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handgun shooting recoil

Recoil Reduction In a CCW Gun

For many shooters, a bit of recoil reduction can be very beneficial. Not only does it allow a person to shoot longer, it also allows them to shoot better as one of the most common causes of blown shots is recoil anticipation. Reducing recoil, therefore, lets you get more out of practice and get more practice in.

This is vital for the concealed carrier, competitive shooter, waterfowler, upland bird or big game hunter.

However, it's not as easy as it sounds. Part of what creates recoil is simply the laws of physics. With that said, there are some things one can do to for easier shooting at the shooting range and elsewhere. First, we must understand recoil, and then we'll get in what you can do to tame it.

Actual Recoil versus Felt Recoil

the actual recoil of the firearm versus the felt recoil
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First, let's discuss what recoil actually IS. There's a difference between actual recoil and felt recoil.

The former is the actual recoil generated by a gunshot in terms of foot-pounds of energy. The recoil force is generated by the bullet being sent out of the barrel, which is - in accordance with Newton's Third Law - is equal to the force of the bullet being sent downrange. In other words:

To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction

To put that a little better, shooting a gun generates a certain amount of force that's expelled from the front of the barrel. The bullet is sent out along with gases and other detritus. An equivalent force goes in the opposite direction.

What a person actually feels, on the other hand, is felt recoil.

The force of recoil only lasts as long as the gases created by the shot are still in the gun. In other words, part of what creates recoil is the exhaust gases created by the gunshot. Once the gases are totally expelled, the recoil period is over and the pistol returns to the resting position.

What Creates Felt Recoil?

Felt recoil is influenced by a number of factors.

First, there's the bullet itself. The greater the mass of the bullet being shot out of the gun and the greater the velocity (Newton's Second Law: Force = Mass x Acceleration) the greater the recoil force will be. That's why shooting .22 LR is painless but .45 caliber generates a whole lot more "push."

Then you have bore axis, or how far above the top of the frame the barrel sits. This is important as a high bore axis gun - such as a Sig Sauer, H&K and so on - will push the barrel up (the "muzzle rise") and backward. In essence, the gun wants to rotate away from the gunshot, creating torque on the wrists.

Where the shooter feels it is in the wrists and shoulders. With even a small bend in the knees, the legs act as a shock absorber. The bulk of actual recoil goes through the shooter into the ground, but the felt recoil is in the upper body.

Another aspect is the hit to the hands. Along with bore axis and Newtonian physics, another aspect is how the grips fit the the hands. If you have a poor fit to the hand, the worse it will feel. Pistol grips that conform well to the shooter's hands will be more comfortable to shoot, even with a pistol that creates ample recoil.

This is why competitive shooters and people who carry magnum revolvers will spend good money on a set of grips; they help tame recoil quite a bit.

Another aspect that creates felt recoil is the gun itself. The greater the mass of the pistol, the more resistance it creates against muzzle flip. For instance, shooting a 1911 in .45 ACP is not terribly difficult. It's a big, heavy gun. However, a subcompact Kahr shooting .45 ACP or an S&W J-Frame shooting .357 Magnum...less mass, more felt recoil.

What are some good tactics, then, for recoil reduction?

Recoil Management

ccw ammo caliber

There are a number of methods of recoil management.

First is to upgrade the grip. For semi-autos, this can be a bit tricky. Some semi-autos have grip panels on the sides. You can swap both sides for better grips, though some pistols can have a fuller wrap with new grip panels that include the backstrap. Other pistols can't get that, such as 1911 platform pistols due to the grip safety.

Other semi-autos can be equipped with a grip sleeve that slips over the grip. These accessories - such as those by Hogue - are very popular with subcompact striker guns, and small guns are notorious for being hard to get good purchase on.

Additionally, some guns also have exchangeable backstraps, again a common feature among the plastic fantastics.

Revolvers can also change grips. Rubber grips compress a bit more than wood stocks, which can help quite a bit. However, wood stocks can also be ordered that will fill the hand better than the factory models. For instance, Herrett's Jordan stocks - which have a more robust backstrap than factory grips - have been popular among magnum revolver shooters for decades.

Another popular recoil reduction method is reduced-recoil ammunition. You can use a lighter bullet or a reduced powder load for easier shooting. There are some reduced-recoil loads that are suitable for self-defense, though some shooters use reduced-recoil loads for practice and load the high-test stuff for carry.

Many a shooter has shot .38 Special at the range, but loaded 158-grain .357 Magnum for carry, so there is something to this idea.

Grip axis can't be gotten around. A tall pistol is going to torque your wrists no matter what. However, altering your stance, such as adopting a Chapman stance rather than a Weaver or Isosceles (the Chapman uses the push-pull dynamic of the Weaver, but fully extends the shooting arm, reducing torque on the wrist) to get a better shooting position.

Another strategy is to attenuate the exhaust gases that exit through the muzzle, which contribute to felt recoil. There are two methods of attenuating recoil from these gases: ported barrels and compensators.

A ported barrel has holes tapped in it - and in semi-auto pistols, also in the slide over the holes - to allow gases to escape from both these holes as well as the muzzle. A compensator is essentially a barrel extension with an exhaust port (or several) in addition to the muzzle at the end of the compensator.

However, ported barrels often come at a cost, namely that of reduced velocity. You'll have to weigh the pros and cons of doing so, as velocity is a factor in how reliably a hollowpoint will expand on impact. With a ported barrel, using a heavy-for-caliber loading is a wise choice, so you'll want to switch to, say, a 147-grain 9x19mm load for your ported Performance Center Shield.

Compensators, on the other hand, are not the most practical option. Part and parcel to concealed carry is the ability for a holster to hold a pistol. The carrier must be able to draw from a concealed carry holster with a certain amount of ease. Adding an extra bit to the muzzle can make both more difficult.

Sam Hoober

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.