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June 05, 2006

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When It Kicks, You Pay

This is by way of my friend Eric Olds, who teaches people how to shoot at Gun Site, near Prescott, Arizona. Eric recently coached a client who was using a .458, and fired 70 rounds through it in the course of two days.

“It was like getting in 70 minor-whiplash accidents,” Eric said.

Not only will lots of recoil screw up your shooting, it will screw up you. Bob Brister had his retinas detached by recoil, as did his fellow Texan John Wootters. I know two old-time trapshooters whose backs and necks are virtually immobile from the effects of millions of 12-gauge shells over the years.

In May, 1989, a friend loaned me his .460 Weatherby which had had its 26-inch muzzle-braked barrel cut back to 22 inches. I wanted to see how much velocity the cannon lost when deprived of 4 inches of barrel, so I set up my chronograph and fired offhand. I thought someone had hit me in the spine with an axe. As nearly as I can figure, the rifle produced 130 foot-pounds of recoil, which is about twice the kick of a .458, and it bulged a disc so that my left leg has pained me ever since.

You may think you are the toughest thing on two feet, but you take enough of a beating for long enough and you will find out otherwise.


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A while back I shot a round of sporting clays using a featherweight Ithaca Model 37 16ga. with an English styled grip, stoked with heavy field loads. The next day I felt like I had a mild concussion. One of my shooting buddies said that he wouldn't be have been surprised if I didn't have whiplash. He told me that he and the rest of the group were laughing at me from behind, because every time that I fired at a clay, my head would snap back violently. I really didn't notice the excessive recoil at the range, but I had that groggy concussion feeling for about two days afterwards. My buddy basically called me an idiot for using heavy loads in an ultralite shotgun.


I used to hunt WV deer with a 30.-06 but have come to love the .308 win simply because of lesser recoil yet similiar ballistic performance. Preparing for that one important shot is a whole lot easier knowing the recoil will be less and a follow-up shot is much easier to prepare for. I still enjoy a little recoil now and then that's why I occasionally get out the .45-70 or .375 H&H mag. Ten rounds max at any given time and then whine a little!


Call me a wimp, but a 30-06 is plenty for me with a rifle. The "non-rifle caliber" pistols (454 Casull, 500 S&W) don't really bother me, but beyond that, forget about it.


I have a Model 70 in 458. About seven hunting-loads off hand are all I can handle for practice in a day. I feel like I have a sinus infection or a nose bleed otherwise. NEVER shoot a .458 loaded for T-Rex prone!

When I sight this .458 in from a bench I have a bag of shot between me and the butt plate. I’m surprised how accurate a 458 is, and the recoil can be civilized by shooting cast bullets at modest velocity.

I was taken how much thought goes into making these dangerous game rifles, too. This rifle handles and is built much differently from your generic rifle.

Why a .458 and deal with the recoil? It can't be beaten for the big, hairy mean stuff.

See you on Campus.

B. Cameron

Heavy loads - and the associated recoil - are something to be reserved for times when it's needed. In my little slice of upstate NY, shotgun hunting is the only option for medium/large game. I have a plain-jane Remington 870 SuperMag as my go-to do-all gun. It's not fancy, but it has handled anything I've thrown at it - clays, upland birds, deer, turkey, waterfowl, and so forth. I've shot all kinds of loads - from 1oz trap loads up through 2oz turkey loads. Steel shot. HeviShot. Mag and non-Mag slugs. The only thing I've found is that I don't enjoy being punished for pulling the trigger. I can shoot trap all morning long on light loads, and only feel like I've been holding a gun up for the morning. Three turkey loads this past week left the beginnings of a bruise on my shoulder - and there would have been a bruise without the R3 recoil pad I upgraded to last year.

When it comes to rifles (for visiting other areas, predators, and target shooting), I carry a .270Win as a large game/predator rifle. That's plenty of kill power for any game I'm likely to find in the northeast corner of our country - and minimizes the recoil of the bigger cartridges. Even a box or two through the .270 leaves me with a sore shoulder and a bit of a flinch. Stepping down to a nice soft rimfire after the .270 really emphasized to me what kind of a flinch a hard-kicking shell gives. After shooting a half-box through the .270, I put it aside for some technique time with a .17HMR, and found that my flinch had gotten so bad I couldn't even pull the trigger without hunching into it.

Why bother? I have to be realistic. I will likely never go on an African safari for dangerous game. I have no desire to hunt the brown bears of the far northwest. The largest game I can ever see myself hunting is elk or caribou - and a .270 is adequate, if not ideal, for those animals. Why bother owning something larger if I won't ever need it on a semi-regular basis? Bragging rights? Some misguided compensation? No thanks. I own guns to use, not to show off.

(PS - Dave - thanks for the info on my LC Smith.)


I took a snap shot at a flaring Canada goose with my 3.5" x BBB Nova. Dropped the goose and realized that I had hurt myself rather badly. Through my parka, sweater, shirt and longs, I found the gun had stamped the weave pattern of my longs into my bicep.
Only did that once.

Mike Diehl

It's interesting that people have such difefrent experiences about "felt recoil" contrasting the .30-06 with the .270 and .308.

In theory the gun should make more of a difference than the round, because with a 150 grain bullet the recoil energy of a .30-06, .270Win, and .308Win are nearly identical.

So I'm thinking about purchasing a bolt action .30-06 for elk hunting. I'll be looking for something on the heavy side of the bolt action weight range.

O Garcia

this is sobering thought for those of us, myself included, who wished for a more powerful rifle for the military. the wee 7.62mm may not seem much when compared to the rest of .30 cal sporting rounds (.30-06, .300 Wea., etc.), until the soldier has to squeeze off several magazine fulls of it at the enemy. then the accumulated punishment on the shooter's body takes its toll.

maybe there's logic after all in the 5.56mm.

in an article written for another magazine, Ross Seyfried cautioned would be custom rifle buyers that the biggest mistakes usually made in choosing/building/buying rifles are all related to power. Too much power. Most shooters, especially young shooters, want it, all of it. He even used the cartridge he created, the .585 Nyati, as one of those horrific, nightmare-inducing wrong choices.

I think in the past, Dave had made a similar advice on this magazine. If you think the .300 magnum works for you, try stepping down to the .30-06, then the .308, and so forth. You'd be surprised how effective the smaller round is, and how much better your body feels after.


I recently purchased a Weatherby Vanguard Sporter in .338 win mag. I live in PA, and purchased this rifle in anticipation of an elk hunt this fall. After having it fitted with a scope, I took it to the range for the first time about 2 weeks ago. This rifle has, by far, the hardest recoil of any gun that I own. Shooting it offhand, the recoil is tolerable. But shooting from a bench is absolutely brutal. The first shot I took from the bench, I made the mistake of resting the top of the recoil pad on my collarbone. Suffice to say, I wont make that mistake again. When I pulled the trigger I felt like someone had hit me with a sledge hammer. That was the first time that I can honestly say that recoil, from any firearm, was actually painful. Since this rifle only weights 7.5 lbs without the scope, I figured that it would have some punch on the backend, but I got more than I bargained for.

Gerald Keller

As a gunsmith I can and do make and shoot all sorts of rifles,from 17HRM to 375 RUM and 416 Taylor.With a good stock and recoil pad(I love Limb-savers)adequate rifle weight,and
some type of recoil reducer in the butt stock on the heavies,they can all be shot from the bench without much trouble.I've even shot the 416 in a twenty round Hunter's match,5 offhand,5 kneeling,5 sitting,5 from the sit over crossed sticks.Even I wouldn't try it prone.I don't use muzzle brakes either.

Sherrill Philip Neese

Seeing all of the comments and especially B. Cameron's, it brings up the question of how much gun is enough or too much? (Well at least to me it did) :-)

I live in MD and use a slug gun, muzzleloader, and bow for deer hunting. I've hunted deer for about 30 years and the only time I used a rifle was when I was a kid and I borrowed my dad's 30-06 or 30-30. I recently joined a hunting club/lease on the Eastern Shore where we can use rifles and can have shots as far as 200 to 300 yards. Additionally, some day, I want to go out west and rifle hunt for Elk. How much gun is good enough for that? I want something that will do the job, but at the same time I don't want my shoulder kicked in. I was looking at getting a 7mm Rem Mag, but is that too much?

I know this is a slight deviation from the original subject of the blog, so apologies in advance.

Larry Cheseney

When the Winchester 300 WSM first arrived on the scene, I just had to have one. So, as soon as Savage came out with the chambering I bought one of the stainless weather warriors. I took it to the range to site it in with 180 grain ballistic silver tips.After about 15 rounds I resigned myself that the only time I would fire the gun in the future was just to check Zero before Elk hunting. Then I decided to send it to Magna Port and have a Magna Brake put on it.
Best decision I ever made. The Savage is accurate out of the box, however with the Magna Brake and the Savage combination I shoot consistant one inch groups at 200 yards all day long with the recoial equal to my 243 un braked. The Magana Brake far exceeds Magna ports claim of recoial reduction.

Sherrill Philip Neese

Reading some of the postings reminded me of an old Stevens Model 94 that my dad gave to me when I was a kid. It is a singleshot with a hollow plastic stock. The shotgun kicks like a mule in a bad mood on a hot summer day.

When I was a kid we called the shotgun the "Knuckle Buster", because, after using it all day to shoot at ducks, the knuckle on our middlefinger would be swollen and bruised from the trigger guard. We would wear thick gloves, etc, but nothing would help. It didn't stop us from using the shotgun though. You use what you have and we were young and adventurous... well... we were young. :-)

I recently took it to the range with my boys. This was the first time I'd shot the gun in 26 years. I shot it once with a slug and that was enough. I'm not a small guy, 6'3" and 275lbs, but it kicked so bad that it physically hurt and my chest/shoulder felt like hell... My boys (14, 18, and 21) took one look at me and wouldn't even touch it. :-) I guess it's back to the gun cabinet for 'ole Knuckle Buster.

Mike Diehl

Sherrill -

Chuck Hawks (www.chuckhawks.com) guns and shooting on-line non-"members" page has some good overviews of matching cartridge to game.

Based on articles there and a few other sources, I have no plans to purchase anything in a "magnum" cartridge for elk if I can ever draw a tag.

According to the aforementioned link you could use for ex a .270Win, .308, .30-06 or other similar cartridge as long as you use a 150grain or larger bullet.


I regularly use my .300 win mag for deer and elk and have had not problem with the recoil. I use Hornady Custom 165 grain Boat-tails and the 'kick' is not much greater than that of my 30-06 or .270 with similar Hornady loads.

When I was younger I did get tattooed by the scope on a 45-70 and I guess I learned my lesson on how to properly shoulder a heavier load.

What helps with the .300 win mag is a good upland sweater wtih a shooting patch on the shoulder and confidence in your ability with your rifle.

Bottom line - if the rifle kicks the hell out of you - you shouldn't be firing that rifle.

Nathan Pinney

When my dad was 6, my granddad purchased a Winchester Model 12 in 20 ga. My grandad's friends all laughed at the puny 20 ga. but after a day of rabbit hunting inthe Kansas wheatfields he was the only one without a sore shoulder. My friends all said the same thing when I took the same Model 12 dove hunting. At the end of the day they were the ones flinching and had sore shoulders.

Sherrill Philip Neese

Thanks for the information on the Chuck Hawks site. A lot of good information. I checked it out and after doing some comparisons with other sources, a .308 is now on special order. I am very excited about the rifle and can't wait to get to the range. Thanks again.

Roger E. Reeves

I am a disabled/handicapped sportsman and hunt the Rockies as often as I can draw or have the extra funds. My gun of choice is a Remington CDL in 30-06 using Rem 180 gr. Scricco's bonded. I had to add 2 lbs of lead to the Butt end, and it now shoots as lite as a 22 rimfire. My secret is have enough wt on the gun butt end to curb the recoil.My gun , scoped and slinged is at l0 lbs now. These 5 1/2 and 6 lb guns are just to light for todays ammo. If a hunter is unable to carry a l0 lb gun, then he needs to get a smaller caliber, maybe a Red Ryder BB gun. I tried the WSM's and would not trade my 06 for any I have shot. Weight is the secret to less recoil, try it once, if only a block of lead in a slip on pad.

mike shickele

It is unfortunate that the gun magazines perpetuate the myth that only the latest super mag will do when hunting anything bigger than a deer; often even the deer. most of the writers seem to forget that at the turn of the century the 30-06 was concidered big medicine. that wes with the bullets and velocities available at the turn of the century.
I dfon't blame the gun writers; their job is to sell magazines. It's a persons own fault if they are fooled into thinking that they somehow need the latest .338 super mag to slay their game.
Most people buy the super mags with the assumption that they will increase their effective range; the opposite is true. With more power comes more recoil. The more that the recoil increases, the less able a person is to shoot it accurately at long range. Most people have trouble shooting a gun with ecsessive recoil; we have to train ourselves to tolerate it.
all bullets drop at long range. At 500 yards even any magnum is beyond point blank range. If an animal has a 6 inch kill zone, the point blank range would be 3 inches above, or below where the sights are pointing. a long range shooter would be better of with a 308 win that they now the trajectory of than a 300 weatherby that causes a flinch; simply because a rifle with lesser recoil allows the shooter to concentrate more on the shot.
There is really nothing in North america that cannot be taken with a 30-06 and a good 180gr. bullet, or a 7mm Rem Mag with a good 175gr. bullet. This would include many other cartridges that are in the same catigory of course, but these two are good standards. Even these take practice to get used to; but they will get the job done.


This year I bought a Savage Model 16FXp3 in 300WSM. this thing kicks like hell! I need to keep the rifle (it's nice and accurate)but I guess Ill have to add a limbsaver. any other suggestions??

B. Cameron

One additional note on recoil and dealing with it... Limbsaver pads (R3 pads, for some Remington arms) are a godsend. If that's not an option, almost any gun with a synthetic stock has a large hollow in the butt. Remove the butt plate, and fill the cavity with something heavy. Lead shot, BBs, clay, or some combination of the above is a good bet.


To Cameron and others:

Nothing wrong with a 270 for deer and most hunting situations in North America. However, a 270 isn’t a dangerous game rifle. I likely wasn’t clear on this point on a .458 and why someone would own such a rifle. These medium and big bore rifles aren’t a joy to take plinking, but they have their place.

I don’t believe most people, even pro hunters, live such game-field drama to put 20-rounds @year through a .458. I also bet when a person needs a .458…..they REALLY NEED a 458. So it’s likely a good item to have in the gun case…waiting.

Waiting for the Future--Fate and Destiny are strange things. Dave P. and the other bloggers can bear me out on this area. F & D have taken me places I thought were fanciful: Montana and Alaska for example, and almost to South Africa. So don’t limit yourself from any possible future.

O Yes. That 458 is dream machine. I pick it up and I’m whisked away to The Crocodile River and the Serengeti.

Later and good luck.

evan corcoran

i shoot a 7mm rem mag in remington 700 CDL. no muzzle brake/ported barrel. i can shoot 40 rounds of 150 grain premium ammo comfotably and considering im only 12 years old i dont think the 7mm is very punishing. in my mind it is perfectly adequate for deer,elk size game and most everything else besides for large moose/bear. but that really depends on what you are comfortable with

Roger E. Reeves

In response t Mikes Limbsaver. They are the finest pad $ can buy and they do reduce kick. But, if you want a plesant rifle for large game, add enough weight to have the gun,scope, et. weinghing around 10 lbs, then you will be ok as fafr as recoil goes. i bought a Winchester 300 WSM shot it and Damn near broke my nose, so added to hollow syn stock 2 lbs, stll did not help a lot. So I sold it and bought the Remington CDL in Walnut.We drilled holes in Butt end and added 2 lbs of lead shot. Now feels like no recoil at all. All guns yhears ago weighed around 10 lbs scoped, and we heard no complaints fom hunters, you cannot have a feather gun and a light wt killing gun in same package. Get a Limbsaver pad, add wt to make it about 10 lbs, then you will be happy at the results. A 30-06 with l80 grs Bonded Ammo will kill most anything we hunt, beside the Big bears, and then a tad more bullet is required.If you know a gun is going to kick your butt, you will never be on target at the pull of the trigger, that flinch will always be in back of your mind. I;ve owned many 30-06's over my 71 yrs, and never felt under-gunned even with my 6 x 6 Elk or the many Mule and w-tail deer. 30-06 ammo comes in so many sizes, am sure you can find one that works well on your big game rifle. Most of all SHOOT -um- STRAIGHT

Roger E. Reeves

Are there any excellent condition Sears model 50 in 270 or 30-06 available for sale. Please advise if so.

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