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February 27, 2007

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How Much Kick Can You Take?

Floyd Paterson, the former heavyweight champ, had a chin of Dresden china and probably spent as much time on the canvas as he did on his feet. Muhammad Ali had a chin of iron, and absorbed some of the most savage beatings in ring history without going down. He could be decked only rarely, and knocked out, never. How come? No one has an answer.

So it is with recoil. Some people can take a ton of it and walk away with a spring in their step and a song in their heart. Others run shrieking for the ice bag and the Ibuprofin if they fire anything bigger than a BB gun.

It doesn’t seem to relate to body size. I know small guys who can shoot horrendous rifles with no trouble, and immense humanoids who swoon at the sight of a .30/06. As a rule, the upper limit for most rifleman is a .41-caliber cartridge such as the .416 Remington or Rigby. Both fire 400-grain bullets at 2,300 fps or so. When you get up to the .458, with 500 grains at 2,000 fps (or a little less) and about 60 foot-pounds of recoil, most people would rather not, thanks. And with bigger cartridges like the .458 Lott and .450 Dakota 500 grains, 2,300 fps), even the toughest riflemen grow pale and begin to tremble.

The worst-kicking rifle I’ve ever used is the .378 Weatherby. It comes back at you so fast you can’t roll with it, and it’s the only rifle I’ve ever sold because I feared it.

The worst thing you can do if you want to learn to shoot a big rifle is use a Lead Sled. The way you learn to take a punch is by getting punched. The way you learn to handle lots of kick is by getting kicked. The Lead Sled absorbs just about all the recoil, and prevents you from becoming a manly man. (If you are a woman, this is obviously not a consideration.) Take your whupping and learn to live it.


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Dave, remember the blog from a few weeks ago. This gentleman received his medal 40 years later.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Lt. Col. Bruce Crandall's heroics in Vietnam were immortalized in a movie and a critically acclaimed book.

More than 40 years after Crandall repeatedly risked his life to rescue American soldiers fighting one of the toughest battles of the Vietnam War, the U.S. military officially recognized his heroism Monday, when he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for military valor.

"For the soldiers rescued, for the men who came home, for the children they had and the lives they made, America is in debt to Bruce Crandall," President Bush said during the awards ceremony. "It's a debt our nation can never really fully repay."

Chad Love

A friend of mine is going to Africa this year so he bought a new .458 Lott and a Lead Sled.
After one trip to the range the gun went back to Ruger with a cracked stock from the tang back, presumably from the lack of give in the rest.
If I go to Africa with a .458 Lott I will avoid all this recoil nonsense by simply hiring some dummy to shoot everything for me...

Dave Petzal

To Chad Love: This is not uncommon among hard kickers. The wood behind the recoil lug compresses, and tang bites into the stock, and it splits, Smart gunmakers leave a noticeable gap between the rear of the tang and the wood, so that even if the walnut does compress, it can't do any damage.
Weatherby has the best solution. The Mark V tang, which is extremely sharp, rides on top of the wood, so there's no way it can dig in.

Chris H.

I've only had one experience where I complained about recoil. Once I ran about 150 hot handloads in about 3 hours through a savage 7mm Rem. Mag. with a synthetic stock. My shoulder was a little sore the next morning. This was still not as bad as my shoulder feels the morning after the first day I get my bow out after a four month break. I work out in the gym pretty regularly but there is something about the way I pull a bow string that I can't duplicate. The larget rifle I've ever fired was a .375 H&H Mag, about 25 rounds with no complaints. I've had people tell me my Mossberg 835 ultimag kicked like a mule even shooting 2 3/4", 7 1/2 shot but I can shoot it all day long at the local 5-stand just for chuckles.


Chris H, I would make a distinction between a sore shoulder and being scared of recoil... For example, I often shoot a whole box of 12-gauge slugs in preparation for deer season. This doesn't bother me in the least while at the firing line, but I always feel it the next morning.

Chris H.

See, I'm stupid that way. I'm not affraid of anything until after it hurts me. I just remembered another gun that I only shot a few times because I knew it was going to hurt me. I had an old single shot 12 guage that I cut the forcing cone out of so it could shoot 3 1/2 magnums. That lite little gun would make your shoulder and your butt hurt.


The worst kicking gun/ammo combo I've ever shot was a Remington 870 slug gun w/ scope that weighed 9 lbs. Shooting Winchester partition gold slugs (385 grains @ 1900 fps adds up to over 3000 ft lbs of energy @ the muzzle) that just beat the hell out my shoulder. All I got out of that deal was a bruised shoulder and a terrible flinch. I've since switched to a 20 gauge and suprise, my flinch is gone and the deer still die when you shoot them. Sometimes big is necessary, other times I just don't see the point.

DW Griffin

Anybody have a useful formula for estimating kick? Gun weight obviously figures into this, but I would like a way to compare rounds.

Wish I knew it all

Check out this site.




In my opinion there is no scientific method. There are to many variables. The three biggest in my opinion are (in order of precedence)

1. Stock configuration
2. Pressure (cup)
3. Bullet Weight

Once you take these into consideration you will be able to figure it out. I own a few high powered rifles with good stocks and they are fine. The most devastating gun I have is a 6.5 lb sxs 12 gauge blackpowder shotgun. I shoot black powder "turkey loads" with it and it knocks the crap out of me.
It is cool when the smoke clears to have a dead bird.......

Dave Petzal

To DW Griffin:Foot-pounds are useful, but only part of the story. Also important is stock shape, recoil pad thickness and hardness, and even the shape of the grip. A stock that directs recoil into your head will ring your chimes, but one that kicks straight back into your shoulder is much easier to take.


All of the above assumes that the gun is shouldered properly so that the recoil rotates your shoulder, maybe fast, maybe slow. I snapped a shot at a flaring Canada goose with a 3.5 BBB load in a Nova: through my parka, through my sweater and shirt, the Nova hammered the pattern of my longjohns into my bicep. Properly shouldered, the Nova ain't so bad.


I have a 35 Whelen and a 458 Mag. Both rifles are stocked rather straight so the recoil *Sorta* comes straight back. I discovered it’s wise to really have a good grip on the fore end so the recoil doesn’t get a head start on you. Whatever you do, neither rifle is something you take for casual, afternoon plinking.

Recoil splitting the stock—My 458 is a Model 70 Express. It has two massive recoil steel lugs fore and aft the magazine. The express sights are welded to the barrel, I think.

My 35 Whelen I made from a pre-WWII, Czech Mauser action. When I bedded the barrel'd action to a Bishop stock I used Accurglass/gel [? Looked like peanut butter] and filed a steel wool pad into the mess. I’ve yet to have a stock problem in this rifle after 13-years heavy use. Of course, Bishop gave me a lot of wood in that stock to whittle away. [Snicker]


Please don't Delete this!

this is on topic!

a. Stock configuration has very little to do with the amount of generated recoil other than the funciton of how much weight it adds to the overall weapon weight. A poorly designed stock will hurt more and therefore give the perception of more recoil.

b. 60 FTlbs coincidientally is the limit for firearms designed to be used by the 5th to 95th percentile soldier according to ARDEC guidelines.

c. Coming from someone who's trained hundreds of shooters in a skill set they had to stake their lives on, the absolute worst thing you can do is to take a shooter unacustomed to heavy recoil and just thrust them into it. Garunteed you'll develop a horendous flinch. We had this debate at the school house when I first got there. They used to have students just start shooting 3"mag buck and slug (the USMC load is speced at the SAMMI Max as compared to a typical Mag load at wal-mart wich is 80-90% max. They had one guy that was a distinguished expert with service rifle before he came to thru. Did awesome on the pistol and carbine portions. Then they got to the shotgun portion and by lunch the first day the guy had developed the worst flinch I've ever seen in my life. He literally almost dropped a weapon on the firing line. Once you start flinching it hard to stop. If at all possible work up the recoil level if you can. We went and got PAST shoulder pads and the first time a student showed signs of flinching we'd pull them aside no muss no fuss and have put the PAST under his blouse. In a life or death situation, say you got a bear charging you or somethin you'll never notice the recoil of something like a .458 cause you'll have so much adrenelin going it just won't register. But if you flinch and miss you have some serious issues. Train with a PAST (if you're flinchingand if you're gunning for dangerous game or in some other "serious situaition" don't worry about it.


I haven't shot a rifle larger than a .30-06 so can't speak to the larger bores. But I have a Ruger Super Redhawk in .454 Casull. The first time I shot it, the area between my thumb and forefinger on my right hand hurt like heck, then later, went numb. I've put a Pachmeyer Decelerator grip on it and it's toned it down a little; but it still kicks pretty hard. I have friends that shot it once and won't try it again. This isn't quite a hard kicking rifle story, but it's the closest I've got.


I consider myself recoil shy but have several medium/big bores (375, 458). I agree that even though recoil ft/lbs are a great academic comparison; recoil velocity, shooting position, and stock design/fit are of greater importance. I love shooting the big boomers standing, but if prone or off the bench they'll beat you to death. Boddington says the only way to cure a flinch is shooting a 22lr a LOT. It's a great way to focus on fundamentals and take a break during a big bore sight in session. Of course, pads are great too. I personally use a BELL Gel Bicycle Seat.


I just love my .375 H&H mag.... the big purple bruise it leaves on my shoulder tissue and the uncanny way it leaves my head swimming. Nothing is more brutal except the missus.


have no idea who boddington is but it sounds to me like he nows his stuff.


Craig Boddington, career Military man. Author, hunter. Has shot every gun and probably every game animal on the planet. You are right, he knows his stuff.


Craig Boddington. I thought he's written articles for every outdoor/gun magazine in existence, but apparently he's missed a few. His blog is on sports afield. (sorry)

Dave Petzal

To Krusty: Very interesting post, but please explain paragraph B. 60 foot-pounds is .458 level. Who has to shoot something like this?



In reference to the 60 foot-pounds... where is the 50 bmg at?

Dave Petzal

To tom: In a 30-pound rifle, I get a figure of 102 foot-pounds.


My bad recoil experience was patterning 3" turkey loads out of an over/under 12g Ruger Red Label. OMG, on the 3rd shot the gun actually flew out of my hands. the left side of my body was paralyzed for a week. and yes, i have shot high powered rifles. nothing touched this experience.

William Stojack

The Max number alowable practice rds, in one firing session,( Thats for zeroing with a particular loading, or for validation of zero ) was 20rds. That number is a generality, & also takes into consideration overpressure effect from muzzle-blast. That also valid only for the Navy. There is also the various weights of the "systems used" They have different weights, as Dave pointed out. This limit obviously is "range only" And may have been modified since .FWIW Wm Stojack

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