Recoil is a fact of life. As long as the laws of physics exist, there will be recoil. You will never eliminate recoil; however, you may address, redirect and make its effects less painful.
We differentiate between momentum and movement, and genuinely painful recoil. As an example, when firing a self-loading handgun there is considerable movement in the slide as the action cycles. When the slide recoils, its rearmost travel ends in a certain snap.
Recoil is straight to the rear; muzzle whip is upward. When recoil twists, it becomes particularly uncomfortable. The problem is inherent in handguns attempting to shoe horn too much cartridge into a compact platform. The worst offenders are the .40 caliber sub compacts.
The .40 Smith and Wesson cartridge is a high intensity number designed for service-size handguns. When the handgun becomes too small, both slide movement and momentum from recoil become too much. We are attempting to put a .40 caliber cartridge into a 9mm platform, which has much appeal in a handgun of the proper size.
Another example of too much cartridge in a small handgun is the .357 Magnum cartridge in a handgun designed for the .38 Special cartridge. The result is a handgun with different recoil than the self-loader. The revolver may jolt the metal parts including the cylinder release into the shooters hand, leading to considerable discomfort.
When choosing a handgun it is wise to begin with a caliber and handgun weight combination that is controllable and reasonably comfortable to use and fire. This means the 9mm Luger and .38 Special level for most of us.
A steel frame might be desirable as well, or a medium size polymer frame self-loader. I began shooting with a 4-inch barrel .38 revolver. Many of you will begin with a GLOCK 19 9mm. These are ideal handguns—powerful enough for personal defense; not so strong that they are painful to fire.
As your ability improves and you have experience you may wish to use a Ruger SP101 .357 Magnum revolver or a SIG P229 .40 as examples of powerful handguns well-suited to experienced shooters.
I am a strong advocate of mastering the most powerful handgun you can use well. If you cannot fire the big bore handgun well you are in the unenviable position of being armed with a deadly weapon you cannot control.
The key is to consider your abilities and begin with a reasonable choice.
Does a .40 compact offer sufficient wound potential increase to warrant its adoption? Can you control it as well as the 9mm compact? If you wish to deploy a .45 caliber handgun you will develop a sense of concealed carry. We realize that concealing the handgun is possible; the question is the level of comfort we have with the weapon.
Weight and Recoil
The latest advertisements tout the newest handgun, and how easy it is to conceal. Concealment is a function of a well-designed holster, properly covering garments and mindset. A heavier handgun is more comfortable to fire. A longer barrel and heavier slide helps control muzzle flip.
We are not talking about a huge difference.
As an example, I recently tested a trio of 9mm compact handguns. The weight ranged from 18 to 23 ounces.
Predictably, the heavier gun was easiest to use well, although the lightest was comfortable to fire.
- Learn to use a proper two-hand technique.
- Allow the arms to rock as shock absorbers.
- Practice a firm grip.
- Always remain in control of the handgun.
I have many years of experience with the snubnose .38 Special and find it the most difficult revolver in my safe to master to my satisfaction. There is nothing that does what the snubnose .38 does. However, it remains an important backup handgun.
- The balance of power per ounce is attractive.
- The simplicity and reliability are important.
- The thin grips found on many snub nose revolvers do not separate you from the metal of the handgun.
- A set of rubber grips that do not allow the hand to contact the backstrap on firing are essential for comfort.
The snub nose .38 is a compromise in many ways although very useful. A handgun that stings on firing causes the shooter to flinch, an involuntary contraction of the muscles as we anticipate recoil. Good grips and the proper technique work well to master the snub nose .38.
There is a tendency to choose the most powerful loading for the caliber. I have encouraged this I am certain. Yet, the load that recoils the most is not always the best suited for personal defense.
A well-designed projectile at a good velocity is important. The Speer Gold Dot 124-grain ‘Short Barrel’ load is one example of a load that doesn’t produce excessive recoil and performs well in ballistic media.
Another good choice is the .38 Special 110-grain FTX from Hornady. This load goes a long way toward making the .38 more comfortable to fire.
Recoil is a necessary part of the shooting scene. Follow these tips and do not let recoil keep you from mastering the handgun.
What is your favorite tip for managing the inevitable recoil when shooting? Share in the comment section.