Lowest Recoiling Shotgun

Hi, I am buying a new 12 gauge and want to know what shotgun kicks the least?


Dear RJ,

Good question and one that many people have asked. I’ve gone over a lot of this before, but perhaps it is time to touch on it again and put it all into one package.

Mathmatically, all shotguns kick the same if they weigh the same and shoot the same shell. The free recoil formula just takes into account the shell and the weight of the gun. Nothing else. The heavier the shotgun is, the less it kicks. The lighter the shot load of the shell, or the lower the velocity of the shell, the less it kicks.

That’s it for mathematical recoil. Unfortunately, being human, mathematics aren’t all that there is to it. Perceived recoil is very different from calculated free recoil. Example: If you shoot a shotgun from your shoulder in the normal way, you will feel a certain amount of recoil. Now take exactly the same shotgun and shell and hold the butt against your nose when you pull the trigger. It’s exactly the same calculated free recoil, but the perceived recoil sure is different!

There are two basic ways to lower perceived recoil.

1) Gun fit- a stock that fits you properly will seem to kick less. You want a stock that is as long as you can comfortably make it so that it seats firmly into the shoulder. Short stocks can build up a head of steam coming back and kick more. You also want a stock that doesn’t whack you in the chops or slap your face. That’s a question of more sophisticated gunfit and also of shooting style.

2) A second good way to lower perceived recoil is to select a gun with a kind of action that stretches out the recoil pulse. Gas operated semiautomatics do this. The gas guns seem to kick less because they deliver the recoil pulse over a longer period of time. The cycling of the gas action breaks the recoil down into pieces and delivers it bit by bit, not all at once the way a fixed breech (pump, SxS or O/U) does. It’s actually the same amount of recoil, but due to the longer period of time it feels more like a push than a punch. Beretta 391s, Browning Golds and Remington 11-87s are popular soft recoiling gas operated shotguns. Some semiautomatic shotguns, like the Benellis, are recoil operated, not gas operated. Many people feel that they kick just as much as a fixed breech gun.

While mathematical free recoil isn’t the same as perceived recoil, it is important. To lower mathematical free recoil you want to shoot the heaviest gun you can and the lightest load. Increasing the weight of the gun will reduce recoil on about a 1:1 basis (sort of). That is, if you increase the weight of a 7 pound gun by 10 % to 7.7 pounds, you will lower calculated free recoil by around 10%.

Shells are different and have more effect. If you change the amount of shot (payload) or velocity of the shell by 10%, you will affect free recoil by twice that, or 20%. Well, not exactly, but pretty close. Changing from a 1-1/4 ounce load down to a one ounce load, both at 1200 fps velocity, will reduce recoil in an 8 pound gun by 34%. OK, at 2:1 that should be 40%, but you get the idea. Changes in the shell offer the biggest chance to change recoil.

Perceived recoil (gun fit, gun mechanism) is more difficult to quantify than calculated free recoil, but they both play a part. In my experience, if you are using a properly fitted gas gun of target weight with a light load, you’ve done just about everything practical to reduce recoil.

There are many other way to change recoil, some more effective than others, but none of great effect. These would include the addition of a special recoil pad, barrel porting, lengthening of forcing cones, backboring and other little bits here and there. There is a great deal of controversy as to how much these small items matter as to recoil. None of them have anywhere near as much effect on recoil as a properly fit stock, suitable gas action and target weight, and light load.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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