Slow Powder Recoil

Dear Technoid:

Once again I am compelled to contact the sage of the shooter with queries.

I am (and have been) experiencing a flinch like reaction to certain types of targets at various sporting clays ranges in my area. My instructor (level II) states it is anticipation, not a flinch. He feels the mind says “Whoops I’m behind” and therefore I lunge for the target.

As a result of my unwelcome habit, flinch, whatever (If it looks like a duck) I started looking at lighter loads to see if this may help. In the course of this I contacted Hodgdon and ended up speaking with one of the most helpful customer service people I have ever experienced. His information and advice were seemingly right on as he had also experienced this phenomenon and part of his advice/discussion included going to a slow burning powder like International to reduce recoil.

I later read two articles in Sporting Clays Magazine (same author, but I cannot remember his name) who states that slow burning powders do not reduce recoil and actually increase it (due to mass). I have seen other references to recoil reduction through slow burning powders and light loads for less kick.

What is your experience and lacking that what is your opinion? I realize you are shy about your beliefs, but venture something anyway!

Thanks in advance!


Dear Bob,

Sure, I will try to overcome my shyness and give you my humble opinion. If you are jerking your gun around in “anticipation” of the shot and that is not flinching, I have to start to look for a new definition. Let’s just assume that it is flinching due to recoil and go from there. If it isn’t, fooling around with the shell won’t help very much anyway.

I think that the slow powder/fast powder thing is very subjective when it comes to recoil. The main purpose of slow powders is to keep pressures down in heavier loads. Ancillary properties of slow powders are rumored to be that, because they build pressure at a slower rate and burn a bit longer, they are supposed to treat the shot less violently and promote tighter patterns. Don Zutz was always saying that the tightest patterns come from Green Dot (similar to International). Then again, he says that the most open patterns come from Superlite, an equally slow powder. Go figure. Everyone agrees that shot quality is the major determinant in pattern quality.

When I was developing competition loads for International Skeet, we were looking for a reliable 3 14/ dram 1 1/8 oz load. 32 grams were permitted in the ’70s and early ’80s and we wanted all the speed we could get to break those harder birds. We experimented with slow powders in the Unique and PB area. These were even slower than Clays International and more like Clays Universal.

Some people felt that the slow powders kicked less than the fast ones. Some shooters felt that they kicked more. What ever it was, it wasn’t very much either way. The only thing we noticed for sure about the slow ones was that there was more muzzle blast and they cost more to use because you used more of them.

The formula for free recoil clearly shows that slow powders increase free recoil. They do so because you have to use more slow powder to reach a given velocity. The weight in grains of the powder used is a small part of the free recoil formula. More weight = more free recoil. Again, it doesn’ t matter much, but it is there. All else kept equal, an 18 grain charge of fast powder might yield 17.54 foot pounds of free recoil, a 20 grain charge of intermediate powder would have 17.73 fp, while a 22 grain charge of slow powder would show 17.92 fp.

As we both know, free recoil has something to do with, but does not totally control, felt recoil. A semi-auto has exactly the same recoil as the same weight O/U. It just delivers it more slowly so that you get a shove, not a stab. Some people feel that slower burning powders produce this “shove” result. Some don’t. I am in the latter camp and cannot tell the difference.

Soooo- going to a slower powder might possible give you a slightly lower recoil sense, but it won’t very much and I doubt VERY much if it would have any affect on a flinch. It is the same with porting, backboring, elongated cones and that sort of stuff. They all may (or may not reduce recoil), but none of them will do it enough to produce a big change.

By far the best and easiest way to dramatically reduce recoil is to put less shot in your shells. If you are now shooting 2 3/4 dram (1150 fps) 1 1/8 oz shells, reducing that load to 7/8 oz at 1150 fps will reduce your recoil from about 17.6 fp to 10.1 fp. Now THAT is a meaningful recoil reduction. Of course, you won’t have as many little lead soldiers on your side, but there it is.

Switching to a gas gun will also reduce felt recoil quite a bit and, for many people, the different shooting sensation can cure a flinch. I really cannot recommend using release triggers at sporting clays, so that avenue is out. Pneumatic stocks (like the Soft Touch or Gsquared) reduce felt recoil, but are not as successful at curing flinches. I don’t know why.

Of course, all this is just one guy’s opinion. Reasonable men may differ, but who listens to them.

Best regards,
Bruce Buck
Shotgun Report’s Technoid


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