Some riflemen (of both sexes) claim a controlled-feed bolt-action is
superior to a push-feed. They may be right. Or not.
But you have to understand the mechanics of both actions to form an educated
opinion of your own.
The lower face of the bolt in a controlled-feed-action, also called
controlled-round-feed, pushes a cartridge from the magazine when the shooter
shoves the bolt forward. The instant the cartridge springs free of the
magazine, a large extractor hook grabs it by its extractor groove or rim and
holds it against the bolt face so effectively that you could remove the bolt
from the action, tip it straight down, and the cartridge would still be
supported/held by it.
The advantages: the cartridge is fed straight into the chamber rather than
being forcefully pushed up a loading ramp that might dent or damage the bullet
tip. More importantly, the cartridge will be pulled out of the chamber if the
shooter forgets to fully close or rotate the locking lugs into their recesses.
This is known as short-stroking. It results in ejecting the unfired round,
leaving the chamber open and ready to accept the next cartridge when the bolt
is again pushed forward. Who would do such a thing as short-stroking? Usually someone suffering buck fever or getting overly excited when
a bear or buffalo is bearing down on him. Like any of us!
The Push-Feed Action
In a push-feed action, the lower edge of the bolt face also nudges the
cartridge out of the magazine. When it pops free, the bolt continues pushing
it, uncontrolled, up the feed ramp and into the chamber. It isn't until the
bolt is pushed fully forward that a small extractor hook snaps over the rim and
into the extractor groove. So what's the big deal? Well, if the excited shooter
short strokes a push-feed bolt, he leaves the unattached, unsupported cartridge
in or halfway in the chamber. In his excitement, he picks up a second round from
the magazine and shoves it forward, jamming it against the round already
occupying the space. The rifle cannot fire. The buck escapes or the irate bear
plows into the unhappy hunter.
Folks who distrust the push-feed also claim it can drop a round rather than
load it. The theory here is that, before the bolt is pushed far enough forward,
a cartridge sprung free of the magazine could fall out of the action,
especially if the rifle is not held perfectly upright, i.e. if it's tilted to
the side. I've tried to make this happen, but couldn't, even with the rifles
held upside down. I could envision it happening with a long-action chambered
for an extremely short cartridge, say a .30-06 length
action set up for a .223 Rem. But almost no modern guns are built this way.
Another complaint against push-feeds is that the spring-loaded plunger they use to push cartridges off the bolt face during
the ejection process apply that same pressure when the loaded cartridge is in
the chamber, ready to fire. This could, feasibly, push the bullet slightly out
of alignment with the center of the bore, reducing accuracy. The problem with
this theory is that the famously accurate Remington M700, Savage M110, Browning
A-Bolt, Mossberg 4x4, Weatherby Mark V, Howa, and
similar actions are all push-feeds. So I'm not buying this one.
What are the famous controlled-feed actions? The Mauser
M98 was the first. The Winchester M70 is better known, as are the Ruger M77 Mark II, and all Kimber
bolt-actions. An argument against these is that, because the bolt face must be
flat/flush along its bottom leading edge (so that the cartridge head can slide
up and under the extractor hook), it is a weak point that could let gasses from
a ruptured cartridge case head slip past and back into the action.
the bolt faces of push feeds are fully inset (recessed) so that a "ring of
steel" completely surrounds a small part of the cartridge head.
decades I haven't heard many horror stories of shooters suffering injuries from
case head ruptures in controlled-round feeds. Nor have I heard complaints of
gross inaccuracy from them or most push-feeds. It seems that both actions are
dependable and accurate if built well and precisely. I own and shoot both
action types. They all function reliably and shoot like that famous "house
As for the short-stroking/jamming problem -- yeah, that one makes sense. A
well-trained shooter shouldn't have the problem, but, to be on the safe side,
you might want to consider getting a controlled-feed action in any rifles you
plan to use in bear, buffalo, lion, or elephant country.
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Ron Spomer has been photographing and writing
about the outdoors for nearly four decades. He's written seven books, hunted on
six continents and been published in more than 120 magazines. He's currently rifles'
editor at "Sporting Classics," Travel columnist at "Sports Afield," Field
Editor at "American Hunter" and "Guns & Ammo" -- Optics Columnist at "North American
Hunter," Contributing Editor at "Successful Hunter," Senior Writer at "Gun
Hunter," and TV host of "Winchester World of Whitetail." He will write on Shooting Tips weekly for sportsmansguide.com. You can read his
blogs and catch some of his YouTube videos at www.Ronspomeroutdoors.com.