8 Things You Can Do To Help With Recoil

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Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion says that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. When two objects interact, they apply forces of equal magnitude to each other in opposite directions, and energy is transferred. This is what generally happens with pistol recoil, but what about all that energy transfer? What techniques can be used to absorb “felt recoil” energy, why is it important, and how do we manage recoil and get better accuracy?

1. Energy Transfer and “Felt Recoil”

When a handgun’s trigger is pressed, and a round is fired, there is an explosion that takes place in the breach of the pistol that produces energy. Most of that energy or action is used to propel the bullet out of the gun’s barrel. The rest of the energy is transferred through the pistol itself and causes the gun to move back toward the shooter. The movement you feel from the excess energy moving in the opposite direction from the bullet is what is called “felt recoil,” which is the equal and opposite reaction. Managing recoil means using the mass and bone structure of your body and techniques to help absorb the recoil energy of firing a pistol and transferring that energy so you can easily and comfortably re-acquire a second sight picture after the recoil and follow-through processes are complete.

2. All Calibers Have Recoil

Recoil is inherent when a pistol is fired, regardless of the gun’s caliber. Obviously, smaller caliber pistols can produce recoil that is so small that you hardly notice it, but it is still there, e.g., .22 Long Rifle caliber. You must recognize that there is no way to eliminate recoil entirely, but it can be managed and reduced through various actions, considerations, and techniques. 

I want to share with you ten ways to practically manage, reduce, and mitigate felt recoil so you, as a shooter, can be prepared and safely and properly deal with it. Some shooters are not prepared and can underestimate felt recoil from large caliber pistols and ammo.

Low recoil makes a gun easier and more comfortable to shoot and allows you to make quick follow-up shots since the sights will stay closer to alignment. Fortunately, 9mm is a relatively low recoil round, at least as far as self-defense rounds go.

3. Why Recoil is Important

Recoil management seeks to give the shooter better control and accurate hits by limiting the pistol’s muzzle rise when it is fired and recognizing safety concerns.

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Safety

We have all seen some videos and photos or even experienced what happens when the shooter does not practice grip fundamentals and does not have a solid grip on the gun. The recoil of the gun from poor grip fundamentals and a flimsy grip can cause the gun to fly up and back, hitting the shooter in the face and causing a cut and/or a black eye, bruising, or hitting other body parts, causing serious injury, like wrist damage, to the shooter. And if the gun flies from the shooter’s hands, others nearby can suffer injuries or perhaps death. So shooters must put safety and related concerns first and recognize that safety and recoil management are strongly simpatico.

Accuracy

Any movement, even to a small degree, can affect the point of impact, precision, and accuracy. We all have movement, but some less than others, for various reasons. We should try to reduce movement when shooting as much as possible, even though it cannot be completely eliminated. The farther the distance from the target with any recoil movement amplifies accurate hits. Also, consider that the more recoil management and control you have for your first shot the easier it will be for the shooter to get back on target for follow-up shots.

Physics Basics, Momentum, and Recoil Relationship

Given that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” what is the relationship among recoil management, pistol movements, and handling felt recoil in a pistol? Basically, when a bullet is propelled out of a pistol’s barrel, the same amount of momentum is transferred to the bullet, but it is also transferred to our pistol but in the opposite direction. This causes the pistol to move back towards us, and that is called the recoil or “kick.” The pistol’s slide quickly moves backward and stops at the rear frame of the pistol. This action transfers momentum to the shooter’s hand and usually kicks the barrel’s muzzle upward. Then, the slide quickly moves forward and stops at the front of the frame, which transfers momentum to the pistol’s frame and shoves the muzzle downward.

4. Here Are 8 Things Shooters Can Do To Help With Recoil 

5. Consider the Type, Caliber, Size, and Weight of Pistol  

If a pistol is bigger and has more mass, it has a heavier weight, and its momentum involves less acceleration or pistol movement. It will have lower recoil kinetic energy, resulting in less perceived and felt recoil. Kinetic energy is the energy the pistol has because of its motion. So, a lighter pistol will have more recoil since it has less mass to absorb the recoil and more momentum and acceleration. Without a doubt, a lighter and smaller pistol has more felt recoil or “kick.” Given that a larger and heavier pistol will generally have less felt recoil than a smaller and lighter pistol, here is an example. My 25-ounce 4-inch pistol with a steel frame has less felt recoil than my 15-ounce 3-inch polymer pistol. Also, when comparing two pistols chambered in the same caliber, my 44-ounce all-steel-framed IDPA competition pistol generates a significantly lower level of recoil than my 12-18-ounce pistols. This less movement and momentum of my heavier pistols really helps with my accuracy and scoring hits. In addition to considering a heavier pistol, consider switching to a lower-caliber round and pistol with less recoil to help your accuracy, but carefully consider your purpose and use of your pistol. Do not take a chance with your life if you are considering changing your pistol type, weight, and caliber for concealed carry or personal defense. For example, a .22 LR pistol with very low felt recoil is not the best or even a consideration for me for concealed carry or home defense. Consider these things for your specific use of the pistol.

6. Understand How the Bore Axis, Firing Mechanism, Grip Type, and Slide Affect Muzzle Flip and Recoil Control

“Bore Axis” refers to the distance between the centerline of the pistol’s bore and the highest place on the frame where your hand is supporting the pistol. This is usually the web of your primary hand. So, with a low bore axis, the centerline of the bore is located close to the web of your hand. This gives you balance and solid control.

The higher a pistol’s barrel and slide sit above your hand’s grip, the less control you usually have over its leverage and the harder it is for the shooter to control muzzle flip when a pistol recoils. Almost all hammer-fired pistols have a high bore axis, like my hammer-fired Sig Sauer P226. With practice, a high bore axis can be mastered and controlled. 

Pistol designs that have the barrel and slide sitting as low above your grip as possible reduce that leverage and often make recoil control easier. A lower bore axis will direct more of the recoil directly into the hand, creating less torque and, thus, less muzzle rise. This is the case with my CZ-75B, which has a heavy steel frame and low bore axis. But, I believe that increasing the weight of the pistol’s frame usually yields greater reduction in felt recoil and muzzle flip than any difference in bore axis height. My striker-fired pistols (like my Glock 19 and Smith-Wesson M&Ps) and their design achieve a lower bore axis than hammer-fired ones since striker bars travel straight forward rather than up and forward like the usual hammer-fired pistols. Note that some say a lower bore axis does not physically reduce recoil.

So, this bore axis consideration is complicated, and selecting a low bore axis pistol does not automatically improve your movement, accuracy, shooting comfort, and felt recoil. Some say low bore axis pistols (like my CZ-75B, Smith-Wesson M&Ps, & Walther PPK) often feel less comfortable and less pointable than their high bore axis counterparts, because some low bore axis guns are forced to put the pistol’s grip and trigger out of alignment. This is not true for me. I have some fine and reliable Glock pistols, but for me, they just do not point like my 1911 pistols since they point high due to their angled grip frame. Several years ago, the majority of pistols were hammer-fired with the centerline of the trigger and center of the grip curve in very close alignment. Most, not all, hammer-fired guns need a fairly high bore axis to accommodate the hammer and trigger group in between the grip curve and the bore. Note that there are exceptions

Hammerless, striker-fired pistols, like the Glock 19, Sig Sauer P320, and the H&K VP9, rely on an internal striker mechanism that works the firing pin. These pistols have very few external parts, protecting the internals from most dirt or debris while also giving them a lower bore axis. The grip and the bore are often closer together in a low bore axis, but the grip curve and trigger are usually no longer in alignment.

The shape and size of the pistol’s grips have a considerable effect on how the pistol points and its muzzle flips. For example, if the grips cover the backstrap, it can change the angle at which the gun points when resting in your grasp. So can finger grooves on the grips. Also, the slides of low bore axis pistols usually are not as tall, which leaves less surface area to grip when racking the slide. I like the big, solid, and high-profile slide of my Sig Sauer P226, which is very easy to grab and rack. Conversely, the smaller, lighter, low-profile slide of my Steyr M9 causes me to focus more on racking it. A small and light slide usually means less reciprocating mass and less recoil from the low bore axis. Recognize that a smaller slide of a lighter pistol reduces its dimensions and makes it easier to conceal. So, a low bore axis with its forgiving felt recoil is just one of the many factors to consider, with personal preference and use being very important. Get to the range, try the different pistols and their bore axes, and decide for yourself.

7. Recognize the Effects of Recoil Spring Strength

Understand that a weak or strong recoil spring affects recoil. It is also difficult to make hard and fast conclusions and comparisons about the effects of various recoil springs and their weights. A stiffer recoil spring will decrease the recoil generated because it will absorb more of the slide’s energy. But, that stiff recoil spring will usually also increase recoil by snapping the slide closed very quickly, making the pistol nosedive and affecting sight alignment. Weaker springs usually have the opposite effect on recoil, with a faster opening stroke and a slower closing stroke. I know in competition matches, I used a lighter recoil spring with low-powered ammo to reduce muzzle flip. Using a weaker spring usually increases the total cycle time to spread recoil over a few extra milliseconds. I learned that hammer-fired pistols can usually use weaker action springs than striker-fired pistols since the hammer adds drag to the action, slowing it down as the hammer is cocked. Striker-fired pistols cock the hammer with the striker bar and need a stiffer spring to get enough energy to take a round from the magazine, fully cock the striker, and then fully close the breach. However, some striker pistols by Smith-Wesson, Ruger, and Glock rely partially on the trigger press to cock the striker, so they can use a somewhat weaker action spring.

8. Decide on Pistol Caliber, Type of Ammo, and Type of Handgun

You can change your pistol and its ammo to help lessen recoil. Maybe exchange your Magnum Research Desert Eagle pistol using .50 Action Express rounds and your Dirty Harry Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver using .44 Magnum for a lower caliber gun and ammo. Of course, depending on your use of the gun and your preferences. These guns and calibers are probably not best for concealed carry or a pocket gun.

Naturally, higher-caliber pistols have more recoil because they use more force to propel the rounds. However, caliber is not the only factor that determines recoil. Semi-automatics, especially ones with a gas system, usually have less recoil because the recoil is spread over several components. The force with which propellant gases blast from the muzzle determines recoil intensity. Too intense recoil makes shooting unpleasant, and it can also negatively affect shooting accuracy. Shooting lighter ammo requires less force, causing less recoil, making switching to lighter rounds a consideration for reducing recoil. But lighter rounds are not best for every shooter. For instance, competitive shooters usually require heavy rounds with superior range and stopping power. Long-range precision ammo is available that delivers impressive stopping power without excessive recoil.

Semi-automatic pistols usually have less recoil than revolvers because they have a slide. The slide uses recoil energy to move back to eject spent casings and forward to chamber a fresh round. The action disperses some of the recoil energy, lessening your felt recoil. But again, felt recoil varies between various pistols. 

if you’re looking for a daily concealed carry handgun and need to balance recoil and concealability, you can go with a compact, but stay away from subcompact handguns, as the snappy recoil will be stronger than you’re looking for.

Examples of a few pistols I own with some of the lightest felt recoil for me are the Springfield Armory EMP4, the Smith-Wesson M&P Shield EZ, the Sig Sauer P365 XL, the Ruger Five-Seven, the FN Five Seven, the Browning High-Power, the Walther .22 WMP, the Sig Sauer P226, and the Beretta PX4 Storm.

9. Understand if Trigger and Grip Alignment Affect Your Comfort & Felt Recoil 

There is a measure called the Alignment Index, which scores how well the trigger and grip curve line up. Most hammer-fired guns have a high Alignment Index of around 1.0, meaning perfect alignment. Most striker guns score below that, especially the ones with unusually low bore axes, and the lower the score, usually the worse the alignment between the trigger and grip curve.

So, recognize that the trigger and grip curve being out of alignment is not a major performance consideration for some, but some consideration for others… personal preference. There are satisfied owners of excellent pistols with low alignment indexes, like Glocks, Springfield EMPs and XDs, S&W M&Ps, Sig 365s, etc. A low Alignment Index is a very important factor to consider when it comes to comfort. My Walther PPQ and Sig Sauer 365 XL have for me the most comfortable striker-fired handgun grips today, with low Indexes. My comfortable Sig Sauer P320 also has a low Index as a striker-fired pistol. Because of personal preference, the most controllable and comfortable pistol for one may be the one that fits their hand the best by their standards.

At the end of the day, the low bore axis, high bore axis, aligned or misaligned trigger, and grip are unique to your preferred grip, stance, hand size, comfort, etc. You want a comfortable pistol with an acceptable recoil that allows you to shoot the tightest group the quickest, and for that, you need to practice, practice, and practice. 

10. Use the Proper Grip and Follow Grip Fundamentals 

A pistol’s grip design also makes a significant difference in felt recoil, regardless of grip size. Usually, a larger or textured grip is easier to hold firmly. Grip material also matters since a rubber grip texture helps reduce felt recoil. Aggressive stippling can also help some, as might checkered front and back straps for a little more positive grip traction.

I believe the best way to manage recoil is to use the proper grip fundamentals. With a handgun, get a firm, super-strong, two-handed grip in the right place on the pistol. Place your hands as high up on the backstrap as possible, keep your palms firmly placed on the pistol, and position both thumbs forward, pointing down range. This creates a solid initial point of contact for the recoil to enter your hands and body solidly. Naturally, the proper grip location varies from one make and model pistol to the next. But what should not vary is the amount of tension you use to grip that weapon. Apply as much grip pressure as possible and be comfortable without causing white knuckles. If your grip on the gun is even a little loose, the muzzle will rise when you fire. This will force you to re-aim and undertake extended trigger prepping before you fire follow-up shots.

Also, apply the proper amount of tension in your wrists. After recoil travels through your hands, it next travels to your wrists. Since your wrists are meant to move, you don’t want to too firmly lock your wrists when shooting, but not loose. Instead, just place some tension in them.

And you should lock your elbows, but that does not mean locking your arms rigidly straight out. Rather, place your elbows in a comfortable, partially bent position. This allows your elbow joints to absorb and mitigate the recoil better than if they were in a completely rigid and straight line.

11. Select Your Proper Stance and Follow Its Basics

Depending on the type of shooting you are doing, you may be using different types of shooting stances or positions to get target hits. So, you might be standing, kneeling, or prone on the ground. Picking the right shooting stance is a very important initial key in proper recoil management. Make certain your stance has your feet at shoulder-width apart, weight distributed on the balls of your feet, your upper body is leaning a little forward, your body is centered over your knees, and your knees are slightly bent for flexibility and steady balance. These basics will help tame recoil. You will feel more recoil if you shoot while leaning backward with most of your weight on your heels. And the wrong stance places you at a greater risk for injury. Keep in mind that your pistol recoil will be more noticeable if you shoot from a seated or prone position. The same goes for shooting with your back against a wall or another solid item since your shoulders will not have space to roll with the recoil.

12. Decide if Suppressors or Silencers Are For You

It is possible to mitigate or lower the pistol’s recoil by adding a suppressor or silencer. Some do not recognize this advantage. The suppressor attaches to the pistol’s muzzle to slow the explosive release of propellant gases that cause recoil. The brief trap and dispersal of the gas will reduce the energy upon final exit, which reduces felt recoil and allows better recoil management. Aside from reducing recoil, a suppressor can muffle gunfire noise to protect your ears. Adding a suppressor to your gun is one of the least involved and effective ways to reduce recoil, although some are expensive. A suppressor is typically tube-shaped, detachable, and fits on the muzzle of your gun. You can also use integrally-suppressed, non-detachable suppressors built into a gun’s barrel. There are many suppressor types available for various firearms and calibers, including options that improve recoil without compromising weapon weight and handling. By reducing noise and recoil, suppressors usually help accuracy some. Suppressors dull gunfire noise by slowing the release of gasses when you fire a round. A suppressor attached to the muzzle minimizes this noise by trapping and diverting the quickly-released gasses through baffles in the suppressor. Diverting the gasses through the baffles will slow the escaping pressured gasses, leading to a quieter gunshot and reduced recoil.

If you live in a state that permits them, they are fairly simple to buy, and you can buy them online. There is a $200. Federal Tax Stamp, and you must submit an Application Form. Once ATF approved, your suppressor and stamp are valid for as long as you own the suppressor. You can also use one suppressor for multiple firearms. But different suppressors are rated for different calibers, so be certain to read the description before you shoot the wrong caliber through your silencer. An individual must pass an ATF background check before legally owning a suppressor. And the usual approval time varies by who purchases it and how you are buying it… usually about 12 months.

13. Conclusions and Suggestions

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is what generally happens with pistol recoil. There are many considerations and techniques to absorb “felt recoil” energy, and my article presents eight techniques for you to use to manage recoil and get better accuracy. Certainly, implementing these requires practice to mitigate recoil. To properly develop your recoil management techniques, start by having a qualified instructor watch and critique your shooting stance, grip, and style to spot problems. Read the many suggestions in my book, “Concealed Carry and Handgun Essentials,” to help build a training program with the necessary fundamentals to reduce recoil and improve your accuracy. I hope my tips and information about handgun and ammo selection, grip and stance fundamentals, recoil springs and suppressors, and other key personal selection factors improve your recoil mitigation and contribute to better accuracy.

Continued success!

Photo by Author.

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only, and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense, and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.

© 2024 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at [email protected].

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