How Much Does That Rifle Really Kick?

posted on November 12, 2014
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The Good Ole' Boy Saying
"This 7mm Mag. don't kick at all!"

It's common for a proud man to uncase his favorite big-game rifle, look at it lovingly, and pronounce that "it hardly even kicks!" or "it kicks about like a .22!" Then inexperienced hands shoot it, and wind up with a bloody nose wondering what happened.

While some stock designs fit shooters better than others and seem to mitigate perceived recoil as do recoil pads and especially muzzle breaks, recoil is a measure in physics that can be calculated as a base line estimate for comparison. The cartridge's bullet weight, muzzle velocity and especially gun weight all factor in the equation. The lighter the gun, the more the kick with all else being equal. Also, some cartridges burn power more quickly than others, and therefore the recoil impulse is quicker, resulting in higher perceived recoil despite its numbers on paper. Nonetheless, all guns kick—just some more than others.

The Numbers
According to the NRA Fact Book, here are some recoil calculations based on average loads and gun weights typical for that caliber.

.223 Rem.; 55-gr. bullet; 3240 MV; 7 lb. rifle: Recoil Energy: 3.7 ft. lbs.
.243 Win.; 80 gr. bullet; 3350 MV; 8 lb. rifle: Recoil Energy: 8.4
.270 Win.; 130-gr. bullet; 3060 MV; 8 b. rifle: Recoil Energy: 15.7
7mm Rem. Mag.; 150 gr. bullet; 3110 MV; 8 lb. rifle: Recoil Energy: 24.3
.30-30 Win.; 170-gr. bullet: 2200 MV; 7 lb. rifle: Recoil Energy: 11.4
.308 Win.; 180 gr. bullet; 2620 MV; 8 lb. rifle: Recoil Energy: 17.8
.30-06; 180-gr. bullet; 2700 MV; 8 lb. rifle; Recoil Energy: 20.0
.300 Win Mag.; 180 gr. bullet; 2960 MV; 8 lb. rifle; Recoil Energy 27.2
.338 Win. Mag.; 225 gr. bullet; 2780 MV; 8 lb. rifle; Recoil Energy 32.2
.458 Win. Mag.; 500 gr. bullet; 2040 MV; 9 lb. rifle; Recoil Energy 58.1
.460 Weatherby Mag.; 500 gr. bullet;  2700 MV; 10 lb. rifle; Recoil Energy:  111.0
12-gauge shotgun; 3-inch mag.; 1.75 oz. Payload; 1245 MV; 8 lb. gun: Recoil Energy: 55.4

The Conclusion
When Bubba yanks his new ultra-lightweight .338 Win. Mag. from the back of his truck, shoves it in your hands and says, "It don't even kick!"—beware. It probably does. While some additions to a rifle can help lessen its bite, it's tough to completely undo physics. So don't get too close to that scope, and hold on tight.


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