1)”Managing” — Controlling the movement or behaviour of; 2) “Manageable”– controllable. There are, of course, other definitions depending on application. Originally, it had to do with controlling a horse by breaking it’s will and through training. There may be some parallels here as at times some big boomers seem to have a will of their own. Many devices, ways and means have been suggested, tried and improved upon, but we shouldn’t expect that cursing these rifles that kick like mules will bring about better behaviour.
Yet it is possible to tame the actual recoil of Big Bores and magnums to a level of “felt recoil” that’s at least tolerable. That will be the main point of this series of lectures. The focus will be on techniques, devices and the rifle’s ergonomics. Today, we’ll commence with techniques.
First off, however, we need to expose some bad habits and bad experiences. Assuming I’m talking to some who’ve had a bad experience, or two, with a Big Bore or heavy magnum, let me suggest some “NEVER” rules:
Rule No.1: NEVER let anyone intimidate or embarrass you into shooting their Big Bore or heavy magnum just for giggles and chuckles if you are not into that sort of thing. It takes training and a gradual introduction to that level of power. Why? Because the difference in the “kick” of a normal .308 Winchester 150gr factory load and a top 500gr handload from a .458 Winchester Magnum is on the order of three to four times, depending on weight of rifles as one example! The recoil of some top loads in a .458 Win Mag can attain 80 ft-lbs whereas the recoil of a 180 gr “normal” load in a .308 Winchester may be less than 20 ft-lbs, again, depending on rifle weights and a few other factors. So there is really no way for a relative novice of Big Bore shooting to make that adjustment in a single step. Experience only with “normal” hunting rifles, where a majority of relatively new shooters are influenced by the hunting and shooting media in thinking “light is right”, will never prepare a novice for 40 to 80 ft-lbs of free recoil.
Rule No. 2: When Marlin introduced their Guide Gun in .45-70, it had the infamous porting. At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea. That didn’t last very long, though. With a short barrel of only 18.5 inches and a bore of .458″, that rifle was already doomed to be troublesome from the noise factor if the pressure was in the 40,000 psi range. Add the stupid porting and clients were asking for serious hearing problems. With good reason, Marlin dropped the porting within a couple of years. I owned one of the early ones and within a year “it went down the road”. That was the most miserable thing to shoot I’ve ever owned due to the blast factor! And I still won’t own one even without the porting. The blast factor from an 18.5″ barrel that close to your face from a muzzle with a hole nearly 1/2″ diameter will never be pleasant when the muzzle psi is close to 10,000 or more.
If you are not a guide don’t choose a “Guide Gun” with a big bore and a shorty barrel! Or one that burns upwards of 90 grains of powder with only a 20″ spout — unless you really want to loose your hearing. Yeah, I know it’s a fad, or “the IN THING”, but there’s really no need for such a rifle except possibly in the hands of someone who must finish off a wounded dangerous beast at very close quarters! I’ve found, on average, that a 22″ barrel is best for an 1895 Marlin in .45-70. And a 24 – 26 inch is best overall for standard magnums from 7mm to .375 H&H. Barrel length contributes to the noise factor which in turn affects more than is realized the “felt recoil” factor.
It seems like a popular sport (at least on YouTube) to watch the reactions of novice shooters at a range when handed a heavy recoiling rifle. There’s no instruction given and usually these are younger shooters of both sexes. These misadventures often end in minor or major physical injury, and severe trauma to nerves. Also, often the rifle is dropped or lost complete control of to the point of flying into the face of the shooter or crashing to the ground. It’s rare, but on occasion a young lady or young man miraculously manages to control the recoil to such a degree that all appears normal. If there is anything to be learned from all this, other than some sort of bargain basement humour, it is to carefully observe the techniques of the youths who have miraculously survived the ordeal. What did they do right?
Technique at the bench: There is a major conflict over the best way to shoot from a bench. Because most of my bench shooting has involved Big Bores and magnums, I learned early on how best to deal with recoil on the magnitude of 35 ft-lbs (a .300 magnum) to 80 ft-lbs (a light Ruger No.1 in .45-70 Improved shooting 500gr Hornadys at 2200 fps.).
According to conventional wisdom, I appeared to be doing everything wrong as to technique (see pic). Yet it worked for me. Then I read an article from a “well known” author — that I actually forget his name, but I think it was either John Wootters or John Knonfeld — which made the point that to attempt to shoot a true Big Bore or heavy-kicking magnum from a bench in the typical bench-rest fashion of target shooters was a good way to injure yourself at worst or bruise your ego at the least. “Ah-ha!” I said to myself, just what I’ve experienced. And then, what he suggested I was already practising!
Do you want to know what he recommended and what I had already learned? Look at the photo and everything you may think is wrong is what actually saved me from physical harm to face, fingers and shoulder, as well as wrecked nerves! Never once did I suffer harm or come to detest the rifle and load because of its recoil! It’s not merely a matter of “enduring” pain but, rather, a matter of controlling recoil so it doesn’t intimidate or hurt.
As in any challenge of life, we can’t always stop the challenge if we want to survive or get through it, but it can be managed or controlled by redirecting its energy. That’s what managing recoil is all about.
Note my form at the bench in actual shooting my CZ550 in .458 Winchester Magnum. Those were not toned-down loads, but full magnum loads of either 350’s at 2750 fps+ or 500’s at over 2200 fps. That rifle had a 25″ barrel keeping muzzle blast away from ears. It also added weight to the front end helping to keep the barrel from wanting to go skyward. In all, as pictured, total weight is nearly 11 lbs! The rifle had good balance and weight, so it never intimidated. That’s an important key, right there.
What I had learned and what was enforced by that article mentioned, was, in the case of a RH shooter, hold a firm grip on the fore-end with your left hand while pulling the rifle tight to the shoulder. Also have a tight grip with the shooting hand while also holding rifle tight to shoulder. Squeeze the trigger and let your body become part of the weight of the rifle, resisting while still moving with the recoil as a breaking mechanism. The recoil then feels like a heavy push than a knock-out blow from Mike Tyson!
Don’t “crawl” the stock in getting your eye as close as possible to scope lens, unless you want the infamous magnum cut over the eye. In sighting in at the military range in Bedford N.S., a fellow hunter was shooting a heavy lever-action Winchester in .45-70 prone. He had just previously mounted a big scope but not yet fired the rifle with scope. After a big boom, he lay there as cold as a mackerel with blood pouring from his forehead!
In speaking of scopes, get one with a loooong eye-relief! The Burris on that .458 has an eye relief of 5 inches! Then, and this may take a bit of practice but it has always worked for me, back away from the scope a couple of inches, from what appears normal, to the point where the image circle begins to shrink. You don’t need the full picture at the range, but just enough to center the crosshairs on the point of the target you want to hit. Just make sure that the crosshairs are centered in the circle. I’ve done this for over 1/4 century without any problems and have shot thousands of MOA (or less) groups at 100 yards. It keeps me from worrying about getting hit in the face by magnum recoil. I’ve ALWAYS zeored my rifles in this manner as well. Never has a scope touched my face in practising from a bench or while hunting in the field.
Use enough padding for the shoulder and sit up straight. I not only use a magnum PAST shoulder protector but also a terry-cloth towel folded over several times under jacket, sweater or shirt (depending on weather) with the PAST protector on the outside that the rifle butt rests against. Speaking of which, make sure you have the best butt pad possible on your rifle. If the current one is like the rubber on these mega earth movers, have it changed by a good smith to the “best”. Let me emphasize again: I’VE NEVER BEEN HURT BY USING THESE METHODS! Don’t try to prove to yourself, or onlookers, that you can “take it” and don’t need all that protection!
Should you be shooting several rifles at the range (or a range at home), be sure and use all the protection possible for any true Big Bore or heavy magnum. So you should do the light bores first without the added protection
and then set up for the heavies. Last week my second son and I were at the range. I was shooting heavy loads in the 9.3 X 62 and in my Ruger No.1 IMP. He was shooting a new Savage in .17 Hornet. He asked me to chronograph several factory loads. Now that rifle — weighing around 10 lbs — had about the felt recoil of a .22 WMR, so you will notice the difference in my form/technique than when shooting a .458 Win Mag.
(Left click on pics to enlarge. Click on return arrow to go back to text.)
Eye protection is mandated at our range, as is ear protection. But I use ear plugs PLUS the usual ear protectors. In the end, the protection of vision AND hearing is most important! And, believe it or not, the deadening of muzzle blast to a mere “pop” seems to lessen felt recoil in addition to all other techniques.
Rifle weight, stock ergonomics and balance all have their part to play in managing a rifle and it’s felt recoil. In other words, don’t get overly impressed with the “rage” that “light is right”. Right is right. There is a perfect harmony between weight, shape and recoil. Despite what we may read or hear, to find that perfect balance you must try various combinations… that could break the bank unless you have friends who are generous in allowing you to try their Big Bores. Or, best yet… do what I did over years — work up gradually from a .300 magnum to Mediums before going to truly Big Bores and heavy magnums. If you start with a .45-70, as I did, don’t just stay with ancient ballistics. Gradually move on up to modern loads. Then a .375 H&H will seem like what a .308 Winchester used to be in recoil. Believe me, that’s true!
More to come…