Rifle Recoil: The Shriek of the Mutilated

By Randy Wakeman

Excessive recoil is a bad thing, a really bad thing. It causes more problems than most imagine. There is nerve damage to your body and there may be a dramatic loss in field accuracy. It is a huge turn-off for newer, younger, and recoil-sensitive shooters. It stresses base screws, rings, flexes actions, destroys scopes, and cracks stocks. Developing a flinch can ruin the ability of a shooter to accurately place a shot, and can suck the fun out of the shooting sports. Actually, we are ALL recoil-sensitive-- some just a bit more than others.

The momentary machismo of bruising firearms is all too often displaced by equipment damage, damage to our own body, and damage to our own shooting skills. My last .338 Win. Mag. was sold a long while back. Too soon we get old, too late we get smart.

It's not just rifles, it is firearms in general. Far too many trapshooters have gone to release triggers in an effort to stop a flinch; the road back is very difficult, indeed. All too often, a clays gun is selected without a great deal of thought about recoil, and a couple of cases of shells later you may find yourself pounded into the ground like a tent stake. It was overzealous scattergun use that resulted in oral surgery to remove a mound of scar tissue from inside my right cheek. Too late we get smart, and I'm an example of that.

Somehow, we apparently believe that a rifle must kick hard to kill game efficiently. The harder it knocks us, the more "knock-down" power it must have. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. It is a matter of simple physics that in order for a rifle to literally "knock down" a game animal, it would also knock down the shooter with equal force.

Even those of us who recognize the huge negatives of excessive recoil often take a tortured path to side step it. We may know we can't handle the recoil; so on goes a muzzle break. Muzzle breaks have no place in the hunting woods whatsoever, as plenty of deaf guides will attest. Permanent hearing loss can be just one shot away with a muzzle brake.

We have had our fair share of help along the way in thinking recoil is not as damaging as it really is. Elmer Keith liked to say, "it is all in your head." Our heads deserve a bit more credit; our bodies intuitively try to protect themselves.

Naturally, the feisty Mr. Keith had a few other peculiar notions, such as the inability of the .270 Winchester to cleanly kill animals much more than varmints. Eighty years after its introduction, it remains today the most popular non-military big game cartridge ever introduced, and one of the most effective.

Aside from muzzle breaks, the unsuitability of some magnum calibers could not be more clearly presented than the current introduction of "managed recoil" loads from major ammo manufacturers. A managed recoil load for a 7mm Remington Magnum or a .300 Win. Mag. (effectively reinventing the 7x57 and .300 Savage) is tortured testimony to the fact that a lot of people realize that deer aren't particularly good at math. There are many shooters that have come to the conclusion that hard-recoiling guns can be a mistake, and they will quite gladly pay to correct it.

Too soon we grow old, too late we get smart. Velocity increases at the muzzle are a very poor substitute for stalking within sure killing range and carefully picking your shots. Focusing on shot placement and using bullets well suited for a particular species means so very, very much more. It means longer equipment life, more fun at the range, more success in the field, and a more pleasant shooting experience across the board.

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Copyright 2006 by Randy Wakeman. All rights reserved.