This comparison photo from features many of the cartridges on this list, so you can get an idea of how big they are.

Herewith, a rogue’s list of shoulder shredders, clavicle crunchers, retina wrenchers, and subdural hematoma hasteners that you don’t want to shoot. To give things a little perspective, a .30/06 in an 8-pound rifle produces 21 foot-pounds of recoil; a .375 H&H, which maxes out most shooters, comes in at 40.

.700 H&H

The .700 Nitro Express or H&H Magnum.

This is the cartridge for those who think the .600 Nitro Express is kind of…wussy. It sends a 1,000-grain bullet at 2,000 feet per second, with 8,900 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. In a 19-pound Holland & Holland double rifle, it produces 109 foot-pounds of recoil. A friend of mine who has shot one assures me that it’s unmanageable. Pull the trigger and the muzzle points at the sky while the butt ends down at your belt. Also, the rifle costs over $200,000.

.600 Nitro Express

A .600 Nitro Express cartridge.

This sends 900-grain bullet at 1,950 fps with 7,600 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. In a 16-pound double rifle, it produces 99 foot-pounds of recoil. For 90 years, until it was surpassed by the .700, the .600 was numero uno in sheer brute power. Very few .600s have been built, to the sorrow of orthopedic surgeons everywhere.

.475 A&M Magnum

.475 A&M Magnum
A .475 A&M Magnum cartridge.

Shooting this is no worse than being in a plane crash. Its 600-grain bullet leaves the rifle at 2,500 fps, with 8,340 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. In a 12-pound bolt-action rifle, it produces 97 foot-pounds of recoil. This obscure but very sincere wildcat was developed by the Prescott, Arizona gunsmithing firm of Atkinson & Marquardt in 1959. It’s a .378 Weatherby case necked up to .47. I’ve only seen one gun chambered for it; the first time its owner pulled the trigger, the stock split as if struck with an axe.

.577 Tyrannosaur

Two .577 Tyrannosaur cartridges flanking a .308 Winchester round.

T-Rex himself would hesitate before pulling the trigger on one of these, which sends a 750-grain bullet at 2,460 fps with 10,000 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. In a 12-pound bolt-action rifle, that equates to 172 foot-pounds of recoil. The cartridge and rifle are made only by A-Square, which claims that it is a popular load. I would rather get a horn through the liver.

.460 Weatherby

The .460 Weatherby.

Practically a maiden’s kiss compared to the preceding, but a monster in its own right. The 500-grain bullet exits the rifle at 2,600 fps, with 7,500 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. In an 11-pound bolt-action rifle, you’ll get 93 foot-pounds of recoil. The original version of this cartridge, which appeared in 1958, was loaded a little bit hotter. Even so, shooting a .460 Weatherby is still an unforgettable experience.

.454 Casull

Many regular-frame handguns are offered in the hard-kicking .454 Casull.

If you’re looking for sheer pain in a handgun cartridge, shoot this one. The 325 grain bullet leaves a revolver at 1525 fps, with 1,630 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. It develops 40 foot-pounds of recoil in a 3-pound single-action revolver. Although the .454 Casull is outclassed in power by the .460 and the .500 S&W, these cartridges are chambered in huge, heavy revolvers designed to control insane amounts of recoil. The Casull, on the other hand, is made in standard-sized handguns. For exquisite carpal-crunching agony, there is nothing that compares to the .454.