Thursday, September 30, 2010

Managing Rifle Recoil

New shooters, or old ones for that matter, need not bruise themselves to cleanly take their yearly whitetail...

image from wikimedia commons

There are two kinds of people in the world; folks who admit they don't care for recoil, and those who claim not to feel it. Even Jeff Cooper admitted the 600 Nitro is physically challenging. Toward the end of his career the African adventurer, F. C. Selous, complained that his four bore flintlock elephant gun was hard on his nerves and that he wished he'd "never made its acquaintance." I don't care for rifles that don't fit, have a hard-edged butt plate, or are needlessly noisy. I can shoot a light 30'06 with 220 grain bullets a lot, or a 375 Holland and Holland a little, without complaint, but I've done some of my best marksmanship with a 223 and a 243. I don't worry about recoil too much but I select rifles that kick as little as is required to get the job done.  New shooters and young hunters are a different story.  We can create lifelong hunting partners or we can bruise them until they'd rather stay home and play video games all day.  Our sport needs all the new hunters we can find so let's give some thought as to how we can make shooting a big game rifle pleasant and rewarding.

Setting up the Rifle

Try to find a rifle with a stock cut short enough to suit your new hunter.  Make sure it has a proper recoil pad, even if you have to pay to have it neatly installed.  Many youth size rifle have short (16-20 inch) barrels but a full length 22 inch barrel reduces the effect of blast and flash. To further reduce perception of recoil have your shooter wear shooting glasses, a PAST recoil shield, and ear plugs under ear muffs. Do not shoot under covered firing positions if you can avoid it.  They accentuate shooter discomfort by reflecting blast and providing shade in which muzzle flash is more visible. Get away from the bench to practice from sitting, kneeling, from crossed stick and from post rest if that can be arranged with your rangemaster. With shotguns the importance of good fit and an effect pad is doubly important. Put on a Pachmayr Decelerator pad and have your new hunter wear a PAST recoil shield at the range.

Lighter Cartridges

Just because you started your hunting career with your father's full-power 30'06 there is no reason your wife, son, or daughter has to.  If you haven’t chosen your new hunter’s rifle yet it’s hard to beat a 243 Winchester (the same used to be true of the 6mm Remington or the 250 Savage but they are not common these days). Kids, women, and grown-up men alike shoot it well and ammo can be found anywhere centerfire rifle cartridges are sold. I've used my 243 off and on for many years now.  I like it out to 200 yards or so, which is a far poke for the neophyte.

For deer cartridges with mild recoil and practical 300 yard trajectories the 257 Roberts, 260, 6.5x55, 270, 7mm08, or 7x57 come to mind.

The Russian 7.62x39mm is almost the equal of the 30/30 Winchester, which makes it an acceptable close range deer cartridge if you use a proper softnose bullet. The affordable surplus SKS may serve even though it’s a little clunky. The delightful little CZ 527 is as handy a bolt action carbine as you'll find anywhere. If your venison making shots are under 200 yards and you pass on "raking shots" through monster bucks the little AK round will suffice.

The .22 centerfires will work on deer where legal. I’ve done it with a 223, but the deer was out in the open. This is a case where you'll want to use premium bullets intended for big game, such as Winchester PowerPoint, Barnes X, Trophy Bonded, or Nosler Partitions and then do your best to arrange for carefully placed broadside shot on a relaxed deer at close range. These days there are also factory loads with game bullets in 223, 22/250, and 220 Swift.

Reduced Recoil Ammunition

My brother-in-law is man enough to admit he does not care for unnecessary recoil.   He borrowed my 30’06 one season and fed it the Remington Managed Recoil load to fill his antlerless whitetail tag as shots tend to be very close where we hunt.  The Managed Recoil load's 125 grain bullet clocks 2525 fps from the 22 inch barrel of my rifle (instead of the usual 180 grain bullet at 2700 fps). That makes it 200 fps faster than the 7.62x39 (but with a better bullet) or about 200 fps slower than a 257 Roberts (but with less sectional density). I'm guessing Remington chose the pointed 125 grain pill so they could claim a 50% recoil reduction yet maintain a reasonable trajectory for marketing purposes. It kills deer just fine from five yards to 60. Three shots, three deer.

The selection of reduced recoil factory ammunition just keeps getting better.  Nowadays Remington makes Managed Recoil loads for the 260, 270, 7mm08, 7mm Remington Magnum, 30-30, 308, 30'06, 300 Winchester Magnum, and even the 300 Ultramag.  Federal makes their Low Recoil loads for the 270 Winchester, 308, and 30'06.  In choosing the 170 grain flat nose @ 2000 fps for their Low Recoil 308 Winchester and 30'06 loads Federal essentially recreates 30/30 ballistics. My son used the Federal 308 load his third season but found the trajectory to be an issue when hunting out in the open; still he put two deer in the freezer for four tries.

Of the two brands I prefer the Remington Managed Recoil cartridge as a load for a young shooter to use in a 308 or 30’06 he or she aspires to grow into. Adult hunters who choose it because they are tired of being beaten up by their hard-butted '06s will have to choose their shots more carefully than is necessary when using full power ammo and abide by a 200 yard effective range.

Shotguns Slugs?

In some states shotgun slugs are required instead of rifles.  Shotgun slug recoil can be brutal and has been known to bring tears to eyes of adult male shooters.  Reducing it can only be a good thing.  At our gun club's annual "deer rifle sight-in days" I notice that teenage girls shoot their "little" 20 gauge slug guns much better than teenage boys shoot their Dad's 12 gauge slug guns.  So, if you don't have a slug gun yet consider the 20 bore variants.  In 12 gauge there are Managed Recoil and "tactical" slugs (cops don't like the full power rounds either) that are appreciably slower than the full-speed nasties (1 ounce @ 1200 or so instead of 1600 fps) but still pack a significant wallop (1610 ft. lbs., or more than most hunting pistols or 20 gauge sabot slug loads).  Their trajectory will be a little steeper so I'd limit my shots to 50-75 yards but I’d like to see the deer that will walk away from a center hit.  There are those who will suggest a .410 shotgun slug for slightly built hunters.  Most everyone knows somebody who has bagged a deer with this puny cartridge, but the 1/5 ounce .39 caliber projectile is not one I'd choose on purpose.


Those of us with access to a reloading bench can tailor our ammunition to specific shooters and conditions. Years ago I started my cousin's son deer hunting career with a 308 handload using data for the similar but less powerful 300 Savage.  He didn't connect his first couple seasons but not because he was afraid of the gun.

These days Hodgdon offers professionally developed “Youth Load” data

For the 308 Winchester and the 30’06 the Lyman Cast Bullet Handbook has loads using IMR3031, IMR4198, and RL7 to start 125-150s in the 2200-2500 range. I've used the same powders to make "30/30'06" loads using 150 grain Remington roundnose softs intended for the 30 WCF.

Ken Waters Pet Loads has data for 30/30 duplication loads for the 30'06. He also recommends loading the .30'06 four grains below maximum for lever actions, pumps, and self loaders. No reason you can’t do the same to take the edge off a boltgun. The 30'06 has always struck me as possessing a significant surplus of energy for the average deer so throttling it back is a fine idea for most anyone.

Thank you!

Again, good job getting your new hunter off to a strong start by preparing a gun that fits and providing ammo that does not inflict pain on tender shoulders. You and your family can concentrate on having a safe and enjoyable time in the deer woods.  The sport needs all the top quality talent it can get. Good hunting!

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