Rifle Recoil Table
By Chuck Hawks
For an expanded version of this table showing a great many more calibers and loads including British, European, wildcat, obsolescent American and proprietary calibers, see the "Expanded Rifle Recoil Table" on the Tables, Charts and Lists Page.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; that is one of the physical laws of our universe. This means that the momentum of a rifle's reaction will exactly equal the momentum of the bullet and powder gasses ejected from the barrel. In the shooting sports we call that reaction recoil or "kick." It can be measured or computed empirically, and has been for this recoil table.
But perceived recoil, what the shooter feels, is a highly subjective matter. It is influenced by many factors. One of the most important of these is the fit and shape of the rifle stock. A good recoil pad can help soften the blow to the shooter's shoulder. Gas-operated semi-automatic actions reduce apparent recoil by spreading it over a longer period of time. These sorts of things cannot be accounted for in a recoil table. Also, please understand that there are dozens of loads for any given bullet weight in any cartridge that will produce the same velocity, but a different amount of recoil. So the figures in any recoil table should be taken as approximate. Never-the-less, the table below should give a reasonably accurate comparison of the recoil of most popular rifle cartridges.
It is worth remembering that the majority of authorities agree that recoil of over twenty foot pounds will cause most shooters to develop a serous flinch, which is ruinous to bullet placement (the prime component of killing power). Fifteen foot pounds is probably about the maximum recoil energy most shooters feel reasonably comfortable with, particularly at the shooting range, where most serious marksmanship practice occurs.
While recoil energy determines how hard the blow to the shoulder feels, recoil velocity determines how abrupt the blow to the shoulder feels. My subjective impression is that, with a well designed stock, recoil velocity above about 10 fps begins to feel like a sharp rap on the shoulder rather than an abrupt push.
I estimate that fifteen foot pounds of free recoil energy and 10 fps of recoil velocity represent the approximate upper limit of the comfort level. Above that recoil becomes increasingly intrusive. Also, the effects of recoil are cumulative. The longer you shoot, and the harder the rifle kicks, the more likely you are to flinch. These are good things to remember when comparing rifle cartridges, and at the range.
In the table below rifle weight is given in pounds, free recoil energy is given in foot pounds, and free recoil velocity is given in feet-per-second. All recoil values have been rounded off to one decimal place.
The recoil energy and recoil velocity figures are taken from various sources including the recoil nomograph in the Handloader's Digest 8th Edition, various online recoil calculators, the Remington Shoot! program or calculated from the formula given in the Lyman Reloading Handbook, 43rd Edition.