As kids we were taught to carry our hunting rifles in a state of semi readiness. All photos of hunters showed them carrying their rifle in two hands, at waist level and pointing firmly forward. We were exhorted never to rely on our safety catch, use a half open bolt. I followed these dictates for the most part until I started doing a lot of hunting.
I found that carrying a rifle in two hands at waist level was feasible only for relatively short periods of time. Muscles need changes of position for comfort. Hanging a heavy rifle from both your arms was very uncomfortable after a while. I decided that the most comfortable place to carry a rifle for long periods was slung over your shoulder. I guiltily carried my rifle for some time until it became the natural place for the rifle and then I stopped feeling guilty. The next problem was using the half open bolt. Close the bolt on a cartridge but leave the handle in what’s now called the half bolt position, most of the way up. I left a trail of live ammo around the Urewera country. Bushes would leap out and snag the bolt handle and yank it open. Got so sick of that nonsense. What to do? I reasoned that when I was pheasant hunting I would carry my SKB Royal Light with the safety catch engaged waiting for my English Setter to find me a rooster. If it was fine in that situation, why not when deer hunting. I guiltily carried my rifle like that until it felt so natural that I gave up feeling guilty.
So for most of my hunting I now carry my rifle slung on my right shoulder with a cartridge in the chamber and the safety catch engaged. Muzzle pointed straight up. I use my right hand to trap the sling or the stock against my body. I can always feel where the rifle is pointing. When I see a deer, I slowly move my left hand across the front of my body to grasp the forend, ease the sling off my shoulder and grasp the pistol grip in my right hand as I raise the rifle to my shoulder. I will release the safety as the butt nears my shoulder. All this is accomplished without excessive movement, especially movement not shielded by your body. As this movement is now so natural, I almost never hold my rifle out in front of me while searching for a deer.
There are circumstances where I will change this carry method. I like to keep full control of my rifle at all times. If I have to use two hands to overcome some obstacle, a steep cliff, a river crossing, a slippery face, I will stop, remove the cartridge from the chamber, push it into the magazine, close the bolt and sling the rifle across my back. I can then use both hands to accomplish the task. I keep the sling tensioned to where the rifle is firmly jammed when slung across my back so it doesn’t flop around and then it is the correct distance from my shoulder when hunting carrying from my right shoulder.
I must state that I use this method because I almost invariably hunt by myself. If I am with another hunter, I am never going to shoot a deer. He can have the deer. There is always only one hunter. It’s like game fishing, it’s your turn in the chair. Anyone following the hunter should never have a cartridge in the chamber. It’s fine to have them in the magazine. If, as the hunter you hear the cycling of a bolt behind you, never hunt with that person again. For some hunting I even prefer not to carry a rifle. Particularly when tahr hunting, I’ve found that one rifle between two hunters is plenty, anything to lighten the load. When hunting with my nephews, they carry the rifles. Sometimes they have insisted that I shoot one so I have used their rifles. Works fine.
I won’t quibble if a hunter wants to use his half bolt system, if he’s happy with it, more power to him. Or even the bloke who won’t put a cartridge in the chamber till the deer is right in front of him. I’m happy as long as he understands the cardinal rule. Never point any gun, loaded or otherwise at me or anyone else.