5 Lessons for Recoil

Slip on recoil pad added to rifle stock

Shooting a rifle is different from shooting a shotgun. Having fired thousands of rounds from both, I have developed and learned several best practices that will help you enjoy the practice sessions that will ensure when your opportunity arrives you have the best chance of winning the match or harvesting the game.

Number One

A shotgun trigger is pulled; a rifle trigger is squeezed. This simple rule alone can shrink your groups from dinner plate- to quarter- and even nickel-sized. An ol’ time mentor taught me that every shot from a rifle should come as a complete surprise.

Number Two

Thou shalt buy a gun that fits. Recoil is dynamic. A great number of rounds are fired from a stationary position in which the shooter is taking the full force of the recoil straight back to the shoulder. Because of this, rifle recoil tends to be sharper and higher than shotgun recoil. Make sure you have the proper length of pull, which will allow you to weld your cheek to the stock and have a great site picture.

Number Three

Always shoot with a recoil pad. Years ago, rifles came with a metal buttplate or, if there was a recoil pad attached, a hard rubber pad that was just as good at taming recoil as metal. Many rifles today come stock with great recoil pads. If yours does not, or, comes with a poor one, there are several manufacturers out there such as Sims, Pachmayr, and others that are made to specifically fit your rifle. Spending $20 or $30 for a quality recoil pad will absolutely make you a better shooter.

Number Four

Pick the right caliber. Today’s bullets make it possible to take bigger game with smaller calibers than was ethically possible past. Wildcatting has made some great rounds that perform as well as their magnum counterparts with significantly less recoil. My first rifle, a 7mm Remington Magnum, produces a brutal amount of recoil, especially to a youth or woman. A 7mm–08 is practically the ballistic equivalent, uses the same diameter bullet, and yet only gives up around 200 ft/s. If you plan on hunting dangerous game, and required to use a large-caliber rifle there are many manufacturers and aftermarket companies that build muzzle brakes to make even the “heavy hitters” perform mildly in the recoil department.

Number Five

Practice, practice, practice. The argument could be made that this is number one, however, people who have recoil issues with lots of practice develop substantial flinch, which is then exacerbated with more practice. The more you practice good form, the greater chance you will perform at your best when that “moment of truth” arrives. You will be able to take aim, let out a bit of breath, squeeze the trigger, and deliver the bullet exactly where you want with confidence, because you do not have concerns about the recoil of your firearm.

We’ve all seen the videos and heard the stories of people putting a hard kicking gone in the hands of a first-time shooter, a young woman, or a child. That’s the worst possible thing you could do.

What was your first experience with recoil like? How did you finally address it? Tell us about you experiences with recoil in the comment section.

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Comments (10)

  1. Great stories, guys ! As a newbie hunter shopping for his first deer rifle, what advice can anyone give about the best compromise between recoil, effectiveness on the game (knockdown preferable to pass-thru and have to follow a long blood trail), caliber, and price of the ammo (so in the back of my head each shot is not counted in terms of cases of beer no longer affordable this month) ? Also, any advice on bolt / semiauto / pump actions ? 20 yrs of M16 / M4 experience as a Army NCO, but just starting out as a firearm owner since retiring.

  2. Great stories, guys ! As a newbie hunter shopping for his first deer rifle, what advice can anyone give about the best compromise between recoil, effectiveness on the game (knockdown preferable to pass-thru and have to follow a long blood trail), caliber, and price of the ammo (so in the back of my head each shot is counted in terms of cases of beer no longer affordable this month) ? Also, any advice on bolt / semiauto / pump actions ? 20 yrs of M16 / M4 experience as a Army NCO, but just starting out as a firearm owner since retiring.

  3. One of the first times I went shooting with my Dad I was shooting a single shot .22 Remington Colt rifle. After I had been shooting it for awhile I asked my Dad if I could shoot his .30 .06 deer rifle that he had been shooting. He asked if I knew how to shoot one and I arrogantly said “of course”. He gave me the gun told me it had a good kick and to hold it tightly. Then I looked into the scope. I said this doesn’t look so bad no wonder you can shoot so good and pulled the trigger. The scope opened a cut in my eye brow and the gun jumped out of my hands and landed on the ground. Thankfully no damage was done to the gun nor scope. I realized what it meant to hold on to a gun the gun from that day on. I also became less arrogant about shooting. After the blood stopped he instructed me on the way to shoot correctly. The cut healed, Dad’s gone and I don’t look into a scope that close any more.

  4. My uncle and Dad had me shooting .22’s at a young age, and with shooting squirrels in SE Missouri, I soon became a crack shot. My mom carried an old Win 30-30 model 94, deer hunting. After she passed when I was 10, Dad always said, ‘when you are big enough to rack off five rounds off the back porch, it’s yours.’ I accomplished this at the young age of 14. That gun kicks like a mule, but in all the times that I have taken deer with that rifle have I ever once felt the recoil. That said, these days that rifle pretty much stays in the safe.

  5. When I was 14 (1953), I bought a Winchester Model 70 in .270 caliber with money I had earned doing summer jobs (paid $120 for it!!). The first time I shot it, Dad had me shoot from the prone position. After the first shot, I was shocked and dismayed at how terrible the recoil was. (I had hunted deer for a couple of years with Mom’s .257 Roberts which was pretty much recoilless). Although the .270 was not a huge caliber, I wondered if I had made a mistake in buying it. Being a skinny, wimpy kid, maybe I should have opted for a .257 or .243??? But Dad insisted the .270 was a “man’s gun” and the best to have.
    But the next time I shot it, Dad had me shoot from the sitting position, then standing. Wow, what a difference — the recoil that I had feared so much (causing me to flinch, scattering my shots all over the target) was now totally manageable — the reason being, of course, that my shoulder could now flex with each shot, which it could not do from the prone position.
    My point is, when teaching a new shooter, always have them start with the sitting (or a bench rest) position. Move up to prone only when they are totally comfortable with the weapon.
    I’m 74 now and still have that old, pre-’64 Model 70 and it is one of my favorites. It has harvested many deer and elk over the 60 years that I’ve had it.

  6. My first experience with recoil eh? Well let’s start with my first actual instruction on what to do with a firearm. My uncles were hunters but my mother was staunchly against me having anything to do with guns until the day came where she really had no say in the matter anymore, so they weren’t a part of teaching me anything. So my “teacher” was a videogame known as Counter Strike. Every model I had ever seen appeared to be holding their shotgun with the butt planted in the middle of their bicep.

    That is 100% incorrect, as it turns out. Which I discovered rapidly after going out with a buddy of mine, he had purchased a Remington 870 Express Magnum, I paid for some ammo, and off we went on our own down to a range called Jasper Pulaski. Being the tough guy little retard that I was at the time, I of course had to buy the most overpowered ammunition available which was some brand of 3″ rifled slug with magnum printed in large letters on the box. I got that at a place called Shema’s. The guy had a reputation for knowing what he was doing, being an ex-cop and a professional competition shooter. I should’ve taken the look on his face as a warning but I thought nothing of it at the time. ( He just kinda looked at what I’d bought up there, then looked at me, then back, and he shook his head with this goofy grin on his face. I assume he knew exactly what was going to happen. )

    I had actually anticipated that recoil would be a painful thing and that was just going to be the price of shooting before I’d ever so much as been in a room with a gun, and I was actually surprised that it didn’t hurt nearly as bad as I had assumed it would. This surprise is WITH me sporting a huge purple bruise from the left side of my bicep all the way around to the other side. It just seemed like a logical consequence considering what those slugs did to anything we fired them at.

    My uncle happened to see this and asked what the hell I’d been up to so I told him and basically, he cracked up laughing. Pretty good stuff in retrospect but at the time I was annoyed. He then told us what to do, and ever since, I’ve never really taken issue with anything and at this point I’ve shot a WHOLE LOT of powerful guns. ( That little tough guy retard is still kicking around in there somewhere. 😉 )

    Hope someone got a laugh or two out of this story. Have a good one.

  7. My first experience with substantial recoil was shooting my uncle’s .270 as a teenager. I’d been taught previously to keep my shoulder tensed so that the rifle wouldn’t carry back and deliver a scope to my eyebrow, which he advised against and told me to completely loosen up. Consequently, that was my first concussion and I didn’t fire a big-boy rifle again for several years, instead moving over to absurdly oversized handgunning and shooting such silly greats as the .44 Magnum Desert Eagle (great paperweight, horribly unreliable and picky pistol) and the .454 Casull Taurus Aging Bull (we’d given that specific pistol the moniker due to the holster wear removing the R), among others. I never did get around to shooting the .500, but as a more slender man I’ve never been quite that ballsy, I most certainly do not need a second firearms related concussion.

  8. Recoil was never a problem for me. I was taught to hold the rifle tight to my shoulder, and get the butt in a comfortable position. I used to shoot Garands a lot, and even after 60 rounds of .30-06 at a match, my shoulder was only a little tender. I was teaching a novice shooter today. He had never shot a rifle before, but he shot my ’03-A3 and I had him hitting the gong at 100 yards with nearly every shot from the bench. He mentioned that his shoulder was starting to get sore after about 25 rounds. BUT, he never complained about the recoil. I had impressed upon him the importance of proper position, prior to shooting. My Springfield is a 1943 Smith Corona that was sporterized long before I bought it. The stock has one of those built-in recoil pads, but that’s all. By the way, it’s “sight picture,” not “site picture.”

  9. Another tip that doesn’t actually reduce felt recoil but will make your brain think it has is better hearing protection. Laugh if you want but quieter guns seem to kick less. Using custom-fit earplugs that are molded to your ear canal or wearing muffs over generic plugs will make a noticeable difference.

    Reducing felt recoil comes down to five things: less bullet weight, less muzzle velocity, more gun weight, an EFFECTIVE recoil pad (not all really are) and a stock that allows your eye to align with the scope without you having to force that to happen.


  10. I was lucky, my dad started me out on a .22, had me shoot pop cans at 50 feet till i could hit with out missing, then he set up spent shotgun shells, now the squeeze part came in, after i could hit all those and made some smart remark he now set up spent .22 casings, moved up to 30 feet, now the squeeze was really on, I used same method with both my boys and they are dang good shooters…recoil doesn’t matter now, after shooting thousands of .22’s your focusing on squeeze and breathing, recoil just happens at the end…I/we don’t practice a lot with our hunting rifles other than the obligatory sight in each fall and a little competition there…but shooting a lot with those .22’s really helped…my youngest son is in marines and has been asked numerous times where and who taught him to shoot, just my dad he replies…

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