Newton’s third law of motion pronounces that to every action there is always opposed an equal reaction. This basic law of physics applies to rifles. The reaction to the bullet speeding down the barrel is recoil pushing against your shoulder. The more recoil you experience, the more likely you are to flinch. Hornady’s new Custom Lite ammunition is designed to reduce the likelihood of that flinch—or possibly even eliminate it.
Many agree the average adult male can effectively manage between 15 and 18 ft.-lbs. of recoil without succumbing to a flinch. That’s about the recoil level of a .30-06. Felt recoil is another thing entirely and is dependent on the physical interface between the shooter and the rifle. I fall into the average adult male category but due to varying rifle configurations, I’ve shot .243 Winchesters that were unpleasant and .300 Winchester Magnums that were comfortable.
Ideally you purchase a rifle that’s comfortable to shoot, but things change. As you age your recoil tolerance diminishes. Maybe you gain a spouse and children. You want to take them hunting but cannot afford another rifle that’s suitable. For decades handloaders have concocted reduced loads to deal with all these issues. Reduced loads are also used for practice because they minimize shooter fatigue.
There are potential drawbacks with reduced loads you produce on your own. For one, handloading takes time and most of us have very little of it. Reduced loads can also be less accurate and less effective at killing game. This isn’t necessarily because they have less power, but because the reduced velocity is not compatible with the chosen bullet. With Custom Lite, Hornady offers over-the-counter reduced loads engineered to solve all these problems.
By combining specific powders with particular bullets, Hornady has assembled a line of ammunition that provides suitable terminal performance, precision accuracy and a claimed recoil reduction of 24-43 percent. The Custom Lite line includes eight common rifle cartridges from .243 Win. to .300 Win. Mag., and two slug loads in 12- and 20-gauge.
I tested Custom Lite loads in .243 Win., .30-30 Win. and .308 Win. to get a feel for their recoil, establish accuracy potential and obtain data to calculate recoil force. As soon as the shooting started I noticed a substantial reduction in felt recoil. But, felt recoil is very subjective.
Free recoil energy (FRE) is a more accurate measurement of actual recoil force. It’s calculated by using the weight of the bullet and powder charge (the ejecta), muzzle velocity and weight of the rifle. I chronographed each load, pulled bullets, weighed them and their companion powder charges, and used a common, field-ready rifle weight of 8 pounds to determine FRE. My calculations showed why pulling the trigger on the .30-caliber loads felt like shooting a .243 Winchester.
Standard 150-grain .308 Win. loads produce around 13 pounds of FRE when fired from an 8-pound rifle. In contrast, the Custom Lite .308 Win. load yielded less than 8 pounds of FRE. This is a 42 percent reduction and is about identical to the FRE of a standard 100-grain .243 Win. load. The .30-30 load showed only a 13 percent recoil reduction, but the .30-30 cartridge doesn’t kick very hard to start with. As for the .243 Win. load, the FRE was 22 percent less than that of a standard full-power load. None of the three Custom Lite loads I tested produced more than 8 pounds of FRE!
Of course, with ammunition everything is a trade-off. If it kicks less, it has less power and most likely a more rainbow-like trajectory. All these loads are comfortable to shoot, but do they have the necessary force to humanely dispatch a big-game animal? It’s reasonable to assume that with a 13-42 percent reduction in recoil, there is a similar reduction in effective range. (Newton again.)
However, Hornady’s idea was not to increase or duplicate the effective range of popular hunting cartridges; it was to make them more comfortable to shoot. The company has succeeded in that quest, and by using bullets designed to provide expansion at reduced velocities, these rounds remain lethal at close to moderate ranges. In a perfect world, if you wanted less recoil you would just buy a new rifle. In the real world few of us have that much cash. With Custom Lite you can get a softer-shooting rifle for the price of a box of ammunition.
Even if you don’t have a son, daughter, wife or husband to enjoy Hornady Custom Lite, the ammo is still beneficial. Less fatigue on you from shooting means more practice, and the more you practice, the better you will shoot on game. You can practice with the light stuff—Hornady Custom Lite—and hunt with the heavy stuff—Hornady Superformance—all without handloading. I think Sir Isaac Newton would appreciate the fact we are still listening to him.