Understanding Recoil Of a Gun – Everything You Need to Know

Anything you shoot, from a pellet gun to a shotgun will offer some sort of recoil due to released pressure and the law of physics that states every force has an opposite reaction. The dynamics behind how a gun fires and the force it creates are quite fascinating, but the kickback can be uncomfortable. 

Understanding the recoil of a gun is a great way to help keep it from ruining your shooting experience, and below we explore what it is, how it is created, ways to prepare for it, and how to help reduce the force it makes. 

What is Gun Recoil and How is it Created?

There is actually an incredible amount of pressure held in your firearm that builds and expels with every pull of the trigger. The series of events that leads to the release of a bullet is quite complicated, yet only takes mere fractions of a second. The dynamics of this require incredible energy forces, all housed within a compact and lightweight firearm. 

Imagine the following steps all happening almost simultaneously; all within the time it takes to pull the trigger. This action starts a chain reaction that depresses the firing pin via the hammer with enough force to ignite the primer located at the end of the cartridge case. This creates a combustible force that ignites the powder to build up gasses due to the chemical reaction. Since this is all within such a small structure, this pressure looks for a way to release and is forced through the barrel. 

Since the projectile (bullet or shot) is located at the front of the cartridge, it is pushed forward from the force of these escaping gasses and released out the end of the muzzle. This sudden release of pressure occurs all at once out the front of the firearm, forcing the gun to move backwards – helping to explain Newton’s 3rd Law that every reaction has an opposite and equal reaction. 

How to Prepare for Recoil


Depending on the gun you have, the force of recoil can be quite strong, especially for new shooters, young shooters, or small-framed shooters. It can be alarming when it is not expected and even dangerous if not properly prepared for. 

Recoil, also called kickback, can also create bad shooting habits, especially if previous experiences were uncomfortable or painful. Most recoil problems start with the inexperienced shooter who either never received good instruction, or didn’t listen well. But even a more advanced shooter can develop bad shooting habits surrounding the kickback experience. Flinching, overcompensation, and anticipation are common issues and can affect shooting accuracy and enjoyment. 

Things to be aware of that often signal a recoil problem in the making is closing your eyes upon firing, over tensing and bracing, physically moving your arms, hands, or shoulders upwards or back upon the pull of the trigger (also called flinching), changing where the buttstock sits on your shoulder, shifting your feet, leaning back, or losing the target altogether.

The best way to start fixing this is to recognize that a problem is developing. These tips can help you work towards a more stable, and comfortable, shooting experience.


If you are new to shooting, or even if you are not, start with basic instruction again and have somebody who teaches, or is comfortable with sharing constructive criticism, about shooting. Sometimes the smallest tip can make a huge difference. 


Recoil on handgun

Larger caliber firearms have more recoil, and lightweight firearms may also allow you to feel more of the force created. Work with a low-caliber option that has a decent weight to help offset the kickback and also build your confidence in shooting. 

Spotter or Video

A spotter that watches for bad habits, or even just videoing yourself, can help you analyze your stance and behaviors concerning flinching. It is easy to get into bad habits and being able to visualize them in order to stop them is an invaluable tool. 

Dry Firing and Handling

Dry firing and laser training removes the feel of recoil and can help you work through the basics of comfortably handling, moving with, and pulling the trigger of your gun. Building these muscle memories is good to help you build a foundation and “reset” your body and mental state concerning recoil.


ear muff and a 22 rifle

Wearing the proper protection is a must when shooting. First, hearing protection is something everyone should always wear while on a range – whether they are shooting or not. The sound of pressure release is damaging and can create flinching issues just as much as the feel. You also might want to invest in a shoulder pad for shotgun and rifle shooting, or hand protection if you are struggling with the kickback created. 

Firearm Length and Size

Felt recoil can be compounded if a firearm is a poor length for your body size and type. It is important that for shotguns and rifles you have the proper length for control and comfort. Also, handgun grip width can determine control and comfort as well. Don’t be afraid to dry fire, lift, sight, adjust, and shoot various firearms to find what is a good match for you.   

Which Guns Have the Most Recoil?

The higher the caliber, the higher the recoil. Cartridges are designed with powder load and projectile size and accuracy in mind. The larger the combustible force, the larger the pressure load to handle the bullet or shot weight and desired accuracy. Obviously, the more force that is released results in more force that you feel. 

Lightweight firearm housing will also allow you to feel more of the recoil regarding the caliber you shoot. The weight of a gun can help offset the force you feel as it is absorbed back through the gun itself. This is especially important to pay attention to when shooting a pistol. Many people prefer an extra few ounces of weight to steady the barrel after shooting since a lighter-weight choice usually forces the barrel upwards more noticeably. 

Can Recoil be Managed or Reduced?

Good practices, shooting a firearm you are comfortable with, and wearing proper protection can go a long way towards managing recoil, but you can also physically reduce felt recoil as well with specific products. 

How to Reduce the Recoil of a Handgun

Handguns don’t offer a lot of add-ons to take advantage of that will affect shooting accuracy based on recoil. The lift of the barrel is the common visual recoil force, and the bullet has already left the muzzle by that time, so accuracy will not be affected. The issues begin when the shooter expects this rise and overcompensates, or lifts the barrel themselves in anticipation. 

The best way to reduce felt recoil is to work on how you hold your gun and stance. Choosing a heavier weight frame for your choice of ammo will also help offset this and make a more comfortable shooting experience.

How to Reduce the Recoil of a Rifle or Tactical Pistol 

Woman sport shooter with a .22 rifle

Rifles and tactical pistols are the easiest firearms to reduce recoil on because they are built with a barrel that is easy to modify with muzzle devices. Whether you are shooting a bolt action or tactical style rifle doesn’t matter, as the majority of barrels are already threaded for the acceptance of devices – and if they aren’t, a gunsmith can easily remedy that issue. 

Obviously, finding a rifle that fits you goes a long way towards a comfortable shooting experience. But since most buttstocks are adjustable, this is also an easy fix. Being familiar with and practicing with your gun is also important, but the addition of a product that reduces recoil is the best way to take the pressure off. Literally. 

Muzzle brakes and compensators are specifically designed to help reduce felt recoil and stabilize your barrel, respectively. Both can offset the force of released gasses, and help keep muzzle flip, or lift, from occurring. In fact, brakes can reduce recoil by as much as 50%, making larger caliber rifles and pistols so much easier to shoot. 

How to Reduce the Recoil of a Shotgun

Person Holding Black Pump Shotgun

Since recoil is created by escaping gasses following combustion, shotguns don’t have the same solutions as rifles since they do not use as much of a charge as a rifle cartridge does. However, shotgun barrels are also threaded for chokes, a device that helps you control the pattern of shots. Some of these are designed to port the gasses which ‌work to provide less felt recoil and more barrel control. 

Wrapping it Up

Hopefully, this has helped explain a bit more about recoil so you can take control and work towards an accurate shooting experience and a more enjoyable day on the range. Choosing the best weapons for you and your needs, practicing and being familiar with the handling of your firearms, and using devices specifically designed to help you maintain accuracy and comfort are all things you need to take advantage of when recoil becomes an issue. 

We’d love to hear if you have any tips or tricks concerning this topic below. And, as always, please share!

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