Muzzle blast, which is not physically connected to recoil, can nonetheless seem to make a rifle kick harder. You can develop a raging flinch from shooting a muzzle-braked rifle or a short-barreled rifle without hearing protection. You’ll swear it kicks like a mule even though it doesn’t.
_Executive Editor Mike Toth with a scope cut he got from shooting the big gun
Even the way you are built is a factor. Recoil flings around small, slender people in a spine-chilling manner. But they are actually suffering less than heavyset people because they give with the shove, whereas the fire-hydrant types soak up every bit of it. Of the people I know who have been permanently screwed up by kick, all of them are close to 6 feet tall and weigh over 180 pounds. There is not a lightweight in the lot.
How Much Is Too Much?
For most shooters, the cutoff for real recoil is around the .30/06 or 7mm Rem. Mag. level, which is about 25 foot-pounds. When you add 10 foot-pounds, the average shooter really feels it—and will not shoot the rifle very well.
There is a huge divide between the .375 H&H and the .40-caliber and larger rounds. I believe a considerable number of shooters can’t or shouldn’t shoot anything bigger than a .375. My own personal limit is the .458 Lott. Bigger rifles exist: The .460 Weatherby, for example, develops just over 100 foot-pounds. I have shot one on several occasions, but I’m not about to do so anymore.
Five Quick Fixes
In case you’re really suffering, here are some steps that will bring you instant relief.
1. Get rid of your aluminum or hard-plastic buttplate, or your cheap, unyielding-as-granite factory recoil pad, and replace it with a soft, squishy premium recoil pad. Talk to your gunsmith; a good pad is about $35 and the installation is about $40.
2. Get a muzzle brake. They’re not cheap and they’ll rip your ears to shreds if you’re not plugged and muffed, but they really do save you a lot of foot-pounds. This is another gunsmith job. Most brakes are $90–$150; because installation is an individual matter, I can’t give you a price for that. Some shooters opt to have Mag-na-ports cut in their barrel. This will reduce muzzle jump but not recoil, and bullet jacket fouling tends to collect at the rear corners of the ports, eventually cutting accuracy.
3. If you have an older rifle with loads of drop at the comb, get a more modern stock with a lot less drop. Here, your options are many. Unless your rifle is extremely rare or odd, you can choose among wood, laminated wood, and synthetic stocks. See your gunsmith. Most good-quality replacements of any type cost $100–$200 before any installation work is done.
4. Have a gunsmith install an inertia recoil reducer (or better yet, a pair of them) in your stock. They will change the balance of your rifle and increase its weight by about a pound, but they work. The ones I’ve used with great success are made by Edwards and go for $60 each. Gunsmiths charge around $70 for installation.
5. A heavy trigger pull will add greatly to the unpleasantness of a hard-kicking rifle. A light, crisp trigger will make it easier to set the thing off, rendering the whole experience more tolerable. Don’t even think about diddling with a trigger. Take it to a gunsmith, who will tune it for $50–$75. If he says that it is beyond hope (a number of factory triggers can’t be altered), figure $90 or so for a Timney or a Shilen, or if you want something really fancy like a Jewell, have $300 on you. The installation cost varies depending on how much work has to be done.
One more thing: Don’t ever fall for one of the more pervasive myths in riflery, which goes: “Even if you flinch when you’re shooting at targets, you won’t flinch when you’re shooting at game because you won’t feel the recoil.” If you are afraid of a particular gun, you are going to stay afraid of it, and you’ll miss. Period.