The older I get, the more I love my family’s “fleet” of .243 rifles. The main reason is that the diminutive .243 recoil allowed me to teach my daughters and wife to shoot a “big game” rifle without them developing bad shooting habits like flinching. But .243 recoil isn’t the only reason to love the caliber.
Still, any discussion of .243 recoil begs the question:
How much recoil does a .243 have? .243 recoil, when using a 7.5 to 8 pound rifle, and shooting a 100 grain bullet traveling at 2960 feet per second, measures in at 8.8 ft. lbs. of recoil energy and roughly 8.7 feet per second (fps) of recoil velocity.
And by any comparison to any other legal big game hunting cartridge and caliber, that’s pretty damn light. But that’s not the end of the .243 recoil story.
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.243 Recoil Explained
In order to have a meaningful discussion about recoil, we need to first understand, generally speaking, what it is.
We’re all pretty familiar with the “for any action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction” scientific axiom. So the fact that a 100 grain bullet, being propelled at almost 3000 fps out the barrel of a long metal tube, causes the opposite energy—recoil—to propel toward the butt of the rifle that metal tube’s attached to, comes as no surprise to most of us.
But even I was surprised when I first learned that rifle recoil is actually made up of two very important and very different factors:
- Recoil Energy – Foot pounds (ft. lbs.) of force or how strong that rearward recoil force is.
- Recoil Velocity – Feet per second (fps) or how fast that recoil energy is traveling.
So even though a particular round may have a larger or smaller recoil force in ft. lbs., that caliber may also have a lesser or greater recoil velocity in feet per second.
And that’s the exact reason my .270 Winchester seems to kick like a mule while my much larger diameter .30-06 tends to “shove” me harder but without as much “felt” tenacity.
Speaking of which, let’s compare some calibers that are close to the .243 in both diameter and recoil.
.243 vs .308 Recoil
Since the .243 cartridge/round itself is just a necked down .308 casing loaded with a smaller diameter and lesser grain weight bullet, let’s start here. And we’ll use that 8.8 pounds of recoil and 8.5 fps as our starting point.
Let’s get specific.
.243 Recoil – Federal Power Shok®, 100 Grain
I’ve written about the fact that my daughter’s Savage .243 Muddy Girl “likes” Federal Power Shok 100 grain .243 cartridges before. And as an example, those rounds produce:
- Muzzle Velocity – 2960 fps
- Recoil Energy – 8.8 ft. lbs.
- Recoil Velocity – 8.7 fps.
And all that translates into a felt recoil that mimics a good buddy giving you a half-assed hello tap with his fist to your shoulder—it’s more than manageable recoil for youth, new shooters, and old “tough” guys that have had rotator cuff surgery. Ahem…
Now, this next part’s gonna surprise you.
.308 Recoil – Hornady 125 gr SST® Custom Lite®
Okay, Hornady’s custom light ammunition isn’t quite a “normal” representation of the standard .308 cartridge offerings, but it’s an interesting comparison nonetheless.
Because this 125 grain, .308 bullet has:
- Muzzle Velocity – 2675 fps vs the 100 grain, .243 bullet at 2960 fps
- Recoil Energy – 9.0 ft. lbs. vs .243 at 8.8 ft. lbs.
- Recoil Velocity – 8.1 fps vs .243 at 8.7 fps
Barely any difference in this .308 recoil vs the recoil energy of the .243. And the .308 has less recoil velocity. Which would lead you to believe that this round might “buck” you even less vs the recoil of that .243, 100 grain round above.
And that would make the 125 grain, .308 a good rifle cartridge that would allow your daughter/wife/new shooter/even you to “grow” into a standard .308 cartridge’s recoil.
And I say “grow into” because this next example is more representative of the .308 Winchester rounds we may all know and love.
.308 Winchester Recoil – 165 Grain Bullet
The 165 grain bullet, .308 recoil vs our 100 grain, .243 recoil above is quite a different story.
A 165 grain, .308 bullet has:
- Muzzle Velocity – 2700 fps
- Recoil Energy – 8.1 ft. lbs. of recoil energy vs .243 of 8.8
- Recoil Velocity – 12.5 fps of recoil velocity vs .243 of 8.7
That makes that .308 cartridge’s recoil vs .243 recoil from above just about double the recoil energy and roughly 50% more recoil velocity.
And that kind of difference in recoil you will notice.
.223 vs .243 Recoil
After 18 years in a deer hunting family, roaming the Washington woods packing and firing the only caliber “The Colonel” (my father) deemed worthy of muleys and whitetail—the .270 Winchester—I went to boot camp.
And let me tell you after my mule-kicking, no recoil pad, model 700 bolt action .270, my issued M-16 variant .223 caliber, semi-auto paper puncher was like shooting a Ruger 10/22, .22 caliber rimfire rifle. Tat-tat-tat! Tat-tat-tat! Recoil Heaven.
So, let’s get the numbers and figure out why.
.223 Remington Recoil – 55 Grain Bullet
That little 55 grain bullet has:
- Muzzle Velocity – 3240 fps vs .243 2960 fps
- Recoil Energy – in a 7 pound rifle, it produces just 3.7 ft. lbs. vs .243 8.8 ft. lbs.
- Recoil Velocity – just 5.1 fps vs .243 8.7 fps
So that average .223 vs .243 recoil numbers make it just about half as hard and almost half as fast in recoil velocity. And when you shoot it you can really tell the difference. Put a recoil-dampening, semi-auto action around that .223 and like I said, “.22 long rifle” feel and force.
And yet all that being the case, we’re talking about the .243 as a big game cartridge, not a foreign army “varmint” stopper. So the comparison isn’t really apples-to-apples use or capability.
Because that low recoil comes at the price of low downrange energy and a small mass bullet that’s not really suitable for medium sized big game animals. And that’s the reason that most states have a minimum legal caliber at just right around the .24(3) mark and do not allow big game hunting with a .223.
.270 vs .243 Recoil
If you were reading between the lines above, you’ll know I have a lot of personal experience with .270 vs .243 recoil effects. For that matter, the “Colonel” has long since retired-to-the-safe his trusty .270 and now almost exclusively packs a lighter weight and less punishing .243 Remington 700 bolt action.
Why, because the .243 is less weight to carry up and down hills and kicks about half as much as the .270. Add to that the fact that he’s shot several decent-sized muleys dead within yards of being hit in the vitals and he really sees no reason to suffer his .270’s jealous poundings any longer.
Now, when I say that my own mad mistress of a Remington 700, .270 kicks like a mule, I’m being kind. In fact, my most recent 7mm feels only slightly more matrimonially angry at me than my .270. So when you learn how many times I’ve left that rifle at home and how many deer and bear I’ve since killed by grabbing my daughter’s Muddy Girl, pink camo .243 Savage from her…
Well, let’s just say, you shouldn’t be surprised, and I’m not even a little embarrassed, because that rifle’s a straight-up slayer.
Here are the numbers:
.270 Recoil – 130 Grain Bullet
130 grain, Core-Lokt® Remington cartridges are an old school, .270 Winchester ammunition staple. I’d like to say that I’ve burned up a barrel shooting them through my own .270, but I just don’t shoot that much.
Regardless, those 130 grain bullets have:
- Muzzle Velocity – 3040 fps vs .243 at 2960 fps.
- Recoil Energy – 17 ft. lbs. of recoil energy vs a .243 at 8.8 ft. lbs.
- Recoil Velocity – 11 fps vs a .243 at 8.7 fps
.270 vs .243 Recoil Comparison
So the .270 vs .243 recoil is over double the recoil energy and almost 25% more recoil velocity than our 100 grain .243 round. And that makes the .243 more of a pleasure to sight in and shoot at deer.
Translated, the .270’s recoil is about like your slightly inebriated buddy punching you in the shoulder a bit harder than he meant to, but not as hard as he could’ve.
Reduced Recoil .243
Now, even though the .243 has about as light a recoil as can be had in a modern big game hunting cartridge and caliber, modern manufacturers have sought to take even more recoil energy out of the .243.
Sure, reducing the recoil of the .243 comes at a price in downrange energy, but the goal is a really light recoiling rifle that allows new shooters to develop trigger control, good shooting follow through habits, and enjoy entry into big game hunting.
I’ve already written about the best mass manufactured .243 Win deer bullets, but in order to reduce .243 recoil even further, manufacturers can adjust:
- Bullet Weight
- Bullet Shape
- Powder Charge
All of these will alter muzzle velocity and energy—hey, it’s physics, there’s only so much you can do—and it’s give and take.
Manufacturers aren’t in charge of your rifle’s weight, but that affects felt recoil as well.
Here are the main manufacturer’s offering reduced recoil .243 loads:
Hornady Reduced Recoil .243
Hornady’s low recoil SST® .243 rounds have:
- Bullet Weight – 87 Grains
- Muzzle Velocity – 2800 fps
- Recoil Energy – 6.4 ft. lbs.
Remington Managed Recoil Cartridges for .243
I could find no data on these rounds as they may in fact be discontinued.
HSM Low Recoil Cartridges for .243
- Bullet Weight – 85 Grains
- Muzzle Velocity – 2340 fps
As you can tell by those bullet grain weights and the reduced muzzle velocities, in order to get reduced recoil, the manufacturers are sacrificing bullet speed, muzzle velocity and worst of all muzzle energy.
All that translates into reduced recoil, yes, but at the price of downrange killing power. And that, Chuck Hawkes says, makes these low recoil rounds less than suitable for actually hunting big game.
.308 Reduced Recoil for Hunting Deer
As a side note, while Mr. Hawkes eschews the low recoil .243 round as unsuitable in the energy department for hunting deer-sized game, he also points out that the Hornady Custom Light 125 grain loads for a .308 have enough energy out to about 225 yards to acceptably kill small to medium-sized big game.
And all that with just a little more recoil energy and velocity than a .243, 100 grain round.
- Muzzle Velocity – 2660 fps
- Recoil Energy – 11.2 ft. lbs.
- Effective Killing Range (EKR) – 225 yards
- Maximum Point Blank Range (MPBR) – 255 yards
And that’s more than enough power to take 90% of the shots taken on North American big game.
.243 Recoil Wrap Up
There you have it, low .243 recoil is the reason that this little cartridge has remained popular as a youth and new shooter’s staple caliber. And if that’s not enough, you can get some reduced low recoil ammunition and blast away at the range to your heart’s content.
That being said, you’ll still want to sight in and use full powered 100 grain, .243 cartridges for hunting deer.