Fact or Fiction: Double Rifles Are Faster Than Bolt Actions
October 08, 2014
Double rifle enthusiasts prefer these guns for dangerous game because they offer faster follow-up shots than bolt guns. Is that true?
For years, writers and professional hunters have touted the use of double rifles for following up dangerous game because doubles offer "the fastest second shot." For this reason, many hunters planning a safari that will include dangerous game feel that they need a double to be prepared for a close-quarters encounter with dangerous game. However, before you spend five figures on a high quality double, it's important to know the facts, and the fact is that double rifles don't always provide you with the best solution when hunting dangerous game.
To help verify the claim that the double rifle offers a faster second shot than a bolt gun, I reached out to my friend Monty Kalogeras, owner of Safari Shooting School outside Mason, Texas. Monty has become well known for helping to train hunters who want to improve their shooting skills, and each year he helps many clients learn to shoot and handle big bore rifles before they travel to remote regions of the world in the pursuit of dangerous game. Monty has accumulated more data from speed tests than anyone I know, and he has a very good understanding of what a hunter needs to prevent being trampled, tossed, gored or mauled. The answer to whether the double or the bolt-action is faster, he says, is far more complex than a simple breakdown of the two action types.
"I timed shooters for almost two years to see which type of rifle allowed them to deliver the fastest aimed follow-up shot," he says. The key word is aimed. It's not simply a matter of making the gun go boom a second time but a matter of delivering an accurate shot, coming down from recoil and sending a second shot into the target that is in the right place to stop a charge.
"One day, I'd have a client that would be faster with a follow-up with a bolt gun than a double, and the next day, I'd have a different client that had the exact opposite results," Monty says. He thinks that the argument of bolt gun versus double gun is too simplistic and doesn't take into account the many factors that affect a shooter's ability to shoot well with either type of rifle. One thing is clear, though; double guns can be faster, but they aren't faster for everyone.
"I teach shooters how to manage recoil, which is critical when shooting a hard-kicking gun," Monty says.
The first step in delivering a fast, accurate follow up shot is learning to handle the kick and get back on target. There is one primary factor that has more to do with this ability than body weight or shooting experience: stance.
"If you take a shooter that fires a gun with their weight on their back leg or from a neutral stance they're not going to be fast with any big gun, bolt or double," Monty says. "You have to have an aggressive stance with your weight forward so that the gun doesn't push you off balance." Learning to improve stance makes you faster with any hard-kicking rifle that you shoot from an off-hand position, and it reduces muzzle rise.
"I just had a client that was in his sixties, slightly built, and he bought a .470 double for Africa. I always film my client's first shot and last shot so they can see the difference in muzzle rise. This wasn't a big guy, but on his last shot with the double, the muzzles didn't rise up more than an inch because he learned to control recoil."
Learning to shoot a double or a bolt gun is a mechanical process, Monty says, and you can learn the mechanics of either action so that you are fast and accurate when shooting that type of gun. Consider golf and baseball. In both sports, the object is to hit a ball with a stick, but the mechanics required to accomplish each task are different and must be learned. A good golfer can't necessarily hit a fastball and vice versa.
"Most shooters do better with a bolt gun immediately because that's what they're used to shooting," Monty says. "They understand the mechanics. That doesn't mean they won't be able to shoot a double well, but they need to learn proper mechanics for shooting a double rifle, which are different than a bolt-action."
For the shooter that is very skilled with both rifle types and has been trained to quickly shoot both a double and a bolt gun, Monty says that the double typically has a speed advantage for the second shot, but that's assuming you have a shooter who has trained extensively with both guns and who has the proper stance and handles recoil effectively. Such shooters are very rare, and for the majority of the shooting public, our personal skill sets make us faster with one rifle type. I fully understand this because I attended Monty's school myself. Because I have shot many, many more bolt guns than double rifles, I was naturally slower with a double. Simply put, the mechanics weren't there, and I needed help from a professional to help me walk through the process and learn the proper technique.
"The bolt gun versus double gun argument doesn't take into account the other variables that come into play either," Monty says. "This includes gun fit, stock contour, sights and caliber. I can consistently deliver two aimed shots with my .450-400 Nitro Express Heym double in 1.1 seconds, but it's rare that I can touch 2 seconds for two shots with my .500 Nitro Express Heym."
"Another thing to remember about doubles is that, even if you're faster on the second shot, you're also faster to an empty gun," he says. "Most dead hunters that are found after being killed by dangerous game have empty rifles."
If your gun fits you well, you are accustomed to the action and sights, and you can effectively manage recoil, you will be faster with that rifle than you will with an ill-fitting gun that recoils so ferociously that you can't effectively manage the gun for the follow-up shot. Doubles do have their advantages, though; if there is a major mechanical failure, such as a broken firing pin, a double offers a separate, complete firing mechanism. If the firing pin on your bolt gun breaks, then you're in real trouble when facing dangerous game, and you'd better hope that someone nearby has the weapon and the skill to save your life.
So, in short, with all things being equal (gun fit, sights, caliber and gun weight and shooter's skill set), a double does offer a faster follow-up. But those variables are very rarely equal between a double and bolt gun for a single shooter. No matter which action you choose, learning proper technique and practicing often is the key to saving your life.
Hunting dangerous game requires a thorough understanding of technique and lots of practice. Monty Kalogeras of Safari Shooting School
in Texas is shown here with a Zimbabwe buffalo.
Not all information about shooting big bores that is considered 'œcommon knowledge' is accurate. For instance, holding spare cartridges between the fingers of your non-shooting hand, which looks good in photos, is not the fastest way to reload a big bore double according to Monty.
Learning to handle recoil is critical no matter what type of big bore you are shooting. With a weight-forward stance and a secure grip, the recoil from this double is manageable, and a second shot will certainly be faster.
Doubles offer two rapid shots, but you must practice reloads. As Monty says, 'œA double is also faster to an empty gun.'
Regardless of what type of gun you shoot, practice that mimics hunting situations will help improve your speed. It's expensive to practice with any big bore, but it beats wounding dangerous game on safari.
Monty practices with his .375 H&H bolt gun. Speed is not strictly a matter of action type but rather mechanics, gun fight, sights, caliber, and a host of other factors. It is impossible, therefore, to say that one action type is always 'œfaster.'
The author practicing reloading after shooting a double. For the very rare shooter who is well-versed with both actions, practices often and handles recoil well, the double does offer a second shot. But, Monty says, such shooters are few and far between.
Monty practicing with his double on a cape buffalo target. Doubles aren't as accurate as bolt guns for long range shooting, but Monty says that with proper practice you can extend the effective range of a double to cover most dangerous game situations.
Practicing with a .500 Nitro Express from the stand-up bench. Because most dangerous game hunting doesn't require shooting from a sitting position, it's critical to practice from field positions. In addition, the standing bench mitigates the effects of recoil compared to a seated bench.
For most shooters, a bolt gun is far more familiar, and the mechanics are already in place. That doesn't mean that a double won't be faster for you, but it takes practice.