Controlled-Feed Bolt-Action vs. Push-Feed

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.

You can see the controlled-feed bolt-action on top holds the .30-06 cartridge to the bolt face while the push-feed below does not. But note the recessed bolt face of the push-feed, creates a “ring of steel” to encase the cartridge head.

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!

Top view of a Mauser controlled-feed-action shows the big, silver extractor spring/bar covering the outer side of the bolt body.

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.

The push-feed bolt face on the left shows the recess, small extractor hook on left and dark plunger within the recess on the right. This plunger pin is spring loaded, so always pushes against that edge of a chambered cartridge. The controlled-feed bolt face on right shows the massive extractor hook, and the open edge or lower face of the bolt that does not surround the cartridge head.

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 4×4, Weatherby Mark V, Howa, and similar actions are all push-feeds. So I’m not buying this one.

This Savage push-feed bolt-action close-up shows a smooth bolt body with no large, external extractor spring as on the Mauser controlled-feed action.

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.

In contrast, 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.

Over the 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 afire.”

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.

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