By Marisa Futral, Hunter Education Coordinator
Have you ever heard this statement? “Oh, recoil doesn’t bother me. In fact, I like to feel the gun kick a little.” Every time I hear someone say that, I just shake my head, knowing that it is just a matter of time before they start missing targets. Whether or not the shooter realizes it, the body can only take so much punishment before it starts to react. Usually this is seen as involuntary flinching or closing of the eyes at the moment the trigger is pulled. Once this happens, results will suffer. Recoil will always have a negative effect on shotgun shooting.
So, what are some steps you can take to reduce recoil? First and most important is gun fit. It is extremely important to make sure the gun fits the shooter. If the length of pull is too long the shooter will take more recoil in the shoulder and if it is too short they will take more recoil in the wrist and forearm. It is best to have a gun fitter check to make sure that the length of pull on the gun is correct for the shooter.
Second, increase the gun’s weight. A shotgun transfers the recoil impact from the shotshell to the shooter. The heavier the gun, the less actual recoil force transferred. Weight can be added to the gun via recoil reducers that are added to the barrel(s) and the stock. Also, there is a common misconception that a 20-gauge shotgun will kick less than a 12-gauge, when many times the opposite is true. Most 20-gauge shotguns are built on smaller frames, which make them lighter, actually causing them to kick more. Anything you can do to add weight to your gun will reduce recoil.
Third, shoot the lightest and slowest shotshell load you know will get the job done. As a shotshell load’s weight and velocity increases, so does the total value of the recoil force generated by that load. Even a slight decrease in weight (ounce of shot) has a significant effect on reducing recoil, as does every 50-fps (feet per second) decrease in velocity.
Fourth, consider installing a good recoil pad to help lesson the impact. Obviously, the softer the pad installed; the more recoil that is absorbed. Many different brands are on the market today, designed to convert a sharp knock to the shoulder into more of a push. In addition, depending on the brand, the recoil pad may increase the square inches of surface area of the butt of the shotgun that is in contact with the shooter’s shoulder. This larger surface area spreads the recoil force to the shoulder over a larger surface area, lessoning the impact on any one point.
Lastly, consider shooting an autoloading shotgun. A gas-operated autoloader can absorb a certain amount of the actual recoil force so that there is less total recoil transferred to the shooter. Gun type is a matter of preference, so if you prefer an over and under you can compensate for the extra recoil with a heavier gun and lighter shotshell loads. When you combine the weight of a 12-gauge shotgun with light 7/8-ounce loads, you have a sweet shooting gun you can shoot all day.
Ultimately, some shooters are simply more sensitive to recoil than others. This often increases with age. This is no time to be stoic or as one of my old softball coaches use to say to “suck it up.” Do everything you can to lessen recoil if you care about shooting to the best of your ability. Your scores, whether on the clays course or in the field, will reap the benefits!