Muzzleloaders and Recoil

By Randy Wakeman

In a recent telephone conversation with Chuck Hawks, Chuck remarked how popular the "Rifle Recoil Table" is on Guns and Shooting Online. How many zillion page views it had I don't recall, but it was enough for me to quickly run out of fingers and toes. As there seems to be a great interest in recoil, I'll make a few brief comments that might be of general interest. Apparently, more of us are recoil-sensitive than we would like to admit. Remember that these comments are of a general nature, as this is not breaking any new ground.

Even though we might obsess about "free recoil tables," that isn't what we really care about. It is felt recoil that gives us concern, and that is subjective by nature. There is certainly a big difference about how "kick" is absorbed by our bodies; a pop in the face feels a lot different than a similar shot to the shoulder.

Action type makes a difference, particularly in gas semi-auto guns, as the primary recoil pulse is lengthened. Same force, just applied over a longer period of time. That is not a factor in muzzleloading, as the actions are all fixed breech. The cumulative effects of recoil are well known to those who have had five or six hundred shot days through the sporting clays courses, but that also does not apply to the typical smokepole enthusiast.

All things being equal, the gun that fits you the best will have less apparent recoil. Absorbing the jolt with your torso and shoulder is much more pleasant than deflecting a bit of it with your face. A stock with a longer length of pull will generally have less felt recoil, as it promotes a better stock weld. Also important is the size and shape of the buttplate or recoil pad. A larger surface area in proper contact with your shoulder can reduce felt recoil; if you've ever had a thin, knife-bladed stock slice into your body, you'll know that it is no fun. Naturally, a good recoil pad (Kick-Eez, Terminator, etc.) can soften recoil, calming a jab into a push. Anyway, aside from stock fit, there are only a few major factors:

Gun weight

No way around it, heavy guns kick less. If you increase the gun's weight, the recoil drops by about a 1:1 ratio. A twenty-five percent increase in gun weight, you have about a twenty-five percent reduction in recoil. What may be a delight in the field can easily be a pain at the range. But, if trekking across ten miles of tundra is your style of hunting, a light rifle sure makes a difference at the end of the day.

Payload and velocity

Both ejecta (bullet + sabot + wad) and muzzle velocity affect recoil on about a 2:1 ratio. Drop your velocity or bullet weight by ten percent, you'll net about a twenty percent reduction in recoil. This area is where you can experiment, and find a load that does not bother you. You can still enjoy a zippy load by use of a 200 grain Dead Center sabot, for example, yet you are reducing your recoil by a huge amount as compared to a 300 grain sabot with the same velocity. Over sixty six percent in this case.

To give you some rough idea of 100 yard energy, a 200 grain .40 / 50 Dead Center sabot at a muzzle velocity (MV) of 1800 fps gives you over 1100 foot pounds of energy into your deer. This is far more than the universally recommended minimum of 800 ft. lbs. for a humane kill. No problem at all, assuming good bullet placement.

The 300 grain, .44/50 Dead Center at 1800 fps does give you more energy, over 1750 ft. lbs. on target at 100 yards. The caveat is, all the extra energy in the world does you no good if not put in the right place. Our mild 200 grain load still carries over 1000 ft. lbs. out to 140 yards, much farther than average whitetail hunting ranges.

There is, of course, a great deal of room in the middle to tailor a combination to your individual needs. Muzzleloaders, by nature, use lower velocity loads than center-fire rifles, with correspondingly less recoil. Another great reason (excuse) to enjoy muzzleloading!

Since you are a muzzleloader, and thus a reloader, you have lots of room to experiment to find a load that induces no flinch, is fun to shoot all day, yet is still a terrifically effective hunting load. Just the ticket to help convince your wife, daughter, or younger son that there really can be "no pain, yet gain" with muzzleloading.


Here's an area normally overlooked, but that can make a difference. Black powder and black powder substitutes are horrifically inefficient propellants; fully half of the powder charge does not change to gas, remaining a solid all the while. That gets pushed out your muzzle as well, and adds to recoil. Black powder substitutes that are less dense (Pyrodex) or less dense and more energetic (Triple 7) weigh less than black powder, and are softer shooting powders. Triple 7 loose powder requires the least amount by weight to yield a certain velocity, and I've found it to be the softest shooting black powder substitute. In the case of the Savage 10-ML, the only smokeless muzzleloader, now virtually all of the powder charge converts to gas, and that will give you remarkably less recoil for the same muzzle velocity.


There's certainly nothing wrong with using a padded shooting vest, or popping on a "PAST" pad at the bench. After all, we are trying to punish some paper, not ourselves. For those who have a touch of bursitis in the shoulder joint area, or just don't care to see their lighter family members knock themselves silly, there are ways to reduce felt recoil to the point that does not detract from our shooting and hunting enjoyment. Anyway, that's how I feel about it, which is good, very good indeed. I hope you do as well and thank you for your kind attenuation!

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Copyright 2003, 2016 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.