AS A RIFLEMAN and experimenter, as well as a hunter, . I have always been interested in why some guns "kick" and others don't. After some years of trial and study. I decided that objectionable kick in a rifle is caused largely by the design, shape, and fit of the stock. It has little to do with gun weight, or even with load power.
A good illustration of this occurred one evening after dinner at the ranch, when my guest and I headed for the range to sight in his new gun. Targets were set up, John settled at the shooting bench, sighted a few times, and then squeezed off a shot. "Wow! This new gun certainly kicks," he grumbled. "That really hurt." The rifle was a handsome Mauser-action .30-06 with set trigger, a fine 4X scope, and a perfectly finished stock of beautiful wood. The gunsmith had also done a fine job of reducing the weight of the gun. After a dozen more sighters, John was pulling off the target so badly he stopped shooting. "I thought packing a gun under seven pounds would be a dream," he muttered, ruefully massaging his cheek and shoulder. "But I'm flinching already."
Still game, John then tried out my 6% pound Gartman Bantam rifle in the same caliber. After three shots, all well grouped, he turned to me. "Les, why is it your gun seems to kick very little—not as much as the 11-pounder I shot last fall—whereas mine, a pound heavier and with a 2" longer barrel, kicks like the devil?
I put the two guns on the bcnch side-by-side and showed him the difference in design and shape of stocks, especially the cheek pieces. My lighter rifle had a recoil pad to spread the recoil over a greater area, and the pitch of the gun butt was significantly different. "Why didn't my gunsmith think of those things?" John complained. "If that's what takes the kick out, that's what I want."
Right here let me differentiate between "recoil" and "kick." Recoil is the rearward thrust of the gun following the ignition of powder. It is in relation to gun weight, caliber, bullet weight, amount of powder, and other factors. "Kick" is the effect of this thrust on the shooter. It is governed by the weight of the gun, stance of the shooter, and how the recoil is distributed to the shooters body. This last factor has a great deal to do with the enjoyment of a person using a gun, and with accuracy, either for target work or hunting.
Every year, hunters who come here for spring bear or fall big game hunts bring rifles about evenly divided between "custom" and factory standard makes. Of the "custom makes," some are from well-known gun and stock makers, but many are from the small local rifle shops turning out only a few rifles a year. Some are rebuilt military rifles, and some have used the original action only, everything else being new. As a general rule, the stocks of these custom guns follow a general style: a comb of some sort, checkering, recoil pad, and from fair to wonderful finish. But, after this, the similarity slops. Shapes vary according to the gun man's particular idea of good looks and design, with very little thought to the most important item of design, elimination of "Kick," plus stock shape and fit to permit fast accurate aiming and sure holding. No shooter can confidently handle a kicking gun. He can "get used to it"—which means that he can adjust his shooting position and "style" of cheeking the gun until it hurts him less or not at all; but too many times he develops a flinch which ruins his shooting, or finds that he has lost the pleasure out of his shooting. Proper stock fitting could correct both conditions.
Originally, most guns were built heavy, especially when scope equipped. Nine to twelve pounds was "average," and many shooters actually added heavy barrels and weighted stocks to reduce recoil. But since that time there has been a trend toward light and "bantam weight" rifles—rifles in calibers up to .30-06 and weighing, with scope and mount, around 6'/4 pounds. The magnums average about a pound heavier, or iy± pounds. This reduction in weights has given the big game hunter a far more pleasant rifle to carry in the mountains and one the average hunter can use more quickly and more accurately than the heavier gun he formerly carried. But in these light rifles, apparent recoil has been magnified, and this has been responsible for more attention to better stock design and fit. Even the established gun manufacturers have brought out lightweight versions—not yet, in most cases, as light as the custom guns, but definite steps in that direction.
Although f have hunted for 50 years and naturally have some favorite old rifles, all in the heavy class, I have recently collected
Guymon light rifle (left) has wide forearm for recoil control, with cheelt piece sloped to allow gun to kick away from cheek. Same design is in Hi-Wall maple stock (above) which has plate sloped fo reduce torque on firing. Old M94 carbine was notorious kicker.
Factory-stocked Model 70 Winchester (top] can cause kick from stock comb angle, butt pitch. Custom rifle, bottom, has comb angled forward and butt giving better support.
a series of calibers in lightweights that make hunting a real pleasure. I have lent these guns to all who would use them here, and it has been fun to watch the enthusiasm shown in each instance. Many of these hunters have immediately ordered duplicates for themselves.
In reviewing gun stock shapes for the past years, I find very few old stocks which resemble the stocks of the new designs by top gunstockers. However, I notice several manufacturers, especially of magnum calibers, have definitely studied this recoil problem. And after shooting some of the new guns and comparing apparent recoil and kick, I can easily see why some of these new guns are more popular than others.
A particular caliber and load will produce just so much rearward thrust, developed as the charge propels a given bullet forward to designed speeds. Let's study a Weatherby caliber, for example. No one can deny that there will be more recoil when bullet speeds are stepped up. But how this recoil is absorbed by the shooter is the difference between recoil and kick. All Weatherby stocks that we have used here or seen pictured show a great deal of attention to design intended to minimize "kick." This permits high speed, flat shooting cartridges that the hunter can shoot without developing a bad flinch problem. I've shot .300 Magnum factory stocked guns, made for open or telescope sights, that kicked like a mule; shot them again after a better designed and shaped stock had been installed, and found the kick down to a point where shooting was a pleasure. A number of the gunstock manufacturers who sell semi- or full-inletted stocks to gunsmiths, and owners who do their own stocking, have done a lot of research along this line and are featuring modern designed stocks that are equal in kick-reducing design and shape to the best the custom gunsmith has to offer.
However, the real credit for stock design advancement belongs to the custom stock makers. Those craftsmen have worked out changes from the so called "classic" designs, in vogue for so long, to designs that give more shooter comfort. And it is not alone the light weight gun that is benefiting from this change. The high powered high velocity guns recently brought out, such as the Winchester .458 and Weatherby .378, are either so stocked by the makers or are being re-stocked, on customer order, by top stock makers.
I've done a lot of experimenting here on all caliber guns, from ,219's to .35 Newtons, to check on this recoil problem. Recently I spent several days with one of America's top stock makers, Lenard Brownell of Sheridan, Wyoming, getting his accumulated ideas on this angle. Lenard insists that, even on a heavyweight .22 Long Rifle target gun, attention to stock design to reduce apparent recoil helps a person's shooting score. And he follows that thought with the stocks he uses on his own target, bench, and game rifles. He is a top shot with all, and is one of the few stockers I know who really shoots in all categories and does a lot of big game hunting, also.
Another of the top stock makers who also shoots target, bench, and game a lot, is A1 Biesen, of Spokane, Washington. I have guns stocked by both these men. Along with the superb workmanship, bedding, and checkering, the design of the stocks make any caliber gun a real pleasure to shoot, whether in .222, .270, or a (Continued on page 58)
Author is guide-outfitter, expands own knowledge and experience with that of many sportsmen who bring all types of guns to his ranch for hunting. Exotic Guy-mon rifle, right, shows good principles of stock design for reducing the kick.
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Deer hunting is an interesting thing that reminds you of those golden old ages of 19th centuries, where a handsome hunk well equipped with all hunting material rides on horse searching for his target animal either for the purpose of displaying his masculine powers or for enticing and wooing his lady love.