On a recent pronghorn hunt in New Mexico I stood on a hilltop and watched a hunter down below kill a buck with a .300 Winchester Magnum, obviously more gun than is needed for these small desert goats. It took him four shots, and even at that I’d say some luck was involved. The hunter’s first shot was from about 50 yards and broke one of the buck’s front legs. The second missed completely. After a long stalk, which again took the hunter to within 100 yards of his quarry, the third attempt was a gut shot. Finally, the fourth shot ended the ordeal.
This poor display of marksmanship could have been due to buck fever or a total lack of experience, but I doubt it. A person usually has to have some experience with firearms to learn to shoot that poorly. My guess is that he had simply bought more gun than he could handle and had developed a severe flinch. Accurate shot placement requires that the shooter keep at least one eye open.
I’d bet my favorite hunting knife that if that hunter had opted for a milder-recoiling rifle, the scene I witnessed would have gone differently. Now, I am not knocking magnum cartridges. They have their uses. But as the great American philosopher Clint Eastwood once said, “A man has got to know his limitations.”
Even non-magnum cartridges can kick enough to cause flinching, particularly in light rifles, and once a flinch develops it can be very difficult to overcome. This is why hunters should give some thought to recoil before purchasing a rifle and be realistic about what they can and cannot handle.
|MANUFACTURER:||Benelli USA; (301) 283-6981|
|CALIBER:||.30-06, .270 WSM, .300 WSM, .300 Win. Mag.|
|MAGAZINE:||Four (three, magnums)|
|BARREL LENGTH:||22 inches|
|WEIGHT:||7.1 to 7.3 pounds|
|STOCK:||ComforTech; walnut stock available|
|SIGHTS:||None; drilled and tapped with base including Picatinny rail. Iron sights available.|
|PRICE:||$1,365; $1,200 with walnut stock|
The trend in recent years toward more powerful cartridges coupled with lighter rifles has produced benefits. New ways to control the effects of recoil have been developed. Muzzlebrakes have increased in efficiency and popularity but redirect gases in a direction that increases noise levels for the shooter and anyone unfortunate enough to be standing next to him.
Benelli took what may be a better approach by designing a stock that absorbs part of the recoil before it impacts the shooter. The basic idea of recoil-absorbing stocks is not new. Mercury-filled tubes built into the stock have been around for years, but they add weight to the stock. And coil springs built into the stock as was tried in Winchester Model 12 trap guns and Weatherby’s behemoth 460 magnum decades ago did not prove useful enough to be embraced by the shooting public.
Benelli wanted a stock that was light, rugged and had no mechanical moving parts. Engineers used sophisticated computer software and specially designed machines that held the gun during firing and measured the dynamics of recoil as it travels through the stock and impacts the shooter. The result is the ComforTech stock first introduced on the Black Eagle II autoloading shotgun. This same design is now available on the R1 autoloading centerfire rifles.
The Benelli R1 rifle is an auto-regulating gas-operated design that has proven extremely reliable in the Benelli M4 Super 90 shotgun. The autoloader design gives the rifle a head start when it comes to recoil reduction, as all gas-operated autoloaders kick less than comparable fixed-bolt designs due to gases being diverted to operate the action.
I have fired the Benelli R1 with a standard walnut stock, and the excellent stock design coupled with the gas-operated action makes it a very controllable rifle. Benelli was not satisfied, though, and decided to further reduce the effects of recoil by adapting the ComforTech stock to the R1.
If you look at the side of the ComforTech stock you will see 12 chevron-shaped rubber inserts. These inserts increase in size as they run diagonally from the bottom of the stock just behind the pistol grip to the top at the rear of th
e cheekpiece. They are not there for looks, nor are they randomly placed. These rubber inserts are placed along the path of the recoil impulse to absorb energy so that by the time the recoil reaches the butt a significant portion of it has been drained away.
The first law of thermodynamics says energy cannot be created or destroyed. It can be redirected, though. That is what muzzlebrakes do. They redirect the energy from the gases created when powder is burned. Likewise, the rubber chevrons in the ComforTech stock redirect the recoil energy to a new task, compressing the inserts and flexing the surrounding stock material. At each step a little more energy is absorbed, and by the time the recoil impulse reaches the butt there is less impact to deal with.
In addition to lessening the hit to the shooter’s shoulder, the dampening effect of the ComforTech stock also reduces muzzle climb under recoil. This means the shooter can get back on target quicker. This is a worthwhile benefit, particularly with an autoloading rifle.
The last line of defense between the recoil impulse and the shooter’s shoulder is the recoil pad, and Benelli spent some time and effort on this as well. The recoil pad is made from a shock-absorbent gel that more evenly distributes recoil over the entire pad, thus eliminating hard spots common with other recoil pads. The Benelli recoil pad is also shaped to better fit the shoulder and, again, distribute recoil evenly.
Another point on the body that takes a pounding from heavy recoil is the shooter’s cheek. The ComforTech stock has a raised cheekpiece made of a gel adapted from the medical industry. This soft, slippery gel is used in hospitals as a cushion for bed-ridden patients to prevent bed sores. As adapted in the ComforTech cheekpiece, the gel cushions the cheek and softens the jab of hard-kicking calibers.
On the range I tested the Benelli R1 ComforTech in .30-06 using various 180-grain factory loads. The rifle comes with a Picatinny-type scope base that allows wide latitude in mounting a scope. I opted to use a Nikon Monarch 3-9×40 scope in matte finish. The scope was a perfect match in finish, size and power range for this rifle and caliber. I used Warne quick-detachable rings.
The R1 rifles come with a very nice polymer case, but the rifle has to be broken down to fit. There is a section for a scope, but it must be detached from the rifle. I recommend quick-detachable rings be used, as it allows the rifle to be broken down and secured in the sturdy case for transport. This would be a particularly handy package for hunters who fly to their destinations.
Recoil is subjective, so it is difficult to relate statistical results of my range time with the Benelli ComforTech stock. Benelli’s website claims the stock brings the recoil of a .30-06 down to the level of a .243, but I would not go that far.
The stock certainly absorbs a considerable amount of the recoil, but the rifle still comes back at you with some force, as you would expect a high-powered rifle to do. But recoil velocity is reduced, as well as muzzle climb. You do not get the quick punch you would expect from a lightweight rifle in this caliber. Instead, it is more of a soft shove.
I shot the rifle a bit offhand, plinking at some gallon milk jugs at 100 yards, and found follow-up shots were quick and easy due to the reduced muzzle climb and excellent balance of the rifle. The stock fit me very well, and the forearm made for a secure forward grip. Benelli includes shims with each R1 so you can adjust the drop of the stock, but it suited me fine as is.
Recoil was more evident shooting off the bench, of course, but still softened noticeably at all contact points with the body. My conclusion is that the ComforTech stock is a worthwhile recoil-dampening feature that, unlike muzzlebrakes, has no downside.
The test rifle had a nice trigger pull for an autoloader. It is a two-stage trigger but with very little takeup. The test sample broke at a hair over five pounds, but 31?2 pounds of that pull was in the first stage. Once the slack is taken up, the trigger breaks fairly cleanly with a little added pressure. For safety reasons I would not want the trigger any lighter for a hunting autoloader.
Accuracy off the bench was fair with several loads and downright impressive with one, Hornady’s 180-grain Interlock softpoint load. Groups with this load averaged a shade over one inch at 100 yards. For a two-piece-stocked autoloader this is excellent performance.
I predict other manufacturers will be forthcoming with stock designs that soften the effects of recoil. Given the lighter rifles made possible by use of modern alloys and polymers and the increasing influx of magnum cartridges, it is a natural evolution in design that manufacturers will strive to make these light, potent rifles more pleasant to shoot. Benelli’s ComforTech stock is a noteworthy step along this path.