A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to take the 3-day Practical Rifle class offered by Randy Cain of Cumberland Tactics. This is a unique course with a focus on how to run a bolt action rifle with speed and efficiency primarily at close ranges. Or, as the official course description says, “the format explores practical marksmanship at practical distances under field conditions.”

Rifle vs. Pistol Demo

One portion of the course was devoted to learning different methods for carrying a rifle in the field. In most situations, Randy’s preferred method is African carry. That’s where the rifle is slung over the back of the support side shoulder with the muzzle pointed down. From here, the rifle can be shouldered in one fluid motion with surprising speed.

After having us practice this method with only five dry fire and five live fire repetitions, Randy did a quick demonstration. He asked if any of us were just now trying out African carry for the first time. Since most of the other students had taken this class with Randy before, I was one of only two people to raise my hand.

He asked me to step up to roughly the 10 yard line line along with another student who had a holstered handgun. At the fire command, we were both to attempt a single headshot at our respective targets — me presenting my rifle from African carry and the other student drawing his 1911 from a belt holster.

When the command was given, I brought the rifle up as quickly as I could and nailed the center of the target’s headbox. I heard the pistol go off a split second before my rifle, but he had rushed his shot and missed the target completely.

According to Randy, the rifle wins about 90% of the time he does this demonstration in a class. He intentionally picked me for the drill in order to show just how easy it is to get a shot off from African carry, even for someone with next to zero experience. The student with the 1911 has been shooting handguns for years and has thousands of draw repetitions under his belt. To the contrary, prior to this drill, I had practiced shouldering a rifle from African carry a sum total of ten times.

But maybe I just got lucky. Or the other guy was having a bad day. So when I got home, I had to try this drill for myself. Could I get off a headshot at 10 yards with my rifle from African carry quicker than I could draw my carry gun and hit the same target?

Watch the Video: Is a Holstered Pistol Quicker Than a Slung Rifle?

I tried the drill several times off-camera, but the results in the video are pretty indicative of the overall outcome. For both the rifle and the pistol, I got most shots off in the 2-2.5 second range. But with the rifle, I was hitting close to the center of the headbox every time. The pistol shots were a more erratic, and I even dropped a couple, entirely missing the target area.

The Takeaways

There are a couple of lessons to be learned from this little experiment. First, my pistol draw could use some work, but that’s no surprise. More importantly, having a bolt action rifle doesn’t necessarily put you at a disadvantage when a single, quick and decisive accurate shot is called for. This is especially true if the rifle is equipped with a low power scope like the 1.5-5 Leupold I was using.

Another important takeaway is something I’ve mentioned in the past about firearms training: you don’t know what you don’t know. When I signed up for a practical bolt action rifle class, I would never have guessed that learning to quickly deploy the rifle from African carry would be one of the most valuable skills I picked up. I’ve had similar experiences at all the other shooting classes I’ve taken. There’s always something new to learn, and most of it is not stuff you’re going to figure out by throwing lead down range by yourself.

Equipment Notes

For the curious, the rifle used in the demo above is a CZ 527 carbine chambered in 7.62×39. The optic is a Leupold VX-III 1.5-5×20 with an illuminated duplex reticle. The pistol is a Smith & Wesson M&P9c with Crimson Trace Lasergrips carried in a Raven Concealment Vanguard 2 holster.


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