A bolt action locks with two lugs immediately behind the cartridge head, and there is a third, or even a fourth, lug in the rear. Such closure will withstand the breech pressure of any cartridge. The extractor is equal to any strain. Since the extractor engages the head of the shell before feeding into the chamber, a refractory cartridge can be ejected instantly instead of having to be pried out. A bolt action works better than any other when the arm has become foul from grit, as is bound to occur at times in sandy countries. Finally, all bolt actions of recent model have flush magazines, easy to recharge, and the best of them are supplied with cut-offs.
The only objection urged against bolt actions is that they are awkward to manipulate and slow in repeating. This is largely a matter of habit. A man shoots best with the action he is used to. Anyone who watches soldiers in their skirmish runs and rapid fire practice can see that the common military bolt can be worked fast enough for almost any emergency that may happen in hunting. For the extremely rapid work sometimes needed in the close quarters of thicket or jungle shooting, where a rifle is not aimed but pointed, as one would point a shotgun or a revolver, a self-loader ranks first, with the straight-pull bolt a close second, the lever action third, and the bolt of four motions a lagging fourth. Here, however, we should consider that a quick first shot of great smashing power is generally worth more than three or four hits rained with ammunition of low or medium power; that very quick repeating is almost never done with any but weak ammunition; and that the bolt action handles powerful charges better than any other repeater.
In my opinion, the only speed of fire, with rifles that is worth considering is speed of aimed fire. No kind of gun can deliver a second shot accurately until both it and its user have recovered equilibrium. The time required to catch fresh aim will depend upon how hard the gun recoils. With weak ammunition that gives practically no recoil, the only disturbance to be corrected is that caused by operating the gun's mechanism. When powerful charges are used in aimed fire, the straight-pull bolt is quickest, and between the lever and the turn-down bolt there is little difference.
This brings us naturally to the topic of self-loading arms. It is claimed that they " absorb " much of the recoil. With present-day patterns I do not find it so. The shock is more of a push than a kick, but it disturbs aim just as much, with cartridge of given power. So long as a self-loader is used only with weak ammunition it can be fired a little faster, with good aim, than any other mechanism; but it is not yet made to handle really first-class ammunition for big game or military purposes. I do not regard the extra quickness of the self-loader as of so much value as another merit that seldom is considered, namely: its noiselessness in recharging. If one's first shot misses, the animal is likely to pause for an instant, listening and scenting to get the direction of danger. Then the clankóclank of a hand-operated arm tells just what the beast wants to know: whereupon it is off on the jump, and you have lost the chance of a standing shot.
The objections that have been made against lever and trombone actions apply with yet greater force to self-loaders as we know them to-day. Glancing backward over the history of firearms, one will observe that from muzzle-loaders to breech-loaders, from single-shot arms to magazine guns, from hand-operated repeaters to our so-called automatics, every gain in rapidity of fire has been made, at first, by sacrificing the more essential merits of simplicity, reliability, and power.
Our self-loading rifles just now are in this experimental stage. They are good enough for light work in the neighborhood of settlements, or as auxiliaries when one has a ship or a caravan to fall back on; but as weapons for hard service they do not compare with a first-class bolt action rifle using the best type of ammunition for big game. None the less, we all expect the " automatic" to win in the end; and few of us would be surprised to learn to-morrow that the thing was done.
I repeat that the faults of lever and trombone actions, self-loaders, and this or that style of magazine, are not of serious consequence so long as the guns are used with ammunition of moderate power and in regions where repairs can easily be made. Mechanically, and from a strictly impartial standpoint, the bolt action is the highest development of rifle construction at the time of this writing. Lever and trombone are out-of-date for all but light work, and auto-loaders are ahead of the times. But mechanical perfection is not the only point to be noted in a general review of present-day arms. Most of our people still prefer the older models, partly because we are used to them, and partly because they happen to be cheaper.
Here we should consider that the rifle trade in America is on a different basis from that of any other manufacturing country. In no other civilized nation are sporting firearms so generally owned and used by all classes of people. Probably nine male Americans out of ten, of military age, own guns of one sort or another. New rifles, shotguns, and revolvers or pistols, are sold by the myriad every year. It follows, as a matter of course, that the chief demand here is for " a cheap gun that will do the work." And it follows, as a matter of business, that our home gunmakers turn out the best cheap guns in the world. They also make, for those who will pay the price, as good shotguns as can be found anywhere, and revolvers that are simply peerless.
We cannot say the same for our rifles. The demand for really first-class rifles has not yet reached the proportions that justify large expenditures to produce them. It is growing so rapidly, however, that one may expect decided improvements within the next ten years. Among our better informed sportsmen it already is insistent. Many of them purchase foreign weapons. Others take our excellent Springfield-Mauser to a master gunmaker and have it made over into as fine a sporting rifle for American game as man could reasonably desire, the cost, all told, being in the neighborhood of forty or fifty dollars. They consider it rather absurd to put up with a fifteen or twenty dollar rifle to hunt moose or bear with, when. they cheerfully pay fifty for a shotgun to hunt quail with. And certainly they, get their money's worth.