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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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