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Get less of a kick: Recoil-reduction strategies

10/3/2006

I flew in for the hunt and a new gun was there, waiting for me. It happens that way when sponsors get involved.

On the way to camp, the guide stopped the car at a range they had set up on the ranch so I could test fire the new rifle, a 7mm Remington magnum Sako.

"It's all sighted in," he said, handing me the gun.

I put in my earplugs, put on my safety glasses, settled in at the bench and set the rifle barrel on the sandbag on the table.

The target loomed up in the scope. I flipped off the safety, held the sights dead on the bull at 100 yards and squeezed. "Click."

I look up at the guide as I utter a few choice words about the gun. First time I shoot the gun, there's a misfire. All I could think was what a great omen.

"I loaded in an empty shell," he said. "Just to see if you were a flincher. Can't flinch on long shots and hit anything. Guess you're not."

I did not want to say anything; I had to spend the next few days with the guy. But the fact that he did this did not engender trust from the outset.

I ejected the empty shell and checked to see that the next one to go into the chamber was a live round. Unless he had taken out the powder, it was.

I put the crosshairs on the bulls-eye again and fired. "Boom!" A pencil-size hole popped out in the three-inch bull's-eye just where I had aimed.

"You're right, it's dead on," I said, with a smile.

"Yeah," he said quietly. "Gotta pretty good kick, too."

I had to admit, the rifle was well-made and sighted-in right on the button; but it did have quite a recoil. Sure, I could deal with it, but I could see where someone just learning to shoot and hunt might be a little intimidated by the mule-kick to your shoulder unleashed each time you pull the trigger.

Accuracy could wane as a result, and maybe even discourage the new shooter from taking up the sport.

Recoil is the result of the gases created from the explosion of the gunpowder that propels the bullet. The explosion in the chamber causes the bullet to go in one direction, while the recoil is what happens when the gases flow backward in the chamber as the bullet leaves the barrel.

I'm no sissy, but I like to feel comfort in using a gun. So, I began to research ways to reduce the recoil.

To do so you can increase the weight of the gun, provide some padding on the stock and reduce the force of the gaseous explosion.

Aside from a shooting pad on your shoulder, there are many recoil-reducing pads on the market that are fairly inexpensive. As the pad compresses under the recoil, it turns the sharp jab into more of a push.

Cabela's says that its recoil pad will cut recoil by at least 40 percent. L.L. Bean claims theirs will reduce it by 60 percent. Other manufacturers offer other solutions.

Thick, spongy recoil pads obviously do a better job of attenuation than thin, hard ones, but there is a price. As the recoil pad compresses, it permits the comb of the stock to move backward along the cheekbone.

I never paid much attention to stock length until I got a new shotgun a few years ago. It shot like a charm. But after a day at the range, I had a black eye.

I had the stock custom fitted and added a recoil pad. The gun now feels like an extension of my arms. The fitting improved my scores, and the felt recoil dropped considerably, too.

As I looked at the new rifle, I saw that the stock was made of plastic, not wood. Fitting it to accommodate a recoil-reducing pad would cost more. My gunsmith would be smiling, but my wife might not be.

Some new guns, like the Thompson/Center Pro-Hunter, come with special recoil-reducing stocks. Why more don't is a mystery to me. Does anyone out there like recoil?

Another possible recoil reduction aid is a muzzle brake — a ventilated steel tube bored a little larger than the groove diameter of the barrel that is screwed into the end of the barrel. A brake adds a couple of inches of length to the barrel.

There is no change in the rifle's ballistics with a muzzle brake. It works by releasing gas sideways. Accubrake, Magna-brake, Recoil Reducer and BOSS are some popular muzzle brakes. They all claim 40 percent to 50 percent reduction in recoil.

There are two considerations with a muzzle brake. The first is adapting your rifle to handle the brake, which is going to cost a couple bucks and requires a gunsmith to make the adaptations.

The second is noise. Venting the gas sideways as it leaves the barrel is going to mean a louder report. I always wear ear protection; and if you are using a muzzle break, you should use some at all times for your ears' sake.

Reducing the powder in a shell results in recoil reduction, but it also can affect trajectory and power, both of which are important for a hunter.

Fortunately, I ran into a rep for Remington who introduced me to its Managed Recoil ammunition, which has changed my shooting.

A Remington Managed Recoil 7mm Magnum cartridge with a 140-grain load performs the same as regular loads out to 200 yards, with half the recoil. The key is a new specialized bullet. All I can say is, what a delightful difference!

No need to lengthen the stock, change the weigh of the gun or shell out any money for gunsmiths.

Federal also makes a recoil-reduction shell. Its Low-Recoil loads come in .308 Win and .30/06. Since I shoot a 7mm magnum, I couldn't try one out. But I have heard some good things about these loads, as well.

Remington uses special lighter bullets at standard velocity to cut down recoil, while Federal chose to keep bullet weights about the same while reducing velocity. For both, out to 150 yards there is no difference in accuracy, between normal loads and the new.

If you're a long-shot guy, you may want to find some other way to manage recoil rather than these new loads. Personally, I'm a wait-until-I-see-the-whites-in-the-eyes hunter; so reduced recoil ammo is now my standard.

Let's see: A recoil pad cuts recoil about 50 percent; managed recoil shells cut it another 50 percent; then a muzzle brake cuts it another 50 percent. That's 150 percent, so no recoil, right? If you answered yes, you win the Bubba math prize.

Now if someone could only find some legal, easy, inexpensive way to reduce the noise.

James Swan — who has appeared in more than a dozen feature films, including "Murder in the First" and "Star Trek: First Contact," as well as the television series "Nash Bridges," "Midnight Caller" and "Modern Marvels" — is the author of the book "In Defense of Hunting." Click to purchase a copy. To learn more about Swan, visit his Web site.

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