When I take newbies shooting for the very first time, the number one thing that they’re concerned about isn’t noise or the high velocity piece of hot lead rocketing out the end of the firearm — it’s recoil. They’re concerned that the gun will push them backwards or knock them down…and it will hurt.
That’s not an entirely unfounded concern, but with typical, widely used firearm cartridges and the guns that fire them, the chance that you’ll actually be thrown off balance or injured by recoil is between slim to none. Especially with some good, basic instruction.
Even so, recoil can slow down your follow-up shots and still be somewhat uncomfortable, especially over a long range session. For those looking to reduce or virtually eliminate recoil, here are my top three recommendations.
1. Shoot a Lighter Projectile
Recoil is nothing more than Newton’s third law in action. You’re throwing a (relatively) heavy piece of lead very quickly downrange, and however much force that requires will be translated straight back through the gun into your shoulder.
The simplest and easiest way to lighten that equal and opposite reaction is to lighten your projectiles (or shoot them with a heavier gun). Heavier bullets need more force to be propelled downrange. Using a lighter round will require less force, and therefore you’ll feel less recoil as a result.
Some firearms won’t function well shooting lighter projectiles. A semiautomatic AR-15 rifle, for example, needs a certain amount of back pressure in the barrel to pressurize the gas system and cycle the action. Lighter projectiles with less force are in the barrel for a shorter period of time, so there isn’t as much pressure available to operate the action.
Your mileage may vary. Experiment with different projectile weights in your gun(s) and see which works best for you.
If using a lighter load doesn’t work, consider shooting lighter calibers. There’s a reason I start all my new shooters on a .22LR rifle and not a .50AE handgun.
2. Invest in a Good Muzzle Brake or Suppressor
If a lighter projectile isn’t your thing, you can make Sir Isaac Newton work for you. There are a lot of gasses that escape form the end of your barrel with every shot. Mostly, those gasses are vented into the atmosphere without doing anything else useful. You can put those lazy-ass gasses to good use.
The idea behind using a muzzle brake is, rather than just venting those gasses, you can harness their energy. The brake works by using the forward motion of those gasses to actually pull the firearm forward slightly, canceling out some of the recoil impulse generated by the force of the projectile leaving the barrel.
You’ll never get 100% recoil mitigation, but a brake will definitely help.
Another form of muzzle brake that has the same kind of effect is a silencer. A quieter, softer-recoiling rifle means a huge improvement for just about any shooter. If you’re looking to make your gun both quieter and far more comfortable to shoot, a silencer checks way more than just one box at a time.
3. Improve Your Stance
It’s not the gun, it’s you.
Using the proper stance can make an amazing amount of difference in felt recoil. Ideally, recoil should be directed straight back into your shoulder where it can be absorbed throughout your body, all the way down to your feet.
Having a slightly forward stance with the gun tucked firmly into your shoulder with a solid grip on a properly-fitted firearm will do far more to mitigate the impact of recoil than any muzzle device. And combining a proper stance with a muzzle brake or suppressor results in a firearm that stays steady as a rock even through full-auto fire.
Experiment with a variety of guns and calibers if you can. Get some quality training and practice good form and you too will be able to handle recoil like a boss.