“A man’s got to know his limitations.” So said Inspector Harry Callahan in Magnum Force, and he was right. I get lots of questions on how hard various cartridges kick, and it’s an almost impossible question to answer because there are four factors in the equation: the load, the rifle, you and, oddly enough, public opinion. There was a time when the .45 ACP was thought of as almost unmanageable, and you still see it referred to as a brutal kicker. After World War I, the .30/06 was held in awe as something only the manliest of men would dare to shoot.
In a sense, this was correct. If you shot a Springfield 03 with its too-short stock, or a Winchester 95 with its crescent steel buttplate, you would suffer. And if you’ve never shot a .44 Magnum (or a .45 Casull), you will indeed think the .45 ACP a hard kicker.
The most important factor is the human one. Some people can shoot anything. I have a friend who shoots an 8-bore black powder double with a steel buttplate for fun, and I will not touch the thing. My own limit is a .458 Lott, which is about 70 foot-pounds of recoil. And that’s assuming that the rifle is not too light, has a straight stock, and a good recoil pad. Beyond this I do not go because there’s no sense to it. If there’s something you can’t drop with a Lott, maybe you need an RPG. If you go beyond your limit, you will develop a flinch, guaranteed, wreck your back, and detach your retinas.
Warren Page, who shot everything, loathed recoil, and made no bones about it. His dangerous-game rifle of choice was a .375 Weatherby Magnum (NOT the .378 Weatherby), largely because it kicked notably less than the over-.40s. You might keep that in mind. I do.