#6 Recoil: it does a lot more than bruise shoulders


Senior Member
Rokslide Sponsor
Dec 21, 2016
Have you ever zeroed a magnum rifle at the range, and then it shoots high when you are in the field?
Have you ever had a really narrow group, but it is strung up and down at 100 yards?
Have you ever put your magnum rifle in a "lead sled" or on bags so you could shoot smaller groups because recoil pushed you around too much?

All of those can be directly related to recoil, though there are other factors as well. If you take one thing from this tip, it should be that recoil absolutely does more than just bruise shoulders. In fact, recoil can exploit your shooting flaws to make your groups worse and still never bruise your shoulder. And, it isn't all because of your flinch. This is because even though you may put a brake on your rifle, from the time you press the trigger until the bullet leaves the bore, any little force will move the direction of the barrel. The biggest force from the time you press the trigger till the time the bullet leaves the rifle is recoil. You CANNOT eliminate the recoil that occurs before the bullet leaves the barrel. Any tiny movement at the rifle barrel translates to a much larger movement of the bullets on the target.

TIP: When getting into position for a shot, analyze where recoil will push the muzzle of your rifle. Then, change your position until recoil will be absorbed in a perpendicular or parallel lines. Recoil will mostly move the muzzle up and at angles to the side. For reasons that should become clear, recoil does not usually move the muzzle down.

Muzzle movement up: Recoil physics means muzzles move up immediately upon touching off the primer. Most hunting rifles have the buttstock below the bore. The muzzle rises when you shoot because the recoil force pivots the rifle up on the buttstock. This is why for accuracy shooters may put their hand on top of the scope of a lightweight magnum. Recoil is enough to push the rifle around A LOT before the bullet leaves the muzzle, and putting a hand on top of the rifle tames that. It is also the reason that so many shots are missed over the back of an animal, because recoil is one of the greatest forces imparted on a rifle before the bullet clears the muzzle.

Muzzle movement to the side: Besides moving up, the rifle will add in another direction so that it can dissipate as much energy as possible. The force exploits weak spots in control and also where there are even slight forces. Muzzles may move sideways for a few main reasons.

One, is that the rifle is held at an angle to the body, and recoil bounces the rifle at an angle. This is like a ball bouncing at an angle off the ground when it is not thrown straight down, it naturally bounces at an angle. Some examples are:
  • The rifle buttstock is shouldered in the far outside of the shoulder pocket creating an angle between the rifle and the body.
  • The buttstock is not firmly held against the body so it gets a running start and bounces off the body.
    One bipod foot is dug in the ground and the other foot is loose.
Two, is pressures that are imparted into the rifle, so when the rifle is fired, the recoil breaks the stability of the position and the pressure moves the rifle.
  • The support hand is torqueing/twisting the front of the rifle.
  • The firing hand is pulling the rifle at an angle against the shoulder or twisting.
  • The rifle is been pushed hard against the bipod legs in the front.
  • A shooting sling, if used as support, is torqueing the rifle.
  • The body is full of tension so the recoil force is "bounced" off the shoulder rather than absorbed into your body.
  • If shooting off a tripod, the rifle is locked and force is pushing the rifle either up or down.
  • Cheek is putting pressure on the rifle down and to the side.
Third, is that the rifle is already moving in one direction when the rifle is fired from a flinch, trigger jerk, sympathetic squeezes of fingers and muscles, and breathing.
  • The trigger jerking motion starts moving the rifle in one direction and recoil energy follows the momentum of the rifle.
  • Breathing is moving the body up and down during the shot.

All of these are directly related to how YOU are influencing the rifle. There are many other ways you can mess up a shot, but those should give you ideas of why the fundamentals of marksmanship are so important. Everyone one of those things relate to proper execution and training on the fundamentals. So, as you are training and learning to wrap your body around this explosion taking place a few inches from your face. Make sure that you control that recoil and it doesn't go anywhere but absorbed perfectly into your body as a big "meat sack" not as a "hard rock". Think about absorbing all the recoil energy and also how any extra recoil energy is trying to escape in any direction except straight back, then you can start thinking about how your position affects the shot. If your bipod is hopping, it isn't the rifle and it isn't' the bipod. It is your bad form. Don't make excuses.

An easy way to demonstrate this effect is to shoot two five shot groups. The first group, shoot them without moving position. Don't lift your head or take your hand off the gun except to cycle the bolt. You can even have someone else cycle it for you. For the second group, get off the rifle and pick it up before you settle back down. For the vast majority of shooters, repeating the same position is nearly impossible and will increase the group size. You will invariably change your position in very small ways, but it doesn't take much to effect the groups of a rifle. The rifle will very much bounce and shoot differently, unless you are very consistent with form.

Now, on to some explanation about how muzzle brakes and suppressors reduce felt recoil. Technically, a muzzle brake and suppressor does calm the "felt recoil", but it does not and cannot reduce the recoil before the bullet leaves the bore. A muzzle brake works when the gasses hit the rearward facing walls of the ports and that continuous impact of the gasses pushes the rifle forward. Picture it as the force of a garden hose pushing dirt down the sidewalk or patio. It is not like the water coming out of the nozzle of the garden hose, or what I call the "rocket effect". There is some force, but the gasses moving through the ports is quite minimal compared to the effect of rapidly expanding gasses pushing hard against the rearward facing surfaces of the brake. That is why the "tank" type brakes or brakes with "gills" are so much more effective and louder than the radial brakes with small holes drilled in them. They have a larger surface for the gasses to push against longer. That dynamic of gasses after the bullet leaves the muzzle is why a muzzle brake only helps you AFTER the bullet leaves the muzzle, and not before.

So, now you know recoil is moving the rifle while the bullet is in the bore and your position will determine where the rifle is pointed. Why is this important?

I went to a NRL Hunter match, figuring it would it would be a good test for my hunting rifle and gear. After all, I practice with it, I know it is accurate, and I like shooting it. But, the practice I put in with my 7mm Sherman Short Mag is limited to the positions that will get me extremely confident hits at long range. I always shoot with solid rear support like you would get prone or off a bench. I do not practice the alternate positions like I do with with my 6mm "gamer" rifle for precision rifle matches I shoot for fun.

The match straight worked me over because I was trying to shoot a suppressed 11 pound 2 oz magnum hunting rifle like I would a 16 pound 6mm gamer rifle. I was not prepared and did not have the recoil management skills. Only my body position could manage the recoil of the rifle to keep it pointed an on target. Notably, as far as "felt recoil", with a suppressor and good buttpad, I have no soreness or even redness on my collarbone from shooting well over 70 rounds.

The vast majority of the shots were in alternate positions, meaning they didn't provide easy ways to support the rear of the rifle like you would off a bench or prone. My hit percentage was very, very low in all the positional stages--it was man vs. recoil. The one stage where I had success was getting 7 of 8 points when I was shooting prone.

This was a wake up call to how I perceived myself as an over all marksman. I thought that my precision at well supported shooting would translate to positional shooting, cause, my crosshair was on the target most of the times I broke the shot. That wasn't the case because of recoil. I am confident that I would have had many more hits with my low recoiling cartridges in heavy rifles. Even though I felt like I built solid positions and kept the wobble of my crosshair within the target and had fairly clean trigger presses, I didn't get as many hits as I was expecting, because, recoil exploited all my weaknesses between the moment the primer popped and the bullet cleared the muzzle. I acknowledge, at best I am a middle of the road shooter in the games like PRS, but I was absolutely humbled by a light magnum rifle. It sucked at the time and was frustrating, but that is where the game is very good. I got to take a whole lot of shots under pressure, and they were without the worry about wounding an animal. .

I encourage everyone to go to or participate in a few precision type rifle matches just to see what happens there. There are so many benefits from playing a game. Warriors and hunters have always played games to sharpen their skills so they had the skills necessary to perform. You can absolutely be a fantastic hunter when you practice the long range shots you will take, so you don't need the game. But, these games are a great way to make friends, learn skills, and be humble. Most of the people at these matches are extraordinarily friendly.