Dear Ron: Can I hunt elk with a 6.5 Creedmoor? I can’t handle the heavy recoil of my 300 Win. Mag.
I get letters like that because guns kick. And that surprises us, alarms us, sometimes frightens us, occasionally hurts us, and often makes us lousy shots. It doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to moderate heavy recoil — or get rid of it:
- Recoil creates subconscious flinching
- For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction
- The right rifle, cartridge, and bullet can minimize recoil and still slay the mighty jabberwock (Google that last word if you don’t catch the reference.)
Large Calibers With Heavy Recoil Are Not Needed For Most Hunting
The first thing you should know is that you don’t need a hard-kicking super magnum to cleanly terminate deer and elk. Or even moose and eland. Bowhunters kill them regularly. As this earlier article explains, all animals depend on a heart and lungs to supply oxygen to the brain. Short-circuit that cardio-pulmonary connection, and the animal dies. You don’t a 300-grain or even 180-grain slug traveling 3,000 fps to do it. So the first trick to preventing or curing any flinch is to shoot a lighter kicking cartridge.
How light? Personally, I don’t think you can go too light. While some states set minimum muzzle energy standards or caliber restrictions, others do not. Hunters in Texas routinely take whitetails with 223 Remingtons. South Dakota and Montana permit centerfire 22s for big game hunting, resulting in many elk migrating into freezers under the precision guidance of 22-250 Remingtons. I recently used a Savage Lightweight Storm in 223 Rem. in Namibia and enjoyed one-shot kills on six antelope from 10-pound dik dik to 130-pound impala. A 62-grain Fusion bullet shot through most, broke leg bones on the impala, and didn’t tear up a lot of meat and hide the way a more frangible bullet might have.
So should you hunt deer and elk with a 22-250? Maybe, but probably not. While knockdown energy is largely a myth, there is some benefit in shooting bullets larger in diameter then .224″ and heavier than 55-grains. A larger, heavier projectile at high velocity has the potential to create a wider wound channel than does a smaller slug. It also maintains more momentum for deeper penetration. This increases tissue breakdown leading to faster bleeding. Rapid hemorrhaging is the reason we aim for the heart/lungs. The larger surface area of a 50-caliber bullet has the potential to create more tissue damage than any narrower bullet, but bullet performance alters that. A solid 50-caliber remains a half-inch wide. An expandable 30-caliber can mushroom to twice its diameter, becoming a 60-caliber. The right 25-caliber bullet can become a 50-caliber on impact. Bullet type matters.
Heavy Rifles Tame Heavy Recoil
An easy way to soften recoil is to add weight to the rifle. That includes the scope, sling, spare cartridges — anything attached to the rifle that adds mass. A ten-pound rig in 30-06 Springfield will jerk your shoulder a lot less than a six-pound rig. Of course, you’ll pay for that with extra caloric expenditure carrying it. You can inlet lead in the forend or tape strips of lead to the barrel. The latter will likely change your point of impact and accuracy (for better or worse,) so check things out before going hunting. A neater option is a recoil reducer tube in the butt stock. My wife adds a 12-ounce stainless steel tube of tungsten beads to the interior butt of her Blaser R8 when she swaps her 308 Win. barrel for the 375 H&H barrel. I put a 16-ounce tungsten tube in my 458 Lott R8. Tames them nicely.
Lighter Bullets Reduce Heavy Recoil
Regardless which cartridge/caliber you shoot, stepping down in bullet weight will reduce recoil. Again, for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction. The action of powder gases pushing a 200-grain bullet is significantly more than pushing a 100-grain bullet. Of course, heavier bullets carry more energy to the target (subject to B.C. limitations,) but lighter bullets shoot flatter. Inside of 300 yards, however, there’s not enough difference to sweat over. Just concentrate on placement and shoot a bullet weight that doesn’t make you flinch. The right bullet construction, of course, remains important. You don’t want one so light and thin skinned that it breaks up on surface hide, muscle and bone. Bonded, partitioned, monolithic — some kind of controlled expansion slug, please.
Muzzle Brakes Minimize Heavy Recoil But…
I’m not sure the blast from a braked rifle doesn’t induce more flinching than the recoil of an unbraked version. Much recoil sensitivity is inspired by the loud release of all that high pressure gas. Shooters who always wear hearing protection (foam plugs plus clamshell muffs really do the job!) find they shoot much better without flinching. But it’s not fun to hunt with your ears plugged, nor is there always time to insert plugs. Thus, the brake, sometimes called “break.” (I guess either word works since the “brake” puts the brakes on recoil and a good brake “breaks” the power of the recoil.) A good brake can make a 300 Win. Mag. feel like a 30-06 or even a 308 Win.
Reduce Noise and Heavy Recoil With a Suppressor
The newest fashion is to hang one of those big, ugly cans off the front of your barrel. These suppressors, inaccurately called “silencers” by many, can knock about 30 decibels of sound off a typical muzzle blast. At the same time, they reduce some of the felt recoil by adding weight to the rifle and by delaying release of the jetting gases via a series of internal baffles.
Bigger, Softer Recoil Pads Absorb Heavy Recoil
A wide, soft recoil pad on the butt can soak up a lot of punch. The extra width spreads it out over more of your shoulder pocket. The extra thickness or absorption dampens it. There are so many competing brands on the market these days that I hesitate to name one or two. Try several and see what you like.
Be Selective and Precise If Shooting Smaller Calibers
Light, small caliber bullets can do massive tissue damage IF they are the right type of bullet and IF they land in the right spot. Here I am talking about frangible bullets, often called “varmint bullets” and often illegal for big game hunting. They can break up on major muscle and bone and fail to reach the vitals. But if you slip them behind the shoulder, they can “explode” in the heart or lung, creating an area of total tissue destruction about the diameter of an average cantaloupe. As this treatise explains, that leads to massive hemorrhaging and quick demise.
If you fear recoil so much that you must use a light-kicking 224-caliber of some kind, make sure it is legal where you hunt. And then practice and train until you can guarantee you’ll hit a 6-inch circle every time from field positions. And shoot with discipline. Don’t shoot past your effective range. Don’t shoot animals at bad angles or running away. Shoot with surgical precision or not at all. It takes commitment and extreme self control to hunt with small-caliber, frangible bullets. But your odds for avoiding the flinch will be excellent.
Ron Spomer started flinching with a little Winchester M94 lever-action 30-30 more than 40 years ago. He’s since learned to shoot cartridges as large as the 505 Gibbs without flinching. Most of the time.