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June 11, 2007

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How To Take A Punch

When Tommy Hearns, the great welterweight boxer, was just starting to learn the manly art, he was sparring with a much better fighter who promptly broke his nose. Hearns grabbed his busted beak with his glove, wrenched it back in place, and kept right on fighting.

The moral of this is that some people are much tougher than others, and just as the Motor City Cobra could ignore a busted beak, some of us can take a lot more recoil than others.

There are two kinds of recoil. Real recoil is measured in foot-pounds. Perceived recoil is what you feel; it has much to do with stock design and other intangibles. There is a formula for calculating real recoil, but it’s much easier to go online and find any of the several sites that can do it with the click of a mouse (a good one is here). We’ll get back to real recoil in a little bit. Perceived recoil is more interesting because it is affected by the makeup and design of the rifle, and it can’t be calculated.

David E. Petzal shoots his .450 Dakota

The Intangibles That Hurt
One of the most sadistic rifles ever built was the Winchester Model 95 lever action. The majority were made in .30/06 and .30/40 Krag, and a fair number were chambered for the .405 Winchester. This last was a favorite of Teddy Roosevelt, who took one to Africa where he shot at everything that moved. Due to his poor eyesight he was a rotten shot and littered the bushveldt with wounded beasts. But I digress. The 95 had all the requirements for a truly painful rifle. Its stock had loads of drop, so when it recoiled, the barrel whipped up as well as back, directing much of the recoil into the shooter’s head. The comb of the stock was sharp, guaranteeing a bruised cheekbone, and the butt was small, curved, and capped by a steel plate, ensuring the maximum amount of hurt in your shoulder. In .30/40, which is a mild-kicking cartridge, and in .30/06, which is moderate, the Model 95 was brutal. In .405 it must have been unthinkable.

Muzzle blast, which is not physically connected to recoil, can nonetheless seem to make a rifle kick harder. You can develop a raging flinch from shooting a muzzle-braked rifle or a short-barreled rifle without hearing protection. You’ll swear it kicks like a mule even though it doesn’t.

Executive Editor Mike Toth with a scope cut he got from shooting the big gun

Even the way you are built is a factor. Recoil flings around small, slender people in a spine-chilling manner. But they are actually suffering less than heavyset people because they give with the shove, whereas the fire-hydrant types soak up every bit of it. Of the people I know who have been permanently screwed up by kick, all of them are close to 6 feet tall and weigh over 180 pounds. There is not a lightweight in the lot.

How Much Is Too Much?
For most shooters, the cutoff for real recoil is around the .30/06 or 7mm Rem. Mag. level, which is about 25 foot-pounds. When you add 10 foot-pounds, the average shooter really feels it—and will not shoot the rifle very well.

There is a huge divide between the .375 H&H and the ­.40-caliber and larger rounds. I believe a considerable number of shooters can’t or shouldn’t shoot anything bigger than a .375. My own personal limit is the .458 Lott. Bigger rifles exist: The .460 Weatherby, for example, develops just over 100 foot-pounds. I have shot one on several occasions, but I’m not about to do so anymore.

Five Quick Fixes
In case you’re really suffering, here are some steps that will bring you instant relief.

1. Get rid of your aluminum or hard-plastic butt­plate, or your cheap, unyielding-as-granite factory recoil pad, and replace it with a soft, squishy premium recoil pad. Talk to your gunsmith; a good pad is about $35 and the installation is about $40.

2. Get a muzzle brake. They’re not cheap and they’ll rip your ears to shreds if you’re not plugged and muffed, but they really do save you a lot of foot-pounds. This is another gunsmith job. Most brakes are $90–$150; because installation is an individual matter, I can’t give you a price for that. Some shooters opt to have Mag-na-ports cut in their barrel. This will reduce muzzle jump but not recoil, and bullet jacket fouling tends to collect at the rear corners of the ports, eventually cutting accuracy.

3. If you have an older rifle with loads of drop at the comb, get a more modern stock with a lot less drop. Here, your options are many. Unless your rifle is extremely rare or odd, you can choose among wood, laminated wood, and synthetic stocks. See your gunsmith. Most good-quality replacements of any type cost $100–$200 before any installation work is done.

4. Have a gunsmith install an inertia recoil reducer (or better yet, a pair of them) in your stock. They will change the balance of your rifle and increase its weight by about a pound, but they work. The ones I’ve used with great success are made by Edwards and go for $60 each. Gunsmiths charge around $70 for installation.

5. A heavy trigger pull will add greatly to the unpleasantness of a hard-kicking rifle. A light, crisp trigger will make it easier to set the thing off, rendering the whole experience more tolerable. Don’t even think about diddling with a trigger. Take it to a gunsmith, who will tune it for $50–$75. If he says that it is beyond hope (a number of factory triggers can’t be altered), figure $90 or so for a Timney or a Shilen, or if you want something really fancy like a Jewell, have $300 on you. The installation cost varies depending on how much work has to be done.

One more thing: Don’t ever fall for one of the more pervasive myths in riflery, which goes: “Even if you flinch when you’re shooting at targets, you won’t flinch when you’re shooting at game because you won’t feel the recoil.” If you are afraid of a particular gun, you are going to stay afraid of it, and you’ll miss. Period.


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A simple couple of things to add.

If your gun doesn't fit you well it makes it harder to shoot period and remember that if it's a bit long with a t-shirt on it certainly will be long with heavy hunting clothes during the season.

Carry enough gun to do the job, but not so much as to make it miserable to shoot. Men tend to think the bigger the better and then suffer poor accuracy from it and wonder why.

Chris H.

Last year I bought a single shot break open 243 because I got a great deal on it and wanted something unique. It is light, has very little recoil, can punch holes in the same square every time at 100 yards and will kill a deer just as dead as my 308, 270, or 7mm mag. I can almost load a second round as fast as I can work the bolts on my other guns and the vast majority of my shots are within 50 yards. Why would I shoot anything else for whitetail deer where I hunt. Of course if I get a chance to go out west or hunt larger game I've still got the gun for that.

One of the things which makes me worry about myself is how much I’d spend on historically significant goats if I were to win one of those massive lotteries which happens every so often.

Okay, that’s a total lie, because it doesn’t worry me at all. It should worry the guys at Acme Meat Goats, Inc., though, because I’d park my RV in their parking lot and spend a week or so out there in the teeming goatyards while I depleted their stock of miltary classic goats considerably. (Yeah, they’d just hate that.)

One of the basic collectible goats which would get my attention quite early on would be this one, a Winchester-Saaneen Model 1895 in .30 Army (.30-40 Krag):

This wonderful old goat absolutely reeks of history: I doubt whether it saw any military action, the French being what the French are, but I just bet it has been on more snipe-hunting trips than I’ve had hot breakfasts.

CF wants just under $1,500 for this premium goat; and whereas right now it might as well be $1,500,000 for all the good it does me, when those idiot tutti-fruttis at the lottery finally get their act together and award the prize to its rightful winner (that would be me), this Winchester-Saaneen would be among the first half-dozen classic military goats I’d be buying, without question.

I would select the rugged Humber Super Snipe Staff Saloon for transport, which was Monty's personal favourite during the second world war.

To wash your horse, begin by hosing off everything, but be careful not to put water into the ears. This could short out the circuits and cause erratic behavior. Use a rubber curry with a mild, neutral soap to massage out the grit, bugs, and goo in the horse's coat, mane, and tail, always being careful of the ears, eyes, and naughtybits.

After a good wash, hose the animal off with cool water, again being careful of the ears, etc. Use a plastic sweat scraper to remove excess water from the coat, and brush out the mane and tail. When the horse is semi-dry, apply a light mist of silicon spray to bring out the shine in the coat and polish gently with a clean Turkish towel.

Do not use butch wax or any kind of mousse or mascara on your horse. It will melt and run and cause a God-awful mess. If you want the Punk look, braid the mane to make it stand up, then use your clippers to sculpt it. It's best not to use the electric clippers on the tail, because your horse will usualy kick the hell out of you if you mess around back there.

Do not apply excessive silicon spray to the back of the horse, or your saddle may slide off and you will bust your ass on the rugged, rugged, rocks. Even worse, the saddle my slide around to the bottom side of the horse, and then you will be in real trouble, besides looking absolutely silly to any passerby who may happen to observe your predicament.

Dave in St Pete

The link to the recoil calc doesn't work.

SS uniforms were stylish, well-cut, with a touch (but not too much) of eccentricity. Compare the rather boring and not very well cut American army uniform: jacket, shirt, tie, pants, socks, and lace-up shoes—essentially civilian clothes no matter how bedecked with medals and badges. SS uniforms were tight, heavy, stiff and included gloves to confine the hands and boots that made legs and feet feel heavy, encased, obliging their wearer to stand up straight..The SS has become a referent of sexual adventurism. Much of the imagery of far-out sex has been placed under the sign of Nazism. Boots, leather, chains, Iron Crosses on gleaming torsos, swastikas, along with meat hooks and heavy motorcycles, have become the secret and most lucrative paraphernalia of eroticism. In the sex shops, the baths, the leather bars, the brothels, people are dragging out their gear. But why? Why has Nazi Germany, which was a sexually repressive society, become erotic? How could a regime which persecuted homosexuals become a gay turn-on?

A clue lies in the predilections of the fascist leaders themselves for sexual metaphors. Like Nietzsche and Wagner, Hitler regarded leadership as sexual mastery of the "feminine" masses, as rape. (The expression of the crowds in Triumph of the Will is one of ecstasy; the leader makes the crowd come.) Left-wing movements have tended to be unisex, and asexual in their imagery. Right-wing movements, however puritanical and repressive the realities they usher in, have an erotic surface. Certainly Nazism is "sexier" than communism (which is not to the Nazis' credit, but rather shows something of the nature and limits of the sexual imagination).

To Chris H and Dave in St. Pete.


William Sefchick

Petzal: Whatzajoisyboydowaninweschesta?
Can an ill-shooting rifle be coaxed into greatness with handloads?
I have a 1975-Garcia-era .30-06 Sako that my mother spent way-too-much-for to make a Christmas a great one...
I don't handload, but over the years I've tried pretty much every factory load & bullet weight with middling results (2-5" 3-shot groups. I'm a decent shot, and though Sakos supposedly "shoot", I think it's the gun and not me...)
Is it possible to work up a "harmonically specific" custom handload for a poor factory-ammo performer to obtain minute-of-angle results, or is a "bad gun" simply and always a bad gun?


William, here is my 2 cents of info. I would also look at the height of the rings. On my Sako 300 Win I have found that going to a MED set of rings, helped the felt recoil a bunch. Usually that gun came with High rings (you will see a "peep" hole below the rings if they are high) and those rings are worth quite a bit, but I have changed over to lower rings on my 308, and 300.

Also below is a link to some cool ammo that is fiarly popular.



I agree that anything over .30-06 and/or 7 mm Rem Mag creeps into the punishing category. I ditched a .338 Win Mag in favor of a .35 Whelen years ago due to the recoil. To each his own. If you are hunting large game animals you need an adequate rifle. If you aren't up to the task of handling an adequate rifle, you probably aren't up to quartering and packing out a large elk, either.


You didn't say what kind of scope you had mounted on your Sako? Have you tried a better quality scope or a different scope? If it is from 1975, it might be time for a new one. What better excuse do you need?!

Chris H.

The posts are above the name of the poster. I don't have a clue what the unknown poster is talking about. I was just talking about my 243.

dave s

i just wished my ex would have sighted in my marlin 45-70!!


Why would anyone film themselves? What else do you film yourself doing Dave?

Back to the basics

I do agree that gun design will make a difference on felt recoil, but the bottom line to heavy, hard hitting bullets, is recoil.
Really-If you can't handle the heat;Stay out the(recoil) kitchen!
Please-No offense intended to physically-or age- challenged shooters!!

Dave Petzal

To Mr. Sefchick: You have a dog. Sell it. Also, the .450 sequence was not filmed in Westchester. I did not film myself. Who strange peoples your dreams?

Ralph the Rifleman

Hey dave s.-
Try some buffalo bore ammo in your .45/70...man that recoil will have you singing soprano in no time!
Gotta luv that recoil!


Raplh, what buffalo bore are you talking about I am thinking about getting some 500 grain stuff for bear protection in AK???

A real MAN

Dave and Ralph, 45/70 is nothing-try shooting a 500/450 nitro express. I weigh 220 and the old double gun isn't but 8.5 lbs. You guys really need to power up.


Do you guys hit yourselves in the head with sledgehammers for fun?

A real Man

The reason I use such powerful loads is because I want delivery on the other end to be more punishing than the recoil. And a couple of blows to the head toughens you up a bit too!


I've never shot anything bigger than a 243 and never will, i use a 223 on deer and it has done the job 2 out of 5 times with decsent accuracy.


i dont even think about recoil when i buy my guns, i just look at the charts and use what cartridge i think is best and i like velocity. but velocity with higher bullet weight means more energy and more energy means more recoil. I use a 7mm rem mag on everything from groundhogs to grizzies and it has more than satisfied me with only moderate recoil. According to petzal's article, it is overrated, but trust me, its underrated if anything. with the same bullet weight as a 270 or 280, it can push more speed and pack a punch downrange, I have 2 grizzlies, 4 elk, and about a dozen deer from 400+ yards that can testify to that. a factory loaded 140 grain nosler can hit as hard as the new 338 fedral and, the 7mm being comparable to it must be more powerful. and the 7mm is fatter than the 270 and 280, so there is more powder capacity. I once trusted a 270 to take an elk from 200 yards, and it let me down. I hit right behind the shoulder with soft points and found it 2 days letter over a mile away with all of it in tact, so it hadn't been there long enough for a bear to eat and it wasn't bloated.

i couldn't agree more anonymous, the 7mm rem mag rocks and is quite a popular and powerful invetion. the 270 lacks if i do say so myself, and the 280 does all right from my experience, but all right won't always cut it. the 7mm rem mag was too much for my petite sister and kicked her and bruised her, but i don't think it is such a mule.


Your country is being taken away from you, Americans, and you don't even seem to realize it. What a pity.
The openly gay Socialist candidate for president has no grand notions of actually winning his bid for the White House. Instead, he says, he is using his candidacy to raise awareness of issues ignored by George W. Bush and while trying to bring back an air of thoughtfulness to the sometimes misunderstood left wing.

Ralph the Rifleman

B-Bore does load some heavy stuff, but I like the 420 grain hard lead which I think would kill old Griz quite nicely.(Black Bears fold like an old dinner napkin when hit)
This round is flat shooting as well; 3in at 100 yds will keep it 4in low at 200yds. I think shooting a bear at that distance is a fair maximum range to avoid a wounded situation.
My longest (measured shot) made with my 7mm rem mag was 263 yards.The deer jumped about 10 feet and dropped on the spot. I like a flat shooting rifle, but for up close bear shooting, I'll take a heavy big bore anytime.

John B.

I can remember two rifles from my past that had nasty recoil tendencies, not due to calibre, but through stock design. The first was a lightweight Husqvarna in 30/06 that attacked my shoulder with great enthusiasm and which I finally traded off for a standard grade Huskie in the same calibre. If I remember correctly the standard grades were selling for the wonderful price of $89 at the time. Some years later I had the opportunity to shoot a friend’s .243 in the lightweight model and it carried on the tradition of felt recoil far beyond any other .243 I had ever shot.
The other one was the Lee Enfield .303 with a service issue stock. When fired, the stock would give you a nice crack against the side of the face. You saw a lot of laced-on cheek pieces on the range when these were being shot in competition.
I can shoot my .375 with no problem, but I shot a .458 Winchester on the range one day (offhand) and decided then and there that there was no need for .40 calibre or larger in my gun rack. A decision I have faithfully adhered to.

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