Hunting rifle recoil revisited.


May 24, 2007, 10:39 PM
I don't claim to be the sage on this subject. But I have had the opportunity to shoot some pretty heavy duty hunting rifles and I've developed some fairly strong opinions on the subject.;)

Lets start by defining what "I" consider a heavy rifle. For the purpose of this conversation lets include all rifles that are dangerous game legal in the majority of the African hunting countries.

With that in mind I'll call the minimum for a heavy rifle a .375H&H. The .45-70 does not qualify in a lever gun because it can not meet the minimum Ftlb energy requirements in most African countries. It can however be pushed into legal DG territory in a Ruger #1. But just barely so we will include it. The minimums for DG in most places is a min of .375 diameter with a min of about 4000Ftlbs energy at the muzzle.

I've been able to spend time behind a few of the grand old DG calibers which include the .375H&H,.376 Styer,.450/400NE, .416 Rem, .458 Win, .458Lott, .450Rigby, .470NE, .460 Weatherby, .500NE,and the .500Jeffery. I've also had the opportunity to shoot an 8 bore falling block cartridge rifle.

I group these rifle in relative recoil groups, The .375 class rifles include all of the various .375's and the lighter .40's like the .404 Jeff and the .450-400 (which are basically the same round one being rimmed the other rimless).

Any and all of these rifles are very manageable and controllable to shoot. With a decent recoil pad and some practice any shooter including the smallest light framed women can handle a rifle in this class with ease and shoot it from any position without a problem. I recently watched a video of a 96 lb girl shooting a buffalo cow in Zimbabwe with a pre 64 M-70 in .375H&H. She had no difficulties except that the muzzle rise was a bit much for her and follow up shots were not as fast as they could have been.

I have spent many hours behind a .375H&H, my M-70 has thousands of rounds through it. I have become so comfortable with a .375 class rifle that I don't even really notice that it recoils at all anymore it is a very pleasant rifle to shoot. The same goes for the .404/.450-400 they are very easy to master and shoot well you can "finesse" shoot this class of rifle with out too much practice.

This class of rifle is the minimum for thick skinned DG and should be considered perfectly adequate as a hunting rifle but less than good as a stopping rifle in close quarters especially where elephant are concerned.

Next category of recoil are the various .416's. These rifles are also not to difficult master but they do take a bit more practice. I haven't spent to much time with the .416's but in my opinion they are the heaviest rifle that should wear a scope they are capable of delivering a stunning blow to the heaviest of animals but are still not to considered as top notch stoppers.

Next we move into the .458 class rifles which include the .458 win the Lott and the various Nitro Express rounds from .450NE up to but not including the .500NE.

I have extensive experience with the .458Lott and the .470NE which for all intensive purposes are equals in every way including stopping power and recoil. These rifles are starting to get into what I consider serious yet manageable recoil levels. The key to shooting rifles in this category and higher is to be able to roll back with the recoil. Trying to shoot this class of rifle from a bench or prone is going to abuse you after a few rounds.

The most comfortable way to shoot these is from a standing position allowing the shoulder to roll back with the recoil. It is also imperative that the shooter has a firm grasp on the fore end to keep muzzle rise to a minimum and keep the rifle from slipping from your grasp. Any rifle in this class can be mastered but it takes time and dedication. Once the shooter becomes comfortable with this class of rifle will be capable of surprising accuracy.

This category of rifle is the minimum that can be considered a stopping rifle. they deliver s stunning blow to any animal encountered. However improper shot placement will not be overcome by horsepower with any rifle, these rounds do provide an increased area of probability for stopping hits. Any of the old time and modern elephant hunters do not consider this class of rifle as a stopper on elephant. They recommend the various .500's for an increased comfort level on elephants.

Moving up to the .500 class rifles and up. I've only had the opportunity to shoot two of these "ultra heavies" the .500NE and the 500 Jeffery. The .500 NE is a noticeable step up from the .470NE in both recoil and performance on big game. However if one is accustomed to shooting the .458 class rifles it not an unmanageable step it just takes more practice. the .500 Jeffery which launches a .510 diameter 540 bullet at just over 2400 FPS also an incredible stopping rifle if you have the fortitude to truly master it. To the unprepared shooter it can be a life changing event.

The buffalo I've seen shot with a .500 Jeffery were truly smashed by the round. It is has an incredible effect on game including elephant as does the .500 NE. But even with these amazing power houses if you don't put the bullet in the goods you are going to have trouble!

With the .500 class rifle I develop a headache after about 6 to ten rounds of range fire. Thus limiting my fun factor. As with all rifles when shooting at game you will not feel the recoil.

Any and all of these rifles can be mastered by any shooter given the desire. Connie Brooks of Barnes bullets shoots a .500NE in Africa and she can't be over 120 lbs.

All of the various gun counter stories we hear about rifles flying from a mans hands, Shooters being bowled over, spun around, broken shoulders, and other gobly gook should be taken for what they are and you should consider the source before banking any of that "information" as reliable.

Last and least I'll briefly mention the .45-70. the .45-70 is a a very minimal DG cartridge in fact in all but the most over boosted loads it does not even make the Ft Lb requirements to be DG legal none of which are safe to fire from a lever gun. I find the .45-70 in a light weight easy to carry rifle to be more punishing to shoot with these hyper ballistic loads than are most of the above mentioned properly stocked balanced and weighted heavy rifles. I own several .45-70's and I love them but they are what they are. And that is a fabulous short range North American game thumper up to and including big bears.

I am not slamming the .45-70 but no matter which way you stretch it you simply cannot make a pony into a horse even if it is a strong fast running pony.:)

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Byron Quick
May 24, 2007, 11:46 PM
Have you ever tried any rifles stocked in the 'hogsback' European style? Felt recoil in my BRNO 602ZKK in .458 Winchester Magnum seems to be less than 12 gauge slugs.

May 25, 2007, 12:14 AM

No I haven't but I am glad that you brought up stock shape. The stock is a critical factor in felt recoil.

May 25, 2007, 01:20 AM
Excellent write up and I appreciate your sharing.

Seems someone else around here mentions correct basic fundamentals and gun fit when it comes to felt recoil...

May 25, 2007, 11:41 AM
Whenever I hear of a guy complaining about recoil in a medium or light caliber rifle such as a .300 mag or a .270 I always suspect poor form first. If that isn't the case it is almost surely a poor stock design.

I've got a M-97 light weight hunter in .300 win mag it weighs under 7 lbs loaded with a scope. Even with the most hostile loads available the thing is an absolute kitten to shoot. It has one of the nicest stocks I've ever seen on a production synthetic hunting rifle.

It has what could only be described as a modified "coil check" stick in that it has a nice thin wrist but the butt tapers out to make a large fat butt plate. that along with it shape along the cheek make it really nice to shoot.

If a person will slow down and get past the hype of recoil there is nothing that they can't shoot with relative perfection with just a bit of good attitude and practice.

Especially the lighter caliber rifles we for hunting in America. Guys like to brag about how viscous the kick is on their particular rifle. It is almost like a badge of honor to own a big kicker. But for the most part recoil is 99% mental.

That is why I love teaching women to shoot large rifles. I don't mention the words "kick" "hurt" or warn them about the potentially disastrous shooter effect of fireing my big macho hunting rifle. I see guys doing with their kids and friends all the time when teaching them to shoot that viscous and unmanagable .270 win.:rolleyes:

I start them out with a .308 win. I teach them the basics of how to hold the rifle how to fire it and work the action and the safety. I give them a an easy to hit target at close range. Alway set a person up for success so that they see how easy it is and how fun it is.

After they've fired as many rounds as they like I will step them up to the .375H&H. I once again do not mention any of the key word that would indicate getting hurt by this rifle rather I just review the basics of how to hold the rifle where to put it on the shoulder and once again set them up for success. I've yet to have one notice much difference between shooting the .308 and the .375 as they are focused the shooting and the fun of watching some kind of neat reactive target blow up at 25 or 50 yards. Water jugs are great for these range sessions.:)

On two occasions I've had lady friends demand that I hand over the big guns before the day was over. Once again the focus is on the proper technique. Both of these people successfully shot my .470NE one was a bit put back by it because she got her middle finger hit by the trigger guard. So we stopped right there. But she mentioned that it was a lot less than she thought it would be as far as the recoil and the controllability was no problem for her.

The other shot a pair of rounds. She got this huge smile on her face and proceeded to wipe out about $300 worth of ammo before I finally ran out for the day..:D:D:D

I immensly enjoyed watching her run through that high dollar ammo but the best part of the day was when driving back home listening to her brow beat her husband into buying her a heavy double rifle.:D Just in case she needs one you know. I love listening to the rationalizations we gun nuts can come up with when we want a new toy. By the time we had driven th 20 miles home she had just about convinced the poor husband that she is going to need a double and she had good reasons, everything from charging wild boars to unexpected bear encounters to the fact that she might go to Africa some day and you never know when you're going to need a fine double in the dark continent.:D:D:D

May 25, 2007, 12:31 PM
I guess I want to pose a question. I have never shot any rifle larger than my .300 Win Mag, and I do admit, it really is not that bad. I've shot it a dozen times or more at the range with really no ill affects. However, I own a 10 gauge single shot chambered in 3 1/2" mag. that is fairly light and shooting that thing for the first time was an eye opener. They were heavy turkey loads. Does anyone have a feel for approximately what would be the equivalent rifle cartridge? I know there are a lot of variables here, like gun weight, charges, etc. Just a guess would help.

May 25, 2007, 05:04 PM
Your 10 GA is probably in the .458 class for recoil or there about. A light 12 ga with 3" mag loads is pretty close as well.

The major difference being a well fit properly stocked heavy rifle with a proper recoil pad will be more pleasant to shoot.

May 26, 2007, 01:06 AM
Gotta love firearms that kill at one end & wound at the other . . .

May 26, 2007, 03:58 PM

I guess that is kind of my point. They are not nearly as bad to shoot as people imagine them to be.

None of them will do damage to a shooter besides maybe hurting their feelings.

May 26, 2007, 10:00 PM
H&H ~

I can honestly say that I have only had the opportunity to shoot one "big bore" larger than a .338. I fired a couple rounds thru a .458 Win one time, but right after I had been zeroing a .17 Rem, so of course it felt a bit more rambunctious. That being said, I would love to add a .458 Lott to my collection someday. I do like big bores, just don't own one yet. Thanks for the input - you rekindled the flame . . .

May 26, 2007, 10:32 PM

The .458 Lott is the most sensible big bore on the planet. It is cheap to shoot components are easily available and it is becoming more common all the time.

The round is capable of extreme performance but when loaded to a sensible 500gr load @ 2200 it is very manageable to shoot.

I highly recommend the .458 Lott.:)

And if you are wanting an African Express style rifle the Ruger RSM is one of the finest heavy rifles available for the money.

May 26, 2007, 11:33 PM
The largest I have fired is the 265 gr .444 Marlin Express..... and that is plenty big, so I am confident that I found the ceiling for my nerves at 3100 ft lbs at the muzzle.

Recoil is a like a heavy 12ga load. Not too bad until you get about 6 under your belt trying to zero in a scope. Then the flinching starts. Great hog round and I would not trade it.

May 30, 2007, 10:24 AM
Save my front stuffer, the biggest rifle I currently own is my 308 (Savage 112 BVSS with a Leupold scope). I don't consider myself a wimp, but after about 150-200 rounds through it, my shoulder is a little sore. I realize that most of that is because I don't get to the range as much as I would like, and that I'm shooting from a bench (great for accuracy and load development, bad for recoil absorption). So, if I want to learn to handle some of these bigger guns, prior to getting one, would turkey loads in my 870 be sufficient for practice? Also, is me being a little sore after the above mentioned 308 session acceptable?


p.s. Great post, I'm getting a lot out of it; thanks.

May 30, 2007, 10:58 AM
What about the .300 Weatherby Magnum? The 180 grain SP gets 4195 out of the muzzle.

May 30, 2007, 12:10 PM
Having never shot a 300 Win Mag before I did initially find the recoil a little high. Now that I have put over 200 rounds down range, it is normal.

That being said what would the recoil on a .338 Lapua Magnum be like?

May 30, 2007, 08:03 PM
So, if I want to learn to handle some of these bigger guns, prior to getting one, would turkey loads in my 870 be sufficient for practice? Also, is me being a little sore after the above mentioned 308 session acceptable?

I don't think there would be many guys who wouldn't be a bit sore after 100+ .308's off the bench or prone. The hot loaded 870 is good practice.

What about the .300 Weatherby Magnum? The 180 grain SP gets 4195 out of the muzzle.

I find the .300 Weatherby to be pretty comparable to the .375H&H except that it doesn't kill as well on big game and in the Mark V which is a poor stock design, it tends to snap the face a bit. The other factor affecting most .300 Weatherby's is that they tend to be to light and the standard Mark V's have very light buggy whip barrels. A strong recoiling rifle should have more weight out front in the barrel.

I made the mistake once of putting to thin of a barrel tapper on a .458Lott. The thing was an intolerable face slapper. I re barreled it adding about 1.5 lbs all of it out front. It was like night and day, much, much better.
That being said what would the recoil on a .338 Lapua Magnum be like?

No problem at all in a proper fitting and balanced rifle. A frigging nightmare in a poorly fitted rifle!;)

May 30, 2007, 08:47 PM
H & H ~

Thanks for the input . . . it is truly appreciated!

buzz meeks
May 30, 2007, 09:01 PM
And if you don't need a true big bore and recoil is a factor there's the timeless 9.3x62. It can do a lot of heavy lifting yet it's totally manageable.

May 30, 2007, 10:45 PM
And not DG legal in all countries which is why I didn't include it.:)

buzz meeks
May 31, 2007, 07:44 AM
But legal in a few;). I should have read more closely the third paragraph of your original post where you established the 375H as the typical minimum. My bad.

May 31, 2007, 12:22 PM
I appreciate a little "extra courage" so to speak, with regards to heavy caliber rifles. I have a standing bet with a coworker who came into acquisition of a Model 70 in .458 Winchester. He's afraid to fire it due to the recoil, and everybody else is as well. I've stated on more than one occasion that I will happily fire it, though it is heavier than anything I have ever used before.

One day, when we get a chance to go to the range, I'm going to show him that it can't really be that bad.....on his dime, of course.

May 31, 2007, 12:24 PM
No worries Buzz the 9.3X62 and the 74R and all of the other configurations of the 9.3 are a fine family of rifles. They are so close to the equal of the .375H&H that there is no logical reason why it shouldn't be legal everywhere.

We are talking .02MM difference and 14 grs of bullet weight between the 9.3MM with a 286 gr VS a 9.5MM (.375) with a 300gr bullet. :rolleyes:

Sounds pretty close to me!

June 1, 2007, 04:07 PM
H&Hhunter, thats a great read thanks for the information. I have been considering a .458 Lott in a CZ 550 American Mag. Have you or anyone reading had any experience with the CZ and just how punishing is the Lott? I shoot alot and am by my on opinion "recoil educated". I have read that you can shoot .458 win mag in the same gun. Is that safe? That really appeals to me in both the wallet and shoulder.

June 1, 2007, 04:24 PM

I have owned a CZ 550 in .458 Lott. You are not going to like what I have to say about it.

I'll keep it short and sweet and to the point.

The CZ 550 is a rough and unreliable POS! I won't own another one. Here were the problems I had with mine. First it had a horrendous feeding problem that nobody could seem to figure out.

The wood fit was primitive at best, sloppy at worst. The sights are crap the barrel is to long and thin. They took the worlds most reliable safety system off and replaced it with a POS Weatherby style safety that tends to slide on in recoil and the best part, mine started to split the stock around the magazine box the after 25 rounds.

Now with all that said the CZ action is a great starting point for a really neat mauser action custom gun or the CZ can be \made reliable in it's original form with some gun smithing. But by the time all the stuff that has been done that needs to be done to make the rifle a reliable hunting gun you might as well have just gotten yourself a Ruger RSM and saved some money.

That is my honest opinion of the big bore CZ 550's.

For the second part of your question it is safe tro use .458 WM in your Lott however there is really no reason to do so if you don't have to as factory Lott ammo is about the same price as .458 WM ammo and to reload is the same price. If you want to use reduced loads simply load your Lott's down to about 2100 FPS or less they are a kitten to shoot at those levels.

Art Eatman
June 1, 2007, 05:43 PM
I'll comment only to reinforce the idea that stock fit is very important. I don't think enough shooters/hunters pay attention to the "shootability" factor that's improved with a stock that fits the particular person.


June 1, 2007, 05:56 PM
H&H: Do you have an opinion on the 375 Ruger? Initial reports were that it had less recoil and as much power as the 375H&H. Read another article and they listed it as having more recoil in the guns they were using. I guess at this point, the guns were all Rugers.

June 1, 2007, 07:35 PM
I don't have an opinion on the .375 Ruger because I haven't had the opportunity to play with one yet.

My initial guess is that since it is slightly more powerful than a .375H&H that it will have slightly more recoil. I think it has like 3% more powder capacity.

I am also thinking that this round is going to be a winner. It does everything a .375H&H does plus a little in a non belted standard length case. I like the concept. Not enough to replac4e my time tested .375H&H's but I like the concept.

I also really like the configuration of both models. The Alaskan is almost a direct copy of a a couple of custom rifles I had built several years ago. I like the way these guys think! :D

Ruger has a winner with this one IMHO.

June 1, 2007, 11:22 PM
Thanks for the straight dope. I kinda wondered why the CZ was at the bottom of the price range for a big bore. I am still interested in a Lott. What would be the best gun for the money that is chambered in .458 Lott?

June 2, 2007, 12:16 AM
I wonder how the new TC .375 will compare against the .375 JDJ based off of the .444 Marlin case.

Interesting thread. Thank-you.


June 2, 2007, 12:44 AM

Without a doubt the Ruger RSM is the finest production express rifle for the money.

July 21, 2007, 11:58 PM
Would it be possible for you to further describe the proper stance and hold on these rifles? My son and I do most of our shooting at the bench, so I guess that adds to the felt recoil quite a bit. We have only in the last week, obtained a hunting lease that will allow us to shoot in other positions than those allowed at our club in town (standing, kneeling, etc.) The recoil of my Savage .308 hunting rifle is noticibly more than the recoil of my FR8 military surplus rifle and I would like to tame this down, since the Savage has nice optics and it was purchased for hunting. I would love to see pictures of the proper stance etc, or a link to a good educational site.

Thanks in advance,

Art Eatman
July 22, 2007, 03:00 PM
At the benchrest, I just add some padding between the butt pad and my shoulder. I'll even use a small sandbag, sometimes, for lengthy sessions with a non-"thumper". I'm not heavy into masochism. :D

In the field, I've never really felt the recoil. That's mainly due to my body being able to give with the recoil, from some less-rigid position.

I think that "stance" has more to do with getting a proper sight picture. But, leaning into a heavier-recoiling rifle will help in keeping your balance...


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