I was over at Dave Petzal's blog and he was talking about recoil.
Touchy subject, that. There are so many variables that enter in to the felt recoil of a given rifle that it's hard to talk about with any consistency.
I'm not afraid of recoil. I routinely shoot max charges through my .54 Renegade, which uses a 530 grain Maxi-Ball. The recoil is stout, but slow. You can roll with it. You better be able to roll with it. I tried shooting it prone one afternoon and the steel buttplate came back against my collar bone. I thought I had broken something. Stiff charges of black powder, and stiff charges of smokeless, there has to be somewhere for the recoil energy to go.
My .45-70 shoots a 500 grain bullet with the same black powder and the recoil seems stiffer than the Renegade. After about fifteen or twenty shots with the .45-70, I was done.
Stepping down to .30-06, I wasn't happy with my Savage rifle until I mounted a good recoil pad on it. That rifle, launching a 150 grain bullet at something over 2900 fps worked me over pretty good. It's a seven pound rifle, set up for carrying in the woods. It seemed to recoil faster than my son's 7mm Mag, which is pushing a 140 grain bullet just a little over 3000 fps. My son's magnum has a heavy barrel on it, and it long ago got a good recoil pad. I imagine that rifle weighs 10 lbs or more. All thing being equal, the lighter the bullet, the lighter the recoil. The heavier the rifle, the lighter the recoil. The slower the bullet, the lighter the recoil. So, son's rifle, though a magnum, is heavier and launches lighter bullets only marginally faster. His magnum seems to recoil less than my standard .30-06. Go figure.
Now, though, with the Pachmayr Decelerator pad on my .30-06, the I'm good for target sessions of 40 to 50 rounds. My .243 is the same rifle, but the lighter bullet and the smaller powder charges let me fire it a whole lot more before becoming fatigued. I agree with Petzal that the .30-06 is probably the biggest rifle that most people can handle with accuracy. I find that I shoot the smaller caliber more often because the recoil is lighter.
One secret to managing recoil at the bench is to raise the rifle. Don't hunker down behind the rifle. Sit upright and manage your rifle so that you can fire from an uprght position. If your upper body can rock with the recoil, then you're in a better position to manage it. If your body can't rock with recoil, you're going to absorb it.
Of course, we'd all be better off if we got away from the bench entirely and did a whole lot more shooting from field positions. Those field positions let your body rock with the recoil and you won't notice it as much.
However, there is one firearm in my battery that I absolutely hate to shoot, primarily because of the recoil. A Remington Sportsman, in 20 gauge, the gun is modeled after Browning's squarebacked Auto-Five. That old shotgun was made in the mid 1930's and my son owns it now. Every time I ever tried to fire it, it reared up and smacked me in the chops. Shooting it was personally painful, but my son doesn't seem to notice it. He revels in recoil, so that shotgun is right for him.
Ain't recoil strange?