Truthfully, I can say that I never gave it much thought until the purchase of a .300 Winchester Magnum. I started handloading with a couple of .30-06’s, followed by a BAR in 7 Rem Mag. The BAR had a rather serious flaw that no local smith could fix… it had to be returned to a certified Browning shop and there were none in my part of the world. Had I waited on an authorized Browning smith for a new barrel the rifle could be gone for over a year, so it went back to the dealership and in exchange he gave me the best he could at the time: an M70 Winchester XTR in .300 Winchester Magnum.
I’d read “stories” of the terrific recoil or “kick” of that “monster magnum”, yet being unafraid I still wondered over that first experience of pulling the trigger on a powerful rifle that, seemingly, had a reputation for dishing out hurt on both ends. But a friend of mine had gone to Kenya as a teacher and administrator at the Rift Valley Academy, and had taken M70s in both a .458 and .300 Win Mag. To my knowledge he had no previous experience with either AND no qualms over their appropriate use.
Anyway, no factory ammo was purchased as I was set up for handloads. Going from memory, I chose a top load for 180gr Hornady SPs and away to the games! After shooting several at a range I thought, “That was easy, no big deal!” Not much more than my former M70 in .30-06! Of course, the .300 was at least a pound heavier – in fact a bit too heavy for my liking. I thought, and probably said, “It doesn’t need to be built like a .458!” So it only stayed with me for around 6 months or so and got traded for a new SAKO FS in .338 Winchester Magnum. And shortly after that an 1895 Marlin in .45-70 was added… all were fed my handloads that were at the top end of matters in both ballistics and recoil – upwards of 40 ft-lbs calculated – still no trauma on my end.
Strange for some, perhaps, but a powerful rifle’s “kick” had never turned me away from any of them as I WANTED the most they could give for what I’d be hunting and where: bears and moose… in far away and tough places!< Like my .340 Wby at 1000 miles from home!
As I’ve maintained for the past three decades at least: the management of recoil is more attitude than science. Physics IS a factor, and so is the management of that aspect of matters… BUT after all is done to mitigate the physical part of that jolt – and only so much can be done (reduced loads, stock fit, weight, shoulder protection, etc – there’s still the mental part!
Let’s face it, there are many women who can deal with physical pain far better than many able bodied men! Also, being relatively smaller than the average male, they may still deal with the psychological aspects as well or better than some sport’s heros who want and expect to be coddled and pampered! My wife is such a woman…
The anticipation of physical pain can be worse than the pain itself! After all, who in a state of sanity likes to have their jaw pried open an inch or two beyond normal so a person in a white coat and a bright light in the middle of their forehead could begin working inside with 3″ needles, pliers, hammers and drills! Ha! I’m one who puts dentists at the top of my list in a file entitled AVOID AT ALL COST! I kid you not… I’d much rather hit the range with my .458, shoot twenty rounds of 500 grainers at 2300 fps, non stop, than to have to see a dentist! Of course, the key words are: “have to” because some tooth aches are literally far worse than the needles, pliers, hammer and drills! So we choose the lesser of two evils.
I think I may have endured – to this point – my share of life’s physical pains, but the worst by far was a tooth ache that lasted for “eternity” – actually a couple of days and nights at the age of 10 or 11 until I thought I was going crazy. A dentist had removed a decaying tooth… or part of it, the part above the gum line and left the rest in the jaw! There was one dentist in our world and on the wrong side of the border. Anyway, my mom arranged matters to get me there – the same “doctor” who’d broken off the tooth, and finally with “drills, hammer and tongs” managed to get out the bottom half with roots! I’ve “hated” dentists ever since! No, not really, but I understand their pain that they “fear” being the most under appreciated professionals of society!
Emotional or psychological pain is as real as physical but of another classification. It’s much more difficult to apprehend and explain because it has it’s roots in thought processes…. why and how a person responds to particular events that could be so imminent that they don’t even recognize the cause of their reactions. It’s real, and if severe enough they need professional help as much as a person with a broken leg. “A broken spirit, who can heal?” the Bible mentions. In my professional life as a pastor, I’ve had to counsel many, and so has my wife. ‘Tis true, God can heal broken spirits but most times he uses his servants to assist in that work. In a car accident with loss of life, there is not only the physical aspect of matters but great emotional trauma as well!
I’ve conducted scores of funerals, but prior to and after there are often broken hearts to help mend. My very first funeral was of a beautiful 3 yr old little girl that died of the Asiatic Flu in 1957. My wife and I had just been married in late June and a week later I’d received a call to become pastor of four country churches in central New Brunswick. We’d just returned from our honeymoon in Maine when I received this invitation. After a weekend of meetings in those churches we returned to her parents home just in time to find her father in immense pain. He had to be rushed across the border to the only medical doctor within reach, then across the border again to a Canadian hospital where three weeks later he died at age 52.
A month later I conducted the funeral of the 3 yr old little girl. I was 21, my wife 20 and her mother 50. My wife was an only child and her mother wanted her home to be with her. Physical trauma… mental trauma… which is first or most significant?
There is plain old pain… and then there is real PAIN! And the recoil of any rifle, no matter how big and powerful, can be tempered by good sense and techniques. If stupidity is not allowed in that room, the pain of recoil cannot be classed with the trauma mentioned above. It is neither life threatening nor is there need for psychological help before or after that experience.< That’s my recently acquired .375 H&H. It was on a bear hunt… and that’s currently on-going till the middle of June with the same load: a 250gr Sierra Game King at +3000 fps. Calculated recoil is 45 ft-lbs, and it weighs 10 lbs as you see it with a 3 – 9 x 40mm scope and three in the magazine. It has no muzzle brake… I don’t fear its recoil if a bear shows up!
But let me quickly add this: NEVER ever hand a powerful centerfire rifle (or 12ga shotgun) to a young kid to shoot at a target or wildlife without proper training and experience. Start them young with an air rifle, then a 22LR, and gradually introduce them to more powerful rifles over time with adequate supervision and experience until it’s obvious they’re ready to make some choices on their own.
My friend, Glendon, mentioned above, was extraordinary in several ways. Apart from being a Christian and a sports enthusiast, he had a sharp intellect that got him through high school at age seventeen, bible college and a couple of universities by age twenty-three, and he married and was principal of the local high school in the area where I was a pastor and had been for a couple of years. He, along with his wife and young child attended our main church next door to where we lived. Our two families became intimate friends. He taught me chess and golf, and was curious about my hunting. Two years later he and wife with their very young daughter headed off to Kenya – he taking the .300 and .458 Winchesters. He ended up becoming a “mighty hunter” of PG and the Dangerous Five… when on furlough sharing stories with us of killing dozens of PG with the .300 and many DG using the .458, and never once mentioned how bad the recoil was from the .458! When facing an elephant, the last thing on the mind is the recoil of a rifle, and he shot many of them.
Was he a big-mean, tough guy? No! Not really -he was average size… about 5′-10″ and 165 lbs, but “tough” mentally! He rationalized matters – much like I’ve done. He understood “hurt” to be in other matters – he had to deal with a stutter from childhood until as a grown man he knew public comunications as a teacher – missionary demanded he be clear and confident as a public speaker! So, he set about to educate himself on why this was happening to him (he was very outgoing and friendly) and how to overcome it! When I first met him, I would never have guessed he had a stutter until he told me about it!
There are good and viable lessons there in defeating a handicap! And I also know from experience what it can mean to be free of that fear. Glendon, with his wife and family, had spent a lifetime in Kenya. When home on furloughs, he’s preached, talked and taught in many schools and churches, including the University of New Brunswick – with clairty and confidence. If still with us and asked today about his .458 experience, he’d laugh and say something like: “That was fun… sorry that it ended so soon when Kenya shut down hunting. But, I just continued with golfing… that was fun too!”
If alive he’d be 88, a year older than myself! I know he’s NOT disgruntled or unhappy wherever he is!
This is a wilderness area over an hour’s drive from my home and ~ a mile from my vehicle parked on a dirt sideroad.
< That rifle is a CZ 550 in .458 Winchester Magnum. Barrel length at 25″ screwed into a full length Mauser magnum action that allowed a COL of up to 3.8″ for the longer 450 and 500gr monolithic bullets. The scope was a Burris fixed 4x by 20mm with a long 5″ eye relief. All-up weight with four in magazine was 11 lbs. Date is October, 2009 and I had a bear license in my pocket. In June of that year I had these results from the handloads being used in that hunt: 350gr TSX at 2746 fps, 2745, 2748, 2748, 2746, 2744 and 2746. COL was 3.44″over 80 grains of H4198 in Winchester brass and ignited by WLRM primers. Average instrumental = 2746 fps at fifteen feet from the muzzle. For correction to MV add 16 fps = 2762 fps/ 5928 ft-lbs. They typically shot three into sub-moa at 100 yds.
I’d strongly advise against a lightweight Big Bore of less than 9 lbs ready to hunt with scope and ammo. Some internet heros boast of their “.416 Whatever” Magnum at 7.5 lbs, or even less! That’s a perfect way to develop brain trauma over time if fired at the range and in hunting on a regular basis, or even semi-regular. Some even display the bruises on their shoulder to display their “toughness” if NOT “thoughtful” consideration of their future wellbeing!
However, as I’ve aged (now 87) and having to deal with a number of health issues, including a few attacks of severe arthritis, I’ve lost considerable weight including some muscle mass. As previously reported, I’ve taken some steps to lessen the effect of recoil without dramatically reducing loads – though I’ve done that too.
When purchased my Ruger No.1H in .458 Win already had Mag-Na-Porting (Pic at top of page in the header), which I do believe reduces “felt recoil” by up to 15% as claimed by that company. But the main reason for its purchase , or trading my Ruger No.1 in .45-70 LT for it, plus a shotgun, was it’s weight at nearly 10 lbs without scope. With the 2 – 7 x 32mm Nikon it weighs 10. 25 lbs. With one in the chamber (400 grainers) and four in a buttstock cartridge holder, it comes in at 10.65 lbs. That’s about 2 lbs more than my former No.1 in .45-70 LT that produced upwards of 30% more recoil from a similar load – 2200 fps from a 500gr Hornady in the .45-70 LT vs 2300 fps from the No.1H in .458 Win. 55 ft-lbs (calculated) for the No.1H in .458, including the Mag-Na-Ports, and 71 ft-lbs (calculated) for the No1, .45-70 LT = 29% greater. Of course, those are approximate as the weight of 5 cartridges are included for each… BUT that’s in hunting! At the range I loaded a single cartridge for each when fired – no extras on the stocks – which increased the felt recoil more than with four added to the stock cartridge holder, and usually significantly more than from an offhand stance which allows added body movement under recoil than in bench shooting.
In addition, I’ve had a brake installed on my 9.3 x 62, plus reducing the main hunting loads by a couple of grains. Then, my single-shot .35 Whelen – that’s a rather lite rifle – came with a muzzle brake – which I also load “hot” but with lighter bullets – the 225gr AB in particular at +2800 fps. That rifle weighs 7.75 lbs with one in the chamber and a 3 – 9 x 40mm scope. That’s a light and handy walk-about rifle with lots of reach and power for anything I might hunt – except follow-up on a wounded bear in a nasty place. Recoil of that one is only an afterthought.< Seen here next to a bear-bait tub in May, 2022.
BEAR HUNT UPDATE: Friday, May 19/23
Last year (May 2022) I removed the bait from the location pictured above because it appeared there might be another bear hunter in the area. I relocated it to where it is now, this May, 2023. In fact, on the 1st day of May, this year, I started baiting in the same spot as last year until it was confirmed on May 3/23 that another operation had moved to within 150 yds of mine, as I reported on May 6/23.
I moved the bait on that day (May 3/23) to the same location as one year ago – about two miles away from that scene in May 2022.. Last year the bait was hit several times in the “new” location, but I couldn’t discern if it was a young bear or a big coon, or maybe a family of coons. Although, my first impression was a bear “had done it” – likely a very young one. Now, this year, at that same “new” location, the bait has been “hit” 3x in a row – but again I had no proof it was a bear and not coons (not having placed a trail cam in the area due to being Crown Land). Yet, I was increasingly convinced it was indeed a single bear, and perhaps the same one as last year but now smarter and bigger. So last week I placed a heavy hardwood log from the immediate landscape on top, knowing a coon – even a big one – couldn’t move it. So today – Friday, May 19/23 – I got proof it’s a bear and I’m fairly sure the same one as a year ago, only bigger and smarter! The following pics tell the rest of the story. I’ll let him get comfortable and not hunt until June while continuing the baiting process 2x weekly.
< As I left it this past Tuesday, May 16/23. Notice the licorice strips draped on the log. There are pieces inside, other pieces scattered on the ground and one piece tied to a tiny branch of a tree far removed and high up. If it would be gone when I arrived today (Friday) a bear had done it. They love licorice and can smell it from far, far away! It was gone, and this is what I found on arrival at noon today (Friday, May 19/23):
<Everything gone from on top of the tote and from inside as well as strands of licorice scattered around and marshmellows. Behind the box, where it had been sitting with log on top, the ground is dug up – a typical bear MO… if a smell of food is there they believe they can find it under the box or even the ground itself. A familiar trait. Note also my rifle for the day was the .35 Whelen.<Finally, this is what matters looked like just before leaving for home today. More sweets scattered around on top, on the ground and inside… PLUS a partially consumed (by wife and I) bought barbecued chicken inside the tote! The blue bucket is for toting goodies to the site and the blue garbage bag for picking up “garbage”and removing it! What else?
No need to spend hundreds of $$$ on “bear food”. A few smelly sweets will do!
Till the next…