A gunsmith friend of mine told me that he is installing muzzle brakes on an assembly-line basis, three or four each week, mostly on rifles of .30 or upward, but some on smaller calibers as well. Kenny Jarrett and Mark Bansner, both rifle makers of the highest literary and moral worth, install muzzle brakes as standard equipment. Shades of Elmer Keith, what in the world is going on?

Several things. First, all rifles are far lighter than they used to be. I had the privilege of handling a .270 that was built in the late 1940s or early 1950s for Colonel Townsend Whelen, and with scope, it weighed over 10 pounds. This was a hunting rifle, not a target gun. Jack O’Connor’s beloved Al Biesen .270 was made in 1960, and it weighed 8 pounds, a lot less, but still quite heavy for a gun of that caliber by today’s standards. And of course, the less a rifle weighs, the more it kicks.

Second is the trend to more powerful cartridges. There was a time when the .30/06 was spoken of in hushed and reverent tones as a powerhouse that took years of practice to master. What the riflemen of the 1940s and 50s would have thought of the Remington RUM line, and the Lazzeroni long magnums, and the Weatherbys, and the .458 Lott, and the A-Square cartridges, is beyond my imagining. So, we have bigger rounds in lighter guns.

And third, we have undergone a cultural change which dictates that pain is not to be endured, but avoided. It’s a fact that the society from which you come dictates your tolerance for pain. An emergency-room doctor with whom I used to hunt told me that the people who had the least tolerance for pain were bikers, because they had no impulse control, and if they felt like screaming or bursting into sobs on the ER table, that’s what they did.

On the other hand, I’ve seen Bakwena tribesmen and Wyoming ranchers continue to function despite injuries that would leave the average American taking to his bed and eating Percoset by the handful. That’s because they come from societies in which you shut up, suffer, and do what you have to because you don’t have a choice.

I have nothing at all against muzzle brakes. If you’re recoil shy, you’ll shoot a lot better if you use them, and I’m all for that. Besides, hearing aids are getting more efficient all the time.