Shotgun Recoil And Kick, by Dave McCracken

Another in a continuing series on starting a new shotgunner, and/or improvement for intermediate folks.

Recoil, sometimes called free recoil, is simple physics. Mass times Velocity Squared equals Energy.

MxV(2)=E. Einstein understood the concept but I don't think he did much wingshooting.

A coupla numbers punched into a $5 calculator give you the recoil.

Kick (AKA perceived recoil) is felt. While related to recoil, it's influenced by a myriad of factors. Things like butt size, face size and shape, softness, direction of force, even mindset, affect kick.

Recoil is measured in ft/lbs, kick is measured in pain or the lack of it.

Nobody shows off their new shotgun and says, "It's only got X numbers of Ft/lbs". More likely they'll say something like, "It doesn't kick much unless I use turkey loads".

Kick is why not everyone is a shotgunner.

But, it doesn't have to be that way. True, folks the size of NFL linemen usually have an easier time of it than pixies do, but mindset is more crucial than tonnage. Right after mindset, though, is fit.

Most anyone,in my opinion, willing to put in the time and effort and with the right instruction can learn to shoot a shotgun fairtomiddlin'. Part of that time and effort, of course, is getting a shotgun that fits, and is of a weight compatible with the shooter's strength. That last part doesn't get the attention it should. And there's a Catch 22 we'll talk about later.

Many of us have kin or kith that want to shoot with us, but have no experience and have been listening to war stories of how much shotguns kick and the pain that results. Recall that I mentioned mindset above.

Often it's not the recoil that's the problem, it's the anticipation of kick. In other words, the new shooter is whipped before they pull the trigger.

Back when I was instructing, I got a lot of rookie officers through remedial shotgun by using my own 870. I'd tell them it had been worked on, and it kicked less, which it did. That was due to some added weight more than anything trick. Rounding off the toe of the pad so it didn't dig into the chests of women and barrelchested or overweight men was about the only mod for comfort done at the time. But they believed it kicked less, so it kicked less. Faith can move more than mountains.

Sometimes reality is not nearly as important as the perception of reality, and not just with shotguns.

And now for that Catch 22....

Back when the Brits had an empire, they evolved the Rule of 96. This little bit of wisdom states that a shotgun should weigh 96 times the weight of the charge. In other words, a shotgun made to work with an ounce of shot should weigh 1x96 oz, or 6 lbs. This had gun fit and balance as givens. It comes close to being a great rule of thumb. More weight, less kick, less weight, more kick.

The limiting factors here include human strength.

The more a shotgun weighs, the faster people get tired, and people use bad form when they're tired. Bad form increases kick as much as a violation of the Rule Of 96.

We see this frequently at the range. Someone is starting out their kid, spouse, or other close person and they've dug the old single bbl H&R out of the closet. It's light enough to handle, but so light that the Rule Of 96 is grossly violated, even with a light target load.

Or,the rookie has to deal with an 8 lb autoloader, recoil and kick are tolerable but it's too heavy for the rookie to work with for long.

There's fixes,of course. In a light shotgun like that H&R, use very light loads or the Little Skeeter inserts. 3/4 oz 28 gauge loads or their handloaded equivalent are an answer here. And even the Super Light AAs are available to nonreloaders, though not at a chain store.

For the pixie with her hubbie's 1100, keep the sessions short.

Given a choice between starting off a new shotgunner with a very light shotgun with a good bit of kick with standard loads or a standard weight shotgun with less kick,I'd pick the shotgun that matches the shooter best. A pixie gets the light shotgun, and hopefully very light loads. Someone of more generous dimensions may do better with the standard weight repeater.

So, we want to reduce the kick....

First, reduce the recoil. Heavier shotgun, lighter loads, slower loads. And the things like backboring, longer cones, etc, help a bit.

Second, better fit, a better pad, a LARGER pad, better hearing protection, better form, a longer bbl(Noise and blast play a part in perceived recoil) all can help. Leaning into the shot a bit more can often make the difference.


Dave McCracken is a corrections officer, has been shotgunning longer than many shooters have been alive. He regularly posts on TheHighRoad.org and TheFiringLine.com. This article is reprinted here with his permission; reprinting or redistributing this article without his permission is expressly prohibited.

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