How Much Recoil Does a Hunting Rifle Have?

I’ve fired guns with basically no recoil, and guns that almost took my shoulder off. Let’s talk recoil.

Most hunting rifles have between 7 and 27 ft/lbs. of recoil. Small game rifles have between 0.2 and 4 ft/lbs. of recoil. Medium game rifles have between 4 and 10 ft/lbs. of recoil. Popular large game hunting rifles have a range of recoil between 11 and 26 ft/lbs. of actual recoil.

Keep reading for some super information on rifle recoil, and selecting a lower recoiling rifle that will still handle your tasks.

Hunting rifles with low recoil, by game class

Everyone wants an adequate gun for the job at hand.  Very few shooters want to punish themselves with unnecessary recoil in the process. Here, we will focus on the lighter recoiling rifles and break them down separately for each game class.  I’ve included several decent options in each game class

The recoil of a caliber will vary by the pressure made by a given load, the weight and velocity of a bullet being fired, and how heavy the gun is.  Below, I have compiled a table of firearm calibers and their recoil.  Some of these were measured, and some were calculated. 

The calculations are based on the ammo manufacturer’s load data, utilizing the bullet weight and stated velocity of a common load.  Then compute the weight of an actual rifle of the same caliber, with the same barrel length as the test barrel for the stated velocities. At best it’s a good approximate.

Every game class here is broken down into two sections.  One for the more lightweight cartridges in that game class, and one for the more powerful, yet still lesser recoiling of other options in its power and caliber class.  For example, there is a big difference between shooting an antelope and a large mule deer.

There are several options of animals to hunt within each game class, so there are several different rifles to choose from that run the gamut from the smaller to the larger animals within each game class. It also gives the shooter a selection to fit his/her recoil and caliber preference.

*disclaimer* if you’re a ballistician or math whiz (I am neither) and you see that my numbers don’t add up perfectly, to the stated recoil amounts, don’t get too upset.  The numbers here reflect the same general data that I have seen reported elsewhere. I’m not going to check all my math (I’m really bad at it). instead, I compared my data with other published information and it’s about what I’ve seen in other reports.  

If you’re interested in the recoil of ar15s and handguns, check out this article.

The numbers in the parenthesis are first, the grain weight of the bullet, and the velocity in feet per second. Rifle weight is in pounds and recoil is in foot-pounds.

Light Recoil Small Game Calibers  

Caliber, (bullet weight at velocity)Rifle weightRecoil
17 HMR (17 at 2550)7.5 lbs.0.2 ft/lbs.
22 LR (40 at 1165)4.0 lbs.0.2 ft/lbs.
22 WMR (40 at 1910)6.75 lbs.0.4 ft/lbs.

Heavy Recoil Small Game Calibers

Caliber, (bullet weight at velocity)Rifle weightRecoil
22 Hornet (45 at 2800)7.5 lbs.1.3 ft/lbs
223 Rem (45 at 3500)8.5 lbs.2.6 ft/lbs.
204 Ruger (33 at 4225)8.5 lbs.2.6 ft/lbs.
223 Rem (55 at 3200)8.0 lbs.3.2 ft/lbs.
22-250 Rem (55 at 3600)8.5 lbs.4.7 ft/lbs.
220 Swift (50 at 3900)7 lbs.6.5 ft/lbs.


Small game is everything from a gopher or red squirrel, to a coyote.  For rabbits, gophers, or squirrels, any of them will work.  If you are buying a rifle specifically for the little stuff, you could go for the smaller guns. Meanwhile, if you want something to take out large raccoons or coyotes in one shot, go with the heavier hitting cartridges.

The 223, being such a versatile cartridge in different bullet weight configurations, is in this list multiple times; because I thought it was fitting.  

Light Recoil Medium Game Calibers

Caliber (bullet weight at velocity)Rifle weightRecoil
223 Rem (62 at 3025)7.0 lbs.3.9 ft/lbs.
223 Rem (70 at 2900)7.0 lbs.4.2 ft/bs.
7.62×39 (125 at 2350)7.0 lbs.6.9 ft/lbs.
243 Win (100 at 2960)7.5 lbs.8.8 ft/lbs.

Antelope, small deer, and small hogs make up this group.  The 243 is the only one here with over a 100-yard practical power limit. The 100 grain .243 will do beautiful under 300 yards on these animals.

Heavy Recoil Medium Game Calibers

Caliber (bullet weight at velocity)Rifle weightRecoil
260 Rem (140 at 2360)8.0 lbs.9.5 ft/lbs.
30-30 Win (150 at 2400)7.5 lbs.10.6 ft/lbs.
6mm Rem (100 at 3100)8.0 lbs.10.0 ft/lbs.
243 Win (95 at 3100)7.25 lbs.11.0 ft/lbs

The heavier hitting medium game cartridges are great for any deer, hogs, and small elk. The 95 grain .243 doesn’t have the killing power of the 100 grain just before, but it’s a bit flatter shooting. You pay for that with a bit more recoil though. If you plan to shoot an elk, keep to no more than 100 yards, and don’t use the 95 grain .243.

Light Recoil Large Game Calibers

Caliber (bullet weight at velocity)Rifle weightRecoil
30-30 Win (170 at 2200)7.5 lbs.11.0 ft/lbs.
308 Win (150 at 2800)7.5 lbs.15.8 ft/lbs.
270 Win (140 at 3000)8.0 lbs.17.1 ft/lbs.

These guns are stepping up in power and in proper game class. There’s a wide range of recoil in this group, which shows a corresponding level of power in the cartridge. The 30/30 is the lowest power, significantly. Still, it will fell an elk or black bear at 100 yards without any concern, if you make a good shot.

 The 308 in this configuration is more of a 200-yard elk or black bear gun, and then 270 is more of a 300-yard elk/ black bear gun.  I will also note that when you start getting above 15 pounds of recoil, shooters start to find the threshold of what they are comfortable with. Myself, being a lean 160-pound fellow, I don’t take recoil past the 17-foot pound mark very well.

Heavy Recoil Large Game Calibers

Caliber (bullet weight at velocity)Rifle weightRecoil
308 Win (180 at 2610)7.5 lbs.19.6 ft/lbs.
30-06 (180 at 2700)       8.0 lbs.20.3 ft/lbs.
7mm Mag (160 at 2950)9.0 lbs.20.3 ft/lbs.
300 Win. Mag (180 at 2960)8.5 lbs.25.9 ft/lbs.

These are the guns that are generally unpleasant to fire due to their recoil.  A good muzzle break will go leaps and bounds to reduce the perceived recoil. As will a recoil pad. It’s not being a sissy to want a softer recoil. A heavier rifle will recoil less than a light one with the same barrel length and caliber.

These cartridge bullet combinations make up the lower end of the upper end of firearms. They have all been used to take dangerous large game from North American and African countries.  At one time, the 300 Savage was a choice safari gun (about the same as a .308).  

The 30/06 loaded with 220 grain solid bullets was used by Teddy Roosevelt to stop a charging Rhino on his famous Safari. 200 and 220 grain bullets for that caliber are hard to come by today but pop up from time to time. we’ve largely swapped hunting dangerous game with the old 30-06 and gone with much more powerful cartridges.

However, it should do the job today. Better than it did 100 years ago due to better bullets, better powders, and rifles that can handle higher pressures than those of yesteryear.               

Jordan Buck

Jordan Buck is an outdoor writer, a man of faith, and a family man. He grew up hunting, fishing, and trapping. Jordan has taught marksmanship, woodsmanship, and self-defense classes. He has earned black belts in four martial arts and is a certified Krav Maga instructor. He also runs his own Gun Blog and YouTube Channel. Jordan enjoys giving his time and resources to help others and has spent 15 years volunteering in a boy's mentoring program He is and will always be an American Patriot. MOLON LABE

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