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Recoil, Mindset and Grandma

If you were to ask a professional boxer what they like best about their sport some of them might say they like the competition.

Others might bring up the prize money, but chances are none of them will say: “I just like getting punched in the face, always have, and this job lets me get punched in the face a lot.”

Naturally, boxers don’t like getting hit any more than anyone else does. A better description of how boxers feel about getting hit might be to say that they don’t mind it as much as the rest of the population, and they’ve come to realize that it goes with the territory.

I did a little boxing back in my teens — I wasn’t using my brain for anything else, so I thought I’d give it a part time job absorbing punches — and I can’t say as I ever got to like getting punched, but I did learn to accept it.

This mindset of accepting something we dislike in return for being able to participate in a larger activity we do enjoy is something most people practice every day — maybe not it terms of actual physical pain, but we do learn to live with the stuff we don’t like in deference to preserving our overall happiness.

A good example of this is a marriage. Your spouse might have a few habits that you don’t particularly care for, but overall… actually I’m going to back out of this metaphor. I’ve never been married and it’s dangerous to start pontificating about things you know nothing of.

This brings us to recoil and how shooters react to it.

I should begin by saying that it has been my observation over the years that the way a shooter feels about recoil has almost nothing to do with their physical size.

Most folks assume that smaller people can’t put up with the same level of recoil that larger people can. From what I’ve seen, a shooter’s height, weight, sex or overall build doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with how they handle recoil.

Some people put up with it and others develop an aversion, but size doesn’t seem to enter into the equation.

My grandmother, for instance, was the quintessential “little old lady.” To me, it seemed like she stood about four and a half feet tall and probably weighted 90 pounds, soaking wet.

Put together with the permanent hairdo and baking apron, she made for something out of a storybook. This was only an outward appearance, though. On the inside she had far more in common with Elmer Keith than Betty Crocker.

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She also thought 3” magnum shotgun slugs were the best thing to come along since sliced bread. Observing grandma firing these artillery rounds at deer during a drive was really something to see.

She would pull the trigger, get smacked like a truck had hit one shoulder, maybe stumble around a little and then quickly reload in case the first one didn’t do the trick.

In many years of brush hunting whitetails, I never once heard her complain about the recoil of her shotgun. Actually, I always harbored a suspicion she kind of liked it.

The other side of this coin is well represented by a fellow I know by the name of Clay. To say the least, Clay is a big boy. I imagine he weighs in at about 300 pounds with his boots on, and basically looks like John Wayne with a lot of tattoos.

He’s pretty much the polar opposite of my Grandma physically, but at some point he picked up a real dislike for recoil and has never seemed to shake it.

All things considered, Clay would probably rather try skydiving for the first time than run a box of slugs through Grandma’s shotgun.

So what can you do to overcome a dislike like for recoil if you happen to have been saddled with it? Well, like any phobia you can just try to avoid it. This might mean that you just don’t shoot larger firearms, but that’s really going to limit your hunting options at some point.

You could try immersion therapy by firing off an absurd amount of ammo out of a gun you hate to pull the trigger on, but my guess would be that will probably produce the opposite effect from the one you’re looking for.

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A better solution is to take a middle road and try a few different things. For starters, you need to make sure your rifle fits you properly. Nothing kicks worse than a gun that’s the wrong size, so make sure your length of pull, comb drop and sight system fit you well.

Like anything else involving comfort this is a matter of feel, so don’t get too wound up in math and just get your rifle set to what feels good.

After that you’ll want to stop shooting in a t-shirt. Most of the time you’ll wear some heavy clothing while you’re out hunting, so wearing a coat at the range is just good practice, and it really takes the edge off in terms of recoil.

Next, you’ll want to get off the bench. Chances are you’re never going to find a rest as good as a bench in the field, so offhand or kneeling practice is something every hunter should work on.

It also has the added benefit of bleeding off a lot of recoil because your body is allowed to move backwards when firing. I have a number of big bore rifles that only get fired off the bench a few times every year to sight them in, and after that it’s all offhand practice.

Hey, I like big guns as much as the next elk hunter, but I’m not a masochist.

Finally, there’s nothing wrong with toning down recoil with soft-loaded ammo. Lighter loads are much easier on the shoulder for extended practice sessions while still allowing you to perfect your form and build a lot of confidence in your rifle.

If you’re a handloader, you can brew these loads up yourself or make use of the many different brands of light-loaded factory ammo on the market these days.

If simple changes in technique or ammunition aren’t enough to make peace with your rifle, then it might be time to start thinking about some recoil reduction accessories.

The first place to look should always be your recoil pad. In the good old days, all recoil pads were metal and they all worked the same — poorly.

These days, recoil pads are made of rubber, but they get hard when age or rough use takes its toll on them.

There are so many really good recoil-reducing butt pads on the market these days that there’s really no excuse for not making use of them.

Every year these pads get better and less expensive, so a replacement for that old hunk of tire tread you’re using now is a great option.

Also, you may want to consider some other recoil-reducing solutions, such as adding weight to the rifle by inserting a lead weight into the butt stock, or a hydraulic mechanism of some type.

And of course, muzzle brakes have become popular in the last few years. It’s a little hard to recommend any of these because they have to be assessed gadget-by-gadget, and personal taste has a lot to do with it.

In the long run, most shooters can and do become acclimated to the level of recoil their chosen rifle produces. Regardless of how you feel about recoil initially, it’s important to remember that 99% of the rifles out there won’t actually do any physical damage to you when you pull the trigger.

Sure, we’ve all heard the stories about detached retinas and busted shoulders, but that only applies to a select few rifles out there chambered for absurd wildcat cartridges best suited to hunting animals long extinct.

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The vast majority of modern rifles only spook the shooter with muzzle flash, loud noise and a kick that insinuates that some damage could be done.

The proper mindset is all that is required to overcome a fear of recoil. Once you’ve mastered your phobia, you’ll discover that a whole new world of rifle calibers and hunting opportunities is open to you.

You’ll wonder why you ever raised a fuss over a little thing like recoil.

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Recoil, Mindset and Grandma