I could, of course, have opted for a magazine-fed rifle, but one must maintain his standards you know, and I had proclaimed the elite status of my rifles so it would be agonizing to back down and join the common herd. The solution to my dilemma, if there was to be one, was discovering a way to increase my rate of fire. But with a bolt action rifle sans magazine what are the options? The solution, as it turned out, was astonishingly simple.
The Missing Left Hand
I’m not putting you on when I tell you the solution came to me in the middle of a restless night as I was doing mental replays of loading, aiming, and firing a rifle. Each step was a right-hand operation while my left hand was doing well…nothing! Normally the left hand (or right hand for southpaws) plays an essential role in shooting all types of long guns because it supports the rifle or smoothbore and guides the direction in which it is aimed. But when the forend of a rifle’s stock is rested on a sandbag or whatever rest the rifleman uses there is little or nothing to keep the left hand busy. So why not, I asked myself, put my left hand to work doing something that would speed up my rate of fire, like, for instance, working the bolt and even feeding cartridges into the rifle’s chamber. The beauty of the idea was that the right hand, now freed from the duty of cycling the bolt now need never lose its grip on the rifle’s stock or the trigger finger stray from the trigger, meaning that even as my left hand was loading a cartridge the right hand was guiding the crosshairs to the next target. All in about half the time needed to cycle a right side bolt rifle, reposition the right hand and trigger finger and re-align eye with scope and, finally, locate a target. Call it an epiphany.
So the solution to my dilemma, as I envisioned it, would be simply a matter of getting myself a southpaw rifle with a bolt handle on the left side. Better yet, one of the uber-accurate target style actions like I’d been using, but in left bolt configuration, and it was just such a rifle that I appeared at a prairie dog shoot the follow spring. The affair was sponsored by a major ammo maker and gun writers, being what they are, usually show up with a mixed bag of equipment, but all eyes were on the oddly configured rifle I uncased.
“Hey Carmichel, didn’t know you’re a southpaw,” was heard more than once, to which I innocently described my rifle as only a concept I wanted to test. The real truth, however, was that I’d already tested the concept and found it to be as quick and deadly as originally envisioned. Faster, actually, because I’d refined the loading technique by filling a carpenter’s cloth nail bag with ammo and tying it around my neck so that fresh cartridges were only inches away from my left hand as I worked the bolt and fed the rifle.
My shooting position that cloudless morning could not have been sweeter; to my right was one of my constant tormentors, whom I could almost hear chuckling to himself with gleeful anticipation of the targets he would rob from me. That wasn’t long in coming because I made a near miss that kicked up a puff of dust signaling which dog I was shooting at. It was sure to draw his aim to that target, and it did, but before he could react my left hand had flicked the bolt closed and my second bullet on target.
Casually I glanced over at my fellow shooter and his reaction left no doubt what he had been up to because he was looking around, trying to determine the location of an unknown rifleman who had stolen the target he intended to steal from me. “No way,” he must have been thinking could I have reloaded my plodding single loading rifle and got off a second shot that fast.
It was a great morning for shooting and my rifle’s barrel quickly became spit sizzling hot as my crosshairs swept the field, resting only momentarily on a target before my finger pressed the trigger and my left hand fed a cartridge for the next kill. It was sweet payback when my crosshairs found their way to targets my former antagonist had marked as his only to see them fall over before he could pull a trigger. Sweetest moment of all though was when one of the outfitter’s guides approached me and, with obvious embarrassment, told me that our host requested that in the interest of good sportsmanship and courtesy to other shooters would I kindly restrict myself to loading one round at a time. “Look here,” I said to him, opening the bolt so he could see there was no magazine in my single shot rifle. Baffled by the revelation, he offered an apology for disturbing me and stammered the only explanation he could think of. ”Well, we heard a lot of fast shooting in this area and someone said it was you.” Relaying what he had seen to his employer, his terse report, I’m told, is now enshrined in the chronicles of prairie dog shooting:
“Boss, he is loading one at a time.”
In following months, I had two more rifles built to my unorthodox configuration, one of them a magazine fed repeater that made the concept all the more deadly. More than happy with the success of my project, I let the secret out in an article for Outdoor Life magazine. In no way could I have been aware that the article and my descriptions of the simple yet deadly efficiency of a left bolt rifle provided the key to a long standing mystery. A mystery that had nothing to do with shooting prairie dogs.
This series of photos show the speed and efficiency of Carmichel's left-hand bolt operation. Note that (A) his right hand and never leaves the grip of the stock, retaining control that is normally lost by right hand bolt operation, (B) his trigger finger never leaves the trigger and (C) his eye maintains constant alignment with scope as he moves point of aim to next target(s). Meanwhile his left hand cycles bolt and feeds fresh cartridges in his non-magazine varmint rifle. If the rifle had a repeating magazine it would not be necessary to remove left hand from bolt, making the rate of fire even faster, a factor described in final chapter.
Photos by Hubbard Photographic Arts.