Paul Harding experiments with some reduced recoil loads, and finds that big-bore rifles needn’t make you wince
Rifles that propel heavy bullets at reasonable velocities intended to take dangerous game can have a fairly uncomfortable amount of recoil. When firing in a standing or kneeling position and using a suitable weight of rifle, most shooters can learn to handle the recoil of a few shots without undue discomfort.
My Ruger No1 chambered for .416 Remington Magnum using a 400 grain jacketed bullet produces 48ft/lb of recoil energy that, compared to my .270 Winchester chambered Tikka at 12 foot-pounds, could bring tears to your eyes. When firing from the bench or during practice sessions using field shooting positions, big bore rifles can certainly become unpleasant. I have previously created a mild-mannered load for the Ruger using a duplex black powder load and a paper patched cast bullet producing 28ft/lb of recoil.
The black powder duplex load is fun to shoot and makes practice sessions far more pleasant than full power loads. The down side is that loading these cartridges is time consuming. I therefore decided to try and produce a round that would be practical to load and also cheaper than using proprietary jacketed bullets to punch holes in paper.
I am somewhat nostalgic, and do like to use cast bullets when possible. A relatively soft lead (easy to cast) bullet is fairly likely to lead a rifle’s bore when driven even at relatively modest velocities. Given this issue, the use of a paper-patched bullet can prove beneficial. These can be safely used at 2,000fps or more, and don’t lead the bore.
As luck would have it, I have a mould that casts a 0.409in diameter bullet using an alloy of one part tin to 16 parts lead which, when paper patched, is 0.416in diameter. This is the correct size for the Remington cartridge and the rifle’s groove diameter. The bullet is a grease groove design intended for black powder shooting. Paper patches can be prone to sticking to grooved bullets when fired causing poor accuracy – this would have to be evaluated as part of the load testing. The patch can be damaged when seating the bullet into a case and most cartridges normally used with these types of bullets would have a case mouth flaring facility on the expansion plug. Being a modern cartridge, the .416 dies do not provide this. Early attempts to seat the bullets resulted in the patch being stripped by the case mouth. The case mouth can be slightly flared by inserting long nosed pliers and twisting. The flared effect is removed by the seating die.
After some consideration I decided that applying a small chamfer of approximately 1mm to the base of each bullet prior to patching could also be beneficial. I applied the chamfer using a simple Lee case mouth chamfering tool. After patching the bullets and applying a little lubricant, they seat perfectly well if done carefully.
My usual powder for loading the .416 is Hodgdon H4895 using 73 grains with a 400-grain Hornady round nosed bullet, giving 2,400 feet per second muzzle velocity. It is desirable to rationalise the powder inventory due to storage space and so on. I set about looking for information that would give me a starting point for my desired load, preferably using H4895. Some internet research and reference to good loading manuals and reference books suggested that a reduction in powder charge of about 20 per cent using a medium burning rate powder might show the desired results. A 20 per cent reduction in charge weight of H4895 gives 58.4 grains. 60 grains of Reloader 7 also came up as a possibility, and fortunately is a powder I use extensively in .45/70. Reducing the powder charge means there will inevitably be a large air space in the case. Again research suggests that Dacron or foam filler may be used to keep the powder in place against the primer. Kynoch uses foam fillers in its Nitro for Black commercial loadings so I guess it must work ok.
I found some packing foam of approximately three-quarter-inch thickness and cut wads using my .45in wad punch. I established a suitable bullet length by using an empty un-primed case to make a dummy cartridge and seated the bullet until the cartridge would chamber easily. My cartridge overall length is 3.70in.
I prepared my cases by first annealing them, then sizing and trimming to the required length of 2.85in. The case mouth was chamfered and de-burred. Then a slight bell applied with pliers, as described previously.
I loaded batches of cartridges with 60 grains and 65 grains of H4895 and 60 grains of Reloader 7 as an alternative. All these loads use the foam filler that neatly fills the three-quarter-inch space between the powder and the base of the bullet. Remington Large Rifle Primers were used in all the loads. I also adjusted my seating die so as not to apply a crimp.
Firing was first carried out at 25 metres to get a basic zero, prior to testing at 100 metres. The loads using H 4895 were not particularly inspiring so I hoped for better from the Reloader 7 charged cartridges. I was pleased to find that with 60 grains of Reloader 7, I had a 2.5 inch three shot group. Although recoil was a little greater than I had hoped, it was much less than my regular full power load.
With Reloader 7 showing promise I decided to stay on that track, reducing the charge further and loading 54, 54.5 and 55 grains. Reloader 7 and 54.5 grains produced a 13/4-inch three-shot group, the best of the bunch. The velocities are in the region of 2,070 feet per second giving a muzzle energy of 3,520 ft/lb. This load would be sufficient to take most soft skinned game. I have repeated this performance on a separate occasion and am pleased with the consistency of the load. The potential problem of the paper patches sticking to the bullet did not come to light.
The objective of this testing process was to find a load that used lower cost components and produced a more user-friendly experience, allowing me more practice with the rifle in question. I think I have achieved that goal. Recoil calculates at 28 foot-pounds, the same as my earlier duplex load and 20 foot-pounds less than the full power cartridges. This reduction is achieved due to a lighter bullet, reduced powder charge, and resulting lower velocity. The groups are not as good as I can get with jacketed bullets, but are certainly good enough for the purpose.
In conclusion: don’t leave your big bore gathering dust in the cupboard, load up some reduced recoil loads, and have some fun on the range.