Gear, Parts and Accessories

How to Reduce Shotgun Recoil

12 gauge pump action shotgun on wood detail and shells.

For many people, the shotgun is the first choice for home defense. Unfortunately, for many of the people who live in the same household, the recoil the gunny person handles easily, is not so easy for the others.

As they say, the best gun for self-defense is the biggest caliber you can handle well. A 12-gauge shotgun that disables the shooter or the shooter is afraid of, isn’t that gun.

There are certain things to look for when choosing a shotgun and there are several ways to reduce recoil in a shotgun. We will look at them. Feel free to mix and match many of them.

Go with Lighter Loads

This is by far the simplest method. The shotshell manufacturer does one of three things to make this happen, or a combination of the three. The weight of the shot can be reduced.

This sends a lighter shot, which reduces the total energy of recoil, but it can shorten the shotgun recoil impulse, which may make it seem sharper. The amount of powder can be reduced.

This decreases the velocity of the projectiles, which decreases total energy. It also increases the duration of the recoil impulse, which tends to lessen perceived recoil.

The burn rate of the powder can be made to be slower. This does the same thing as reducing the amount of powder as far as increasing the duration of the impulse, but it can keep velocity the same.

It is not common, but using a lighter load (eight 00-buck pellets instead of nine) and using less of a slower-burning powder would have the most effect for reducing the shotgun recoil by changing the ammunition.

The downside to this choice is you have fewer projectiles that are moving slower. This will have a negative effect on terminal ballistics. In other words, your stopping power just got weaker.

Speaking of stopping power getting weaker, you can always drop the gauge to 16, 20, 28 or .410. Of these, 16 and 28-gauge shotguns have almost no defensive loads available, so they should not be strongly considered.

Quite often the problem with moving to a 20-gauge shotgun is the platform weight drops too. Although a standard buckshot load in 20 gauge has less energy, the six-pound gun may actually kick more into the shoulder than a seven-pound 12-gauge shotgun.

The .410 Bore has very low recoil, but it also has very low knockdown power, except with slug loads.

Shotgun shells on an isolated background including 12, 16, 20, 36, 410 guage
Finding the right load for your shotgun can help solve recoil problems.

Increase the Weight of the Shotgun

The formula for recoil is E=1/2MV²

For those not willing to dive into the math, the higher “M” (for mass) is the slower the gun recoils and the less it moves. This results in both lower recoil and lower perceived recoil.

Almost everyone knows the other term for recoil, “kick.” All other things being equal, a heavier gun “kicks” less.

For our purposes, there are several ways to increase the weight of a shotgun. The first is to buy a new shotgun that is heavier.

If you currently own a Mossberg 590-A1 synthetic stock at 18.5” (seven pounds), making a switch to a Remington 870 Express with an 18.5” barrel and synthetic stock (7.5 pounds) will gain you half a pound.

At roughly $400, that is probably not the best method to gain half a pound.

Some better uses of money might be adding a +2 magazine tube extension. The tube will add two rounds, each weighing about 1.5 ounces, as well as roughly six to eight ounces for the tube.

The extra two rounds add additional firepower and the magazine tube is a lot cheaper than a new gun. This idea can be expanded by also purchasing a side-saddle.

They are typically aluminum and weigh about four to six ounces, but hold four to seven rounds, so the total weight may increase by close to a pound.

It also provides a lot more on-board firepower, as well as the option to have specialty rounds on hand.

Adding weight can also be done in the form of useful tools. This could be a red-dot optic, like the Holosun HS403R or the Swampfox Kingslayer.

The choice might also be a weapon-mounted light such as a Streamlight TL-Racker system or a Surefire 6PX with a tube mount.

If you chose to add a magazine tube extension, a side-saddle, a red dot optic and a tactical light. Both the weight of your firearm and potential performance would go up.

The weight of the weapon has likely increased by at least one pound and maybe as much as two. A gain of 1.5 pounds is roughly a 20% increase in weight for a seven-pound gun.

That will result in a significant reduction in shotgun recoil. On the performance side, you now have double the round count, faster target acquisition, greater accuracy and better ability to see in the dark.

There are mercury and steel ballasts that can be fitted into the stock of many shotgun brands. These can weigh as much as 1.5 pounds. I would only suggest these for the most recoil sensitive or those who will NOT be carrying the firearm very far.

They also tend to make the platform very stock heavy, which can make handling quite awkward.

Shotgun Side Saddle
Adding a side saddle is a great way to add weight and firepower to your shotgun, and it will help reduce the shotgun recoil.

Add a Shotgun Recoil Pad

There is a significant difference between reducing recoil and reducing felt recoil, but for most shooters, felt recoil is the concern.

If a shotgun has a hard plastic or steel stock plate, the recoil will feel stronger than if it is a spongy rubber material. This process can be further enhanced with specialty products.

Pachmayr and LimbSaver make both slip-on and replacement buttstock pads. As an example, the Pachmayr decelerator is a slip-on pad that slips over your existing stock.

It adds about ½” to the length of pull, but that ½” is made up of an aerated rubber cushion. This slows down the velocity of the shotgun recoil, acts as a shock absorber and spreads the impact over a slightly larger area.

All of which act to reduce the perception of recoil. The Limbsaver products do similar things with a slightly different mechanism.

Pachmayr Shotgun Recoil Pad
This Pachmayr slip-on recoil pad helps dampen shotgun recoil.

Add a Shock-Absorbing Stock

There is a company called KickLite that produces shock-absorbing stocks. They have incorporated a spring system into their replacement stocks. The spring stretches under recoil, slowing the recoil impulse.

The collapse is regulated by the spring system and returns to normal length of pull after the recoil impulse. Depending on the platform and load being shot, their products reduce felt recoil by 35-50%.

This is an impressive amount, and the stocks are roughly double the cost of an OEM stock replacement, which considering the benefit, is not a bad trade.

Change to a Semi-Auto

A pump shotgun’s action is fixed during the shooting process. The action is manually operated by the shooter after the shot. This process has no ability to reduce shotgun recoil.

All semi-automatic systems have a significant amount of weight moving away from the shooter during the recoil process. The action moves forward as it ejects the spent shell.

This forward action helps to mitigate felt recoil. Depending on the system, the reduction compared to the same weight pump gun can be 10-30%.

The higher number is especially true of the inertia-driven systems of Benelli, Franchi and Stoeger. One side effect of this inertia system, it makes the recoil of all loads feel very similar.

Assuming the load has enough energy to operate the system, there will be little felt difference between #7.5 birdshot and a one-ounce slug.

The downside, adding weight to the platform can disrupt the reliability of the action, especially when added at the barrel end.

Semi-Automatic Shotguns on table
Semi-automatic shotguns help reduce felt recoil when compared to pump-action shotguns.

As with all things gun-related, there is no magical answer. There are many products that can be used to accomplish the desired task. Often more than one option can be used to magnify the effect.

Conclusion: Reducing Shotgun Recoil

I am not recoil-adverse and neither is my girlfriend. She LOVES to shoot 12 gauge, and slugs make her giggle.

She enjoys running a Remington 870 or a Mossberg 590, but when we shoot 3-Gun and she puts 30-70 rounds downrange, the smoothness of our Stoeger M3K produces the largest grin factor.

That may be in part because her shotgun scores are usually higher than mine. I think it also has to do with much lower shoulder fatigue, which helps with better scores.

How do you reduce shotgun recoil? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

John Bibby

John Bibby is an American gun writer who had the misfortune of being born in the occupied territory of New Jersey. His parents moved to the much freer state of Florida when he was 3. This allowed his father start teaching him about shooting prior to age 6. By age 8, he was regularly shooting with his father and parents of his friends. At age 12, despite the strong suggestions that he shouldn’t, he shot a neighbor’s “elephant rifle."

The rifle was a .375 H&H Magnum and, as such, precautions were taken. He had to shoot from prone. The recoil-induced, grass-stained shirt was a badge of honor. Shooting has been a constant in his life, as has cooking.

He is an (early) retired Executive Chef. Food is his other great passion. Currently, he is a semi-frequent 3-Gun competitor, with a solid weak spot on shotgun stages. When his business and travel schedule allow, you will often find him, ringing steel out well past 600 yards. In order to be consistent while going long, reloading is fairly mandatory. The 3-Gun matches work his progressive presses with volume work. Precision loading for long-range shooting and whitetail hunting keeps the single-stage presses from getting dusty.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (20)

  1. I’ve been a police officer for over 23 years and a firearms instructor for over half of those. Their are some men and women that can be trained up to handle a weapons platform. Their are others that need to acknowledge their limitations and seek another gun that works best for them.

  2. remember though–if you have to shoot through a door, you will probably have to shoot only once to make the perp run or fall down dead—and if the perp sees you holding a shotgun aimed at her, most likely all you will see is her ass , elbows, and heels getting out of dodge. so the recoil will not matter. and also if you are buying a shot gun for defense, buy a bolt action one with a 2 or 3 shot clip. That way you can have the gun fully loaded, and when you need it, you just move the bolt up and down to get it ready to fire which is a lot safer than leaving the gun fully loaded for months with the safety on ,on a semi automatic, or a pump..

  3. Mesa tactical makes a Hydraulic recoil adapter for your butt stock. It is an M4 ‘collapse’ style so you can adjust it. You can put a butt stock pad on that as well. With a hydraulic recoil, but pad and adjustable stock, that should help with felt recoil. It bolts on in like 5 minutes, very easy to install.

  4. Modify the original forcing cone. Make it longer. This modification will reduce recoil. Improve shot pattern.

    Several companies make .410 ammunition suitable for self-defense. Some are:
    Winchester PDX
    Winchester 3” 5 pellet, 000 Buck!Remington make the same thing
    My favorite is NSI, Nobel Sport Italia, 3inch 4 .40 caliber balls!! Thump cubed!

    I’ve off and on considered switching to an AK platform Saiga .410 shotgun with 10 round drums.

  5. Going 6’4″ 240# goes a long way toward mitigating the effects of shotgun recoil. Your results may vary 😉

  6. I agree with everything that was said which of course was spot on I just wanted to add that a Kick-Eez is a great recoil pad as well, I have it on all my shotgun’s. Great product and I don’t get any endorsements for promoting it or kickeez I just think there both GREAT 👍🏼 products! Everyone has an opinion I was just giving mine, but try them I don’t think you will regret it.

  7. About six years ago I purchased a ‘Knoxx’ recoil reducing stock for a Remington 870 with 18.5 inch barrel. I’ve never been sorry. It reduced the felt recoil about 60%. I couldn’t tell you the exact percent, but it was a ‘very’ noticeable reduction. I think I got it for about $90.00, new. The fit was perfect. They have the New Gen 3 out now that promises even more reduction in felt recoil, at almost 70-80%, I believe. The cost is $140 to $160, or so. Remember…this is all ‘felt recoil’ and not an actual reduction in recoil. It’s physics…equal and opposite reaction. Other things that will help in the felt recoil might be; have a proper length of pull…make sure the shotgun ‘fits’ you. Make sure the butt is tucked tightly into the ‘shoulder pocket’.(Never,ever have the butt on your clavicle(collar bone) or you might pay a visit to the ER, depending on if you had a decent recoil pad on or not). Lean slightly forward, towards the target, as that will help brace you for the recoil. Just as with pistols and rifles…do not ‘jerk’ your trigger finger as that will throw other things off with your stance, grip, etc. and it will destroy your accuracy. Yes…shotguns need to be aimed, especially at closer distances. Other things that will help would be; Get proper instruction if it is your first firearm and do ‘not’ buy ‘more gun’ than you can comfortably, properly and ‘safely’ handle. Finally…Have fun and be safe.

  8. What semi automatic shotgun has an action that moves forward to eject the spent casing? During that part of the cycle it is moving rearward and only moves forward as it puts the next shell into the chamber. By the time this is occurring, the recoil has already happened. So, you have made an inaccurate statement.

  9. Port the barrel and lengthen the forcing cones. Personally I don’t like porting on a shotgun, those 2 things will reduce felt recoil more than anything listed in this article.

  10. What about the Aguila MINISHELL, 1-3/4 inches, slug (7/8oz) or #4 Buck, 1250 fps, for home defense, reduced recoil. With a rubber insert for my lowly Mossberg 500, no problem in cycling, holds more rounds in the standard tube. And there are more mini shell brands around than Aguila.

  11. I can’t help but think your description of why a semi-auto reduces recoil is inaccurate.

    The reduction of recoil in a semi auto is achieved by the movement of the bolt mass independently of the rest of the platform and buffered by they recoil spring. It’s similar to what you described with the recoil absorbing stock, just a smaller scale.

    While the bolt returning home will buffer any rearward movement remaining, the maximum impulse will have been imparted as the shot will long ago (relatively speaking) left the muzzle at which point no more recoil is to be imparted. The mass, and thus overall inertia of the system resisting the recoil, will change the dynamics on this some (i.e. slowing and expanding the perceived recoil as you describe) but as all of this is measured in milli, if not micro, seconds the bolt returning isn’t likely to do much other than very slightly push the muzzle back down.

  12. I would add that having a shotgun with the correct length of pull so that it fits the shooter correctly will reduce recoil.

  13. Speaking as an instructor, I’ll note that body position and placement of the shotgun butt will also help mitigate felt recoil. Square up to the shotgun, put the butt TIGHT against the shoulder socket just below the collarbone and LEAN FORWARD, into a shooting position. Not a drastic lean, just an aggressive stance. You might put your off foot slightly forward too for better balance.

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