A wise man (Isaac Newton) once said that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If you’ve felt the kick of a powerful firearm, you’ll immediately know how this equation works.
We understand why recoil happens, but it’s the shooter’s ability to handle the impact, avoid injury and maintain accuracy that is the challenge. There are a variety of contributing factors that can add-up to a bad experience, and even the most seasoned shooters can fall victim to the effects of heavy recoil (ie. flinching and missed shots). Sometimes it’s the anticipation of the noise and the recoil that can be worse than the effect itself.
For the purposes of this post, we’ll toggle back-&-forth a bit between handguns and rifles. There are some obvious specifics to consider for the two weapon types, but the common elements are pretty clear.
The Right Fit
This is pretty straightforward. Putting a large, powerful gun into the hands of a younger person or someone with a smaller frame might not turn out so well. Just common sense, right? There’s a real risk of shooter injury or a potentially catastrophic situation if the weapon jumps significantly and you hit something or someone in the line-of-fire. Handguns have to be a reasonable and appropriate size/caliber for the shooter, and any rifle or shotgun must be able to fit properly into the shoulder joint or closer to the midline of the body.
When first learning to shoot, or for a smaller shooter as mentioned above, it can be a good plan to go with lighter, lower impact loads to help minimize the effects of recoil and allow the shooter to work on their technique and build confidence.
Put on Some Weight
It may sound counter-intuitive, but using a heavier gun can actually work to reduce felt recoil. The weapon itself is able to help absorb a certain amount of force, and coupled with smaller loads, can create a more controllable shooting platform.
Stance, Position & Technique
You’ll likely get different opinions on this one. There are some bench and prone shooters who will say that these positions are the best at reducing felt recoil, but there is a strong case to be made for standing. Obviously for handguns and shotguns it makes more sense to stand (not like you have a lot of choice in most cases) and most stances provide sufficient stability and accommodation for recoil absorption. Similarly with rifles, if your equipment fits, you lean in and have your weapon properly seated, the more dynamic nature of standing can help to offset the power generated by your gun. Understanding the basics of marksmanship and being able to control the tension within your body, before, during and after your shots goes a long way in providing a stable shooting style.
Get A Grip
Having a solid grip is also a key factor in managing recoil and ensuring accuracy. This isn’t rocket science here. Hold your weapon too loosely and most barrels will jump off target (or worse). Hold it too tightly, and you create a tension in your arms and body that can also have an adverse effect. There are various techniques for this (i.e. dominant vs. non-dominant tension) but the bottom line is that your grip has to be firm enough, but without creating a lot of additional tension. Bent elbows can also help to absorb shock and can make target acquisition faster. Handgun grips vary and can really affect your accuracy and level of discomfort if not executed properly. The balance is different between semis and revolvers for instance, with revolvers leveraging or ‘flipping’ up if the grip is too low.
A soft, high-quality recoil pad is always a good investment. Some guns come with thinner, harder pads or really nothing at all but hard plastic. Even with good technique, these versions can really kill your shoulder.
Aside from controlling recoil, a decent muzzle brake will help to manage barrel rise and side-to-side movement. This helps to increase your comfort level, and the added control is better for realignment and target acquisition. The downside is that they are typically REALLY loud.
Protect Yourself at All Times
The louder the report of your weapon (and the anticipation thereof), the greater the chances are that there will be an increase in the perceived recoil, which can negatively affect your shots. Wearing quality ear and eye protection is a must to not only protect yourself physically, but to also provide a certain peace-of-mind and associated relaxation.
You can’t avoid recoil. You know it’s going to happen. It’s all about how you prepare and how you handle it.
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