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2 Rifle Shooting Tips | Don’t Ruin Your Shot: Control Recoil

There are a number of factors and rifle shooting tips that can help shrink your groups, but one that is often overlooked is recoil management.

When it’s time to buy a new rifle, it is easy to grab a large caliber for that “just in case” scenario. But, is that REALLY THE BEST MOVE?

QUESTION: Should I get a bigger caliber “just in case” I make a poor shot?
FACT: Depending on your skill level, a larger caliber may be harder to get consistent groups out of.

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Controlling Recoil – Rifle shooting Tips

Shoot better - rifle shooting tips. Recoil management

One often overlooked but EXTREMELY IMPORTANT piece to shooting tight groups is RECOIL MANAGEMENT. What on earth does that mean? There are a number of things that come into play here, but for purposes of this discussion, I am referring to establishing a good shooting base and consistent form that allows you to consistently control the recoil of your rifle.

This gives you the ability to come back on target after the shot and keep the point of impact downrange as close to the same as possible (within the capabilities of your setup). There are a number of factors that come into play to help your rifle recoil be consistent and repeatable, as well as a number of things that make it more difficult.

#1: Light vs Heavy Rifles – Rifle shooting Tips

Shoot better - rifle shooting tips. Recoil management

The mass of a heavier rifle does a better job of resisting the recoil impulse felt by the shooter, and a heavier rifle will generally hold more steady on a target. However, if you are like me, the thought of hauling around an 8 or 9-pound rifle sounds a lot more appealing than a 12 or 13-pound rifle, particularly on backcountry hunts.

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That being said, keep in mind that the combination of a lightweight rifle and a large magnum caliber do not particularly blend well when considering recoil management. Bottom line, that lightweight rifle is going to be A LOT harder to shoot well in a large caliber despite being so much easier to carry around. While I love my lightweight XLR Element Chassis on the 6.5 PRC, putting that style on this 7mm Rem Mag would make it even more difficult to shoot well.

#2: Practice More – Rifle shooting Tips

This is something I learned firsthand as I worked to develop a load for my tried and true Ruger M77 MK II chambered in 7mm Rem Mag. This was my first rifle, now 30 years old, which I have had since I was 13 years of age. It still has the original factory barrel as I did not shoot much as a kid. Back in the day, a trip to the range a couple weeks before hunting season to “make sure the rifle was on” was about the extent of my shooting.

Shoot better - rifle shooting tips. Recoil management

As I struggled to get anything better than a 1.5 MOA (~1.5 inches at 100 yards) load, I started tinkering with the old rifle and outfitted it with a new Boyds stock, Timney Trigger, EC Tuner Muzzle Break, Weigand picatinny rail, Zeiss Precision Rings, and a Zeiss LRP S3 scope. The aftermarket options are pretty limited for these old Ruger rifles, but I came away with a pretty nice setup.

Was It The Gun or Me? Rifle shooting Tips

I tried many different bullets, powders, bullet seating depths, neck tensions, and powder charge combinations but to no avail. As soon as I thought I was getting close I would get some fliers and the frustration would set back in.

After sending more lead down the pipe than I care to admit trying to find that illusive sub-MOA load for this gun, I started to consider that either my gun would never shoot good groups or it was me.

Make sure to check out our rifle scope reviews and the Backwoods Pursuit YouTube Channel to help you decide what gear will help you stay out in the field longer!

Fast forward through more range trips and nearly two years later of messing with loads, my shooting skills had improved and I started to pay closer attention to recoil management. I began noticing that I shot my lower recoil 7mm-08 and .243 rifles much better.

With this in mind I set out determined to keep a keen eye on the rifle shooting tip that I had overlooked: recoil management. I jumped back on the bigger gun and focused my attention on shooting form and consistent recoil management. I started noticing that, much to my dismay, my recoil management was pretty awful. For one shot the muzzle would kick off to the right slightly. The next shot it would do the opposite. Rarely did I come back on target after the shot. Previously I had considered that to be “normal” due to the heavier recoil, but time and shooters much better than me had taught me otherwise.

Shoot better - rifle shooting tips. Recoil management

While this was frustrating, I found at least one of the major issues. It was not the gun, it was me. I can be a slow learner, and although I had received many rifle shooting tips from friends and fellow shooters, it still took a long time to figure out that good form and recoil management becomes increasingly important the larger the caliber and more recoil the rifle has.

From that point forward I focused my range time on consistent form so the rifle returned to the target after firing. This is not only evidence of better form, but also EXTREMELY useful in the field to spot your hits and know how an animal reacts after a shot. This is more difficult with larger, heavy-recoiling calibers, but with time, I have become more consistent. I am still far from “excellent” but am A LOT better than I was before.

Shoot better - rifle shooting tips. Recoil management

Finally, after all of that, I went back to the reloading table and was able to work up a load to get this old gun shooting roughly 0.5 MOA. I consider that a win for a gun of this age with a factory barrel. For the most part, I am chalking up those earlier poor groups to me as the shooter, not the gun. Sure, this old factory barrel in a cartridge that is not so modern in design has its limitations, but at the end of the day, I was able to get a 175gr Berger EOL to sing like a canary and I learned a very valuable lesson — recoil management matters.

Conclusion – Does Recoil Management Matter?

I would go so far as to say that you should not shoot more gun than you can effectively manage the recoil on or your groups will suffer. I am not ashamed to say it — I still shoot lower recoil rifles better than my large magnum rifles but I am getting better. It is a process and takes practice, so put the time in at the range and you will start to see your groups shrink.

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