Low-Recoil Rifle Loads

We have lite beer for a reason and it is a very popular beverage. We also have lite loads for firearms. They are not so popular. What gives?

I think this lack of popularity is partly because folks associate guns with power and do not like the notion of giving up power. But I also think it is partly because manufacturers have done a poor job or marketing and educating the consumer.

Lite loads are nothing new. Handloaders have been using them for years and with some cartridges, such as the .357 Rem. Mag. and .44 Rem. Mag., lite loads are readily accepted in the form of the .38 Spec. and .44 Spec. No one has a problem using a .38 Spec. or .44 Spec. in a .357 Rem. Mag. or .44 Rem. Mag. But, if you suggest a lite load for a .308 Win., some folks will look at you like you are a member of the anti-gun movement.

Lite loads for hunting rifles are available from Hornady in their new Custom Lite line of ammunition, and from Remington in their Managed Recoil line. Both can be very beneficial to shooters and I’m increasingly becoming a fan of them as I learn how they can help me shoot better and enjoy shooting more.

Reduced Recoil
Hornady and Remington reduced recoil loads offer a recoil reduction of between about 15-50 percent, depending on the cartridge. The bigger the cartridge, the more recoil reduction you can expect. I shoot my Steyr Scout Rifle a lot, and with a scope attached it weighs about 7 pounds. After 100 rounds, especially if lots of rounds are fired form the prone position, my shoulder can get tender. But, with the low-recoil loads, it’s not a problem and I’m less likely to develop a flinch as the shooting continues.


Hornady has just introduced a new line of ammunition called Custom Lite. It offers drastic recoil reduction with many popular big game cartridges.

Additionally, if you are working with a new shooter—say your child or wife—you might not have the funds at hand to buy a new, lesser recoiling rifle. The last thing you want to subject a new shooter too is too much recoil. It will negatively impact their ability to shoot well and their enjoyment of the experience. By simply buying a box of Hornady Custom Lite or Remington Managed Recoil ammunition, you can eliminate the heavy recoil concerns.

Good Accuracy
You might find that you shoot better with reduced recoiling ammunition. Humans have an aversion to large muzzle blasts and swift kicks in the shoulder. It takes a lot of practice to shoot and to ignore both. But even the practiced among us can begin to wear down during sustained shooting. Less recoil helps you pull the trigger and follow through properly.

And don’t assume that just because the ammo is producing less recoil that it will produce less precision. I’ve tested many of the reduced recoil loads offered by Hornady and Remington, and they’ve all shot as well—and sometimes better—than the standard power loads.

Surprising Terminal Performance
Most surprising might be that these lesser power rounds have very good terminal performance. This is because both Hornady and Remington have either engineered new bullets for these reduced velocities or they have chosen current bullets that work perfectly at these lesser speeds. Testing in 10 percent ordnance gelatin has shown reduced recoil loads are capable of delivering exceptional terminal performance at short to moderate range.

Short Range Option
The only way to really reduce felt recoil with ammunition is to load it to a lower velocity and/or with lighter bullets. Lower velocities increase bullet trajectory so reduced recoil loads are not a long-range option. This is not only because of trajectory, as a bullet slows in flight it loses the ability to provide adequate internal damage when it hits an animal. For this reason, shots on big game with reduced recoil loads are generally a 200-yard and in option.


Remington offers a wide selection of Managed Recoil loads; some offering a recoil reduction of as much as 50 percent.

For sure there is a viable use for reduced recoil hunting loads. I’ve begun to use them extensively for practice. Maybe I’m a pansy, but my shooting is improving and my wife and kids like having the ammo around, too. All those are good things and I think more folks would appreciate the value of these loads if the manufacturers had come up with a better name for them; the idea of hitting an animal with a lite load—one with reduced power—just does not sound like a good idea.

We drink lite beer because it tastes good, because it’s less filling and because it has less calories. We should shoot lite loads because they will allow us to shoot better, with less felt recoil and they make shooting more enjoyable. Maybe they should have called these new loads “specials.” Hey, it works for the .38 and the .44.

For more information on terminal bullet performance for hunting, check this out.


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