How To: Double vs Bolt Action

by | May 7, 2020 | How To hunting

Double vs Bolt perspective in reality:
There have been thousands of arguments and posts in the past about what is best to use on a Dangerous Game hunt. I am not going to repeat it. I am just going to look at it from a different angle.
To be able to give a valid statement on any of the two one must have lots of experience in both. I don’t mean the type of experience you get on the range but the type you get when doing the job hunting DG often.
Let us go back 150 years.
The double rifle was then the ultimate weapon to have in your hands when hunting Africa’s dangerous animals. It was the black-powder era and bolt actions just saw the light. Nothing worked better than having two instant shots available. Most hunters then carried two doubles. One was in the hands of the trusted gun bearer.
This gave the hunter four shots in relative quick time. After that the reloading took time before any follow-up was done. The metal cartridge case was in early development then.
100 years ago.
The metal cartridge proved itself and bullets became smaller in calibre because of better powders and components. No more was the bullets only lead. Metal jackets made for better penetration and also for easier loading from a magazine rifle. Rifle barrels became shorter and the quality of the guns were much better like the legendary Mauser with its controlled feed action.
Double rifles also saw improvements. Better steel and metal cartridges made for more powerful rifles even though the calibres became smaller. Then it was quite safe to use rifles in .450 calibre where before a .577 was deemed average.
The big selling point for the bolt actions was price and reliability. You could then buy a good bolt rifle for a fraction of a price of a good double.
50 years ago.
Rifles and bullets have by now evolved into what we know today. Both doubles and bolt rifles were made from quality materials and the bullets they fired were all good quality and all used smoke-less powder. Sights like scopes etc. also got better.
This is probably when the debate about what is best became hot. Solid bullets were good even though the mono-metal solids were not available yet. This put rifles like a .375H&H as the most used calibre on DG all over Africa. Hunters wanted it and they wanted it in a bolt rifle to be used as an All-rounder for every animal and terrain.
More and more DG hunters turned to the bolt action for their work. It had nothing to do with safety. It was reliability they were after. A Mauser action rifle could be dragged through mud, swamp and dust and it would work with the minimum of cleaning. Do that with a double and you have an expensive paddle for your canoe.
There is much more to the whole debate as just two instant shots vs 4 in a magazine. Let us look at price. The cheaper it is to feed your rifle, the more you are going to use it. That is golden for muscle-memory and quick action. Most hunters use a bolt rifle more than a double for all the shooting they do. A bolt gun that gets used a lot becomes familiar and the shooter becomes better with it.
Remember that 99% of all shots at DG is done free-hand with no support or rest for when things become scratchy or stomping. This is when a double comes into play. Because a double is shorter and heavier at the muzzle, it will point easier (if it fits you properly).
My father was an Elephant control officer in Kruger Park during the time when they culled a lot of elephant. He shot more than 3 000 elephant during the culling operations and many others during other jobs in Zimbabwe and Zambia. I was allowed to accompany him on the culling in Kruger Park from about age 10 or 11. My job was to stand next to him and hand him a loaded rifle whenever he sticks his hand out to me.
A Helicopter would bring a herd of 30-45 elephant in towards 3 shooters. They dropped the whole herd in 60-90 seconds, all with brain shots and none of the animals were standing still. It was total chaos that felt like it would never end.
My dad always started off with his .500 Nitro and dropped the biggest elephants with two brain shots. He would then hand me the rifle and I had to put a loaded Brno ZKK 602 .375H&H in his hand. Safety of with 5 rounds in the magazine and one in the pipe.
I barely had enough time to reload the .500 by the time my dad gave me the empty .375 and took the double again. He always had 2 extra .500 Nitro cartridges in his left hand for when he needed to reload that double-pipe in a hurry. It only happened a few times and when it did he could reload that gun fast.
When I became Dangerous Game qualified after a long apprenticeship I once asked him what his preferred type of rifle was for a sticky situation. His answer was:
“For elephant, Buffalo and Hippo I want a bolt action in my hands and for cats my double.” I once saw him shoot and hit an empty 1 litre milk jug at 25 yards 6 times with 6 shots in 10 seconds with that old .375.
I also saw him once shoot two charging Lionesses with his .500 double to protect a worker in the Kruger Park. The bottom line is that the old man could shoot –but only with his rifles that was familiar to his hands.
I do a lot of DG hunts every year guiding clients to fulfil their dream. I have that old .375H&H, a .416Rem and a .458Win in bolt action and a .470 and .500 in Double. I use them a lot and I have faced charges from all of the Big-6. Mostly from elephant and buffalo and I never worried that I did not have the right tool for the job. I was charged by a Rhino from 8y and dropped it with my .416Rem. I was charged a few times by leopard and no matter what rifle I had in my hands, there was only time for one shot.
Theory states that the double will be better because of the immediate second shot it offers. What most people do not think about is that very-very few people can shoot that second shot accurately. Most people who I saw shooting a double pull the second shot because they try and do it too fast. This cannot really happen with a bolt rifle.
A nice game to play on a shooting range is to take two shooters. One with a double and one with a bolt rifle. Let them each shoot 4 shots at a target. Time them and see who wins. It is great fun.
To sum it all up. I have no preference between a bolt and a double. I love the feel of my double’s and use them even on plains game hunts. My bolt actions are tools and I use them a lot too.
To each his own.

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