Kick The Habit (2) - A Tongue In Cheek But Serious Treatise On Recoil

Updated: Aug 21, 2020

The shooter’s physiological reaction to recoil, objectively seen, is the visible work being done on him by the rifle. His psychological anticipation and pre-empted flinching on the other hand is a demonstration of his own subjective fear of being worked on.

A quick recap

In the previous missive mention was made of the recoil impulse of 25,34 Newton.second of the .416 Rigby and the figure of 108 Newton was given as the actual force that the shooter experiences due to the deceleration his shoulder presents to the rifle’s recoil. (Same as the 110 Newton of the .416 Ruger). Flinching is when the shooter’s body and his trigger finger out of fear pre-emptively jerk in anticipation of going to be punished by the rifle. The shooter can get over that fear by understanding its origins and accepting it - but also by mitigating the risks of posture he himself creates to exacerbate the hard recoil on his body.

Here is a good example of what happens to the shooter’s shoulder.

Say some perverse Marxist dictator woman mayor of your city in the near future forces you to use your body as a pre-stop in front of the log timber backstop of a her private bowling alley.


You have limited leeway how to present your body to the oncoming ball- but for your sins as a shooter and previous hunter she determined that your shoulder must receive the impact of the bowling ball. A 1 kg ball is about to hit your shoulder, coming at you at 13 meter per second velocity. That means it has a momentum value of 13 kg.meter/sec - also expressed as 13 Newton/sec or Ns. (For interest sake it also has a kinetic energy value of 72 joule).

At the same time a 275 gr bullet out of your confiscated .35 Whelen is about to hit the timber logs backstop behind you at 2,400 ft/sec (730 meter/sec) - her private security guard reminding you not to duck sideways. The momentum of that bullet can be calculated - and lo and behold it just also happens to be 13 Ns, same as the ball. No kidding. (For interest sake its kinetic energy is 4,545 joule - vs. the 72 joule of the ball).

Now the ball is decelerated by your shoulder from 13 m/sec to zero within one half of a second, so your shoulder experienced an impulse force of 26 Newton (13 Ns ÷ 0.5 sec = 26N. That is the same as the recoil force from a .270W. After impact it is your job to roll the ball back to your honourable lady mayor.

The bullet, also possessing 13 Ns is decelerated by the back panel timber logs during 20 inches of penetration which takes 1.1668 thousands of a second to happen. The force absorbed by the non-moving back panel is 13 Ns ÷ 0.001668 = 7,794 Newton - albeit on a very small frontal area, allowing the penetration. That high impulse value is because of the extremely rapid deceleration - barely more than one milli-second. Had your shoulder been hard and unmovable and decelerated the ball within 0.001668 of a second the impulse force on you would have been exactly the same.

If you lean over onto the floor, support your shoulders with your body angled at 45 degrees towards the oncoming ball, rest on your elbows and present your shoulder - hard and unmoving - to the ball coming at you at 13 m/sec, you may stop the ball maybe within 0.12 of a second and experience an impulse force of 108 Newton. That impact is the same as shooting a .416 Ruger.

Surely, if you are forced by your kind mayor to do this ball stopping with your shoulder fifty times a day you no doubt would not crouch onto the floor, angling your upper body into the oncoming ball and turning that .270W blow into a .416 Ruger recoil. You would rather take the force while standing up and ride the impulse as it hits your shoulder, feeling it like a little .270W.

So why the heck do shooters like to crouch over a shooting bench and deliberately let the rifle kick their unmoving shoulders that are presented at a hard and non-resilient angle towards the slamming butt plate of the recoiling rifle?

What is more, this enforced 45 degree angle towards the oncoming recoil also gives the butt an impact position against that upper radius of your shoulder which was not designed to be kicked against by a rifle butt.

This dogmatic teaching by which a little .270W is turned into a .416 Ruger (recoil wise) makes no sense.

Another example of a wrong shooting body attitude. (Apart from feeding wetted cases into the rifle’s chamber and begging for overpressure and substantially increasing the recoil this shooter's typical “crowding” of his rifle at a shooting table so liked by US shooters is not the way to go. Everything that this shooter does is wrong regarding managing recoil. Look where the rifle butt is held against his upper arm. (Gee, and that nice Ruger on the right is stainless - so what the heck, it is left in the rain together with its ammunition...)

Does the reader begin to see why there is so much complaining about recoil of little guns like the .270W around gun forums? It is the fast deceleration of the rifle’s recoil caused by all the unnatural body attitudes adopted by shooters, and because these body attitudes also present a unnatural parts of the shoulder to the butt pad. Because why? Because the main objective of owning hunting rifles has become the making of hundreds of little holes in paper - and not hunting. Furthermore, the illogical way of going about that may very well turn a little .270W into a .416 Ruger.

Just look at this typical example published openly on the internet: Her hate for shooting and for rifles will soon be a sure thing. That is totally the wrong way to hold and shoot a rifle from a table. No wonder there are repeated complaints about bad recoil from the little .270W on gun forums. The father who teaches his teenage daughter to shoot a rifle with that 45 degree forward crouch, leaning into the recoil must take the .458 Lott and shoot 500 gr bullets at 2,350 ft/sec and a recoil force of 115 Ns and do ten shots over that stupid shooting table.

This is how you shoot a hard recoiling rifle and the first step when teaching a kid to shoot must be how to shoot the rifle properly - long before shooting groups or chasing accuracy. This is the stance for consistent accuracy with a hard recoiling rifle for best recoil management. It also is how boys are taught to shoot from the time they can carry any particular rifle for a half day’s hunting. Unless he can carry and shoulder it he does not shoot it - no matter the cartridge.

See how the symmetrical sideways angle of the two upper arms and elbows do three things: 1) they add mass to the rifle-arms system and, 2) they lower the centre of mass of the rifle-arms system, and 3) they serve to keep the centre of mass in the vertical exactly under the rifle so that there is no side-component to the recoil.

Of course if you need to zero the sights you need to shoot over a rest and not offhand. So instead of crowding the little .270W on a low bench and be punished by its recoil, why do you not build a shooting bench that lets you stand in the normal, upright position like the hunter above, and hold your rifle in the same way as when shooting off-hand with your elbows just resting on the top surface of the bench like the huter below. Then there is no difference between shooting offhand and from a rest.

This will ensure that your upper arms form a natural triangle of support, allowing your right fist and wrist to have a natural and unstressed hold around the pistol grip - just like when shooting off-hand. All the forces on the rifle will be familiar to you - and also to the recoil dynamics at the shot. That way the rifle’s butt pad bears against that part of your shoulder where the designers of long arms wanted it to be held against. Form and fit follow function.

The perfect shooting bench for consistent accuracy with the little .270W and best recoil management. Excellent for zeroing the scope on that Voere .375 H&H he is shooting.

This way your upper body is not crouched forwards at an acute angle towards and blocking the recoil, but rides with it. In that way your son of 16 can shoot your .375 Ruger African like the man he is about to become. In fact he should learn to shoot EVERY rifle off-hand first, without a rest, no matter the recoil, AND NOT FOR ACCURACY until he has no fear of the rifle anymore and is able to employ proper breath and trigger control. That must be long before he does so from any bench. That way he will learn not to flinch. In that way the 108 Newton of a .375 Ruger is manageable, and the 27 Newton recoil of the little .270W is boringly missing in action.

Of course for some shooters a stand-up bench will never work as they will never get themselves to have their right elbows in the normal position. Venting the armpit is a military requirement.

And never analyse what they are doing, and should be doing.

The signature US Marine style employed by the good colonel shows all the incorrect geometry: 1) the stresses are clearly visible in the wrist, 2) the weak hold on the pistol grip is evident, 3) no employment of weight added to the rifle by the arms, 4) the shoulder is not in a supportive contact attitude to the butt pad, 5) The centre of mass of the arms-rifle system is assymetrically out to the left side which induces a lateral component to the recoil dynamics and raises the C.o.M.

This is not the way to shoot a rifle consistently accurately in the offhand way - and more so for those rifles with substantial recoil made for the Africa heavies.

Neither here. Military Krag, military style.

Why not lift your elbow when shooting from prone?

Or when out after "them prairie dogs"?

Maybe the question should be: "Why lift your elbow when NOT shooting from prone or over a table, but standing up?"

That elbow is giving no support on the table, so should it not be up in the air to vent the armpit?

The left hand is doing nothing to support this rifle's lifing in recoil.

Other demonstrations of the perfect hold for instinctive, accurate shooting and proper recoil control: Why do shotgunners not take up that unnatural stance of stressing up the right arm? Because they shoot instinctively. They hold their guns naturally so that it becomes an extension of their bodies. They do not enforce an unnatural hold onto recruits for the sake of old dogma, knowing that it will increase the recoil he feels as well as cause him to miss his target. There is zero reason why a rifle shooter should adopt that unnatural stance of stressing the right arm upwards into an unnaturally, forced hold.

Look at this totally natural hold. See how the buttpads are cradeled into the shoulder in these two photos.

And this.

Not this

This is the way it is done in the field: Look at his relaxed right arm and wrist and hand with his natural hold on the .458 3” Express - particularly that natural, strong hold on the pistol grip. The rifle must be an extension of your body and mind - not held with forced assymetric stress forces in the shoulder and wrist.

PH Riaan standing his ground during a sudden charge. She stopped at 6 meter, her trunk coiled back like a wound up spring - ready to be flung out and knock him unconscious. Normally coming closer than 15m indicates business - so that is where a lesser man like me would have killed her. There was just something that told him not to shoot her at 15m as she came in quietly at a fast trot with no show. The aiming point to get to the brain sitting in the rear of the skull changes with every step she takes and every small movement of the head. One more move and he would have had no option but to kill her. She stopped, stayed a while and turned around and ran away, trumpeting for the first time.

The psychological issues

These are the shooter’s subjective fears for going to be physically punished by something he will do (shooting - and which he is supposed to like doing).

The fear for recoil and its associated flinching or jerking the trigger in anticipation that some individuals seem to suffer more than others is a carry-over from a young age. The baseline of this (mostly suppressed) fear is - believe it or not - the loud bang of the rifle. Kids see the rifle recoiling in action and at the same time hear the ear-punishing report.

That report is more physical than the visual kick-back, and is what many kids remember and fear - but dad also mentions the kickback - so "rifles make a hurting noise and they kick". Many shooters like to shoot magnum cartridges with double the decibel level than a non-magnum of the same calibre. These also kick visibly more. So the first time the kid is encouraged to shoot the rifle he already knows that the big bang is synonymous with a kick.

Associated with the "big bang-kick theory" is dad's insistence that his kids shoot the rifle off the bench before they have sufficient body weight to absorb the recoil and strength in the arms to shoulder the rifle without leaning over backwards. AND dad insists that the shot must be to hit a target - so immediately there is pressure - and the possibility of failure. That is a no-no as at that stage the kid should be taught how to fire the rifle properly and not hit a target. Recoil will become an issue.

A wrong mindset is immediately established by initiating and encouraging shooting a rifle the weight of which is still beyond the kid's physical ability to carry and shoulder. Instead of first learning to properly hold the rifle and simply learning to shoot it offhand into the backstop in order to experience the feel of what happens, the kid is already brainwashed that making a hole in a black circle on a piece of paper is the first and only priority - and not learning to manage the rifle and his breath and trigger control first.

Here is my elder son shooting his Musgrave Ambidex .22LR (BTW, together with the Mini-Mauser it is the only other true controlled feed action .22LR I know of).

Look at the relaxed hold, both elbows symmetrically down to lower the centre of mass and and have it vertically under the rifle.

He also has a Lithgow .22LR made in Australia in 1947 that belonged to my grandfather, and with which I learned to shoot in about 1953 - and so did he. Like me, from their first Daisy and later .177 lever cocking air rifles my sons were taught to shoot offhand at targets very close - 10 meter. Only when those hits became boring the distance was increased to 15, and so on.

Nowadays in the off-season for hunting we shoot 4" clays with the .22s off-hand from 50 m, trying to average 20 shots a month. There is no ammunition wasted with the .300 calibres - maybe once a month two shots at 100 meter off-hand at an 8" target and one shot prone from 200M at the 4" clay. There is no shooting groups because we already know all the rifles are sub-MOA capable.

The final bad memories of recoil come from field use. While mostly when hunting the shooter does not notice the recoil so much as on a bench, there is one human trait that can make it worse: impatience.

It is all based on initial training: Years of learning to properly do breath control comes from learning to shoot off-hand: Shoulder the rifle naturally and if it has at least a 24" barrel - but a 26" is better - its pointability will automatically cause it to be almost on target. As the shooter breathes in, the cross-hairs or the front bead will rise above the aiming mark. Breathing out lowers the sights, and as it comes onto the aiming point stop the breath and then the shot must go off by itself - almost as a surprise to the hunter. That means there was no flinching or trigger jerk.

In the field the hunter is afraid of losing the shot and then forgets all the above and in a hurry shoots when the animal is moving, or before he has a proper stance, or a suitable field rest. His attention is not on holding the rifle properly and concentrate on breath and trigger control if he succumbs to a compelling insistence to get the shot off.

Many times that moment of inattention causes a poor hold on the rifle and assists the scope to make a traumatic cut into the eyebrow and spill blood on the rifle which spoils the finish - and also spoils his day. Hunting for the rest of the day will be cancelled and that severe recoil will be remembered for a long time to come.

Pass up on any shot if conditions are not good. South Africa has lots of wild game and another opportunity will certainly present itself.

So, recoil is manageable. Accept that it is a natural reaction due to a bullet's acceleration through a rifle bore - understand it, be prepared for it and control your body's reaction to it. Above all do not add those illogical variables into the equation as have been shown in these two aforegoing discussions.

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