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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11 Responses to Lowest Recoiling Shotgun

  1. Alexis Diaz says:

    I began practicing skeet and sporting clays about 8 month ago. I went to a supplier and I was recommended a Silver Pigeon 686 1 as a great rookie gun. After 5 months I could not break more than 15 clays in skeet and it was a very painful experience due to heavy recoil and cheek jump. I was about to quit when I tried a semiauto 20 ga. 400 Explor Action. I jump to 22, 23 and 24 clays and the benefit of no felt recoil. I even tried DT 11 and Krieghoff same thing. I’ll keep with my semis.. Breaking 24 , 25 with a Versamax get some guys mad, you understand.


  2. Win Thomas says:

    Great article! Are the 1 once loads in a semi auto 12 gauge enough to bring down a pheasant?


  3. Michael Yunkmann says:

    The Herters from Cabelas were a 1 oz load but the velocity was 1,290 fps. Need to load your own if you want a 1 oz load at 1050 or 1150 fps.


    • Bill says:

      Sorry but in addition to the 1290 fps loads, Herters from Cabelas are also available in 1 oz at 1060 fps. I know as I shoot them almost exclusively for practice. They are wonderfully light in recoil and yet will break any target I have pointed properly. I have shot many on International Trap targets in practice and they will even break those harder in construction clays with authority.


      • MIke says:

        Unfortunately, our Cabelas seems to only carry the 1290. I’ll see if I can’t get them to order the 1060 for the same price.


  4. Doug Kubosh says:

    Why ask anyone but the technoid ? Wisdom doth flow so freely. Heed it carefully and avoid bruising. Translated…..buy a gas gun shoot 1oz loads. He right of course.


  5. Richard Fleming says:

    In my experience and memory of the last half-century, the hardest kicking 12 gauge shotguns have been the Winchester 101 and 21, the Browning Superposed Traps and Double Automatics, the Beretta Sidelocks, and the Remington 870. I’m sure there are others deserving of this distinction.

    For some unknown reason, the Superposed trapguns never bothered me, but I have see big, burly guys on the verge of tears after only a few shots with one. I once had a very beautiful 870 TD which was manageable with 2 3/4 dram loads and with which I shot at the top of my poor ability. However, I once entered a Handicap event, stoking the TD with AA Super Handicap shells. With each shot, the recoil dislodged the right lens of my Hy-Wyds and I spent a time groveling on the concrete recovering the lens. The shooter to my left quipped, “Richard, don’t you know you can’t shoot Super Handicaps in an 870?”

    The softest recoiling O/U is generally thought to be the Krieghoff. The recoil operated autos vary in felt recoil, but are generally considered to be “as bad as a pumpgun!”

    I fully realize that perceived recoil is influenced by gun-fit or the lack thereof. In the end, perception is reality. (Somebody else said that, but I don’t remember who.)

    I enjoy reading these posts and appreciate them all!

    Richard Fleming


  6. Ray says:

    Best I’ve found, Beretta A400 Xcell, with a G2 recoil reduction system. Pricey but worth it.
    Stay away from over & unders.


  7. Uygur says:

    Bruce, Great compilation. Thank you.


  8. Jay says:

    Use super light, 24 gm international loads ~1150 fps (Clever Mirage). Also 1 oz. subsonic (1050 fps) and light (1150 fps) loads. Cabela’s Herters brand includes very light 12 ga. loads at promotional load prices. Any 12 ga. gun you want to buy is a pussycat with these loads.


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