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In today’s installment of our ongoing series on using shotguns for self-defense, I’m looking at how to deal with recoil. Whether the kick of a 12 gauge is merely an annoyance to you, or enough to intimidate you into avoiding shotguns all together, there are two angles of attack for making it easier to manage.

The first is to look to hardware solutions: making changes to the gun or utilizing special accessories designed to reduce felt recoil. Other approaches to mitigating the effects of shotgun recoil are more “software”, or technique-based.

Software: Reducing Shotgun Recoil Through Technique

In the video below, I’ve got a few suggestions that are primarily technique oriented, but also involve an important hardware component. Following that, I’ve added some thoughts on commonly found hardware-based solutions for managing recoil.

Hardware: Gear-Based Recoil Reduction

The firearms industry is well aware that consumers are looking for ways to manage shotgun recoil and there are plenty of those “solutions” available in the form of gear and gadgets. Some are helpful, and some are just creative ways of separating you from your money, so choose wisely.

Reduced Recoil Ammo

You don’t have to beat up your shoulder at the range for no good reason by shooting full power ammo. All the major shot shell manufacturers offer reduced recoil versions of birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. If you’re shooting more than a few rounds in a range session, using low recoil shells can make the experience much more pleasant, especially with buckshot and slugs.

Switch to 20 Gauge

This is a common suggestion for people who have found the 12 gauge to be too uncomfortable to shoot. It can seem like a good idea, especially since many 20 gauge shotguns are smaller, lighter, and easier to handle than their larger 12 gauge siblings. In reality, that reduced weight can actually increase felt recoil compared to a 12 gauge. On top of that, good defensive ammo is more expensive and more difficult to find, and 20 gauge shotgun accessories are limited as well. A 20 gauge certainly has the potential to be very effective for self-defense, but the lack of marketplace support makes owning a defensive 20 gauge shotgun a headache more often than not. In most cases, a properly fitted 12 gauge with carefully selected low recoil ammo is a more appropriate choice.

Recoil pads

If you want a little extra cushion on your stock, a thick rubber recoil pad can sometimes help. However, be sure to factor in the increased length of pull from adding recoil pad that’s thicker than the factory one. It may be necessary to have the stock cut down in order to compensate for the size of the recoil pad.

Wearable Recoil Shield

These products serve the same function as the recoil pad but they strap directly to the chest/shoulder. Some people find these to be very helpful for long range sessions, matches, or classes, but I’m not a big fan. The recoil shield tends to get in the way, making it difficult to mount the shotgun quickly. They also effectively increase the length of pull of the shotgun, which, if you watched the video, you know is something we don’t want. With a decent recoil pad on the stock, proper technique, and some low recoil ammo, these wearable pads should not be necessary for most people for self-defense practice. One notable exception might be someone recovering from a shoulder injury.

Recoil-reducing stocks

There are a few special stocks available with built-in spring systems, counter weights, and other mechanical means of reducing felt recoil. Like the wearable recoil shield, I don’t really think these are necessary for most people, at least not on a self-defense shotgun. They tend to be pretty expensive, and the benefit isn’t always worthwhile. I would only try one of these stocks if you’re really bothered by recoil and you’ve exhausted every other solution (including getting some hands-on instruction on proper stance and technique). Admittedly, my own experience with these stocks is limited, so take that advice with a grain of salt.

Like I mentioned in the video, the most important change you can make to your shotgun hardware is to get a stock with a shorter length of pull so you can get your weight behind the gun and show it who’s boss.


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  • Nick C

    What is the barrel length of the shotgun in the title picture? Seems like a great CQC length.

  • evi1joe

    Semi-auto is the best recoil reducer. Dad gave me a single shot 20-gauge as a kid; it kicked like hell. I could barely imagine what his 12-gauge must have felt like. Then one day I SHOT his Remington 1100, and it had half the recoil of my gun.

  • Patio Daddyo

    I put on one of those very expensive recoil absorbing stocks on a Mossberg 12ga pump a few years ago. It was only $50 cheaper than the shotgun. I took it out to the range with great anticipation. After 25 rounds and a bruised shoulder, I was livid. In my opinion, they are useless.

  • Dante Zanone

    The most important thing I taught my wife was managing recoil with the support hand instead of the shoulder. You should be trying to rip the receiver apart in the middle with your support hand pushing forward and your fire control hand pulling back into the shoulder to allow for a good cheek weld. She is 140 and 5’6 of average mom strength. She handles 12 Gage 00 Buck no problem. My shotgun choice helped this. The Benelli Nova Pump has a polymer stock which helps absorb a great deal of recoil. The only mod is an AirTech Recoil Pad. It helps prevent muzzle rise. Momma loves the shotgun and using this technique trying to pull apart the receiver, can also shoot from the hip and hit center mass at 25 yards using only iron sights. Shooting from the hip is important because she can’t hold the shotgun at shoulder height for any considerable amount of time.

  • GJ

    I purchased the Knoxx Blackhawk shotgun stock that’s suppose to reduce the recoil by 85%, I was a fool for buying that line of advertising the 12 ga stll kicks the heck out of me and I’m no wimp as I’m former military and former police officer, I’m 66 yrs old and in good shape and I’m a member of a firing range and go every 2 weeks and fire different type of weapons with no problems and in my lifetime I have fired my share of heavy caliber weapons, that’s why I was shocked when the 12 ga. with the so called great reducing recoil stock kicked my butt, save your money and don’t buy Knoxx Blackhawk stock, its just a gimmick, just buy a good pad for your shotgun and shoot low recoil shells, just my 2 cents

  • Ferociousgoat s

    This article is great. I find most people I take out suffer from 12 gauge recoil causing their shooting systems to fall apart. They are to scared to get a good cheek weld or to scared to properly position the weapon on their body. These techniques mentioned, especially “pull length” and the push pull method help a lot! Thanks 👍