The most popular rifles among European hunters today are the straight pull offerings of Blaser, Merkel and Heym, yet here in the States not a single manufacturer offers such a gun, at least not in a centerfire. Why is that?
There are several reasons, not the least of which is that a straight pull is intrinsically more complicated, hence more expensive to manufacture. That, however, is less of a problem over there because the typical European hunter is more affluent and price just isn’t as important as it is here. As an example, just this year Blaser broke the $3000 barrier with its budget Professional S, but the average model from any of the above makers is well above that figure.
Another reason is that, while Europeans are eager to embrace new technology, we Americans still prefer traditional Mauser-type bolt action rifles. The irony is that the bolt action was invented in Prussia and perfected in Germany in the form of the `98 Mauser! Here again, cost enters the picture. You can now buy, for example, a brand new Remington 783 centerfire rifle chambered in, say, .300 Win. Magnum, complete with a pre-mounted and bore sighted scope for around $350. Hell, you can’t even buy a scope mount from a German rifle maker for that!
Yet another reason straight pulls are so popular overseas is that
driven hunts are much more common over there, and shots at running game are the rule rather than the exception. All three of the aforementioned guns can be cycled twice as fast as a conventional bolt action because a straight pull reduces the motions required by half (back/forth vs. up/back/forth/down). I have participated in driven hunts in Spain, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Bulgaria, Czechoslavakia and Poland, and I can tell you that you
typically have only a couple of seconds to shoot as the animal exits the cover of a forest or brush at a dead run and enters a clearing such as a logging road or fire break along which you’re posted. You then must get your shot(s) off before the animal reaches the 10 or 2 o’clock position beyond which you cannot shoot because there are hunters to the right and left of you. You may get a second chance if the critter is still in sight as it passes you and reaches the 8 and 4 o’clock positions when it is again safe to shoot.
If speed is of the essence, why not a semi-auto? Because in most European countries semi-autos are either not allowed for hunting, or require special licenses and/or authorization which can be expensive and involve beau coups of red tape.
I have had the good fortune to have tested several examples of each of the subject rifles over the years and on occasion to have used them in the field. Other than sharing the straight-pull operation, each is unique in its mechanics. The Blaser employs 13 fingers about 1-1/2” long oriented in a circle behind the bolt head. At the front of
each finger is a bulge that the closing movement of the bolt handle forces outward into engagement with an annular groove in the barrel extension to lock the action. The Heym employs the same principle, but cams 7 ball bearings outward to engage an annular abutment. And the Merkel locks up via a multi-lug rotating bolt head.
Each is of innovative design, lightening fast in operation, and impeccably finished and assembled. Sooner or later some
enterprising American individual or company will come up with a straight pull rifle. I mean, it’s not like it hasn’t been done before. We had a straight pull rifle designed by James Paris Lee, manufactured by Winchester, and adopted on a limited basis by the U. S. Navy and Marines back in 1895. Since then, though, the only straight pull rifle we’ve seen is that delightful little rimfire from Browning called the T-Bolt. It’s been around since the mid-`60s and it remains one of my all time favorite rifles.–Jon R. Sundra