The Truth About Muzzle Flip and Bore Height

When we talk about handgun recoil, we’re really talking about two major factors. Recoil energy or ‘kick’ depends on the weight of the gun and the power of the cartridge. Heavier guns and weaker cartridges make for less recoil energy, which is why a .22 caliber Ruger Mk.II target pistols is a pussycat to shoot, while a .357 Magnum snubnose is an angry lion.

The other major factor is muzzle flip…

Muzzle flip is the angular (rotational) momentum of the pistol caused by the axis of the bore sitting higher than the center of the grip. The higher the bore, the worse the muzzle flip, and the longer it takes you to bring the gun back on target after each shot.

Revolvers barrels tend to sit very high above the shooter’s hand, but the Chiappa Rhino is trying to change all that: its barrel fires from the bottom cylinder chamber, rather than the top. Muzzle flip is almost nonexistent, but I won’t line up to buy one until I feel one with a good trigger. (And reliable ignition. But that’s another story.)

Most semi-autos have lower bore heights than revolvers; just how low depends on the cleverness of the engineering. Single-action semi-autos like the 1911 and Hi-Power kept their bores fairly low, but the complex lockwork of some older DA semi-auto patterns (SIG, S&W, Beretta) placed their barrels ridiculously high over the grips and cursed them with much more recoil than their modestly-powered cartridges could justify. Modern striker-fired designs can put the bore just above the web of your thumb, and the Steyr and the M&P have just about the lowest bore axes on the market.

In the video above, Joe Grine shoots a 9mm SIG/Sauer P6 (P225), a full-length Glock 17, and a compact Steyr M9. The SIG’s bore axis is about .5″ higher than the Steyr’s is, relative to the grip, and the result is a much flippier handgun, even though the SIG’s all-metal construction makes it a significantly heavier gun. The Glock’s bore height is about in the middle between the two.