By Dave Henderson
The sun dipped considerably into the wooded horizon, moving toward the end of another late-January day in the Deep South. Several does were feeding in the 10-acre greenfield on Drayton Pruitt’s P-Arrow Ranch in west Alabama, and my hope of a buck joining them was fading as quickly as the daylight.
I’d taken a buck the day before, and another would have been nice. But all the deer in the field were fair game in the final days of Alabama’s generous season. A laser beam from my Nikon Monarch range-finder told me that the biggest doe was 109 yards from the stand.
I raised my gun, and as the sun’s last rays ducked below the horizon, I squeezed the trigger. The doe whirled and took two strides before piling up. The other does scattered for parts unknown.
Seconds later, a shot echoed from a nearby greenfield. I later learned that hunting partner Eddie Stevenson had shot a buck at 130 yards. While it might sound like a typical January rifle hunt in Alabama, both deer were taken with 20-gauge shotguns, and the slugs were Managed Recoil Remington BuckHammers.
Okay, that is impressive.
Recoil was minimal, not even sufficient to fully cycle the Remington 11-87 Sportsman autoloaders we were using. And we were able to watch the slug impact and the deer drop without being jarred off the sight picture. Veteran slug shooters will appreciate the significance of that statement.
A year later, Stevenson, Tim Tanker and I scored 12 one-shot kills on pronghorn does on a depredation hunt outside of Sheridan, Wyo., at ranges from 191 to 314 yards using Remington’s Managed Recoil 115-grain .270 and 150-grain .300 UltraMag loads in various Model 700 rifles.
All in all, the experiences were relatively non-stressful, at least at the shooters’ end. The punch at the other end was inarguably lethal — certainly more than adequate, despite the watered-down nature of the loads.
The new wave of low-recoil ammunition on the market is easy on the shoulder and hard on game, both of which are generally considered to be good things.
The Effects of Recoil
Shotgun and magnum-rifle recoil can be brutal, rough, even unnerving. We don’t like it.
Everybody shoots better with loads that kick less. A flinch at the bench follows you to the woods and up the mountain. And all testosterone-induced logic aside, shot placement — not bullet energy — is the most important factor. You can only be consistently accurate, or improve as a shooter, when you’re free to focus on the fundamentals.
Deny it if you want, but recoil affects us all. You don’t have to be recoil-sensitive to enjoy not being kicked around. Even if you aren’t consciously thinking about recoil when an animal appears, your body responds to an impending shot as it has been conditioned to respond. A flinch is the natural reaction to the anticipation of the kick and noise.
Granted, recoil isn’t solely the product of ballistic physics. The weight of the gun and the length, shape and fit of a gunstock can also figure hugely.
Sharp combs and those with a lot of drop, as well as narrow buttplates, tend to concentrate recoil. Short lengths of pull, small grips, and slender, tapered fore-ends give adult hands little chance to absorb some of the recoil — but at the same time can actually help a smaller person better handle the kick.
But if the gun fits the shooter fairly well, any further reduction of recoil must come from the load. After all, the less painful you can make each shot, the better the next one will be. Ammunition manufacturers have come to recognize that fact.
Remington, Federal, Winchester, Lightfield and Hastings produce reduced-recoil ammunition that’s not only great for range practice, but will be consistently lethal on deer and similar size game at ordinary hunting yardages — which translates to 200 yards with a rifle and 100 yards with a slug-shooting shotgun.
Remington’s Managed Recoil ammunition offers a 50-percent reduction in recoil but shoots to virtually the same point of aim as comparable full loads.
Remington has the largest selection, offering Managed Recoil versions of its 12-gauge Copper Solid and Buckhammer (12- and 20-gauge) sabot slugs, 12-gauge Slugger rifled slug and 12-gauge 00 Buckshot. Rifle loads include .260, .270, 7mm-08, 7mm Rem Mag, .308, .30-06, .30-30, .300 Win Mag and .300 Ultra Mag ammunition.
Federal has a reduced recoil version of its 12-gauge TruBall slug and its Vital-Shok 00 buckshot, as well as Fusion Lite rifle loads in .270, .308 and .30-06. Winchester’s Winlite shotgun loads come in 12-gauge rifled slugs and Platinum Tip sabots.
Hastings’ Low Recoil/Youth loads are gentler versions of its 12-gauge Laser Accurate sabot slugs; and Lightfield Lites are 12-gauge low-recoil versions of Lightfield Hybred XP sabot slugs.
Remington, in some cases, uses lighter bullets along with a reduced powder charge to achieve the softer recoil in rifle ammo, while Federal uses its soft-but-high-structural-integrity Fusion bullets and a light charge. Hastings, Lightfield and Winchester use the same slugs in their low-recoil lines as in their full-power lines, but with different powder charges and primers.
Reducing recoil is desirable because it allows a quicker recovery of the sight picture, better shot placement, and less anticipation of recoil. In addition to making practice more user-friendly, the gentler loads also allow your spouse, kids or friends to use your .30-06, .300 Win Mag or slug gun without the necessity for scope adjustment.
How’d They Do That?
The reduction in recoil with the new loads is significant; at most half the kick of comparable full loads. “We found that anything less than 50 percent reduction in recoil was not readily noticeable by the shooter, so our loads fall within those parameters,” said Remington ammunition director Sean Dwyer. “You’re going to see some holes in the Managed Recoil line because there are some loads that we simply can’t reduce by 50 percent and still get acceptable lethality and accuracy.”
According to Remington recoil calculations, the 115-grain bullet in the Managed-Recoil .270 Winchester load delivers about 9.5 foot pounds of recoil energy, compared to about 21 foot pounds from the standard 130-grain load. The 140-grain Managed-Recoil load in 7mm Remington Magnum generates about 17 foot pounds of recoil energy, compared to 32.5 for the standard 150-grain load. The 125-grain Managed-Recoil load in .30-06 kicks the shooter with barely over 10 foot pounds of kinetic energy, instead of the 22.5 foot pounds of kick of the standard 150-grain factory load.
The 50-percent reduction is generally achieved by using a lighter projectile and/or lighter powder charge. But that’s not as simple as it sounds.
Any handloader can lessen recoil by using lighter bullets and/or reducing the powder charge. But, as many have discovered, reduced- recoil handloads can experience problems with erratic ignition and degraded accuracy — and can even become dangerous — if the normal powder charge is reduced too much.
Another factor to consider is reduced projectile expansion, which puts a damper on terminal performance. It’s important to select a bullet designed for the velocity at which it will be launched.
Major ammunition manufacturers all have the capability to develop special projectiles and select powders (including non-canister powders) specifically for reduced-recoil cartridges, which you and I can’t do at the loading bench.
The reduced-recoil rifle loads all retain at least 1,100 foot pounds of energy and expand reliably at 200 yards, and softer-than-normal-shooting shotgun slugs hit with about a half-ton (1,000 foot pounds) and still deform well at 75-100 yards.
The industry goal for the softer rifle loads is 2X expansion at 200 yards and at least 75-percent weight retention at 50.
Another marketing and logistics goal for the lower-recoil loads was to shoot to essentially the same point of impact at 100 yards as their full-velocity counterparts. They all do that.
The soft shooters were a long time coming and represent a change in mindset in the ammunition/firearms industry. Prior to the 21st Century, taming recoil wasn’t a priority. In fact, the trend since the 1950s had been toward more and more power. But the emergence of short magnum cartridges by Remington and Winchester — and the claim that short magnums kick less — could have been the first indication of the shift.
Sure, the short magnums shoot somewhat softer than their belted counterparts; there’s a little less powder, and ignition is more complete and efficient. But in the field, or at the range, an honest man might tell you that he didn’t notice the difference in recoil in two identical rifles bored for the same caliber in short magnum and belted magnum.
Shotgun shooters have long had the choice of 2 3/4-, 3-, and even 3 1/2-inch shotshells, and their attendant differences in kick and punch, in a variety of gauges. But lessening recoil in a specific load is a relatively new concept.
The reduced recoil loads are efficient, deadly and far less traumatic to shoot, but they aren’t moving full-power ammunition off the shelves. Managed Recoil or Reduced Recoil cartridges are not designed to use for Kodiak bears, moose or elk — or even for long-range (more than 200 yards with a rifle or 100 yards with a shotgun) deer hunting.
If truly big game, or long-range shooting is on your agenda, stick with full-velocity loads. But for pleasurable and plentiful shooting, look into the kinder, gentler stuff.
This article was published in the October, 2008 edition of Buckmasters Whitetail Magazine. Join today to have Buckmasters delivered to your home.