How Low Can You Go?

How Low Can You Go?

By Ralph M. Lermayer

Recoil (ri koyl) — To move back suddenly and violently, for example, after impact.

Any way you look at it, recoil means something’s coming back at you. And as it relates to firearms, how fast and hard that is depends on a lot of factors. But no matter which caliber, gauge or style firearm you use, there are steps you can take to minimize recoil’s harsh effects.

It’s Not the Cartridge Recoil, or the amount of rearward thrust generated when you fire any gun, depends on the weight and speed of the projectile leaving the muzzle. It can be a single bullet, a whole pile of shot or a combination bullet/sabot. It doesn’t matter. The total weight of what’s going down and out of the bore, the speed it’s moving and the weight of the gun combine to create a number known to the techy crowd as EG, or “kick” to us laymen.

A given weight of bullet, moving at a certain speed, will generate a certain amount of recoil. A 180-grain bullet coming out of a .300 Win Mag, .300 Weatherby Mag or .300 Ultra Mag at 3,000 fps will generate exactly the same amount of recoil. It’s the bullet weight and the speed, not the case, that creates the recoil. (Yes, the weight of the rifle and the powder charge are factors as well, but let’s keep it simple here.)

Newton’s Third Law

There’s nothing you can do to alter the amount of recoil generated because of the immutable laws of physics. Whenever one body exerts force on another, Newton’s Third Law of Motion states, that force is equal in measure but opposite in direction.

Or, in other words, for every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. Although we can’t do away with recoil, we can change how it acts before and during the instant it reaches us.

The Factors

The magnitude of a firearm’s recoil depends on three things: 1) bullet or load weight; 2) velocity; and 3) gun weight. Knowing this, it becomes obvious that we can lessen recoil by decreasing either the bullet’s weight or its speed.

If we take another .30-caliber, the .30-06, and drop the bullet weight to, say, 125 grains, you substantially decrease recoil. Now, decrease the 125-grain bullet’s speed to about 2,600 fps, and you cut the rearward thrust by a full 50 percent, or at least close enough to half to allow Remington to boldly proclaim a 50 percent reduction in bright red letters on their .30-06 Managed Recoil ammo box. In essence, they’ve reduced the power level and performance to about the equivalent of a standard .257 Roberts. For the average whitetail hunter, that’s a perfectly adequate power level without the recoil.

Remington Managed Recoil ammo is available for the .30-30, .270 Win, .308, .30-06, .300 Win Mag and 7mm Rem Mag. All deliver about half the recoil of the standard cases by reducing the bullet weight, velocity or both while still maintaining a perfectly acceptable power level and trajectory for most deer hunting situations.

Another Approach

The rearward thrust that becomes recoil is created by gas expanding in the bore to drive a projectile. What we feel are the effects of that gas pushing back against the breech and driving it back like a piston, one that effectively ends on our shoulder. Another approach to reducing the effects of that gas-piston punch is to redirect the gas elsewhere before it gets to us, or put it to work in another direction.

Suppose, before that gas got all the way back to the breech where it would jar our molars, we siphoned about half of it off, sent it down a tube, and used it to drive a spring-operated piston? That’s what happens with gas-operated semiauto shotguns and rifles. Fire a 3-inch magnum turkey or goose load in an over-and-under, side-by-side or pump gun, and the recoil can be brutal. Fire the same round in a semiauto, and you feel about half the thrust. It hasn’t been eliminated, just redirected. Some designs use both a gas bleed-off and a hydraulic plunger behind the bolt to cut felt recoil by 60 to 70 percent. The recoil beast can be tamed. Semiauto rifles like Remington’s 742/750 or Browning’s BAR deliver the same results.

Putting on the Brakes

While semiautos put that gas to work, muzzle brakes or ports use holes in the barrel to simply redirect the gas sideways instead of straight back at you. What they do is give it someplace else to go instead of straight back.

Mag-na-port, an outfit started by Larry Kelly, simply cuts holes directly in the side of the barrel, angled in such a way that the gas escapes outward. It’s an effective way to reduce felt recoil in rifles, handguns or shotguns, but it is limited in how much recoil it will reduce. Twenty-five percent is a realistic number for Mag-na-porting.

A second approach is to install a device directly on the end of the barrel, at the muzzle. These muzzle brakes have many holes, most often directed sideways to vent the gas before it can kick back. Muzzle brakes work, reducing felt recoil by as much as 50 percent, but most come with one drawback: That gas is traveling at supersonic velocity, and the gun report (noise), normally sent forward, away from the shooter, is now directed sideways. Stand next to someone shooting a muzzle brake, and the sound can be painful and will likely damage your hearing.

A new approach to muzzle brake design is one developed by Ron Bartlett ( His Vais brake has holes sideways and angled toward the front and upward. Vais brakes are by far the quietest and most effective I have ever used, easily reducing felt recoil by over 40 percent without the harmful noise. I now use Vais brakes exclusively.

How Low Can You Go?

The nice thing about most muzzle brakes is they screw on to the muzzle and can be easily removed. A protective cap can be screwed on to cover the exposed threads. Put it on for heavy loads; remove it for milder options. It’s the best of both worlds.

Taking Stock

A gunstock’s design is an often misunderstood factor that influences how much recoil we feel. Stocks that are in a relatively straight line parallel to the bore all the way back to the buttstock deliver a softer-feeling recoil. Stocks that dogleg down, with lots of drop, as found in many early muzzleloaders and lots of lever-action guns, deliver a sharper, much more abrupt and painful recoil. They don’t increase the amount of recoil — that’s physically impossible — but they do change the way it’s delivered. Avoid stocks with lots of drop.

It Ends at the End

The last word in taming recoil is the one we most often rely on — the recoil pad. There’s more misunderstanding about these than on any other facet of recoil reduction.

A simple hard-rubber recoil pad does little or nothing to tame recoil. To be effective, a pad must be at least 1 inch thick and soft and cushiony enough to absorb the abrupt recoil by collapsing internally before it gets to your shoulder.
Good recoil pads like Pachmayr’s Decelerator, Remington’s R3 or those made by Limbsaver are easy to install and a joy to use. All of my stout-kicking rifles are so equipped.

Ready-made replacements that simply screw on to your rifle’s buttstock (after you’ve removed the factory pad) and are pre-ground to the rifles’ stock dimension are available. Grind-to-fit units that take some special skills or a good stockmaker/gunsmith to install are offered by various manufacturers as well.

The ultimate in convenience are the simple slip-on recoil pads from Limbsaver, PQ Shooter’s Friend, Pachmayr and others. With these, you pull off the factory pad if length is a factor, and slip on a new pad. They might be far from pretty, but if you do nothing else to tame an abusive rifle, add one of these. The difference will astound you.

Putting It Together

If we were to look at the claims made while advertising each of these recoil-reduction techniques, 40 percent reduction by the muzzle brake, 50 percent from the Managed Recoil ammo, 25 percent from the recoil pads, and yet another percentage from a semiauto action style, it would seem like a combination of several of these applications would all but eliminate any recoil. Curious as to just how low we could actually go, I began stacking them up. There are poundage figures that tell you what the recoil is, but for most of us, it’s hard to relate to something as arbitrary as a number. A better way is to compare the punch to a known cartridge, as follows.

• Model 70 Featherweight in .30-06 with a Limbsaver recoil pad and Ron Bartlett’s Vais Muzzle Brake. Standard factory-loaded 180-grain ammunition produced recoil barely that of a .30-30. With Managed Recoil loads from either Federal or Remington, and this ultralight 61/2-pound rifle hardly moves and feels like a .223. A 10-year-old could easily handle this rifle.

Custom .350 Remington Mag built on a 98 Mauser action with a straight walnut stock installed by Boyd’s Gunstocks. Fitted with a Limbsaver recoil pad and Mag-na-ported barrel, this rifle shoots 250-grain handloads moving at 2,700 fps. This is a very stout load, a heavy bullet moving out at a good clip, right up there in the recoil department. With the straight stock, pad and porting, recoil is about the same as a standard .270. It’s easily handled by an average shooter and unnoticeable by any extensive shooter. Recoil is probably 50 percent less than the unmodified rifle. Loaded with 200-grain bullets at 2,750 fps, it’s a big-bore bear killer with virtually no abuse.

• The whole enchilada. What if we took a semiauto rifle in .308, installed a brake, R3 pad, and fed it Managed Recoil ammo? We did precisely that with Remington’s newly redesigned semiauto, the 750 Woodsmaster. With standard full-bore ammo, recoil was barely that of a .243 but noticeably softer. With Managed Recoil ammo, it was closer to a .222 or even a .22 Hornet — virtually nonexistent. Yes, with a little work, you can make all the recoil go away.

We all like to shoot, but few of us like to get belted around by recoil.

Today, there’s no need to take the abuse. No matter how hard your big shooter kicks, taking its bite away is a relatively simple job.

This article was published in the September 2007 edition of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine. Subscribe today to have GunHunter delivered to your home.

Copyright 2021 by Buckmasters, Ltd.

Copyright 2020 by Buckmasters, Ltd