1) The CARTRIDGE (as mentioned)
2) The FIT and SHAPE of the STOCK, including butt pad (as suggested).
3) Overall rifle WEIGHT
4) PSYCHOLOGICAL issues.
6) Physical FITNESS
Let’s look at each of these in the above order:
CARTRIDGE: Comments and general observations have already been made. What it amounts to is that you alone must make that decision and then live with the consequences.
The basic principle is: the size of the bore, the weight of the bullet, the amount of powder burned and the overall weight of the rifle are the most important objective variables determining recoil energy.
Subjective variables, on the other hand, are analyzed and summed up as “felt recoil”, and are determined by such things as “real” recoil in ft-lbs, fit and shape of stock plus recoil pad, practice habits and psychological factors.
No two individuals are identical in their perception of felt recoil. Some very fit professional sportsmen whimper at the mere thought of squeezing the trigger on a .300 magnum (it has been affirmed as fact, at least), whereas some lightweight females have handled .458 Winchester Magnums without batting an eye (at least that too has been alleged). I’ve witnessed neither but I’m not doubting it as fact. I have friends and family members both stronger and bigger than I who complain about the mere idea of shooting something with a big hole in the barrel, launching a 400gr + at something like 2100+ fps! Even on the Net, many .45-70 aficionados hoot and holler at me for suggesting the very idea of launching a 405gr at more than 1200 fps! It’s akin to insulting their mother!
Yet, I’ve no idea of what a 405gr at 1200 fps muzzle velocity from a Marlin actually feels like… to suggest that I should be doing that is akin to insulting MY mother (who’s been in heaven for the past 1/2 century anyway!)!
When I contemplated a Marlin in .45-70, I was thinking 1800 fps as minimum for a 400-grainer! Shortly thereafter, I was easily sailing those 405 Remingtons out the snout of my M1895 at 2000+ fps! Recoil was never part of the plan! I never gave it a second thought, neither before nor after that fact. So, yes, how we “feel” about it is a major factor in “felt recoil”.
That’s the psychological factor. It’s the fear factor that will get to you, and overcoming the fear of a Big Bore is absolutely essential if we intend to aim it correctly when the trigger is squeezed.
If we think too much about the “kick” of a Big Bore we will fear the “beast” and never tame it! On the other hand, if we focus on aiming and hitting, with good practice technique, we will hit the target with confidence.
The principles are the same whether we choose a .375 H&H or a .458 Lott.
STOCK FIT and SHAPE: Do you intend to use a scope, or irons only? Not many use irons only these days, so let’s assume that you will be mounting glass (a scope) at some point. Then the question becomes what will you be hunting and where?
Keep in mind your goals and parameters… Don’t overburden your Big Bore with a big scope! A big scope of 40 to 50 mm can easily upset the balance and handling of a rifle intended for game that weighs 1000 + lbs! We’re talking moose size animals plus! Or even 400 lbs.
All of my Big Bores have low-powered scopes that weigh no more than 3/4 lbs and objectives of 20mm to 35mm max. The power range is either a fixed 4X or 2-7X. For an animal the size grizzly, elk, moose and larger plains game, that is more than ample. If we’re talking buffalo and elephant, where shots rarely exceed 75 yards, and in the clear light of day, who needs a scope anyway?
Nonetheless, be very careful about buying into the idea of “The American Straight Stock”. That may be great for target shooting or varminting, but for a heavy hitter, forget bench-rest practices! You need to be able to see through the sights (glass or irons) without scrunching (welding) your cheek bone onto the comb. A high comb with low sights is a recipe for a bruised ego, not to mention the usual crescent cut over the eye and bruised cheek bone. If a scope is used get one with at least 5-inches of eye relief! No kidding!
What are my qualifications for such ideas? I’ve yet to be touched by a scope or come away with a sore cheek! Such experiences turn wanna-bees into haters of their Big Bores!
The stock should allow for a good size pad, both in thickness, width and length. In other words, the material needs to absorb some of the recoil energy while spreading it over a large enough area of the shoulder so that its energy is dissipated gradually (like in a macro-second rather than a micro-second)and defused into a muscle group rather than a boney structure. How’s that for explicitness?
I don’t even know what I said, but I know what I wanted to say! In sum: GET A GOOD PAD! Not too cushy, not too firm. And the larger area it covers, the better. Of course, the butt end of the stock must fit it! Not the other way around.
Also, the stock should be somewhat beefy. The forearm should provide a comfortable but sure grip, and the pistol grip, likewise. The stock LOP (length-of-pull) should be natural for you so that you don’t need to “crawl the stock” or feel the need to pull things closer or push it away from your face. These are common sense matters, but one size does not “fit all”.
OVERALL RIFLE WEIGHT: The following suggested ORW for Big Bores is based on certain norms and personal experience in the majority of cases:
Overall rifle weight includes the following: rifle, scope, scope rings and mounts, sling and loaded with ammo.
.35 Whelen; .350 Rem Mag; .338-06 = 8 lbs/Recoil = 30 to 34
.338 Win Mag = 8.5 lbs/Recoil = up to 41 ft-lbs
.340 Wby; .338 Lapua; .338 RUM = 9 lbs = 50+ ft-lbs
.358 Norma = 8.5 lbs/Recoil = up to 44 ft-lbs
9.3 X 62mm = 8 lbs/Recoil = up to 47 ft-lbs
.375 H&H = 9.5 lbs/ Recoil = up to 45 ft-lbs
.375 Ruger = 8.5 lbs/ Recoil = up to 52 ft-lbs
.375 Wby = 9.5 lbs/Recoil = up to 53 ft-lbs
.378 Wby = 9.5 lbs/Recoil = up to 74 ft-lbs
.375 RUM = 9.0 lbs/Recoil = up to 71 ft-lbs
.416 Ruger; .416 Remington; .416 Taylor = 9 lbs/ Recoil = up to 58 ft-lbs
.416 Wby and .416 Rigby = 10.5 lbs/Recoil = up to 80 ft-lbs
.404 Jeffery = 10.5 lbs/Recoil = up to 43 ft-lbs
.45-70 Spr. = 8 lbs/Recoil = up to 57 ft-lbs
.458 Win Mag = 9.5 lbs/Recoil = up to 65 ft-lbs
.458 Lott = 9.5 lbs/Recoil = up to 73 ft-lbs
.460 Wby = 10.5 lbs/Recoil = up to 100 ft-lbs
This list does not include all Mediums or Big Bores, but are representative, and averages are for weight and recoil in top loads.
I’ve experienced 80 ft-lbs of recoil on a fairly regular basis from my Ruger No.1 in .45-70 IMP (Improved) when a very light (8 oz) Burris Safari fixed 4X by 20mm was mounted for several years when firing 500gr Hornady’s at 2200 fps! I don’t do that any more as the need isn’t apparent.
Hope this gives you an idea of what you’d be looking at in recoil in choosing a Medium or Big Bore that fits within one or other of these groups.
Till the next when we reflect more on this theme…