Face it. Getting older Means “Those Kicks
Just Keep Gettin’ Harder…”
It’s funny, but when it comes to hunting rifles, most kids can’t wait to get old enough to step up to more power, while lots of older guys secretly want to step down.
I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve become less tolerant of felt recoil as I’ve gotten older. Problem is, I’ve also become less tolerant of lugging heavy rifles around. And since I’m pretty fond of the calibers I’ve always used, I’m somewhat reluctant to scale down to loads capable of making a featherweight sporter more user-friendly.
Of course, today’s super-premium monolithic bullets allow what were previously considered lighter, marginal calibers to “punch above their weight.” Or you can simply use those bullets in a caliber you’re already “invested” in. In the January 2015 “Handloading,” John Barsness makes the case for using the 130-grain Barnes TSX in a .300 Magnum.
(Advocating a bullet of that weight in a .300 would have been big-game heresy not long ago): “The solid copper design results in a solid refusal to disintegrate, even at very high impact velocities. And the 130-grain loads recoiled noticeably less… something I appreciated during an afternoon of shooting off the bench.”
a 1- or 2-shot hunting situation, but somehow, sometime, you’ve got to zero the thing. And sitting at a bench—or shooting prone—makes it awful tough to escape the old “equal-and-opposite-reaction” thing. Unless you’re one of those zeroing geniuses who invariably manages to knock things into line with a couple of cartridges. After all, one wrong-way spin on an unfamiliar scope’s windage or elevation dial, and you can find yourself sentenced to another dozen rounds or so before you’re back to square one. And when you’re dealing with something like, say, a .340 Weatherby Magnum in a classic old “high comb/rollover cheekpiece” Mark V, the fun factor quickly fades (assuming you don’t have access to a Caldwell Lead Sled).
Load tailoring in a specific caliber can help block that kick. The .45-70 can be had—or handloaded—in
a wide range of power levels, suitable for anything from a Trapdoor action through a Marlin Guide Gun,
up to a Ruger No. 1. Here’s a Remington 405-grain Core-Lokt (left) at 1,330 fps and a Garrett 420-grain
+P Hard Cast (right) at 1,850 fps. The difference on hogs in the field at iron-sight ranges is minimal.
The difference on your shoulder from the bench is not.
Even in different calibers roughly covering the same areas of usefulness, it’s possible to step down
in recoil if you’re willing to step down a bit in power. The 7mm-08 (left) may not have the storied
versatility of the .30-06 (right), but in lightweight, short-action rifles, it’s a kinder, gentler
I’ve had my share of heavy-kickers. Although none were rifles I personally owned, shooting them fell into the “job description” area. One of the most notable was a beautiful .505 Gibbs built on a magnum Mauser action with 50- and 100-yard folding-leaf Express sights and a curb weight (if memory serves) of somewhere just north of 10 pounds. Editor Jeff John and I each fired one 50-yard, 3-shot group with it from a “standup” benchrest contraption, sporting a rolled-up carpet around a giant cross-dowel with the diameter of a coffee can. The ammunition we used featured a 525-grain softpoint at something in the neighborhood of 2,300 fps.
With age, however, comes wisdom. Next time out we enlisted the talents of a younger, studlier shooter who had a well-established “recoil proof” reputation. Jeff and I were relieved and grateful to find an heir to the tradition of Sir Samuel Baker, because now the rifle we had was an 8-bore October Country percussion double. This “no-longer-in-production” monster employed a full-power charge consisting of an 830-grain roundball in front of 300 grains of FFg.
The fact the rifle weighed a bit over 18 pounds wasn’t nearly enough inducement for me to try it. No worries though. Our friend Johnny scornfully declined our offer of a reduced load and went manfully for the Full Monty. He fired four rounds and chatted away gamely as Jeff reloaded the rifle again. (Thinking back on it, Johnny didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry for Jeff to finish).
Finally, Jeff capped the rifle and handed it back. Our test subject shouldered it with considerably less enthusiasm this time. His fifth shot was a misfire, so the flinch Jeff and I saw was there as if on the Big Screen—in all its undisguised, unmistakable glory.
Even John Taffin won’t take an unnecessary pounding if he doesn’t have to. Here he takes advantage
of a spring-loaded Knoxx Compstock to take some of felt recoil out of a .375 H&H.
A few years later—and a couple of upticks on my personal “creakiness scale”—got me to thinking about one of my own rifles; a very nice David Clay-customized Marlin Guide Gun in, naturally, .45-70—a cartridge I’ve always liked on hogs. Around the time there was something of a .45-70 revival going on.
Some of the loads from smaller, innovative ammo companies, like Garrett and Buffalo Bore, were seriously pushing the old Custer-era service round into low-end .458 Winchester territory. And I’d used several of these potent offerings—usually in heavyweight hardcast persuasion—despite the fact they invariably pushed me around quite a bit at the bench.
So eventually I began to shed my romantic fantasies and face up to the fact I was shooting hogs, not Alaskan brown bear or Cape buffalo. Sure, some of the pigs were pretty big, but I reasoned maybe it would be smart to back off on the horsepower somewhat.
That’s when I switched over to the older, slower 405-grain Core-Lokt Remington. Now, even at a relatively sedate 1,330 fps, it didn’t take much hog-hunting to convince me of one fact. While not in class of a 1,850 fps 420-grain +P Garrett, it was one heck of a hog load, besides being quite pleasant to shoot off the bench. And, turns out, the rifle liked it as much as I did.
Taffin, in his “salad days,” shot the .454 Casull for fun.
Now he uses it solely out of hunting necessity.
Our own John Taffin has fooled around with more hard-kicking ordnance—handgun and rifle—than most guys. I asked him if his tolerance level for recoil had diminished over the years. What he said made me feel a whole lot better about my own feelings in this regard:
”Shakespeare was right. We wind up just like we start. I began with .22’s 60 years ago and worked my way up to the biggest, baddest sixguns ever produced. The condition of my wrists and hands are evidence of that. Now I find myself back enjoying .22’s, .32’s and .38’s all over again. I only shoot the big stuff out of necessity these days, not for fun. Like when I used a .454 Casull to take a 7×7 bull elk and buffalo last fall.”
This also brings to mind another bit of advice from John. Never go out shooting until the temperature equals your age. Or, better still, exceeds it. Just make sure it’s Fahrenheit, not Celsius.
For the Navy SEAL Foundation: Three Sisters Forge Gorgon liner-lock,
in its presentation box.
A Cut-and-Dried Worthy Cause
If you want a first-rate custom folder and want to help out the Navy SEAL Foundation at the same time, check out this offering from Three Sisters Forge. It’s the Gorgon liner-lock, titanium-framed, black Cerakote finished folder, inscribed with the SEAL emblem, which comes in a wooden presentation case. Three Sisters’ Jim Allen kicks in $100 for every one sold to the Foundation, which serves Navy Seals, Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen, Naval Special Warfare Support personnel and their families. It’s a more than worthy cause and a heck of a knife (www.threesistersforge.com).
By Payton Miller