How Light is Too Light When it Comes to Your Rifle?

October 1, 2015 — Leave a comment

Lightweight Rifle

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Newton’s third law is something that many hunters seem to forget in the name of lightweight rifles. The lightweight craze is in full swing with the popularity of lightweight, “mountain” rifles. The benefit of such rifles is clear: less weight means less energy expended to carry it. Seems like a no-brainer for anyone taking a rifle on a long hunt through the mountains, right?

While, yes, a lightweight rifle is easier to carry, it also comes with some trade-offs and one must evaluate whether or not it is worth it. Newton’s third law (above) applies as much to rifles as to anything else, so that 300 Win. mag that shoots a .30 caliber bullet at over 3000 ft. per second out of a rifle that is 1 lb lighter than its heavier counterpart WILL have more recoil than a “normal” weight rifle. For example: a 6 lb rifle is 15% lighter than a 7 lb rifle. Basic physics will tell us that the lighter rifle will have 15% more recoil. While that might not seem like much, consider something else…

No one is impervious to recoil. I don’t care who your are or how tough you are, at some point recoil will affect you. At some point, recoil will be enough to cause the shooter to develop a flinch when pulling the trigger. That extra 15% recoil could be enough for the shooter to develop that flinch. A mild flinch on a 300 yard shot can throw a bullet off enough to completely miss an animal. Even at 100 yards, a mild flinch can take a lethal shot and make it a non-lethal shot. Was that 1 lb weight-savings worth it?

Another factor is wind. A lightweight rifle is affected more from cross-winds than is a heavier rifle. In a 20 mph wind, holding a 6 lb rifle steady is much harder than a 7-8 lb rifle. While yes, holding an extra 1-2 lbs against your shoulder is more difficult from a purely physical point of view, it is a fair tradeoff to not have the wind throw your sight picture off as you pull the trigger.

Lastly, an extra 1-2 lbs is not too much weight when you train your body to handle it. If your shoulders, legs, and arms are conditioned to carry additional weight, the extra 1-2 lbs is not too much and the benefits of carrying a slightly heavier rifle (less felt recoil, less movement in wind, etc.) far outweigh the cost of carrying an extra 1-2 lbs. If you want to carry less weight, eat right, train, and lose a few pounds off your midsection. Find a rifle that is in the 7-8 lb range (with a scope) and train your body to be able to hold the weight (training your shoulders, chest, back, forearms, and core with slow controlled movements). This will ensure that you are not adversely affected by the weight of the rifle and are able to make the shot when it counts.

Please don’t misunderstand what I am trying to communicate – I am not against lightweight rifles; they are very effective and have their place in the right hands. However, I am against hunters making decisions based purely on marketing without knowing the facts and how the difference in weight will affect their ability to shoot their rifle. If you are confident that you can properly control your shot with a lightweight rifle, go for it. Just be sure that you can make that shot when it counts. It won’t be worth the weight savings if you miss. You may only have one shot, so be certain you can make it.

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