Recoil, The Long Version

Dear Technoid,

Observations on Recoil – Theory and/or Reality.

I’m am surely a slow learner when it comes to recoil and I believe it is because I had my brains shook loose growing up. From the time I was big enough to tote a shotgun until I got my first “decent” one, (an old Westernfield {read Savage} pump) when I was ten or eleven, I was privileged to have myself abused by any number of different 12 ga. shotguns with High Brass Remington, Winchester-Western, Super X, Peters, etc. shotgun shells. If a little was good, more was better and too much was just right! The worst of a bad lot was my uncle’ single shot Stevens, full choke. It even jumped off my shoulder, under my arm, and split my lip with the breech lever. I have, to this day, a definite hate for most single barrels. All but four significant single barrels have done nothing but abuse me.

Three of these are of the same model and the one I have now, of course, is the Ithaca {read SKB} New Century Trap. The other three are really unique. They are of the old Sneider conversions done by the British and sold in Africa, commonly referred to as “Zulu” shotguns.

These 12 ga guns were conversions of the old muzzle loading shotguns. The breach was cut off, the stock scooped out, a Sneider swing up/over breech block with a long, angled firing pin was installed under the large hammer.

My grandfather owned one of these. I don’t remember the story of how he traded for it, sometime before he was killed by lightening stacking hay from a wagon to the stack in 1929. My dad’s older brother had the gun up until he died, then my dad’s younger brother got it, but he wanted my dad to “tighten it up” so it could be shot. These guns are designed to use the old brass shells and the chambers are considerably larger. While “newer” shells work in them (provided they don’t come apart) they usually split the brass and/or cases.

Dad took the gun, machined a new chamber about 4 inches long for it from a cut off piece of modern gun barrel, made a new firing pin, refit the swinging breech, and took about 6 inches of the choke end of the cut up gun barrel and coupled it to the end of the barrel, but not until he had it working the way he wanted it to. He had to rework and make some of the action parts.

Now, finally to the recoil part. These guns have very short stocks and the butt plate is of steel AND has a large screw holding it in at the heel. The head of the screw is rounded but it actually sticks out past the face of the butt plate. The gun probably weighs (I really should weigh one of them I guess) about 7 lbs. It is front end light, due to the thin barrels. Dad wanted me to shoot it. I REALLY didn’t want to, especially with some of his hand loads. I hemmed and hawed but finally screwed up enough courage to try it. The barrel had been shortened at some point in time because someone shot it with mud in the end and there was absolutely no choke in the barrel…and I guess you could say it was really back bored. BUT when I shot it, it didn’t hurt.
I couldn’t believe how comfortable it was. I couldn’t figure it out. Anyway, we took it to south Texas for the opening of dove season as an extra. On Sunday evening before coming home I got into a tall goat weed patch and I did my best to keep the attacking mongrel communist doves from decimating the poor defenseless goat weed patch. They were moving in from left to right….which is almost the ONLY way you can do any good with this gun, because the BIG hammer blocks out everything from the right… I went 10 for 12 shots.

I’ve not beat that record yet. It was frustrating because it was so slow to load….the last bird got away because I literally tried five….count them….5 times to stuff a shell in the big hole to shoot but could not for the life of me get it to go in. (This I consider absolute proof beyond any doubt that it is IMPOSSIBLE to kill any dove that God does not want you to kill….and that is usually most of them.) It just fluttered out of range from about 5 yards in front of me to the tree line about 50 yards away.

Anyway, to make a long story longer, I tried to figure out why this light, short stocked, deep pitched stocked (to the point you have to lift your face up to see over the breech), big hammered gun didn’t hurt me, steel butt plate and all. It dawned on me that the butt of this gun was about 3 inches wide, significantly wider than any other gun butt in production. Apparently this caused the recoil to be significantly spread out over a much wider area, rather than concentrating in into a narrow spectrum, thus increasing its felt force.

Subsequently I picked up two more of these old relics for about $50 each…they’ve since gone up and Dad and I have quit fooling with them. These were also reworked the same way, one was completely relined with a 20 ga full length barrel machined down as an insert. A small loading ramp had to be made and installed for this one to get the shells in the chamber somewhat reasonably quick. The 12 ga was rechambered with modern steel and a modified barrel was cut off and attached to the end of the barrel.

I have had a lot of fun with these and Pyrodex shells on the skeet range. Both need more open chokes, but…both are really comfortable to shoot because of the wide butt plate.

At one point I was also working with an Interarms .458 Win Mag Express. This trim nice looking rifle with the flip up express sights only weighs 7 lbs. I leaded the stock up to add weight, but it still kicked so hard it split the stock. I sent it back and Interarms was really nice and fixed the stock for free, including a very small glass bedding job on the forward and rear recoil lugs. In the mean time, I had traded for a Mod 70 Super Grade in .458. This one wasn’t so brutal but did kick so I leaded this stock, too, but I went and got a Pachmeyer (sp) Triple Magnum shotgun recoil pad. This is a really nice, soft, WIDE, pad. Dad took a piece of walnut and we fitted the pad, without trimming it down, to one end, then fitted the other side of the 3″ thick piece of wood to the original stock, again without altering the stock. This added the proper length for me and it really took the bite out of the gun. I shoot this gun today from the bench and can go through a box of shells without getting a headache or sore shoulder.

When the Interarms came back I took it to the range to try it out. It balanced like a dream, like a good 20 ga. o/u, and weighed no more. The first time I shot it I thought the stock must have broken again because it felt like George Foreman had hit me up side the head. The gun was OK and it shot where it looked. I though I must have done something wrong so….remember the brain damage from childhood?….I did it again. Yes, I really did…talking about a slow learner. I now did have a real headache and my shoulder felt like somebody hit it with an pick-ax handle. Again, it shot where it looked, so I called my friend and told him to come get the thing. The butt on this rifle was very thin and had that cute little thin red rubber recoil pad on it. This was an absolutely necessary rifle… don’t shoot it unless it is absolutely necessary.

Anyway, the moral of this long drawn out story is that I believe that a function of recoil that has been left out of all of the calculations is the width of the area the recoil is spread out over. The trusty slide rule should give the approximately correct answer of the amount of energy transfer, based on the same formula that shows a woman weighing about 120 lbs can put a couple of tons of pressure on your instep when she stands on it with a spike heel…and the heel has a real tendency to penetrate…same principle, but somewhat different numbers/formulas.

The new guns, especially the sporting models, all except Browning autos, seem to have a thicker/wider butt area to spread the recoil force out. Just a little more around the edges can mean a lot on what you feel when the gun goes off. My .458 ain’t all that pretty, but I certainly don’t want to dance with any other girl. I think that the butt of stocks could be made just a little wider, yet, and reshaped to be attractive. This would help the felt recoil, especially for the softies like me.

Keep up the good work.

JTOP 3d Class

Dear MD,

I like that spike heel analogy. It is both picturesque and accurate. The more butt pad area you can get on your gun, the better off you are. I am not as sure about the short stock on that trade gun though. Maybe those stocks were so short that they never touched your shoulder and you took all the recoil in your arms. That sure would make for a soft shooting gun (until your elbows need rebuilding). Usually a stock that is too short just gives the gun the chance to build up a head of steam before it whacks you. Sort of like a monster case of excessive head space.

Best regards,
Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid

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