by Terry Wieland
Every so often, one runs into a new or unexpected problem. And, sometimes, it’s a result of doing something you’ve done a thousand times before, such as going out and shooting eight rounds of trap in an afternoon.
When that’s the case, it can lead to self-examination and careful analysis, a new discovery and an elegant solution. Other times, however, the result is solitary brooding and self-recrimination. What I am about to describe is the latter.
In my lifetime of shooting, I have sustained what I would call serious recoil injuries exactly four times. By serious, I mean bad enough to keep me from shooting for a while, or which affects my shooting permanently.
In 1993, for example, I had a Merkel Model 147 12-gauge side-by-side to put through its paces, which I did for a solid afternoon of shooting clays thrown from a portable trap. Most of the targets were high incomers, meaning I was shooting more or less straight up, and the gun was recoiling more or less straight down, and slipping off my shoulder along the way. The finger of my right hand, the one positioned immediately behind the trigger guard, took a pounding, swelled up, and became very sensitive to any kind of blow, light or hard.
That finger remains sensitive to this day, which does not help when you are shooting something like a .600 Nitro Express.
Another time, 1985, I was starting to shoot trap and all I had was a Browning BS/S, a 20 gauge with just a buttplate. My form left something to be desired, apparently, because I woke up the next morning with my whole upper arm one massive bruise, from elbow to shoulder. Some years later, the same thing occurred, again with a 20 gauge.
You can get beat up with a 20 or 28 because, while the recoil is less when measured in foot-pounds, the gun is that much lighter and can hit you just as hard. And, without a recoil pad, it’s like a bare knuckle match instead of one with gloves.
Never, however, had I experienced any problem with the recoil of a 12-gauge until last month, when I spent a day in competition shooting heavy loads from a light gun. Well, not really heavy, and the gun isn’t really light, either. The problem, I later figured, was that this competition called for firing two quick shots, and the second shot often found the butt out of position when it came rearing back.
I began to notice the pain by mid-afternoon, but of course I kept shooting. By that night, I couldn’t straighten my right arm; next morning, I had bruising and swelling from the shoulder to the wrist. My bicep looked like an aging eggplant.
Granted, I did a lot of shooting that day, but it was nothing I hadn’t done before, many times. It occurred to me that the difference this time was that, since I last entered this competition three years ago, I’d begun taking a blood thinner to ward off such inconveniences as strokes. These days, if I start to bleed, I keep on bleeding. Naturally, I’m more careful with sharp objects and edged weapons, but never gave a thought to the effects that continual pounding might have in the bruise department.
The problem actually continued to worsen for several days thereafter, with the bruising reaching the palm of my hand. It was a full three weeks before the swelling went down, the bruising disappeared, and the arm was completely pain free. At one point, I went so far as to consult a doctor, who told me the answer was to apply ice, elevate the arm, and give it time.
“And of course,” he added, “don’t do any shooting…”
Well, yeah. Problem is, I’m in a Skeet league, and I owe it to the team. I tried one week shooting my Blaser with 28-gauge barrels, and two — count ‘em, two — strap-on recoil pads to augment the one on the gun. Even with mild 28-gauge Skeet loads, I could feel the blow and stopped shooting after 20 birds. Sorry, fellas.
Two weeks later, with everything almost back to normal, I tried again, this time with the 12, and got along just fine. But that day of competition, with heavy loads in a light gun, cost me three weeks of shooting. I fear I’m a light-load guy for everything, from here on in. Guess that’s what getting old looks like.
Gray’s shooting editor has been a fan of light loads in 12-gauge guns for going on 30 years, but every so often he has a lapse of memory. Another sign of aging.