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In the woods, second shots at big game take place in the blink of an eye. At least that’s what we think, because we have no notion of time passing between our first and second shots. We shoot, then suddenly we are shooting again, it seems. Sometimes a second shot is necessary because we flat-out miss the first time. Occasionally a follow-up shot is advisable because a tough animal refuses to go down for keeps, even though the first shot did the job.

Lever, pump, and autoloading rifles make follow-up shots easy and quick. But many hunters prefer bolt-action rifles, which are a bit more awkward to cycle. The photos and instructions at right will help you “bolt fast.” Study the motions closely. Then practice them regularly with an unloaded rifle. The ability to bolt fast, while locking your eyes on the target, could keep you from losing game. It could even save your life.

Faster Guns and Loads

Your equipment can make or break your ability to execute quick follow-up shots with a bolt-action rifle.

Rifles: With only 60 degrees of travel in its handle, the Browning A-bolt (800-333-3288; is one of the fastest conventional bolt-actions on the planet, not counting the straight-pull actions such as the pricey Blaser R93 ( Tikka’s T3 is a close runner-up to the Browning, with 70 degrees of travel (800-797-2205; Some actions push 90 degrees, nearly jamming your fingers between the bolt handle and the scope.

Calibers: Go with short-action calibers like the .243 Win., 7mm/08 Rem., .308 Win., or the short magnums. They cycle faster.

Optics: Target reacquisition after the first shot is expedited with a bright riflescope with a wide field of view. Two good choices: Leupold’s VX-II 2-7×33 (503-526-1400; and the Burris Compact 2-7×26 (970-356-1670;