Managing Recoil


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Apr 10, 2010
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Managing Recoil

I do not profess to have all of the answers, but I will post what I have learnt and what I do to manage the recoil in my heavy rifles.

I hope that all those who frequent this site also input valuable contributions that may help others avoid the need for what some of us consider a counter-productive firearms accessory, the muzzle break.


.500 Jeffries

The very first point I will make is gun fit.

Im not here to suggest that every big bore rifle needs to be custom made. What I will suggest is that in order to minimize felt recoil and increase control of the firearm in recoil, proper gun fit is essential/mandatory. We all come in different shapes and sizes, with different lengths of pull, different grasps on the wood stock with different sized palms etc...The generic dimensions provided by factory made (mass produced rifles) do not fit ALL. Heavy kicking rifles should be cut to the correct length of pull for YOU, not the general market.

I have all my big guns cut to 1/4 to 1/2 an inch shorter than my actual length of pull as I have found this allows me to "pull" the gun in closer for a tighter fit, and hence better control. Being of relative small stature with smallish hands I also have the pistol grip and the fore-end thinned down to the point where at least 3/4 of the surface area of both of my palms are in constant contact with the wood stock in the normal holding position. A thin grip and fore-end allows for more recoil absorption through the hands and more rifle control as well. Once the desired length of pull is achieved I always have a good quality kick pad installed, the Pachmyre is very comfortable and effective in taming felt recoil.

With any big bore I have found that the less the drop at heel, the less the felt kick. Unless your rifle comes stocked this way from the start this measurement is hard to change without actually starting with a new stock.

Of course weight can also go along way in reducing felt recoil. Personally, I prefer my rifles relatively light and am currently having two 45 cal + rifles built, both will weigh less than 8.5 lbs, that is my personal preference. Reasonable carrying weights for big bores can be up to 9 or 10 lbs for 500's etc, I just personally prefer not to lug around a beast weighing this much for four or five months of the year. But if it helps you, then by all means use some additional weight for control.

Last summer I spent several months modifying the stock on my new CZ 550, in Lott to the above requirements. I hand rubbed the stock down, removed some 1 1/2 lbs of weight, thinned down the pistol grip and fore-end, had a pad installed (along with new open sights and a single stage trigger) and shortened the pull to 13 1/2 inches. The gun now points like a shotgun and is very comfortable to shoot. In its original shape, despite my previous comfort with the same cartridge in a different rifle, the gun was a pig to shoot over the bench. The cost of the stock-work was about $400 including $300 for a stock maker to re-checker it for me.

Next to correct gun fit, the most important tool available for managing recoil would be a proper and intensive familiarization process.

It is my belief that any rifle to be taken on a hunt that provides some element of risk should have at least 200 rounds through the barrel in a controlled environment (range). If you can, start by using mild loads in the gun until the stock and handling properties become familiar. There's no shame in padding your shoulder down at the range during this stage of getting to know the firearm. Also, whilst at the range, use ear muffs AND plugs whilst practicing. Muzzle blast contributes a great deal to felt recoil. The new weighted shooting rests such as the "lead-sled" provide an ideal opportunity to get familiar with the gun without getting pounded into oblivion by recoil you're not used to. If you can manage bench sessions that do not create any apprehension and you can shoot the gun comfortably with mild loads and all the other precautions mentioned, stepping up to full power loads will be far more agreeable and by this stage you'll have a good "grip" on the gun and it's characteristics.

I still remember the very first time, as an 12 year old, when I fired a 30/06 with full power loads. It was incredible and at that stage I thought I'd never be able to handle anything larger. Now, I have little issue benching 40 rounds from my Lott and grouping the bullets simply through exposure and familiarizing myself with properly fitting rifles.

Beyond these suggestions there are other factors such as proper stance and holding technique and firing technique that I'm sure there are better qualified people using this site better able to contribute than I would. Also there are many of you out there that have your own suggestions for managing recoil that I hope you contribute, ALL of which MUST be better for all of us concerned than relying on vented ports on the end of a barrel that compromise back-up situations and blow P.H's ear drums into next week.

I'm looking forward to your positive contributions on a subject that many of us take for granted. I hope you can help out with advice which may lead to many more rifle shooters becoming comfortable and effective with the big bore cartridges that we all love to use.
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Dec 27, 2008
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Paul, it is good to see someone with lots of big bore experience and the ability to put it in print.

The only way to properly learn how to handle recoil in general, and more to the point the heavy recoil associated with big bores, is to have a rifle with the proper stock dimensions for you, learn how to shoot them properly and practice. All other things being equal, round count is important because the more you shoot any firearm, the more familiar you become with it, what it can do, what you can do with it and its use becomes second nature. No conscious thought is an extension of you. This is especially important when hunting dangerous game.

I see comments from hunters far too often that it is the PH's job to back them up and carry the heavy artillery, then in the next breath they are sniveling that the PH may actually decide to shoot and back them up when deemed necessary. That is a separate topic of course, but in a nutshell, no experienced PH is going to shoot unless he thinks it is morally, ethically and/or legally required. They know the country, the game in question, and they are watching your shot placement................and when they shoot it will be for your safety, the safety of everyone else on the hunt, and to ensure that a wounded animal does not escape to suffer or become dangerous to others. On the financial side of things it is also to ensure you are not paying for a trophy fee of an animal that is wounded and lost.

On the concept that it is the PH's job to back you up with a big bore...............well that is true, but it is also your job as a responsible, rational, thinking client not to needlessly put your PH in harms way. It is also a fact of life that things can and do go wrong. It may be that your PH is in a position that does not afford him the same view or line of site. Other problems could occur that prevent your PH from getting a shot off, such as mechanical failure, ammunition failure or human interference. And, although we hope it may never be the case, your PH could be the one that gets taken out first in a mix-up.

Recoil is a funny thing, as it seems to affect everyone differently. Some people seem to be very sensitive to it, while others are not. We all come in different shapes, sizes and construction, and this can have a direct bearing on how we withstand recoil and react to it. But, much of it is psychological and hunters who have the mind set that, yes I can climb that last 100 yards because I will do it, yes I can put in the miles and put up with the pain of my arthritis, and yes I will learn to shoot this damn thing, are more likely to become proficient with the heavy hitters.

Stock fit and shape is important and although many can get by with factory stocks, most will find they can improve the fit of off the rack rifles by tinkering with the stock a bit. Length of pull, drop at the heel, the shape, thickness and composition of the recoil pad can usually be modified to some degree with factory stocks. Weight can be played with by adding mercury reducers and such, and with a lot of shooters that may be all that is required.

Custom stocks are the solution when more radical changes in stock dimensions are required. This can be done in an economical fashion with laminates and synthetics if you can live without a high grade AAA walnut stock from a country far, far, away. With a custom stock, the shape and height at the comb, drop at the heel, length of pull, shape of the pistol grip, cant and length and width of the butt can be made to fit the individual shooter. Weight can be tweaked to a degree with your choice of stock materials (many laminated stocks weigh more, as does very dense walnut from slow growing regions) and of course the physical dimensions/bulk of the finished stock.

The length and width of the butt is an area that is often overlooked. This determines the square inches of contact surface with the shoulder and that can have a lot to do with how your shoulder feels/handles the felt recoil. More surface area will obviously distribute the ft.lbs. of recoil over a larger surface area and with most people this makes things more bearable.

If you are going with a straight custom, barrel length and contour, action choice, sights and such, all play a part in finished weight, balance and the handling qualities of the finished product. When everything is as it should be it greatly increases your ability to handle recoil and muzzle jump.

Shooting stance and handling are important. You can't play with a .458 Lott in the same way that you may handle a .25-06 or a .270. To me a .25-06 is a popgun. There is no need to be overly concerned with holding it firmly and maintaining solid pressure against the shoulder. The Lott and its brethren are a completely different ball game. The big bores need to be planted firmly against the shoulder and a firmer hold on the pistol grip and more so with the forend, which helps to keep control of your grip, muzzle jump and rearward thrust. Stand at a slight angle, your feet well apart and leaning slightly forward into the rifle, while keeping your body somewhat relaxed so that it will absorb and rock backwards with the recoil.



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Jan 15, 2010
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Sudan, Chad, Tanzania, local
I'm glad to hear of the hunters using their big bores for non-dangerous game before taking on dangerous game. My recommendation, in line with the above, is to take a reedbuck, warthog, or waterbuck with the bigbore before going after Mr. Nyati. There is nothing like taking a game animal with a rifle to "allow you to handle the rifle like it is an old friend".


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