Reduced Recoil Ammunition: How Effective Is It?
By Gary Zinn
At present, (early 2017) two major ammunition companies offer reduced recoil centerfire rifle cartridges. These significantly reduce the recoil generated in several small bore calibers. All together, there are 16 of these loads on the market, one or more for each of seven non-magnum calibers (.243 Winchester, .260 Remington, .270 Winchester, 7mm-08, .30-30, .308 Winchester and .30-06), plus reduced loads for the 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum.
The 16 loads include eight each from Remington (Managed Recoil) and Hornady (Custom Lite). Federal offered "Fusion Lite" reduced recoil loads for .270 Winchester, .308 Winchester and .30-06 for about four years, but has discontinued these products for 2017.
Reviews and commentaries generally agree that commercial reduced loads do, indeed, offer lower recoil compared with full power loads for the same cartridges. It has been calculated, or estimated, that the recoil levels with these loads are about two-thirds to one-half the recoil of the full power loads used for comparison, when fired from rifles of the same weight.
A significant reduction in recoil generated by rifles chambered for powerful cartridges can be a good thing in many ways. However, to reduce recoil one must reduce the powder charge and/or use lighter weight bullets. Many of the reduced recoil cartridges do both. Such loads will necessarily show downrange performance (bullet velocity, energy and trajectory) that falls well short of the performance of standard loads in the same cartridges.
Wondering about the downrange performance of reduced recoil loads led me to explore ways of estimating their effectiveness, so I could answer the question, "Are reduced recoil loads actually any good for hunting Class 2 game animals?" Put another way, I wanted to determine whether each reduced recoil load generated adequate downrange killing power for harvesting game animals at reasonable hunting ranges. I suspected the answer would vary from load to load and the results of my analysis confirmed this.
Data sources, evaluation methods and calculation tools
Data sources: I started with manufacturer specifications for all reduced recoil loads, including caliber, bullet weight and muzzle velocity (MV). For full power comparison loads, I chose a typical factory load for each cartridge; typical in the sense that several ammo makers produce loads with the same bullet weight and MV. For example, a typical .243 Winchester factory load would be the Federal Power-Shok with a 100 grain soft point bullet at 2960 f.p.s.
The stated MV values for all loads are for 24 inch barrels and all of these cartridges are available in rifles with 24 inch barrels. I did not adjust these MV values for other, sometimes more common, barrel lengths (e.g., .30-30 Winchester carbines with 20 inch barrels).
The ballistic coefficient (BC), sectional density (SD) and cross-sectional area (A) of each bullet used are needed to do external ballistics analyses. I used BC and SD data provided by the maker of each bullet and calculated the "A" of each diameter of bullet used. (Cross-sectional area is calculated as A = Bullet Radius squared x 3.1416.)
I show the BC, SD and A values for specific bullets only in a couple of instances where I demonstrate how certain calculations are done. Otherwise, I do not quote each and every BC, SD and A that I used.
An additional data item needed to calculate the estimated recoil of each individual load is the weight of a powder charge that would produce the MV stated with a particular bullet weight. I researched published load recipes to find relevant powder charge weights for each load in question. Usually, I could not find a load recipe that produced the exact MV of a given load, but I was able to find powder charges that came very close.
My recoil calculations are based on assumed, rather than actual, powder charges, so my calculated recoil values should be understood to be reasonable estimates. To calculate recoil I assumed a field ready rifle weight of 8.0 pounds for all non-magnum calibers and a rifle weight of 9.0 pounds for the two magnum calibers.
Evaluation methods: The key to my evaluation of the downrange killing power of reduced recoil cartridges is the Guns and Shooting Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula. This formula calculates index values of the killing power of hunting loads, using downrange impact energy, bullet sectional density and frontal area as the input variables. Calling the output variable of the formula KPS (Killing Power Score), for a given load the formula is: KPS at y yards = (Impact Energy at y yards) x (sectional density x frontal area).
For instance, consider the following .30-30 Winchester factory load: Federal 150 grain RN bullet, MV 2350 f.p.s., BC .218, SD .226, A .0745. This load produces 1358 ft. lbs. of energy at 100 yards. Therefore, the 100 yard KPS of this load is:
KPS can be calculated for any range, a capability that allows me to evaluate the Effective Killing Range (EKR) of any cartridge and load. The EKR of a given cartridge/load is the distance at which the bullet has enough killing power (an adequate KPS value) to dependably dispatch a particular size/type of game animal, assuming a vital area hit.
I have decided a KPS of 15 is a reasonable baseline killing power value for hunting deer and similar Class 2 game. I originally established this for a conventional 150 grain .30-30 load, but I can use this baseline KPS value as a standard against which I can evaluate the effective killing ranges of other cartridge/load combinations that might be used for hunting Class 2 game. See The G&S Online Rifle Cartridge Killing Power Formula: Implications and Applications and Determining the Effective Killing Range of Rifle Cartridges for a fuller discussion of the killing power formula and effective killing range concepts.
(Note: EKR and MPBR distances are rounded off to the nearest five yards in the load calculations below.)
Calculation tools: I used three online programs to do the heavy number crunching. All are on ShootersCalculator.com, including their Point Blank Range, Ballistic Trajectory and Recoil calculators. I used a hand calculator to do A, (SD x A) and KPS calculations. Following are the results of my evaluations of the reduced recoil loads currently available.
Suitable for training, plinking and hunting Class 1 animals
There are three loads that are either unsuitable, or only marginally suitable, for hunting Class 2 game, because they do not generate enough power or range. The loads in question are the Hornady Custom Lite .243 Winchester load and the .30-30 Winchester loads from both the Hornady Custom Lite and Remington Managed Recoil lines.
The Hornady Custom Lite .243 Win. load (87 grain SST bullet, MV 2800 f.p.s.) has a +/- 3 inch MPBR of 273 yards. However, this load generates so little energy that its Effective Killing Range (EKR) on Class 2 game is zero yards! Specifically, the load has a muzzle energy of 1515 ft. lbs., which is less than the 1539 ft. lbs. of energy that an 87 grain .243 bullet needs to get a Killing Power Score (KPS) of 15. This load is adequate for shooting large varmints and small predators (Class 1 animals), but it should not be used for hunting deer or similar sized animals.
The primary reason for using the reduced recoil .243 load is to virtually eliminate recoil during shooter training. Assuming an eight pound rifle, the reduced load produces estimated recoil of 6.4 ft. lbs., which is 37% less than the 10.1 ft. lbs. of recoil that a typical, full power 100 grain .243 load would generate.
This would be desirable when introducing a young or very recoil sensitive shooter to centerfire rifle shooting. However, the shooter should progress to shooting a .243 Winchester rifle with full power 95 or 100 grain bullet loads before he or she goes deer hunting.
The Remington Managed Recoil .30-30 load (125 grain RN bullet, MV 2175 f.p.s.) has a MPBR of 200 yards, but its EKR is only 60 yards by my standards. (Remington claims this load is "fully effective on deer out to 125 yards." -Editor)
The alternative Hornady Custom Lite .30-30 load (150 grain RN bullet, MV 2100 f.p.s.) achieves a MPBR of 190 yards and an EKR of 115 yards. It is therefore effective on deer size game within 115 yards.
By comparison, a Federal standard factory .30-30 load (150 grain RN bullet at 2390 f.p.s. MV) has a both a MPBR and EKR of 215 yards. Clearly, the standard factory load has a much longer effective killing range (and more power at shorter ranges) than either of the reduced loads.
Like the .243 load above, I see merit in these reduced .30-30 loads primarily for training neophyte shooters. The Remington and Hornady reduced recoil loads generate, respectively, 6.7 ft. lbs. and 8.4 ft. lbs. of recoil. These recoil levels are 40% and 24%, respectively, less than the 11.1 ft. lbs. of recoil from the standard factory load. If I were mentoring a newbie to hunt with a .30-30, I would make every effort to graduate him/her to full power .30-30 loads before hunting season arrives.
(I have worked out a way to manipulate bullet weight and powder charge combinations that reloaders can use to build reduced recoil .30-30 loads that have effective killing ranges of 170 to 175 yards. I will expound on these in a future article.)
Hunting loads for deer and other Class 2 game
The five cartridges and nine reduced loads in this group are the meat of the commercial reduced recoil loads sandwich. These loads are effective for hunting at moderate ranges, with recoil reduced to one-half or two-thirds of standard factory loads, depending on the cartridge and load.
(Note: Most of the loads below have enough downrange energy to produce KPS values exceeding the baseline value of 15.0 at ranges beyond the MPBR of the load. In these cases, I consider the EKR of the load to be the same as its MPBR, because I do not endorse the idea of taking hunting shots longer than the +/- 3 inch MPBR of any cartridge or load.)
Remington Managed Recoil load (140 grain PSP bullet, MV 2360 f.p.s.): This may be a reduced power load, but it still gets a quite respectable MPBR and EKR of 235 yards.
By comparison, a Remington standard power factory load with a 140 grain bullet at 2750 f.p.s. MV has a MPBR and EKR of 270 yards. The reduced load is only 13% shorter in range than the full power load.
The main effect of the reduced load is to drop recoil from 15.2 ft. lbs. (standard load) to 10.4 ft.lbs. This 32% reduction in recoil makes the .260 feel similar to a full power .243 Winchester.
Hornady and Remington both offer reduced recoil .270 Winchester loads. The Remington Managed Recoil load (115 grain PSP bullet, MV 2710 f.p.s.) generates a MPBR of 255 yards, but the light bullet sheds energy downrange, so the EKR is 200 yards. The Hornady Custom Lite load (120 grain SST bullet, MV 2675 f.p.s.) has greater range, with a MPBR and EKR of 260 yards.
The standard Hornady .270 Win.factory load features a 130 grain InterLock SP bullet at 3060 f.p.s. MV. This load has a MPBR and EKR of 295 yards. The reduced recoil loads cannot match this level of performance, but are still effective for Class 2 game at ranges of 200 yards or more, depending on the load selected.
There is very little to criticize about the .270 Winchester. About the only negative of the cartridge is that it does kick noticeably with full power loads. The full power Hornady factory load above would generate 17.3 ft. lbs. of recoil in an eight pound rifle.
The Remington and Hornady reduced recoil loads get recoil values of 10.8 and 12.0 ft. lbs., respectively. These are 38% and 31% below the recoil level of the full power load. These recoil numbers are comparable with the normal recoil levels of the .243 Winchester and .30-30 Winchester with full power loads.
Both companies offer reduced recoil loads for the increasingly popular 7mm-08 Remington. The Remington Managed Recoil load (140 grain Core-Lokt PSP bullet, MV 2360 f.p.s.) produces a MPBR and EKR of 230 yards. The Hornady Custom Lite load (120 grain SST bullet, MV 2675 f.p.s.) has a MPBR and EKR of 260 yards. Both reduced recoil loads generate 9.6 ft. lbs. of recoil in an 8 pound rifle, which is 37% less than the 15.2 ft. lbs. that the full power load produces.
For comparison, a Federal 7mm-08 Rem. full power load features a 140 grain bullet at 2800 f.p.s. This load has a MPBR and EKR of 280 yards, so the reduced loads above are, respectively, 50 yards and 20 yards shorter than the full power load.
The Remington Managed Recoil load (125 grain PSP bullet, MV 2660 f.p.s.) has an EKR of 225 yards. The MPBR of this load is 245 yards. The Hornady Custom Lite load (125 grain SST bullet, MV 2675 f.p.s.) generates a 230 yard EKR and 255 yard MPBR. The Remington and Hornady reduced recoil loads generate estimated recoil of 11.2 and 11.3 ft. lbs.
The standard Hornady Custom .308 Win. factory load (150 grain SP bullet, MV 2820 f.p.s.) produces 270 yard MPBR and EKR performance. This full power load generates 16.1 ft. lbs. of recoil, so the reduced loads produce 30% less recoil than the .308 Win. standard factory load.
The reduced recoil .30-06 loads offered are virtually identical to the .308 Winchester loads above. For the record, these loads are:
These loads may be compared with the Hornady Custom 165 grain BTSP .30-06 full power load, at a MV of 2800 f.p.s. This load has an EKR and MPBR range of 275 yards.
The .30-06 reduced recoil loads produce recoil of 11.3 ft. lbs. (Remington) and 11.7 ft. lbs. (Hornady) of recoil energy. These are, respectively, 42% and 40% less than the 19.5 ft. lbs. recoil of the Hornady full power .30-06 load.
It is notable that the reduced loads for the five cartridges in this group all get recoil values that are very close to the recoil levels generated by full power .243 Winchester or .30-30 Winchester loads. In fact, Remington literature compares the recoil of their Managed Recoil .270 Win., .308 Win. and .30-06 loads to their full power, 100 grain Core-Lokt .243 load.
Reduced recoil magnum loads
Remington and Hornady make reduced recoil loads for the 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum. These two magnum cartridges, with appropriate full power loads, are effective on all Class 2 and Class 3 game (elk, moose, etc.). For the hunter who wants to use a rifle in either of these calibers for hunting deer, the full power loads are unnecessarily powerful (on both ends of the rifle). Therefore, reduced recoil loads make a great deal of sense.
I assumed a field ready rifle weight of eight pounds for recoil comparisons of the non-magnum cartridges and loads analyzed above. However, magnum rifles are (and should be) typically heavier than rifles chambered for non-magnum cartridges. Accordingly, I assumed a field ready rifle weight of nine pounds for recoil evaluation of the 7mm and .300 Magnum rifles.
7mm Remington Magnum
For the Remington Managed Recoil load (140 grain PSP bullet, MV 2710 f.p.s.), the EKR and MPBR are 265 yards. The Hornady Custom Lite load (139 grain SST bullet, MV 2800 f.p.s.) scores EKR and MPBR distances of 280 yards.
For comparison, a full power Federal Premium 160 grain Nosler Partition load, at 2950 f.p.s. MV, has an EKR and MPBR of 290 yards. This Federal 7mm Rem. Mag. full power load generates recoil energy of 22.6 ft. lbs. in a nine pound rifle.
The recoil energy of the Hornady Custom Lite load is 16.6 ft. lbs. (27% less) and the Remington Managed Recoil load generates 14.7 ft. lbs. of recoil energy (35% less). These reduced loads have recoil in the neighborhood of that generated by full power 7mm-08 or .308 Win. loads.
.300 Winchester Magnum
The Remington Managed Recoil .300 Win. Mag. load (150 grain PSP bullet, MV 2650 f.p.s.) produces a MPBR and EKR of 250 yards. The Hornady Custom Lite .300 Win. Mag. reduced load (150 grain SST bullet, MV 2800 f.p.s.) has a MPBR and EKR of 275 yards.
A Hornady .300 Win. Mag. full power, heavy bullet load features a 180 grain GMX bullet at 3070 f.p.s. This load has a MPBR and EKR of 305 yards, so the reduced loads above are, respectively, 55 yards and 30 yards shorter than the full power load.
The Remington Managed Recoil load generates 16.3 ft. lbs. of recoil in a nine pound rifle, 43% less than the 28.7 ft. lbs. produced by the Hornady full power load. The Hornady reduced recoil load produces 19.8 ft. lbs. of recoil, which is 31% less than the full power load.
This analysis indicates the Hornady Custom Lite reduced recoil .243 Winchester load should only be used for training, plinking and hunting Class 1 game. It should not be considered a viable deer cartridge.
The .30-30 Winchester reduced recoil loads are also primarily training and plinking loads; they are, at best, marginal deer loads. If pressed into service for hunting deer, remember they are short range loads and their use should be restricted to about 100 yards (or less).
Reduced recoil loads for the second group of cartridges (.260 Remington through .30-06) are quite useful in the field. Effective killing ranges for the loads in this group range from 200 yards to 260 yards.
Very few hunting shots on Class 2 game come at distances over 260 yards and the vast majority are well under 200 yards. A hunter using a reduced recoil load in one of the calibers in this group is not giving up a lot of shot making potential, relative to using full power loads in the same cartridge.
The numbers indicate that the reduced loads for the 7mm Remington Magnum and .300 Winchester Magnum are fully capable on Class 2 game out to ranges of 250 yards plus, while reducing recoil from uncomfortable levels (over 20 ft. lbs.) to a more tolerable 15 to 20 ft. lbs. In one sense, these are the most useful of all the loads surveyed. For hunting Class 2 game, they make 7mm Magnum and .300 Magnum rifles similar in performance and approximately as comfortable to shoot as full power loads in rifles on the order of the .270 Win., .308 Win. and .30-06.
Copyright 2017 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.