How much recoil can you comfortably manage?

Many people select big bore rifles in calibres that are more than they can comfortably deal with. Most African professional hunters (PHs) will relate stories about clients who come to Africa with rifles they have never fired or are completely afraid of. This results in terrible marksmanship and in many cases, the PH must track wounded animals for many hours before putting them down, or must stop close range charges by wounded dangerous game because the client is just not capable of doing it.

If you hunt with a rifle that you are uncomfortable with, or worse still, afraid of (in terms of recoil), you are doing yourself a great disservice. The results will be that you will be anxious before you even squeeze the trigger, you won't be confident about your ability to make the shot, and your marksmanship will most likely be poor in reality. None of this is conducive to ensuring a successful hunt. If you have gone to great effort and expense on a big game hunt, the last thing you want to do is to ruin all your efforts by messing up the shot when it counts. In the case of dangerous game, this can have serious or even fatal consequences, so why take the risk?

The important thing is to be aware of your limits when it comes to recoil management. If you are a little timid shooting a 30-06 Springfield, then you shouldn't select the cartridge with the biggest bore, biggest case, firing very heavy projectiles, as you just won't be able to handle it.

This is not to say that you can't learn to manage recoil, because you can, and there are design factors within the rifle that will help you to manage recoil also, just as there are ways of training yourself to handle recoil. However, you should try to gain some understanding of what you are comfortable dealing with and what you aren't before you make your final decision. The best way is to try shooting some rifles in calibres that are more powerful than what you are used to and see how you find them. If you live in one of the capital cities, there may well be a big bore rifle club that you can attend, and try a few shots from a big bore calibre. However, if you don't have access to anyone with such a rifle, then even a shotgun with a very heavy field load may give you some idea of the type of recoil you may expect.

The more you shoot a big bore, the more comfortable you will become with it. But you need to shoot it a lot before you take it into the field, or you will still be tentative towards it. When you are ready to take the shot at that prize animal, the last thing on your mind should be concern about the recoil. If it is, your shot is already compromised even before the trigger breaks.

Your level of recoil tolerance will also have a bearing on the bore diameter that you should choose. Some hunters will choose the largest calibre for no other reason than to impress others. The smart hunter will select a bore diameter they know they can handle. Don't make the mistake of being the former. Bore diameter has a direct relation to projectile weight, and projectile weight has a direct relation to recoil energy. You will find that given the same capacity cartridge case, a larger bore diameter cartridge is going to generate more recoil than a smaller bore diameter cartridge. This s because a suitable projectile will be most likely be heavier than it would be in a smaller calibre. Of course, you can play with the various contributing factors; reduce the bullet weight to the same as the smaller bore, reduce the muzzle velocity etc. But then, you're just compromising the performance potential of the cartridge and so would be better off with the smaller bore anyway.

The bottom line is this; you are far better served by a less powerful calibre that you can shoot well, than a more powerful one that you shoot badly. For more information read the Perceived vs Actual Recoil and Managing Recoil at the Shooting Bench pages in the Technical Notes section of this website.

When matched with premium projectiles, such as the Cutting Edge Projectiles DGBR BBW #13s and ESP Raptors, many calibres will be suitable for accomplishing the task against big game, even dangerous game. That said, then when considering dangerous game, if you can manage the recoil, bore diameter does have a bearing (size does matter). With correct projectile selection and shot placement, many calibres will put down even the toughest animals with the first shot. However, when it comes to stopping a charge by a wounded animal intent on your destruction, bigger is better. If being charged by an angry wounded Cape buffalo, a .458 is better than a .375, and a .500 is better than a .458 (assuming similar case capacities). The .500 calibre offerings are the best 'stopping' cartridges in the B&M line.