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Tips for Managing Recoil with Hard-Kicking Handguns

Manage Recoil - Big Guns

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.

Minimize Movement

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.

Gun Stance to Avoid Recoil
Lean into it. Get a good hold. The combination of body position and grip mechanics is all directed to reduce giving the gun an advantage over you. I’m not a big person. That doesn’t have all that much to do with recoil effect, or with “controlling” it. Positions and pressures do.

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:

Be Confident

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.

Bad Stance - Managing Handgun Recoil
Negative images are not healthy, but, dang, here’s how not to hold a magnum. I see this often when I go to the range. “Please, Mr. Magnum, jump out of my sore hands and knock me down!”

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:

managing recoil tips - wrist angle
This is important. Exaggerated a little to make a point, but the wrist top line should be flat or bowed down a little, not “broken” upward.

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.

Latch On!

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.

Handgun Hold - Reduce Recoil
I don’t believe there is one perfect by-the-numbers gripping technique. Here’s my hold, which is not your hold. What matters is applying the fundamentals that offset recoil effects, and, mostly, doing nothing that enhances those effects!

Finger Pressure

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!

Pistol Grip - Avoiding Recoil
Get the shooting hand up as high on the pistol grip as you can, and then get the support hand as high up into the frame as you can. And then get them working into each other as solidly as you can. No gaps!

Other Tips

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).

Don’t Anticipate

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.

Ear Protection
Some reaction to recoil comes from blast reaction. Doubling up on the hearing protection helps.

Unexpected Recoil

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.

About the Author:

Glen Zediker

Glen Zediker is the owner of Zediker Publishing, which specializes in books and other publications focused primarily on AR-15s, handloading, and shooting skills. Since 1989, he has authored or co-authored 20 books.

He started shooting at age 5 and competing in NRA Smallbore rifle at age 8. He got his first AR-15 at age 15 and has now had 45 years of experience with that firearms platform. He’s worked professionally with some of the greatest shooters on the planet and leading industry professionals. And he does pretty well on his own! Glen holds a High Master classification in NRA High Power Rifle and first earned that using an AR-15 Service Rifle. He’s also competed in many other forms of competition, including USPSA, Steel Challenge, Silhouette Rifle and Pistol, Bullseye Pistol, ISSF Air Rifle, Practical Rifle and shotgun sports.

Since 1986 Glen has been a frequent and regular contributor to many publications, having had over 500 assigned articles published. See more at http://www.ZedikerPublishing.com
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Comments (11)

  1. Don’t know if this will qualify. Before I won my police academy’s class trophy with a S&W Model 10, I had only fired two pistols before hand. One was a Ruger Police Service Six .357. It was a heavy gun and I practiced using everything from .38 wadcutters to 158 grain .357 loads. Many of my classmates had trouble holding the .38 at arms length and said it was too heavy. After using my Ruger, the S&W seemed very light and easy to control, both recoil and sight picture/re-alignment. Seems a good way to the recoil from your firearm is, if possible, fire one that is more powerful than the one you want to use. It will definitely take a good bit of the flinch factor out of your shooting.

  2. This article is full of good, practical advice. Like the author I have been shooting magnums for about 40 years. I still have my first Ruger Redhawk .44/7.5″ I bought new in 1982 (for under $300! Ah, the good old days…) My technique is to maintain a firm grip with both hands, fire double action, and let my elbows absorb the recoil. Rugers are nice in that firing double action one learns to anticipate the hammer release at the same spot in every pull. That’s when I really concentrate on the front sight.

    Don’t yank the trigger as fast as you can. Smooth and steady is the way to go.

    I reload and like heavy bullets. Some powders create more kick than others. H 110 and WW 296 give a firm push instead of a sharp kick. I don’t load to maximum. A hit with a bullet going 100fps slower than maximum is better than a miss with one that hurts YOU and makes you flinch. Watch for muzzle flash. That is powder being burned outside the barrel which isn’t contributing to anything.

    When I lived in bear country in Alaska I practiced drawing my Redhawk from the crossdraw position and firing one round of a 290 gr lead SWC at a target 25 yards away. I got pretty good at that but I always remembered the old sourdough advice about filing the front sight off of any handgun used for bear protection. Why is that you ask? So when the bear takes it away from you and shoves it up your arse it won’t cut you up too badly… That’s why when I was REALLY concerned about bears (especially brown bears) I carried a Marlin 1895 .45/70 loaded with the load that Elmer Keith and Vernon Speer concocted: a 400gr JSP over a stout charge of IMR-3031 but that’s a topic for another post.

  3. Been shooting magnum revolvers for years. Stance, grip, trigger control and training yourself not to anticipate the shot are all excellent points. This is well written. Adhering to Glen’s advise will allow you to master revolver shooting ( with plenty of practice of course ). Shoot plenty and be safe !

  4. A good pair of shooting gloves helps a lot. I like the Pro-Aim, but they can be hard to find. Buying a revolver with a Bisley style grip also lets the gun roll up, rather than rearward. And if the support thumb over the strong thumb is Max Prasac’s recommendation, then it’s good enough for me. It’s about keeping the gun in your hands. I have small hands, and a .500S&W is hard to hold onto during recoil.

  5. This is a well written article! Kudos to Glen Zediker. The piece was informative and helpful, without ever talking down to the reader. I especially liked the photo caption where he says “This is my hold, not your hold”. This man should be a teacher!

  6. All good tips for sure. I would add don’t fight the gun when it recoils. A firm grip yes, but let the gun do it’s thing. My Superblackhawk .44mag. is a bit easier to shoot in this regard. My Ruger Alaskan 2.5″ .480 ruger – not quite so much. That’s where your idea of the gel bike glove really helps take the sting out of that more straight back recoil. And get it straight in your head that you’re not going to shoot that many accurate full power rounds. Better to quit before the flinch comes back. Everybody’s recoil tolerance is different. There are a few calibers that I know are beyond my ability to handle – .454 Casull, .460 & .500 S&W to name a few. I just stick to the ones I can manage reasonably well.

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