Recoil management separates the experts from the amateurs.
And, it punishes experts that get lazy...
Recoil management is essential for staying on target before the bullet leaves the muzzle, and maintaining the target in the scope. Consistent recoil management is one of the most important skills for precision rifle, and has a bigger effect than the ammo you shoot or the rifle itself. Without the ability to control the rifle, you cannot reach consistent precision shot to shot, group to group, day to day and from position to position.
We've all experienced shooting great groups behind the bench in perfect conditions, and then missing "the same shot" in field conditions. Shooters in precision rifle competitions, especially NRL Hunter matches know that the crosshair can be on the target, but the shot can miss big targets for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with the gear. Long-range precision shooting demands exceptional marksmanship skills, and one crucial aspect that sets the experts apart from the amateurs is the ability to manage recoil.
HERE IS THE NUGGET OF KNOWLEDGE: Recoil starts and the recoil impulse is already moving the rifle when the bullet leaves the muzzle. This is the first and shorted part of the recoil impulse as the energy begins to move the rifle. The second part of the recoil impulse is the longest and continues from the time the bullet leaves the barrel the rifle until the recoil impulse ends and the rifle returns to rest.
Let's talk more about two "portions" of the recoil process to understand. And, the first is the most important to precision and "group size".
1) BEFORE the bullet leaves the barrel
Brakes and suppressors DO NOT change the recoil impulse while the bullet is in the barrel. They work because the expanding gasses behind the bullet are hitting the surfaces, which pushes the rifle forward to counteract the recoil impulse that was already moving.
Overall, the greater the recoil impulse, the harder it is to control the rifle. So, your recoil management matters much more between a .22 long rifle that requires nothing compared to a mountain rifle in 300 RUM. The bigger your rifle, the more you need to consistently and competently control recoil from the moment the primer pops until the bullet leaves the bore. If you don't your groups will be larger as a result of how much the rifle moves.
Yes, I know the bullet is only in the barrel for a fraction of a second and the majority of recoil happens after the bullet leaves the bore. But, when we are talking about precision, it takes very little from the shooter to induce the smallest movements in the rifle to open groups and start stringing shots..
Consider how much we can see our heartbeat moving the rifle: isn't it self evident that a hard recoiling rifle is going to move the rifle more than your heartbeat. The bullet is in the bore for about the same time as the actual "pump" of the heart.
I could talk about flinch, but we'll save that for another day. I haven't seen many shooters who have a big rifle and don't have a big flinch, unless they have had specific training. Twice in the last few months, I had two shooters with 300 RUM rifles that complained about groups. I got behind the rifle, managed the recoil, and shot groups under an inch.
Now, my control over the rifle after recoil for spotting my shot and target acquisition was terrible. While I was "consistent" as it related to the shot, my form leaves much to be desired with heavy recoiling rifles. Besides, I am a wimp. I hate recoil and especially the concussive blast of brakes. This sets us up nicely for the next part of the discussion.
2) AFTER the bullet leaves the bore.
Recoil management after the bullet leaves the bore won't affect the precision of that shot you just broke. But, it will affect your ability to spot your shot, watch your game if hunting, and quickly break a follow up if needed. At its worst, poor recoil management leads to scope eye...
The most significant part of controlling the recoil for purposes of maintaining sight picture, is to be squarely behind the rifle and control it with the shooting hand and the non shooting hand. When everything is in alignment the rifle won't deflect at crazy angles, and the grip of your hands will direct the rifle to return to the same position as when the shot was fired.
Here's to better shooting!