I really, really like big handguns. And by “big,” I mean big power—magnums. There are some circumstances (sport and defensive) where one is the best tool for the task, and often only choice (especially for hunting).
Now, the one thing nobody likes about big guns is the big recoil is the kick. After now 44 years as a magnum fan, I’ve decided on a few tricks and techniques that decidedly help soften the forces generated by hand cannons—if not, in fact, the effect.
Tips for Stance
First, a “stance” is the body positioning and pieces-parts placements used to aim and fire. It’s the shooting platform and posture, the human architectural arrangement.
I don’t name my stance, so I can’t tell you “which” to use. I can tell you to find your own, and I can also tell you that’s not that hard.
I can also tell you that the well-known and named stances (like “Weaver,” “Chapman,” “Isosceles,” and so on) can be effective and that the main thing, though, is determining why, where and how different ideas work and where they fall short.
You do that through experience and experimentation.
When shooting a magnum, you are not going to eliminate gun movement. You are only human.
What you can do is reduce the ill effects of firing-induced movement, which include copious muzzle rise, twisting, destabilizing the hold—in short, all those things that make the gun come up and off of the target, and then stay off of the target.
In a perfect world, fire the shot and the gun recoils back into the hands, arms and body, the sight lifts off the target and then returns back to where it started and you’re ready to re-up and fire another.
Set yourself up so there’s a “progression of protrusions” flowing forward—knees about even with the toes, shoulders ahead of the knees. Right, that’s leaning forward. “Slightly” is all we need, but setting yourself up to be a less wieldy pushover will contain a lot of recoil.
There’s got to be some flex in the knees and some width in the stance to get that (feet are a little better than shoulder-width).
If you want to see this in action, watch up a video of Jerry Miculek (renowned revolver speed shooter) or legend Ed McGivern, who actually stumbles forward after he empties a cylinder. Here’s a video of Jerry:
Don’t lock the elbows and over-extend the arms. Don’t “unplug” at the shoulder. Keep the shoulders “back” and set like you were ready to catch a heavy package about to be dropped down to you.
There should be some bend or flex in the arms, with elbows facing outward, not down. It’s not my style to get dogmatic about points of technique, but these things, for certain, help.
I have seen so many folks who look like they are trying to get as far away from the gun as possible before they fire it: they lean back, push the gun way out in front of them, and pull back their heads. Move toward it instead. Block it—block all exits for its power to follow.
Tips for Grip
Hand positioning and pressure is, easy to imagine, critical to control and accuracy. All this next applies to holding pretty much any handgun, but, also easy to imagine, are more strongly emphasized shooting a magnum.
Abducted vs. Adducted
Top of my list is the top of the wrist. Hold your hand out, thumb up. When you grip the gun, the fingers should be angled downward a might, resulting in a “flat” or (better) bowed wrist. Pictures are worth about 80 words in my world, so look at these photos for clarity:
This isn’t a medical text, but, physiologically, it’s “adduction” as opposed to “abduction.” That keeps the wrist in a strong position that the handgun can’t as easily overcome.
What you do not want is the opposite of that where there’s an upward angle in the hand, resulting in a “break” in the wrist.
The shooting hand goes as high up on the pistol grip as reasonably possible. That gets the hand and forearm up closer to the bore line, and also makes it more naturally easy to get the adduction in the wrist. Both those direct recoil forces to go more back than up.
The idea is not to give the gun an advantage such that it pivots. It’s going to come up some, but positioning as described set a limit.
A firm hold, pressure, against the pistol grip is a true fundamental with a hard-kicking gun. Get both hands worked into each other as best you can, with the heel of the support hand firmly in against the pistol grip, and both hands squeeze.
Get the support hand up as high as reasonably possible also, and the supporting hand wrist has the same adducted orientation as the shooting hand. No serious shooter “separates” the hands, such as placing the support hand on the underside of the shooting hand.
Keep the trigger finger, though, “loose” and free to move (and make double-sure that the only part of the trigger finger in contact with the gun is the finger pad on the trigger itself).
Now, I can’t really define what “firm” is. That’s subjective. It’s not a white-knuckle chokehold, but it’s not far off that. The less the gun can move in the hands, the less it will hurt the hands.
Don’t do anything with the thumbs! Just let them point forward, and not touch the gun. Especially don’t push them in against the gun.
After experience (and experimentation) , you’ll see that crazy-looking thumb lock techniques really don’t do a doggone thing against gun movement. And pushing against the gun with the thumbs puts shots all over the target.
I feel more pressure from my ring finger and little finger in my shooting hand and it’s more equal in all the fingers in the support hand (which is squeezing the fool out of my shooting hand).
Squeezing a tad more with the lowermost two fingers in the shooting hand reinforces the adduction and keeps the muzzle in better check against rise.
Employing these ideas on stance and grip also makes it easy and natural to bring the arms into play, and that helps keep the gun more still and stable on target. Push the hands in toward one another—flex the pecs!
Here are some other random tips, tricks and tests related to managing recoil with hard-kicking handguns:
Go for Double
This might seem odd, but it is true: You’ll likely feel less kick firing double-action than single-action. The reason is that overcoming the longer trigger stroke naturally snugs up the grip a might(while keeping the gun still at the same time).
Truth is often tough to take, but take an honest look at your reaction to firing. A (natural) flinch reaction intensifies the perception, and sometimes reality, of recoil. A test is seeing the front sight ( or optical sight reticle) framed against the orange muzzle flash.
I don’t have a magic answer for learning to keep the eyes open when something akin to a hand grenade is going off less than two feet from your face, but I can tell you it’s imperative that you do it. The anticipation of the kick makes the kick worse.
Learning to see the shot all the way through lessens the otherwise “natural” reaction to get away from the doggone thing. It’s kind of like ducking a sudden threat.
Protect Those Ears
Double hearing protection ( plugs and phones) goes a ways toward taking the shock out of that source of disruption.
A really dirty, really effective trick is to get out a box of Specials along with your box of Magnums and have a partner load the cylinder for you, alternating nilly willy. Yes. Shame will help self-heal the flinch reaction.
Remember: all the kick comes after the hammer falls, never before.
Get a Grip
To ease the physical impact (hand sting), shop grips and find something that fits your hand. There’s no magic handle, but especially avoid a stock that’s too small. I’ve experimented with gloves and those can help.
Funny—well, not ha-ha funny—but I’ve had the best results using a pair of bicycling gloves with gel palm pads.
Keep Muscles Calm
And don’t clench your teeth… seriously. Keep the muscles in your jaw and stomach calm. That also really helps hit target center. Honest.
Do you have any tips for managing recoil with hard-kicking handguns? Let us know in the comments below.