WHEN TOMMY HEARNS, the great welterweight boxer, was just starting to learn the manly art, he was sparring with a much better fighter who promptly broke his nose. Hearns grabbed his nose with his glove, wrenched it back in place, and kept right on fighting. Some people are much tougher than others, and just as the Motor City Cobra could ignore a busted beak, some of us can take a lot more recoil than others.
There are two types or recoil: real recoil, measured in foot-pounds; and perceived recoil, what you feel. Perceived recoil is affected by the makeup and design of the rifle, and it can’t really be calculated.
One of the most sadistic rifles ever built was the Winchester Model 95 lever action. The majority was made in .30/06 and .30/40 Krag, and a fair number used the .405 Winchester.
The 95 had all the requirements for a truly painful rifle. Its stock had loads of drop, so when it recoiled, the barrel whipped up and back, directing much of the recoil into the shooter’s head. The stock’s comb was sharp, guaranteeing a bruised cheekbone, and the butt was small, curved, and capped by a steel plate, ensuring the maximum amount of hurt in your shoulder. In .30/40, which is a mild-kicking cartridge, and in .30/06, which is moderate, the Model 95 was brutal. In .405 it must have been unthinkable.
Muzzle blast is not physically connected to recoil but can also seem to make a rifle kick harder. You can develop a raging flinch from shooting a muzzle-braked rifle or a short-barreled rifle without hearing protection. You’ll swear it kicks like a mule even though it doesn’t.
Even your build is a factor: recoil flings around small, slender people in a spine-chilling manner. But they are actually suffering less than heavyset people because they give with the shove, whereas the fire-hydrant types soak up every bit of it. Of the people I know who have been permanently screwed up by kick, all of them are close to 6 feet tall and weigh over 180 pounds. There is not a lightweight in the lot.
Much of proper rifle-shooting technique is designed to spare you pain, and if you simply pick up a gun and start blazing away, you are going to take needless punishment. For example, if you don’t get the butt into the “pocket” that forms when you raise your right arm to shoulder the rifle, it is going to ride out on your bicep and pound you.
If you lean back from the waist to support the gun’s weight (women are especially guilty of this), you will be rocked back on your heels. If you crawl the stock, the scope will sooner or later say hello to your forehead. Get competent help to improve your technique. A range officer or an NRA instructor can assist you. A shooting class will also work wonders.
In case you’re really suffering, here are some things that will bring you instant relief.
Get rid of your aluminum or hard-plastic buttplate or your cheap, unyielding-as-granite factory recoil pad and replace it with a soft, squishy, premium recoil pad.
They’re not cheap, they’ll rip your ears to shreds if you’re not plugged and muffed, and you’ll need to have a gunsmith do the work, but they really do save you a lot of foot-pounds. Some shooters opt to have ports cut in their barrel. This will reduce muzzle jump but not recoil, and bullet jacket fouling tends to collect at the rear corners of the ports, eventually cutting accuracy.
If you have an older rifle with loads of drop at the comb, get a more modern stock with a lot less drop. Unless your rifle is extremely rare or odd, you can choose among wood, laminated wood, and synthetic stocks. See your gunsmith.
Inertia Recoil Reducer
Have a gunsmith install one (or better yet, a pair of them) in your stock. They will change the balance of your rifle and increase its weight by about a pound, but they work.
A heavy trigger pull will add greatly to the unpleasantness of a hard-kicking rifle. A light, crisp trigger will make it easier to set the thing off, rendering the whole experience more tolerable. Don’t even think about diddling with a trigger. Take it to a gunsmith who can alter or, if necessary, replace it.