Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Recoil and double rifles

Here is one more question regarding recoil in the big bore double rifles.

Dear Cal:
Tell me, do these big doubles you write of really kick as bad as some writers say they do?
Richard McCracken, UK

I'm glad to answer this question as the topic has been biting the back of my brain for quite some time.

I guess the final straw came when I was taking a rare look at one of the many forums on firearm topics on the net. What caught my eye was some discussion on the .600 nitro express. It was interesting to read of folks who wanted to own and/or shoot a .600. I am one of the lucky ones in that I own a vintage .600--a John Wilkes double rifle from 1914, best quality, with 26 inch barrels and a weight of 15 1/3 pounds. It is truly an honor to have one of these rare and powerful vintage rifles in my collection. Anyway, whilst reading the opinions, wants, and desires of the many writers I was taken back by something one writer had to say. You know the type. He knew it all, had done it all, and was the last word on the (any) subject. He had an absolutely stupid moniker--perhaps to keep his identity private. He said, "The recoil would spin the shooter I saw 1/2 to 3/4 around." How stupid and unknowing can one be? In fact, he goes on to state that the hunters in the vintage years who shot the .600 were "when men were men and men were stupid." The heaviest recoil will push one back a step or two--it has happened to me shooting a 4-bore--but shooters are not mounted on a turntable. We don't spin when we shoot. And so began a brief look into what folks write as to recoil perceptions and misperceptions.

I remember reading an old story about Ernest Hemingway bringing a friend to Griffin and Howe's New York showroom and shooting range to test fire a .577 double rifle. The story is that the recoil broke the man's shoulder. The same result was common when Hoffman Arms was producing the .505 Gibbs in its custom bolt action rifles in the years before WWII. In the current Cartridges of the World is one of the many rounds that only duplicate the ballistics of an already produced cartridge. The .510 nitro express is basically the 3 1/4 inch Sharps cartridge loaded with smokeless powder to match the ballistics of the .500 nitro express--a common British round. The write up reports the recoil was so severe that it "tore the forearm off." (Either the rifle was poorly made or all the English .500 nitro doubles suffered the same fate.) Another report of shooting the .600 nitro express caused the shooter's ears to bleed. Others needed a few days of rest to end the headache. Another he-man wrote the recoil loosened the fillings in his teeth. A fellow named Williamson wrote of shooting a raccoon out of a tree with a tiny .45-90 Winchester. The recoil was not mentioned by the rifle was so powerful that "there was not a body to fall out of the tree." I guess the rifle completely destroyed the animal.

The writers also go to the other end of the spectrum. Many shooters of the old days mentioned the .600's recoil not even being noticed when shooting at a game animal. The same when shooting the big 8 and 4 bores at game. Craig Boddington writes of shooting an 8 bore that the recoil is a 'healthy shove rather than a violent kick." (To see what a healthy shove is, click on and "Shooting the 4 Bore" in the double rifles section).

Anyway, forgive my rant, but the fact is the rifles do kick. If one is a shooter who's biggest shooting experience is a .30-06 they will kick a lot! But, if you are an experienced shooter who can comfortably shoot a .375 and .458 off the bench when sighting in a new scope you will be able to handle a .577 or .600 with no problem. The error I feel many make is to hold a big rifle in the manner a smaller caliber rifle or a shotgun is held. If the firearm just rests in your hand the recoil will be difficult to manage. Do this--grip the barrels very tight with the splinter fore end just resting on the palm of your hand. As you grip the barrels tightly to keep the barrels from leaving your hand upon ignition, also use the same hand to pull the rifle back to your shoulder as tight as you can. With the other hand, keep the trigger finger loose but grip the pistol grip very tight as well as use this hand to also pull the rifle tight against the shoulder. Your aim will be very steady and the barrels won't rise more than a few inches.

One exception, heavy black powder loads under heavy lead bullets in the larger bore rifles will kick hard no matter what you do. But, If you follow the above suggestions, at least the expensive rifle will not fly out of your hands! Last of all, make sure the pull of the stock fits. Too short and you will get a bloody nose. Too long and the rifle will be difficult to shoulder.

Good shooting