By Larry Teague
Millions of hunters, particularly women and youngsters who are new to the sport, cannot tolerate the effects of a heavy-recoiling rifle. The rest of us can handle stiff recoil to varying degrees, but nobody likes getting his shoulder bruised or his teeth rattled.
Excessive recoil causes flinching, and many a whitetail has lived to old age thanks to a hunter jerking the trigger and lifting his head off his big-booming rifle at the moment of truth.
Over the years, manufacturers have come up with a variety of innovative ways to reduce felt recoil. Products including muzzle brakes, modern-material recoil pads, mercury tubes and hydraulic shock absorbers all take some of the sting out of a hard-kicking gun. Still, there’s no getting around Newton’s Third Law of Motion: “For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction.”
The most effective way to reduce recoil is to change the variable at the front end of Newton’s equation.
Handloaders have long known that “downloading” ammo will make it more pleasurable to shoot. One problem that reloaders had to contend with, however, were bullets designed to operate and expand at higher-velocity thresholds. Lower the bullet’s speed, and it might not mushroom upon impact and deliver adequate terminal performance on game.
Reducing powder charges can also create conditions favorable for detonation, wherein the charge acts like a bomb instead of a propellant. For this reason, handloaders are cautioned never to stray far below the given starting point in any propellant/bullet formula.
This year, the majority of hunters who do not reload will be able to try low-recoil ammo for the first time. Two major players in the shooting industry, Federal Cartridge Co. and Remington, are making available cartridges that not only cut recoil in half, but remain effective on whitetails out to 200 yards.
Both ammunition lines employ premium bullets designed to mushroom at the slower speeds and deliver reliable 2x expansion at the ranges most whitetails are taken.
Remington’s Managed Recoil Ammo
Big Green introduced its new line of centerfire ammo at the company’s 2003 writer’s seminar in West Virginia last fall. Designed for small-framed hunters, particularly youths, Managed Recoil ammunition is available in the most popular deer hunting calibers: .270 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield and 7mm Remington Magnum.
“One of the objectives we had going into this is that it had to be fully effective on deer-sized game,” says Remington ammunition product manager John Fink. “We set out to design this product to have a minimum of 1,000 foot-pounds of energy at 200 yards, and we’ve exceeded that with all three offerings.”
Talk about fun to shoot! The 125-grain .30-06 MR load produces about the same amount of felt recoil as a .243 Winchester, which is about 10 1Ú2 foot-pounds with a 100-grain bullet.
Recoil of the 115-grain .270 offering is even lighter, generating about 9 1/2 foot-pounds with a 7 1/2-pound rifle.
The 7mm Rem Mag MR cartridge, with a 140-grain bullet, produces about 17 1/2 foot-pounds of recoil compared to 33 foot-pounds of the standard load.
Remington says the low-recoil offerings will strike about 2 inches below the point of impact of a standard Core-Lokt load at 100 yards. This means adults and youngsters can use the same rifle without having to rezero it.
“There are a lot of parents who have a .30-06 or .270 in their closet that their kids can shoot,” Fink says. “They don’t have the disposable income to go out and buy them a new rifle. This line of ammunition is going to allow parents to take their kids out, shoot a rifle they already have, and get them active and involved in hunting and shooting.”
Developing a bullet that would reliably expand at lower velocities was the key to creating the ammo. Though Managed Recoil features a premium bullet designed with Core-Lokt Ultra technology, Remington will offer the ammo at standard Core-Lokt prices so hunters will be encouraged to try it.
At shooting ranges in West Virginia and Alabama, I had opportunities to compare the kick of the .30-06 Managed Recoil ammo to that of standard Remington 150-grain PSP CL loads. The reduction in recoil is significant. I fired 20 of the Managed Recoil .30-06 rounds through a 7 1/2-pound Ruger M77 rifle during a single range session and felt no shoulder discomfort at all. I would have shot another box, except I wanted to save those cartridges for hunting.
The .30-06 ammo we tested clocked 2,591 feet per second muzzle velocity compared to 2,850 fps MV with the standard Remington 150-grain loads. Readings were consistent with the Oehler Model 35P chronograph.
Federal Power-Shok Low Recoil
This spring, Federal’s new Power-Shok Low Recoil ammunition will be available in .308 and .30-06 calibers. Both products reduce recoil by at least 50 percent while providing enough downrange performance to cleanly drop deer at 200 yards.
As principal product development engineer for Federal, Drew Goodlin led the design of the new ammo, which was announced last November. He says the .30-06 offering produces a kick comparable to that of a .243 and a bit more than the .22-250.
“It’s not a wimpy load,” Goodlin says. “It has a nice push, and there’s a loud report just like a standard cartridge. It still kicks, but with only 9 or 10 foot-pounds of recoil energy. It’s nice compared to a regular cartridge with a 180-grain bullet whacking the heck out of you.”
Goodlin, who is now manager of product development for the company, says he got the idea for the ammo from his father, who can no longer hunt with a hard-thumping gun.
“When I began working for Federal in October 2002, I was talking with my dad, who has a neck injury. I asked him, ‘What products can I get you for deer hunting?’ He said, ‘You don’t make any products I can shoot.’ So I started talking with engineers to find out what we could do to come up with a low-recoil product and if it was possible. If you get too much free space in a cartridge, you get problems with detonation. So we started digging into it.”
Speer is a sister company to Federal under the ATK umbrella. Goodlin began looking at what technology Speer had that could help him design a bullet which would upset at the slower speeds but have sufficient killing power and penetration for deer hunting.
“An easy starting point was the .30-30 bullet. But the bullets we had were too hard and just wouldn’t open up. So I started playing with other bullets in different weights. What makes sense? A light bullet going fast? A medium bullet with a little bit of speed, but with a reduction in recoil because of a lighter mass? I decided to go with the time-tested technology - a heavier bullet going slow.”
The bullet is a bonded 170-grain flat-nosed soft point based on Speer’s Gold Dot bullet technology. “It’s a copper-plated bullet with a lead-core-stabbed nose, so it’s programmed to upset.”
The .30-06 reduced recoil load has a muzzle velocity of 2,000 fps and over 1,500 pounds of muzzle energy. Sighted-in at 100 yards, the bullet strikes about 3 inches low at 150 yards and 9 inches low at 200. Goodlin recommends sighting it in dead-on at 150 yards, which puts the bullet 2 1/4 inches high at 100 and 5 1/2 inches low at 200.
Goodlin says the market for low-recoil ammunition is potentially large. Women, kids under 16 and men over 55 represent 40 percent of all deer hunters.
“Time will tell what sales will do,” he notes. “This ammo certainly is fun to shoot. If a guy buys it for his kid, he’s going to shoot a whole box at the range. And he’s going to outshoot his dad, because the accuracy of this product is phenomenal.
“With a plated bullet, you normally don’t get as much accuracy as you do with a nice concentric jacketed type of product. This one has surprised the heck out of me.”
-- Reprinted from the April 2004 issue of Buckmasters GunHunter Magazine