Am I Right to Shoot Left, Part 2

The Left-Handed Long Gun Operator

The Left-Handed Long Gun Operator

In part one of this series, I wrote about some things that a right-handed long gun shooter had to consider when transitioning to left side operations. Specifically, these were safety operation and expended case ejection. While these are not negatives, they do indicate a learning process that takes place and certain things the operator has to master.

In part two, I want to address a few advantages to the right-handed operator of right-handed longs guns when fired from the weak (left) side; loading, manual operations (lever, bolt, pump, and semi-automatic), and unloading while also pointing out a few disadvantage.

LOADING:
If you plan to shoot, you must plan to load the firearm at some time before attempting to do so. (Dry firing is not shooting and loading the firearm during a dry-firing session is a no-no!).

The following is some observations that I have made during my transition to left-handed shooting of long guns.

Lever Guns:

Loading the Lever-Action Rifle Through the Loading Gate

Loading the Lever-Action Rifle Through the Loading Gate

Most, but not all, rifle-caliber lever-action rifles are loaded from the right side (the Henry lever-action rifle is one exception). Loading is accomplished by inserting the cartridge through a spring-loaded side-gate, which leads to a tube that houses multiple cartridges. Lever guns most always allow a single cartridge to be loaded from the top or side ejection port before loading the feed tube or after the last round in the feed tube has been fired. The lever is simply pulled down to move the bolt to the rear and expose the chamber, a cartridge is inserted into the receiver, and then can be chambered by pulling or pushing up on the lever until the cartridge is fully chambered and the breech is locked by the bolt. Subsequent loading of the magazine can follow – or not.

For the left-handed shooter, loading is all done by the right hand – the weak hand. For the right-handed shooter operating the long gun on the weak side, all loading is done with the right hand with the left hand (the weak hand) usually supporting the rifle by the forearm or stock. For the right-handed person, loading is more positive as we would normally have more dexterity with our strong hand than with the weak hand.

Note that I can top off the magazine, if needed, while keeping the rifle shouldered. Try that while shooting a lever-action rifle right-handed while keeping the rifle shouldered.

Bolt-Action Long guns:

WW1 Bolt-Action Loading

WW1 Bolt-Action Loading

Bolt-action long guns can be loaded through the top or through a boxed magazine. Many hunting bolt-action rifles have internal magazines that have to be loaded from the top. The M1 Garand is but one example of a military firearm that require top loading. Some bolt-action rifles incorporate hinged, drop magazines that require loading from the top but which can be released to facilitate unloading. There are also hunting and other bolt-action rifles and shotgun that are “boxed magazine fed”; whereas a removable box magazine is inserted into the firearm to facilitate automatic feeding.

Bolt-Action Loading

Bolt-Action Loading

In most, but not all cases, the bolt-action rifle or shotgun may allow top feeding as well; allowing the magazine to be loaded from the top of the rifle through the receiver.

As with the lever gun, for the left-handed shooter, this is all done by the right hand – the weak hand. For the right-handed shooter operating the long gun on the weak side, all loading is done with the right hand with the left hand (the weak hand) usually supporting the rifle by the forearm or stock. For the right-handed person, loading is more positive as we would normally have more dexterity with our strong hand than with the weak hand. That’s not to say that only the right hand can be used to load the firearm, it is to say that right-handed loading is the more commonly used method.

Manually-Operated Shotguns:

Loading the Remington 870 Shotgun

Loading the Remington 870 Shotgun

Shotguns can be loaded through the breech-end (for example, double-barreled shotguns), the receiver as with single-shot shotguns, from a feed tube, or from a magazine. Again, the most commonly used hand is the right hand for loading. Again, this is an advantage for the right-handed person shooting from the left side.

Semi-Automatic Long Guns:

Loading the SKS - Note the right-handed operation. This is reversed when shooting left-handed.

Loading the SKS – Note the right-handed operation. This is reversed when shooting left-handed.

Semi-automatic long guns commonly chamber ammunition via a magazine; top, side, or bottom with the bottom magazine being more predominate among modern firearms. The M1 Garand’s magazine is loaded by using en bloc clips (see the M1 Garand write up that follows). The SKS rifle’s magazine is loaded through the use of “Stripper” clips while the M14 and M1A, although loaded via removable “box” magazines, allow loading of the magazines through the top of the action, as does the Ruger Mini-14 and Mini-30 rifles.

Side-eject rifles, as with AR-based and AK-based long guns, are magazine fed but do allow for the loading of a single round through the receiver (assuming that there is something in place to prevent the round from falling out of the bottom of the rifle) or directly into the breech (bolt open, of course).

While some rifles allow the insertion of a magazine with either left or right hand, right handed insertion remains the predominate method. Again, this benefits the right-handed person shooting from the left side. In the case of the AR-based rifle, the strong thumb pushes the magazine release while the fingers of the strong hand grips the magazine, removes it, and replaces the empty magazine with a loaded magazine.

Loading the M1 Garand with En Bloc Clips

Loading the M1 Garand with En Bloc Clips

The M1 Garand is an interesting beast to load. Some folks are agile enough to load the M1 Garand without becoming victim to the “M1 Thumb.” That is where you carry about 11.3 pounds of military rifle with your thumb after the bolt pins it between the bolt and the chamber. I don’t know of anyone who has done this for fun. I have been fortunate in my experience while loading the M1 Garand.

With the bolt locked to the rear, a fully-loaded en block clip is inserted into the receiver but not forced all of the way in until the meaty part of my right hand firmly holds the bolt handle in place. Once I am in position on the bolt handle with my right hand, the thumb of the right thumb finishes inserting the en bloc and its contents fully into the rifle. At which point the thumb is withdrawn from the receiver first as the right hand release the bolt. The left hand supports the front of the firearm throughout the loading process. If, for some reason, the bolt does not slam forward, a simply slap of the bolt handle with the palm of my right hand closes the deal. (It also works for throat strikes.)

The M1A is not difficult to load, but I have to un-shoulder the firearm to do so, as the left wrist is just not strong enough to support the eight or nine pounds of the rifle while wrestling an old magazine out of the well and a inserting a freshly loaded magazine back into it. From a right-handed shooting position, I had no problem supporting the rifle while changing out the magazine left handed. When shooting left-handed; however, I have to bring the rifle down and rest it on my hip or upper body while I change out the magazine right handed.

MANUAL OPERATIONS:

It should be obvious that operating a long gun from the left side differs from operating that same long gun from the right side – or does it? For the right-handed person shooting from the weak side, teh experience is different, but is easy to get used to.

Lever Guns:
Levers on lever guns can be operated with either hand; however, they do tend to favor operation with whatever hand is on the stock of the rifle or shotgun while the support hand remains on the forearm. There is a reason for this; actually several reasons. When the hand is operating the lever, the trigger finger is away from the trigger. Secondly, the shooter loses all support of the firearm while the lever is being operated if the opposite hand is used to operate the lever – what used to be supporting the rifle is now operating the action; it just does not work well that way.

There is no advantage of the lever gun to the right hand shooter unless you operate the rifle right-handed. For left-handed shooting, use the left hand to operate the lever,

Bolt-Action Long Guns:
The bolt on right-handed bolt–action long guns can be operated with either the left or right hand regardless of the side they are being operated from. As a right-handed left side shooter, I have learned to work the bolt left-handed and right-handed. Using the right hand, for me, is the faster of the two means. I like using the right hand to operate the bolt for two reasons; it is faster and I can better protect myself from ejected brass (see part 1). I developed a method of bolt operation using my right hand and here it is:

With the left hand supporting the rifle, the strong hand (right) moves rearward and positions the bolt handle between the thumb and the rest of the hand.

With the left hand supporting the rifle, the strong hand (right) moves rearward and positions the bolt handle between the thumb and the rest of the hand.

The entire strong hand pushes the bolt handle upward.

The entire strong hand pushes the bolt handle upward.

When the bolt handle is clear of its locking position, the hand pulls the bolt to the rear, which cocks the rifle and ejects the expending case. The hand flares outward slightly to protect the face from errant flying brass.

When the bolt handle is clear of its locking position, the hand pulls the bolt to the rear, which cocks the rifle and ejects the expending case. The hand flares outward slightly to protect the face from errant flying brass.

The hand rotates forward while using the base of the thumb to push the bolt forward; the next round is stripped from the magazine and is fed into the chamber.

The hand rotates forward while using the base of the thumb to push the bolt forward; the next round is stripped from the magazine and is fed into the chamber. When lock-up is felt, the base of the thumb pushes the bolt handle downward to complete the lock up of the bolt…

When lock-up is felt, the base of the thumb pushes the bolt handle downward to complete the lock up of the bolt and then moves forward to its support position on the forearm of the rifle.

…and then moves forward to its support position on the forearm of the rifle.

  1. With the left hand supporting the rifle, the strong hand (right) moves rearward and positions the bolt handle between the thumb and the rest of the hand.
  2. The entire strong hand pushes the bolt handle upward.
  3. When the bolt handle is clear of its locking position, the hand pulls the bolt to the rear, which cocks the rifle and ejects the expending case. The hand flares outward slightly to protect the face from errant flying brass.
  4. The hand rotates forward while using the base of the thumb to push the bolt forward; the next round is stripped from the magazine and is fed into the chamber.
  5. When lock-up is felt, the base of the thumb pushes the bolt handle downward to complete the lock up of the bolt and then moves forward to its support position on the forearm of the rifle.

Using this method, the right hand is always in contact with the bolt and helps to support the firearm while the left hand pulls the rifle into the shoulder.

I will note that using the left-handed cross-over method works better for me when shooting bolt-action rifles of substantial weight and when I don’t have support (for example, a rifle rest) in the front of the rifle (for example; military rifles like the Enfield, Springfield, and Mosins and some scoped hunting rifles).

Pump-Action Long Guns:
Pump-action long guns (rifles and shotguns) lend themselves well to the right-handed operator shooting right-handed long gun left-handed. Support and trigger operation of the pump-action rifle/shotgun with the weaker left hand is evident throughout the cycling of the pump handle. I don’t know if I am any faster than operating the firearm right-handed, but operating the pump handle right handed feels more natural to me.

Semi-Automatic Long Guns:
With few exceptions, Semi-automatic firearms have been the easiest for me to transition from right-handed to left-handed shooting. The exceptions include the M1 Garand and M1A. While the weight of these firearms are not a problem, supporting that weight while trying to release the bolt handle is. With the front of the rifle supported (rifle rest or otherwise), I can release the bolt easily enough with my right hand or by using the left-hand crossover method as long as the bolt is to the rear. While just supporting the rifle with just the right hand, pulling and releasing the bolt with the left hand is just not an easy thing to watch let alone experience.

UNLOADING:
As with loading and operating any firearm, unloading a firearm must exercise the same caution and safety.

As with any unloading procedure, the basic rules of gun safety are followed – always.

Lever Guns:
For most lever-action rifles, I normally set the safety to the on position, point the muzzle in a safe direction, and work the lever until all rounds are removed from the action and the magazine tube. Then the tube is inspected to ensure that all cartridges have been removed.

For lever-action rifles with a feed tube arrangement like the Marlin 39A or Henry rifles, I follow the manufacture’s recommendations:

  1. To unload the magazine and chamber, place the hammer in the safe (down) position.
    With the rifle pointing upward, completely withdraw the inner magazine tube from the gun.
  2. Tip the gun downward, allowing the cartridges to slide out into a suitable container.
    Replace the inner magazine tube.
  3. Open the action again, making sure there are no cartridges in the chamber or receiver.
    Note that I unload (work the lever or remove the inner feed tube) with my strong hand and leave the left hand supporting the rifle away from the trigger.

Bolt-Action Long guns:
Bolt action long guns are unloaded using the left hand to support the rifle.

  1. The safety is placed in the safe position. With three-position safeties, the safety is placed in the position that allows removal of the bolt but keeps the trigger from operating.
  2. With the left hand supporting the firearm, the right hand opens the bolt and allows it to move rearward; any expended case is ejected from the firearm.
    If the rifle has a magazine, the magazine is removed. If the rifle has a hinged magazine floor plate, the floor plate is released to remove cartridges from the magazine.
  3. In cases where the rifle has a fixed magazine, the bolt is cycled until no more cartridges are present in the magazine.
  4. With bolt-action long gun, the unloading process is no different from unloading from my right side

Pump and Semi-automatic Shotguns:
For shotguns (pump or semi-automatic) is no different from unloading from my right side.

  1. The safety is placed in safe mode.
  2. The shell retainer in the feed tube is pushed to release each shell one at a time until all shells are removed from the feed tube.
  3. The action is cycled to the rear; any round in the chamber is expended.
  4. The feed tube and chamber are inspected one more time.

Semi-Automatic Long Guns (except semi-automatic shotguns):
As with other types of action, unloading is done from the right side with the left hand supporting the firearm.

  1. The safety is locked into the safe position.
  2. The bolt is pulled rearward and locked into place; expended or live rounds are ejected from the rifle.
  3. The magazine is removed.

For rifles with hinged floor plates, the floor plate is released to allow any rounds to drop out of the rifle.

Unloading the M1 Garand With En Bloc Clips

Unloading the M1 Garand With En Bloc Clips

Unloading the M1 Garand provides a bit of a challenge, as removal of the en bloc clip requires a little different process.

On the left side of the receiver, there is a button. The left thumb is going to push the button as the right hand pulls the bolt all the ways to the rear. Any round in the chamber will be ejected at this point.

While holding in the bolt to the rear, the left button is pushed. This releases the en bloc clip that contains the cartridges; the en bloc clip will pop up and out of the rifle (in most cases). The bolt is locked back at this point and if the en bloc clip did not totally pop out of the rifle, the right (or left) hand can remove the en bloc and its contents without worrying about the dreaded “M1 Thumb.”

SUMMARY:

Shoot Lefty to Develop New Shooting Skills for RIght-Handed Shooters

Shoot Lefty to Develop New Shooting Skills for RIght-Handed Shooters

The transition from shooting long guns right-handed to left side has been a great learning experience. With the exception of what finger pulls the trigger, most operations are accomplished with the right hand. The transition has not been that difficult.

While I tried not to go into great detail with this part (and part 1), I did realize that some detail had to be presented to provide a true picture of what shooting left-handed for a right-handed person entails.

Some left-handed shooters may take exception to some of my observations and I welcome your inputs. This write-up was not intended to misinform, but to simply share my observations during my transition to left-handed shooting.

I have taken too much of your time already and I appreciate that you did take the time to read this article. Hopefully, you will begin a partial transition to shooting left-handed if you are a right-handed person since you now know that it is really not that difficult to do.

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About Taurian

Taurian is an Oath Keeper, veteran, former LEO and Defensive Tactics Instructor. Until retirement, Taurian had over forty-seven years of experience as a Technical Writer and Training Program Developer. After leaving home at the age of ten without any shoes, Taurian continues on with many years devoted to the keeping and bearing of arms.

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