavalry tactics of the time, where they’d charge, turn and quickly fire over the horses’ butts before retreating.*

      *I made that up.

      • valorius

        LMAO 😀

    • r h

      god didnt invent anything. man invented god.
      …the more you know….

      • valorius

        That’s your opinion. Thanks for sharing it with the class.

  • BravoSeven

    I know absolutely nothing about big game hunting but shouldn’t you have a partner at your side to assist with a possible lifesaving follow-up shot? I’d rather have someone ready to bang than depend on my ability to get a shot off quick enough. Regardless, its definitely a good idea to practice this technique.

  • John

    So. The lesson here is: either use a semi-automatic weapon or train and practice with your rifle.

    • The_Champ

      How many semi-autos are made in .375 H&H or the even bigger calibers?

      • Anonymoose

        There are some fancy bespoke European guns in .375, and I’m pretty sure some people have rebarrelled Benelli R1s and Browning BARs for the .375 and .458 Winchester. There’s also that one Vigilance Rifle or whatever in .375 CHEYTAC.

    • Anonymoose

      And don’t let your wife handle any guns, Francis.

    • No one

      Even a very skilled hunter with good shot placement needs to never underestimate a Cape Buffalo.

      My grandfather was an avid big game hunter with many trips to Alaska and Africa under his belt, nothing made him more nervous then Cape Buffalo even after decades of hunting them, he always described them as black balls of pure seething rage determination that often refuse to die even when suffering an injury that would kill or incapacitate most animals instantly, the fact they’re also amazingly fast for and agile for how large they are doesn’t really help.

      They’re also quite cunning, being to do things like run off into grass and faking being mortally wounded only to lunge out and ambush inexperienced hunters when they close in to look for them.

      I guess the moral is, training a lot helps, but in the case of cape buffaloes, always prepare for the worst no matter how good and experienced you are.

  • The_Champ

    Thanks to the author for finding some interesting and different(ie not about AR-15!) content.

  • conrad

    This is a piece of cake for the left eye dominant right hander for he never has to take the rifle from his left shoulder because he uses his dominant right hand to cycle the bolt. Some people had to grow up this way, others train for it.

    • iksnilol

      What? You shoot left handed and cycle with your right hand?

      You’re gonna go off target that way, might as well go outta the shoulder then.

    • gusto

      today most manufactorers offer plenty of models in a real lefthanded version, it really is so much smother, I grew up shooting RH from my left shoulder but as soon as I got my first real LH rifle it worked

      even with bolts it is a safety issue to, a ruptured case or worse and you are worse of with a right handed action on your left side

  • Thomas Carr

    I found that reloading from the shoulder didn’t work for me. The recoil from my .375 H&H and from my .416 Rem Mag was such that the rifles moved too much in the shoulder to be properly aligned for follow up shots. Hence, better to reload and remount the rifle as shown in the video. The chance at short stroking the action is also of concern.

  • Anonymoose

    Step 1: build a FAL in 8mm Mauser.
    Step 2: mag-dump into that angry cow.

    • DW

      I would have suggested dumping a belt of 7.62X54R is more effective, then I realized people already do that. People with bad taste and moral.

  • gunsandrockets

    Double feeding? Wasn’t the whole point of the Mauser controlled extraction system the prevention of double feeding caused by short stroking?

    • Tassiebush

      That was my understanding too.

  • Glenfilthie

    I disagree with this. In a multiple shot scenario the idea of a repeating rifle is that it doesn’t leave your shoulder. Proper practice and marksmanship skills should ensure that you don’t even need a second shot. This might be fine advice for a casual shooter but for dedicated gun hounds like us? I don’t think so.

    • No one

      I think you’d be more inclined to agree if you knew just how damn near unnaturally tough cape buffaloes actually are.

      I posted this below, but my grandfather before he died was an avid outdoorsman and big game hunter for decades with more trips to Alaska and Africa then I can count, even with decades of experience, no animal actually put him on edge more then cape buffaloes, mainly because one nearly killed after it somehow not only survived a near perfect shot with a .375 H&H Trophy Bonded Sledgehammer round that penetrated a lung, glanced It’s spine and stopped inside one of the arteries to the heart, but it acted like nothing even happened and immediately snapped to his direction and began a death charge straight for him, a lucky shot he barely had time to aim through the eye killed it and it slid and stopped about 10-15 feet from him and his friend who was acting as his guide.

      That was the only time he ever took a trophy from a hunt, to this day I still have the taxidermied head with the eye shown shut. (…..I wanted to decorate our newborn son’s room with it, my wife wasn’t so hot on the idea….).

      I asked his friend who was his backup, and he backed up everything he told about the incident as true.

      Cape Buffaloes are mean ass MF’ers that kill Lions in self defense and you should never underestimate them no matter how skilled and experienced you are.

      • Glenfilthie

        That is true – I’ve never hunted them and if they are as tough as they say (and I have no reason to disagree) – it is all the more reason to keep your gun at your shoulder, and cycle that action as quickly and competently as possible. The first thing you do after shooting game – especially dangerous game – is reload without taking your eyes off it.

  • Sam Damiano

    I will admit that I am not a big game hunter but if you can’t cycle a bolt action without removing it from your shoulder you should learn how first.

    • Will

      what you are saying is that you didn’t watch the video, or that you didn’t listen to the two African experts in that video explain why your thinking gets people killed.

      If the hunter blows the backup shot, he, the Guide, and the trackers lives are at HUGH risk. Even Professional hunters die hunting like this, and you demand that they attempt a technique that is documented to get people killed.

      There was more than one stated reason given to avoid that particular technique. When you are involved in hunting opponents that are willing, and able, to kill you if a mistake is made, you do not willingly give them that opportunity. Only a fool does that, and fools don’t live long, generally.

  • The Forty ‘Twa

    Time for a change of trousers I think.

  • r h

    im pretty sure the title should read.
    “how to cycle a bolt action when a cape buffalo notices i came thousands of miles to HIS neighborhood to shoot him or some of his friends..”

    im not against hunting. but lets not accuse the animals in their natural environment of “murder” if that cape buffalo sneaks into your hotel room at three am with a knife.. then ok.