Of course there isn’t an ideal weight for a particular big-bore rifle, or ALL big-bore rifles. There are many variables that we need to consider.
The FIRST among them is the individual who owns and shoots them. There are numerous distinctions among shooters of BIG BORES that make pontifical pronouncements as to what a particular BIG BORE should weigh impractical. Shooters come in different sizes, physical conditions, strength, experience, age, health, natural ability and temperament.
The SECOND consideration must be the rifle itself, and the cartridge it fires. There are nearly as many distinctions there as in the variety and conditions of shooters!
< My former CZ 550 in .458 Winchester Magnum. It had a full-length magnum action (permitting a 3.8″ COL) and a 25″ barrel. The scope was a fixed 4x by 21mm with a 5″ eye relief. The total package with four cartridges (it would hold five plus one in the chamber) was just over 11 and 1/4 lbs with extra metal in the forearm for strength. It’s overall (one word,not two) length was just over 46″. I never noticed the weight much, but the length was only noticed in travelling through alder patches where there was no trail. I was 74 years old at the time. < That particular moose hunt in 2009
But the first question to be answered is “What is a Big-Bore Rifle?” Thankfully, there are not as many credible answers to that question as in individuals who might shoot them. I’ve gone on record a couple of times in stating that in relatively recent history (since the introduction of smokeless gun powder), Big Bores normally start at .40-caliber, and on up from there to recognised/established calibers used on the African Big Five, ergo: the .577 NE. But also with a minimal muzzle KE of about 4000 ft-lbs. So I’ll stick with those parameters in these discussions. Obviously there is, and will be, significant distinctions between a Big Bore that produces little more than 4000 ft-lbs of muzzle energy from one that produces nearly 8000 ft-lbs of KE! And not just in the product of bullet impact on game, but the opposite and equal force of bullet momentum. Therefore, a rifle that “only” produces 40 ft-lbs of recoil will not have the same physical effect on the shooter as one that produces 100 ft-lbs of recoil! That is why the rifle producing 100 ft-lbs of recoil needs a muzzle brake and more weight, and/or a tough “nut behind the butt”! – to quote Phil Shoemaker.
So, having established some general parameters for the rifle itself, we go on from there to bring the individual shooter and suitable Big Bore together.
As it concerns true Big Bores, the shooter is NOT competing as a target shooter, but as a hunter or professional guide. (That’s NOT to say that a particular hunter using a Big Bore may not also engage in competitive shooting of firearms.) The physical conditions for using a Big Bore in hunting is rarely the same as in competitive shooting of a firearm. But competitive shooting may play a significant role in training for hunting with a big-bore rifle (If any of that makes sense to you.).
As mentioned, age, physical condition, mental state, experience and temperament all play roles in the ability to adequately manage a heavier rifle than “normal”, and endure without turbulence its recoil. That’s all very personal, and only the individual can decide (after some experience and use) their comfort level both physically and mentally. It’s NEVER a case of “one size fits all”.
Yet suggestions can be made, and that should be AFTER adequate trials and some experience. “Adequate trials and some experience” may simply be a single hunt on home turf. Or a few experiences at the range. On the other hand it could take a full season of hunting in which both ability and appreciation grows to the point of actually liking and accepting the rifle for multiple hunts, or turning away from it completely.< Developing loads for the CZ 550 and testing them in 2008.
When I bought my first 1895 Marlin in .45-70, I loved it for bear hunting, and later it became my primary rifle for whitetails also. Factory ammo was never used in that rifle and my hunting handloads were taken from Speer’s Manual # 11 – the top load of H322 behind their 400g. But 56 grains didn’t reach their book load, so I added one grain to 57 that nearly attained the book MV — just not quite at 1865 fps (instrumental). Back in those days I didn’t correct to MV. It turned out that 1865 fps was really 1882 fps when corrected to MV, which was very close to Speer’s results, but it took that 1-grain more than “the book”. The rifle plus ammo and scope was no “lightweight” at 8.6 lbs ready and with a recoil at 32.6 ft-lbs — all of which seemed “normal” to me at age 43 and 210 lbs, and in very good physical condition. Over the next twenty years I moved towards more powerful Big Bores with more recoil and weight. So I didn’t just jump into heavy hitters (at both ends) from the get go… It was a process over time, from which I’ve never looked back wishing for small bores or sub-mediums. Ergo, my “Blog about BIG BORES”.
< Age 43 and 210 lbs at 5′ – 9 1/4″ in bare feet.
Today, I’m within a month of 86 at 160 lbs and 5′- 8 1/2″ in bare feet! Despite that, my main rifle is the Ruger #1 in .458 Winchester Magnum, single-shot at 10.6 lbs with a Nikon 2 – 7 x 32mm scope, and four rounds of ammo attached: 1 in the chamber and 3 in a buttstock ammo holder. Recoil is, on average, about the same as the Marlin above. It is somewhat mitigated by the Mag-na-ports (15% is claimed) and much more by the overall weight. I’ve owned it since May, 2018, and fired more than 200 rounds at “full bore”, including 500s, 480’s, 450’s, 400’s, 350’s, and 300’s.
Right now, my hunting load for deer, bear and wolf is a 250gr Hornady MonoFlex at 2610 fps producing about 23 ft-lbs of recoil. Three shots at 50 yards made a ragged hole of sub-MOA. I hope to do some bear and wolf hunting til the end of November, and then to the end of the year for wolf. The rifle toted will be the 10.6 lb Ruger #1 in .458.
None of this is intended as boasting, but simply to emphasise once more that the weight of a rifle, and its recoil, is a personal thing. I have a much lighter medium-bore rifle suitable for any big game. It’s lighter by three pounds. Right now it’s in a shop for a muzzle break and will not be ready for a couple of months. I want to keep it at 7.7 lbs ready to hunt in deep snow. I use snow shoes, so lighter is better. But being “light”, I want to tone down it’s recoil without adding weight, so have decided on a “slim-line” muzzle brake. I’ll also be wearing electronic ear muffs.
All that to point out that there are ways and means of dealing with the weight and recoil of a BIG BORE. Muzzle brakes are common fare these days. So are less bulky electronic ear muffs. I recently bought some from Cabella’s at 40% off retail! My .458 also has the Mag-na-ports… in case you missed that! The electronic ear muffs will help nullify that feature while permitting amplified hearing of game. I’ve already tried “normal” muffs in my hunting area, that I use at the range, and that worked very well but they’re bulky and inhibit the hearing of any noises I might want to hear while hunting. I did own a set of electronic muffs many years ago, but they were very bulky and uncomfortable for hunting – and got “worn out”. These, recently acquired, are Walker Razor “slim-line” that appear ideal for my purposes – but yet to be tried in actual hunting scenarios.
God has been very good to me in permitting better health and physical strength than I ‘ve had for a couple of years – and much better than the vast majority of 86 year olds! And perhaps better than many 65 year olds! BUT! It’s also a temperament and mental attitude thing as well as physical. The one does greatly affect the other! I’ve mentioned this previously, but it does bear repeating:
I learned a great lesson from an 83 year old real estate salesman in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, just north of the Vermont border, in 1970 in my 36th year. Along with a 55 year old colleague, I was shopping for an old vacant farm where our mission could establish a Christian camp and conference center. The sales representative showed us several at which we explored a lot of grown over hilly acreage. We spent a full, long day at this in the heat of summer, and were exhausted! Our salesman was still fresh and wanted to show us more vacant farms! I asked “How are you able to keep doing this?” His reply was simple: “I’ve been doing it for 25 to 30 years!” My next question: “How long do you plan on doing it?” His reply, without hesitation: “I dunno, as long as I’m able, I guess!”
The weight of a rifle, whatever it is, seemingly becomes heavier as we age. That’s very simply because our physical strength has deteriorated along with a mindset of wanting to give up on anything that’s more and more of a physical challenge. Especially, is that true if there are chronic illnesses and/or pains. But the more we give in (a temperament thing) to those “feelings”, the worse it gets to the point of no return. We become housebound or, worse, bedridden! I know, because as a minister of God’s gospel, I counsel the partners of like situations – even today! A couple of years ago I could have become one of that number myself! But I refused to give up or give in – by the LORD’s help! And today I’m a happy camper!
I’ll be at the range, firing those unused .458 rounds at the end of the season or until it’s too treacherous to travel. I’ve already plans for the beginning of bear season on May 1st, 2022. And I hope that will be in baiting again! Of course, I know The LORD GOD ALMIGHTY well enough to be aware that it all depends on His will and sovereignty! That’s OK with me! But making plans over winter for spring hunting, gives life to the soul! I know where I’m going in the end, and I’m not troubled by that either. Nor do I assume the troubles of the world can be solved by my involvement or even anxieties. That’s God’s business — humanity has messed up and will only make matters worse! In the meantime, I’ll take life as I find it with joy and gladness til He comes or calls me home!
All of that having to do with my attitude toward life as I knew it would be temporary here – whatever might be involved, including hunting and shooting with rifles! And knowing God (NOT religion!) in a personal way, by trusting Him, adds hope, encouragement and strength that would not be experienced without Him!
Moses, in the Exodus, after crossing the Red Sea with about two million Israelites, at plus eighty years of age wrote a song to be sung and rehearsed by Israel for millennia to come: EXODUS ch 15: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.
“The LORD is my strength and my defence; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God and I will exalt him.” –vs 1 – 2.
Next time: The BIG BORE RIFLE – P2 (Determining a suitable weight)