The War Horse Bolt-Gun Shootout

Story by Dusty Boddams

Did the rifle make a difference? Having become a shooter, and I guess by accident a collector of military bolt guns, I have been adding to the “collection “ regularly. Probably most real collectors would turn up their nose and depart for greener pastures when they see what I have. My grouping is eclectic.

bolt gun1Now, I have a bunch of friends who are wild bunch action shooters, and have taken to the shooting competition called BAMM (bolt action military match) with great enthusiasm. Lots of 03 and 03a3 in these matches, but there are lots of other great guns out there, and the question is by design, are any of them faster or slower than others?
Not just for five shots but with reload under speed. Do the sights really make that much difference for fast shooting? What about cock on closing compared to cock on opening? Which ones are really faster? Everyone has an opinion, but have they done it or are they guessing? What about left-handed shooters? What’s best for them?

We are going to try and answer these questions plus a few more with this article. Now, this is not a true shootout of bolt gun2all the bolt guns of pre-WWI thru post-WWII. I’m not pulling out any Mannlichers or Carcano cartridges. I’m not using any carbines or sniper rifles, but these are what we are using: early ’03 Springfield .30/06 03a3, Smith Corona .30/06, Ishapore Enfield 7.62 Model of 1917 rifle, .30/06 1891 Argentine Mauser, 7.65 Colombian R.Farmage Mauser, .30/06 Russian Mosin-Nagant 7.62×54, and a rimmed K-31 7.5 Swiss. I could have expanded the selection, but I feel this is a good representative of different types of rifles and are the most commonly encountered types.

Ammo was kept simple; all the above used lead-gas checked bullets, and all were traveling between 1,500 to 1,700 feet per second. Most all used the same powder, and all used the same bolt gun5standard Winchester primer. Each rifle had been shot and checked over, and everyone shot with factory ammo and then shot with the lead ammo to verify that our hand-rolled ammo shot at least as well or better than factory.

Standard IDPA cardboard targets set at 100 yards

Seated from stable rest. Rifle supported. Five cartridges in the rifle. Bolt open. Rifle at ready. Timed with a pact timer. At the beep, commence firing – reload – fire. Total of ten shots . Must have ten shots on target or results thrown out. The feeling is bolt gun8that accuracy and speed are of equal importance, and one will not carry more weight than the other.

The results working with the bolt guns was a most pleasurable experience. Having the opportunity to compare these side by side, some conclusions were drawn. Of these rifles, the K31 had some issues and it was sidelined. Overall, the left and right hand shooter did best with the R. Farmage Mauser, followed very closely by the 03 and 03a3 for the left handed shooter. Also favorable for the southpaw was the 1891 Argentine Mauser,the K31 Swiss, followed by the Ishapore. The P17 was the next to slowest for lefty, but he shot an amazing 5″ group at speed. The Mosin was his slowest. Captain Jarrett really enjoyed the range time with the battle rifles, as it gave him the opportunity to shoot unfamiliar bolt gun7guns at speed.

The P17 ,1891 Mauser,and 03a3 were all a tie for me. The Ishapore during the test had a hiccup and was slower than four other rifles. I corrected the problem, reshot it and it turned in the third fastest time. The biggest shock of all this testing was the Mosin Nagant. It was one of the last rifles shot on a long morning, and with temperatures approaching the century mark it came in last. Typical rough clunky arsenal refinish with a hex receiver and an abundant amount of shellac. This old rifle was pulled from a crate and shipped to me complete with lots of cosmoline in the bore. Cleaning it all up and putting it to the test at 100 yards, I think my full choked shotgun was tighter. Honest 18″ patterns told the tale.

bolt gun6Re-disassembly proved lots of pressure points. Taking care of these problems, it started turning in 3 1/2″ groups, but when shot at speed, turned out the slowest times due to fighting the bolt. Always remember Mosins were sighted with a bayonet mounted, which dampened a lot of harmonics.Taking the bolt out and pulling it apart working all the rough areas resulted in a different animal. This rifle went from the slowest to the second fastest rifle!

After spending a lot of time with these rifles and with Capt. Jarrett, the left handed shooter, a few definite thoughts emerged. First, a left handed shooter can be competitive with the right battle rifle. Some designs do not lend themselves as well to a southpaw. The second thought is that if you’re a right handed shooter, all the battle rifles are just about equal.Pardon the pun, but there is no magic bullet. Cock on open versus cock on close is a non-issue for a right handed shooter.


bolt gun4Sights were all good with the most reduced load friendly going to the Mausers and the 03a3. Least friendly was the P17, because the ladder has to be flipped up for reduced loads and the front sight is so stubby that I don’t think there is room to regulate it. Same for the 91, except it could be regulated in the down position.The way to the winners’ circle is not just buying equipment and showing up. The way to winning is being a rifleman. Choose whichever rifle you like, and get to where you can really run that rifle. Shoot at speed, shoot for accuracy, shoot at unknown ranges and reload at speed. Take it through fun house drills, use it close and far away. The more you use the old battle rifles, the more addictive they are. Get that war horse out of the closet and go have some fun with it, find a BAMM competition or vintage rifle match and put that rifle to use. The old battle rifles are ready for action, are you?