Perceived versus Actual Recoil

You should understand that there is a difference between actual recoil and perceived recoil, and that depending on a number of factors, each one can outweigh the other at various times. Sometimes a heavy recoiling rifle may feel quite comfortable to shoot, while another rifle with a relatively low actual recoil may be quite uncomfortable to fire and feels as though the recoil is substantially higher.


Actual Recoil

Actual recoil is a force expressed in Newton metres (or foot pounds) that acts in the opposite direction to projectile flight, and can be calculated by knowing the projectile muzzle velocity and weight, and the weight of the powder charge propelling it.  This is the recoil exerted by the fired cartridge on the rifle. In simple terms, recoil it is dictated by the momentum of the projectile and powder charge exiting the barrel (mass multiplied by velocity). To calculate the actual recoil transferred to the firer, the weight of the rifle that the projectile is being fired from must also be known and taken into account.

Ways to reduce actual recoil include:

Projectile Velocity:     The slower the projectile leaves the barrel, the less its momentum and hence the lower the recoil. Reducing muzzle velocity is the easiest way for the handloader to reduce recoil.

Projectile Weight:      If the velocity is the same, a projectile with less mass will have less momentum, so will generate less recoil.

Powder Charge:          The powder charge has mass and as it is ejected from the barrel in the form of hot gas at high speed (nominally muzzle velocity), it has momentum and hence contributes to recoil. The weight of the powder charge is generally much lower than the weight of the projectile, so the proportional recoil is generally only a small percentage. If you can achieve the same desired velocity safely with a faster powder, you will achieve a slight recoil reduction as a faster powder will require a lower charge weight than a slower powder. This is has greatest effect where the powder charges are very large.

Firearm Weight:          A heavier rifle will have a lower recoil impulse than a lighter one, with all other factors being equal. The force generated by the cartridge will be the same in both rifles, but the heavier rifle will move rearward at a slower velocity.


Perceived Recoil

Perceived recoil (also called 'felt recoil') comprises a number of factors and is basically how the recoil feels to the firer. It affects several of the shooter's senses and extends beyond just the reward movement of the rifle. The sight, sound and movement of the rifle when the shot breaks all contribute to perceived recoil.

Factors that make up perceived recoil include:

Rifle Fit:                   Perhaps the most important factor to reducing perceived recoil is to have a rifle with good fit. A rifle with dimensions that are too long or too short for the firer will be uncomfortable to fire. You don't want to feel over-extended or crowded when firing a rifle. Most rifles with standard length of pull around 35cm (13.75 inches) will suit the majority of shooters. However, if you are taller or shorter than average, these standard lengths may not suit you. This is why young shooters and females are often intimidated by recoil – the rifles are just too big for their smaller dimensions. Along with stock fit, the thickness of the pistol grip and forearm can aid a good grip, and thereby an increased sense of control of the rifle during recoil.

Blast:                       The more noise a rifle makes, the greater the recoil seems. The bigger the flash of powder burning in the air, the more imposing the shot appears and again, the greater the recoil seems to the firer. Shorter barrels and slower burning powders will generally result in more powder burning up in the air outside the muzzle. While an effective muzzle brake will reduce actual recoil, the redirected gases now move sideways and sometimes rearwards, and quite often increase perceived recoil, especially when no hearing protection is worn.

Concussion:            While blast relates to noise sensed by our hearing, concussion refers to the shock wave that is felt by the rest of the body. Concussion is seldom noticed when firing standard rifles and cartridges, unless the firer is too close to the muzzle. Concussion is usually felt when firing either; cartridges that have very large powder charges, rifles with very short barrels, or where muzzle brakes are used (or a combination of these factors). One only needs to stand behind a competition action pistol shooter using an effective compensator (muzzle brake) to understand that the concussive effect can be both felt and off-putting, even as a spectator.

Stock Design:          Stock design will affect muzzle climb. The straighter the recoil force is transferred through the stock to the firer, the less muzzle climb there will be. Stock with high combs, such as classic shaped stocks will exhibit less muzzle climb than those with lower combs, such as Monte Carlo or hogback design stocks. Muzzle climb can lead to a loss of sightline to your target and can also lead to a sense of reduced control of the rifle.

Stock Materials:     Some materials used in stocks absorb some degree of recoil, while others that are very rigid, tend to transmit all the recoil directly to the firer. Some synthetic stock designs tend to absorb recoil better than wood or wood laminate stocks.

Rifle Weight:          Rifle weight affects both to actual recoil as well as perceived recoil. For a given amount of recoil energy, a heavier rifle will have a lower recoil impulse than a lighter one, and will move rearward at a slower velocity. By slowing the rifle's rearward movement and spreading the recoil force on the firer over a longer period of time, it becomes more bearable. Whenever we can extend the transfer of the recoil energy over a longer time period, the recoil energy at any point in time (peak recoil) will be reduced.

Rifle Balance:          Balance is allied to weight in that the location of the weight will affect muzzle climb and how the recoil feels also. Rifles that are front heavy will tend to exhibit less muzzle climb and may have less perceived recoil. However, balance is also important for pointability and carrying comfort, so consider these in addition to recoil benefits.

Padding:                 Padding in the form of recoil pads on the rifle and padded vests worn by the firer can both be effective. The size, composition and construction of a recoil pad may greatly reduce the recoil forces that are transmitted to the body. Larger, wider pads spread the force over a larger area. Pad composition affects the way in which the pad material absords energy internally, and certain compositions transfer less recoil energy to the shooter. Pad construction (including thickness) will be a factor in decelerating the recoil energy (much like the crumple zones on a car during an impact). These combined factors mean that some recoil pads will be more effective than others in reducing recoil energy transferred to the firer. Shoulder padding also slows the recoil energy transfer and spreads it over a larger area of the shoulder.

Contact Points:      Any item that protrudes from the rifle and makes contact with other parts of your body during recoil will likely cause you pain, and an increased sense of recoil. The most common of these are probably front sling swivel studs that can make contact with the hands. This can be counter-acted using barrel bands or removable or recessed sling swivel studs. Contact between scopes and the eyebrow or eye socket can be very painful and will quickly make a shooter gun-shy. This results from insufficient eye relief for hard recoiling calibres. Ensuring a sight with correct positioning and sufficient eye relief, in addition to good gun fit will alleviate this.

Recoil Reducers:     Some firearms may contain recoil reducers fixed inside the buttstock that actually absorb recoil internally. Mercury filled tubes are the most common and work by exerting force against the front face of the tube, counteracting some of the rearward recoil force. These also add weight. However, these can also affect the balance of the firearm, and the sound of mercury flowing backwards and forwards in the tube can be annoying to some.



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